Understanding Asian Places of Worship

Any traveller to Asia will discover fascinating history and religion, but after a few days of sightseeing, sometimes the information can be overwhelming, especially for visitors who don’t know the lingo. Here’s an explanation on how to better understand the difference between a Stupa, Pagoda, Wat and Temple… four places of worship travellers will encounter on many Asian travel itineraries.

1. Stupa: A dome-shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine, commonly found in Indonesia, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tibet and Thailand. The shape of the stupa represents the Buddha, crowned and sitting in meditation posture on a lion throne. A renowned Stupa is the main Stupa crowning Borobudur; the largest Buddhist structure in the world located in Java.

2. Pagoda: A tiered-tower with multiple eaves commonly found in India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Nepal. Many pagodas have a decorated finial with a symbolic Buddhist meaning, for example, a lotus. The finial also acts as a lightning rod which gives the tower a perception of being ‘spiritually charged’. Thien Mu Pagoda, built in 1601 is a historic temple in the city of Hue in Vietnam. Its pagoda has seven stories and is the tallest in Vietnam.

3. Wat: A monastery temple commonly found in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. The most famous Wat is located in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This wat is a component of a temple complex at Angkor, built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century and is one of the most visited archaeological and artistic sites on the planet.

4. Temple: A structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities. Now widely used to describe a house of worship for a number of religions, temples are found all across Asia. Therefore a Buddhist temple would include a stupa, wat and pagoda. Amritsar, India is home to the Golden temple, one of the most attractive tourist destinations in India and often a site of pilgramage.

Leave a Reply