My Journey to Discover the Landscape of Religion where identity, culture, and values meet

Day 1: Bodh Gaya, India

Today I visited Bodh Gaya, India. Bodh Gaya is a sacred site in Buddhism because it is believed to be the site where Buddha reached perfect wisdom. I asked a monk named Chimon to first tell me more about his name and then about the importance of this site. Chimon told me his name means Wisdom Gate. We then went to a bo tree where he told me more about the significance of Bodh Gaya. I learned that when Buddha achieved perfect wisdom here he was sitting under a bo tree which is why you often see monks meditating under bo trees here. We then walked to the Mahabodhi Temple which was built 280 years after the enlightenment of Buddha or the 3rd century B.C.. From the inside of the temple to the surroundings it was very serene and elegant with no shortage of bo trees to meditate under.

upper left: statue of buddha in bodh gaya, lower left: monks meditating under a bo tree, right: mahabodhi temple

Day 2: The Ganges River and Mount Kailas

Today I visited the Ganges River and got to learn more about its significance in Hindu culture because of my tour-guide Vihaan. Vihaan told me first that his name means dawn or beginning of a new era. We then went down to the river bank to discover more about this sacred river. In Hindi Culture it is believed that Mount Kailas is the home of Siva, the destroyer of evil and sorrow. Because the Ganges River begins at Mount Kailas, "springing fourth form the hair of Siva" as Vihaan said, Hindus believe that bathing in the river washes away their sins. We then visited Mount Kailas where I learned that because it is sacred to the Hindi people and many other religions, no person has ever climbed to it's summit and is known as a place of eternal bliss.

left: mount kailas, right: people bathing in the ganges river

Day 3: Meenakshi Amman Temple, India

Today I visited the time tested Meenakshi Amman Temple in India. From the psychedelic color outside to the extravagant inside, my tour-guide, Guruttam, whose name means the greatest teacher, helped me learn about the significance of the temple to the Hindu culture. The temple consists of 14 towers with the tallest tower standing at 170 feet. The outside of the towers are covered in stone figures of animals, gods, and demons. The temple has been around since 600 A.D. so naturally it has tons of history. In the 1300's the temple was ransacked by general Malik Kafur in his attempts to spread Islam to the city of Madurai. In 1559, over 250 years later, the temple was rebuilt by the first Nayak king of Madurai. Now the temple draws over a million visitors a year for the Chithirai Festival. The Chithirai Festival celebrates the marriage of the Hindu Goddess Parvati to the Hindu God Shiva. This marriage is believed to be the "biggest event on Earth" to the Hindi people according to Guruttam.

upper left: stone figures on the outside of a tower, upper right: the temple from afar at night, lower left: looking up at a tower of the temple, lower right: inside one of the towers

Day 4: Mecca, Saudi Arabi

Today I traveled to the sacred city of Mecca. My tour guide, Aabad, whose name means time was extremely informative and I learned a lot. Mecca is the birthplace of not only the Prophet Muhammad but also the Islam itself making it the holiest city of Islam. Mecca is a very beautiful city with tall buildings and Jabal Al Nour-a mountain- in the background. After walking around the city for a while, Aabad took me to the holiest structure of the Islamic faith, the Kaaba. Kaaba means cube in Arabic and that is what it appears to be, but it is so much more. Muslims aspire to take a trip to the Kaaba at least once in their lifetimes, this pilgrimage is called the Hajj and is one of the five pillars of Islam. The Kaaba is a square structure draped in black cloth called a kiswa that is embroidered with verses of the Quran in gold and silver and the door is made of pure gold. The Kaaba also has the black stone on a corner of the Kaaba. During the Hajj Muslims circle the Kaaba seven times and try to touch or kiss the stone seven times to imitate the prophet Muhammed.

upper left: muslims circling the kaaba, upper center: the kaaba up close, upper right: the black stone on the corner of the kaaba, lower left: mecca in the background of the kaaba, lower right: mecca in the background of jabal al nour

Day 5: Vatican City

Today I visited Vatican City. Vatican City sports religiously themed fine arts from Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini and Maderno freely and aesthetically. My tour-guide Noah, whose name refers to Noah in the Bible, was very insightful and helpful in my endeavors to discover religious landscapes. Vatican City is ruled by the Pope, the leader of the church. The current Pope is Francis. Vatican City is sacred to Christians because it is where St. Peter the apostle is buried and where the Pope lives, rules, and holds mass. Noah took me to St. Peter's Basilica where the Pope gives mass everyday and is built around the place St. Peter was buried. The Basilica has the largest dome in the World and it's architect was Michelangelo.

upper left: outside st. peter's basilica, upper right: pope francis, lower left: vatican city, lower right: dome of st. peter's basilica

Day 6:Jerusalem, Israel

Today I visited Jerusalem. My tour-guide Ishmael, whose name means God listens in Hebrew, showed me around the city so rich in religious significance. Jerusalem is a sacred city to Jewish people because King David mentioned it many times with desire and the first temple was built there. When Jewish people pray they always face Jerusalem, it is the holiest city in Judaism. Jerusalem has many religious structures because of it's rich history in many religions. Ishmael took me to the Western Wall to learn more. The Western Wall is all that is left of the first temple and many Jewish people come here to pray. Many people also leave prayer notes in the crevices of the wall.

upper left: jerusalem, upper right: the western wall, lower left: prayer notes left in cracks of the western wall, lower right: people praying at the wall

Credits:

Created with images by manbartlett - "untitled image" • suc - "thailand buddhists monks" • hi_alexlee - "2014年菩提迦耶第25屆年度世界和平祈福大法會- World Peace Prayer Ceremony at Bodh Gaya, 2014" • vijaykiran - "Mt. Kailash" • alexanderwragge0 - "varanasi ganges india" • VinothChandar - "Camouflaged!" • VinothChandar - "We need to find God... | Celebrating 50,000 Flickr Views" • VinothChandar - "Happy Temple Friday :)" • Marcin Wichary - "untitled image" • Camera Eye - "Holly Ka'ba" • absolutraia - "The Holy Kaaba" • ebrahim - "mecca religion cube" • GLady - "mecca mekkah saudi arabia" • papannon - "rome building basilica" • gunthersimmermacher - "pope francis audience vatican" • Seba Sofariu - "St. Peter's Basilica" • xiquinhosilva - "11439-Vatican-StPeterBasilica" • Buecherwurm_65 - "jerusalem old town city wall" • hoyasmeg - "Western Wall_1839" • kellinahandbasket - "Wailing Wall/ Western Wall Notes" • BRBurton23 - "western wall israel prayer"

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