Day 1: The Sun's Got Nothing on This Center of the Universe
I've decided to start my travels at the farthest place possible and work my way back home. So, first up on my list is Wat Arun, also called Temple of Dawn, the most important Buddhist Temple in Thailand. Located in the capital, Bangkok, Wat Arun is settled on the bank of Chao Phraya River. The temple is named after the Hindu god Aruna, the god of the Dawn. This temple is made up of multiple "prangs", the noticeable central prang and the four smaller ones surrounding it. These prangs are meant to symbolize Mount Meru, a sacred mountain with five peaks that, in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, represents the center of the universe.
Wat Arun also has four mondops, or pavillions, surrounding the central prang. Each of these mondops represent one of the four main events of Buddha's life: birth, enlightenment, first sermon, and final nirvana. Within these mondops are prayer rooms, statues of Buddha lining the halls and various paintings describing that mondops' respective event of Buddha's life.
Yaksha Guardians of Wat Arun
In front of the ordination hall stands two statues. These two statues are recognized as the guardians of Wat Arun. These two are Yaksha named Sahassateja and Tasakantha. Yaksha are commonly put at the entrances of various Buddhist temples in Thailand. They are painted with bright colors as is the rest of the Buddhist temple. The prangs are also painted with brightly colored flowers and have statues of various gods placed to look like they are holding up the temple.
Statues Holding Up the Temple
Day 2: Smells Like Buddha's Spirit
Reclining Buddha at his Death Bed
I then traveled to Northern India, to Kusinara, or Kushinagar. Located in Uttar Pradesh, an Indian State, Kusinara is the resting place, or parinirvana, of the founder of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha. Way back when Buddha was actually still alive, he and some of his followers Kusinara. Buddha, knowing that he was going to die soon, asked one of his most faithful servants to prepare a bed for him to rest on. The bed must point north between two trees. His followers prepared for his passing and over the course of a few days he entered his parinirvana. In Buddhist culture, parinirvana is the place of perfect peace and happiness where your suffering becomes nonexistent, which is a big deal for Buddhists considering that one of their biggest beliefs is that there will always be suffering in the world. It is the highest state on enlightenment, something you strive for in your Buddhist life. Kusinara is sacred for the fact that this is the very place where the founder of Buddhism reached his peace and happiness and highest state of enlightenment. In the temple there is a visage of a reclining Buddha, replicating the way he looked as he went into parinirvana. The bed that he is reclining on is pointed north between two trees, just like it was when the real Buddha reclined on his resting bed.
Day 3: Your Friendly Neighborhood Destroyer
I then traveled down to Rameswaram, an island in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. In Rameswaram is the Hindu temple Sri Ramanathaswamy, a temple dedicated to the god Shiva, the destroyer. The temple along with Rameswaram itself are considered one of the holiest Hindu Char Dham, the four holy sites of Hinduism. In your lifespan you are supposed to visit all four Char Dhams which causes many Hindus to make the pilgrimage to Rameswaram and the temple. It is also believed that if you bathe in the holy water of the Char Dham that is will cleans you of your sins and saves you from evil. Rameswaram is also one of Shiva's twelve Jyotilingas. Jyotilingas are places where Lord Shiva is said to appear, making them especially holy and people go to worship those places.
Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple
Ramanathaswamy Temple has the longest corridor, 1000 pillars lining said corridor. The temple is made up of four surrounding walls. Each wall has a gopura, tower on top of a temple, at the corners where the walls connect, each one facing a different cardinal direction. Temples are fashioned in a pyramid shape and made of granite, which is defined as Dravidian style, the style of architecture in South India.
The hallways are colored brightly and vibrantly, a theme I've noticed so far and I'm sure I'll be mentioning later. The colors bring a sense of character to the place and makes it much more impressive than it would be if it was just bland granite.
Day 4: Miscounting Your Domes
The next day I took I little side trip to Bangladesh. Near the city of Bagerhat is the Sixty Dome Mosque. Now, contrary to popular belief and its name, the Sixty Dome Mosque actually has seventy-seven domes, not sixty. I guess the sufi saint that named this place thought Seventy-Seven Dome Mosque wasn't as catchy as Sixty Dome Mosque. The temple is mostly made of brick which is why it looks red. There's four large towers at each corner of the mosque. As mentioned, this mosque has seventy-seven domes covering it. The mosque is truly remarkable. Its hallways are large and its lawn is perfectly green. The pillared hallways on the inside are a feature that draws a lot of attention. They also have their own museum next to the temple.
Sixty Dome Mosque Interior Arches
Day 5: Between a Dome and a Hard Place
Next I made my way to Jerusalem in Israel and knocked out two sites with one trip (only two because I found a way more interesting place to go to for Christianity). The first place I went to was the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Now, it isn't as pretty as the Dome of the Rock but it is holier. Al-Aqsa is the third most sacred place of Sunni Islam, after Mecca and Medina. The reason this place is sacred is because it is believed that Muhammad, the most revered prophet of Islam, traveled from Mecca to Al-Aqsa right before his ascension to the heavens. Muhammad lead many teachings and prayers that all the previous prophets attended. Al-Aqsa was also the very first Qibla for the Muslims. Qibla is the direction Muslims face when praying. Today they are supposed to face wherever the Mecca is when praying but back then they didn't pray facing any particular place. Al-Aqsa was the first place they ever faced and that is very significant in Islamic history. All of these factors and many more inspired Muslims to bless this as the third holiest place of their religion.
Next, I went to the Western Wall. This is the sacred place a Judaism in Jerusalem. Back when Rome was an empire all about conquering things, they decided to conquer Jerusalem. They knew that Jerusalem was a holy city to the Jewish so by conquering it, in a sense they wanted to prove that they were stronger than God. It was a way to bring down the Jewish. So Rome came and ransacked the city. But when they were destroying the second temple, a small section of the wall survived the destruction. This became a symbol to the Jewish people, the part of the temple that withstood all the chaos. It became one of the holiest spots of Judaism and they would go to it to pray. The wall has suffered much more torment since then but it still stood strong and the Jews looked towards it for strength and safety.
Day 6: Where Moses Saw the Light (or Fire in This case)
Told you I had a found a cooler place to go to for Christianity. In Egypt there is a mountain called Mount Sinai. In Christianity, it is believed that Moses, one of their most important prophets, spoke to God while on Mount Sinai. God came to Moses through the visage of a burning bush and told him to go speak with the Pharaoh of Egypt and tell him to let the Israelites, slaves to the Egyptians and the people of God, be free from enslavement and be allowed to leave Egypt and go back to their home, Israel. And later, once Moses completed his task and freed the Israelites, he returned to Mount Sinai, where God gave him the Ten Commandments, the ten rules of God that Christians are supposed to live their life by. So, of course, this mountain is very significant and symbolic to Christianity.
Saint Catherine's Monastery
There is also a monastery located on the mountain. Saint Catherine's Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the world. The monastery has many icons depicting the burning bush, discovery of the ten commandments, as well as other important events of Christianity. A small town has also started to grow around the monastery: Saint Catherine, Egypt.
Day 7: Hungary for Some Jewish Architecture
I'm finally in Europe which is a continent closer to home than I was before. In Budapest, Hungary there is a synagogue on Dohany Street. The Dohany Street Synagogue, also called the Great Synagogue, is a massive structure. It is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest synagogue in the world, first being Temple Emanu-El located in New York. There's many pillars and arches situated within the synagogue but its most notable features are the two twin towers atop the building. This was the first synagogue with onion shaped domes and the people liked it so much that synagogues built after it copied the dome structure. The walls and domes are painted and decorated with bright and vibrant colors. The floor around the entrance is decorated with a menorah on the ground. There's fine details like various shapes and patterns carved into the arches surrounding the synagogue. And on top the building are two stone tablets with the ten commandments copied onto them. But the inside is much more impressive.
Inside of Dohany Street Synagogue
There's multiple chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and a second floor. There's dark colors of blue and brown and then the lighter colors of gold and white giving it a sort of modern and intricate elegance. The interior of the synagogue is stunningly beautiful and a sight worth seeing, no matter is you're Jewish or not.
Day 8: no, not the fighting irish
We are at the last stop of my religious trip *cries*. Located in Paris, France, Notre Dame Cathedral has become one of the most recognizable landmarks of the world. Songs, movies, books, and a university have been based off of this Catholic Cathedral. Notre Dame is a prime example of French Gothic architecture. The ribbed vaulting of the interior of the cathedral as well as pointed arches are staples of Gothic architecture. The various pillars also hint the Gothic architecture but what really shows it are the gargoyles placed atop it. It also looks very serious and sinister in a way since its form and build is so strict.
Everyone knows what the front looks like but I think that the back is much more interesting. It had many more shapes and arches and the style is clearly influenced by medieval art. What is also noticeable are the flying buttresses. You're probably asking what a flying buttress is and I will now explain. Buttress is a support beam of a sort. A flying buttress is a support beam that sprouts from one side and arches towards the second wall to support it. Flying buttresses are another staple of Gothic architecture and easily visable in the back of Notre Dame. It can be seen in the above picture that the flying buttresses are attached to the outer pillars and arch inwards to support the tower in the center. Notre Dame is so very iconic and I was so excited to see it. It definitely did not disappoint.