The Taj Mahal is located in Agra, which if found in the region of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. I took this right when I got through the visitor's entry line.
My first step on my religion journey was the Taj Mahal in India. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum, a building that is used as a burial chamber for the deceased that were important, influential, and honored in their lifetime. This was one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I have ever seen and is considered to be one of India's most admired works of art. Taj Mahal includes the burial tombs, a guest house, and a mosque. Mosques are places of worship for followers of Islam, commonly known as Muslims. The Taj Mahal is a vision of what Islam use to be and could be, the building is a symbol of love because it was built after the death of Shah Jahan's wife. It is such an important and well known piece of religious architecture that about 7-8 million people visit a year. I would definitely suggest it for a great view and wonderful day! Especially if you are going out for a relaxing picnic day!
Mecca is a city in Hejaz, Saudi Arabia that is the capital of the Makkah Region. This picture was taken right as I left for my next stop.
I hoped on a plane right after Taj Mahal and headed to Saudi Arabia. My next stop was to an Islamic sacred site in Hajez, Saudi Arabia. As I walked around, the city was beaming with importance. Every day, five times a day, Muslims pray in the direction of Mecca, which is known as a qibla. As well as prayer, a pilgrimage to Mecca is required to every Muslim if they can afford it as one of the Five Pillars of Faith. Every year millions of Muslims gather for a major pilgrimage, or hajj, during the Muslim month of Dhu'l-Hijja, and several others perform minor pilgrimages throughout the year in Mecca. This incredible city is such an amazing place to soak up the spiritual side of the Muslim religion. I left promptly after dinner and headed to soak in some good ole fashion Hinduism!!!
Tanah Lot is a famous Hindu temple (mostly cause of hoe beautiful it is) located in Bali.
As soon as I arrived to the Tanah Lot temple in Bali, I was in love! There is so much natural beauty here. The temple rests on rock and is one of the 7 sea temples, a chain of 7 temples all in eyesight of each other forming a chain along the southwestern coast of Bali. The temple was made by Dang Hyang Niratha in the 16th century to act as a holy place to worship the Balinese sea gods as a key piece of Hindu architecture. Tanah Lot was greatly influenced by Hinduism and the Indonesian island of Bali is considered to be an island of Hinduism. Later in my visit as I talked to a local, I found out that Tanah Lot is considered to be one of the most important pieces of Hindu architecture due to the age of the temple and Hindu history behind it. I spent the morning of my second day here and it was absolutely incredible. I felt so connected to nature and ready for my next Hindu stop!
This is one of the many Hindus that lined the streets of Varanasi in pilgrimage.
I took a bout here to Varanasi and I immediately fell in love. the Hindu religion clothes every building and person in this magnificent city. Varanasi, also called Benares or Kashi, is the holiest of the seven ancient holy towns and is the most famous tirtha, place of pilgrimage. In the world there are four dhamas (holy places) that correspond with the four points on a compass that was founded by the great teacher Shankara as four main centers for Hinduism. Varanasi is one of those dhamas as well as a tirtha, one of the seven ancient holy towns, and a very important sacred site to the Hindu religion. Varanasi also played a very important role in the development of Buddhism. This visit was one of my favorite because of how much positive spiritual energy cloaked over the whole city.
One of the many Buddhist viharas in india
I think that Varanasi set up the perfect background for my next locations. In India, Hinduism was the oldest religion of from that came Buddhism. While I continued my stay in India for another day, I got the chance to visit many viharas. A vihara is a Buddhist monastery which was originally used as a secluded place to walk and referred to dwellings or refuges used by wondering Buddhist monks. In the northern Indian state of Bihar, there is such an abundance of viharas and it is a very common piece of religious architecture for the Buddhists. Each vihara is so unique and different and it was so interesting getting to see so many diverse buildings that all serve the same purpose. After walking around for awhile, we headed to the next stop- the birthplace of Buddha!
Lumbini is one of, if not the most important Buddhist sacred site.
For my next stop, I travelled to the Rupadehi District in Nepal. Lumbini is a Buddhist pilgrimage site and is also, the birthplace of the Lord Buddha. the story of Buddha goes a little something like this: Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama who the received enlightenment and became Gautama Buddha who founded Buddhism. Lumbini is a magnet for pilgrimage that sprang up due to the pivotal life of Lord Buddha. Lumbini has many temples like the Mayadevi temple as well as many museums, monasteries, and monuments in honor to Buddha and Queen Mayadevi that are still being built to this day. every where you go in Lumbini there is holy fill-in-the-blank! Holy ponds, statues, pillars, you name it and it's holy! ok, not really, but this is the sacredest of Buddhist sites. The lifestyle that surrounds this city revolves around Buddha and his birth- it was absolutely mesmerizing.
This is just an example of one of the thousands of synagogues used as a part of Judaism.
For my next adventure, I travelled to Israel to learn more about Judaism. A very important piece of Jewish architecture is synagogues. Synagogues are Jewish houses of prayer. Usually a synagogue consists of a large hall for prayer, smaller rooms for study sometimes these are also used as a social hall and offices, and some have separate rooms for Torah study. Synagogues are spaces used for prayer, Torah reading, study, and assembly. a fun fact about synagogues is that there is no specific blueprint for building a synagogue and the interior and exterior aspects of synagogues greatly vary in fact, many synagogues are influenced by local culture. Despite the uniqueness in every synagogue, each synagogue must have: a Holy Ark, the six point star of David, an eternal light in front of the ark, a reading table, a replica of the ten commandments, a seat for the Rabbi, and no images of God since it is forbidden. As I was walking through several synagogues, I noticed how peaceful and respectful everyone was and it was so fun to see all of the magic happen first hand. After visiting different synagogues around Israel, I head to Jerusalem.
The gold topped building is called the Dome of the rock and sits in the middle of Jerusalem overlooking the city.
Israel is a very sacred place to Jewish people and Jews try to visit the city of Jerusalem at some point in their lives. Jerusalem is particularly important because it is the ancient capital of Israel and home to the original temple. The Western wall of the temple still remains where the tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai with the ten commandments were stored in a golden box called the Ark of Covenant. Jewish people make pilgrimages to this wall. throughout the city, you can find to many ways that Judaism has worked its way in to daily life and the culture. Also, throughout Jerusalem I found many pieces of Christianity's history.
Just like Judaism, Christian churches are all very diverse.
For my last day, I stayed in Israel because it just so happens that Israel is where Christianity was founded as well! Throughout Israel, you can find many synagogues as well as churches. Churches are buildings used for public Christian worship. It is customary to worship on Sundays, the Sabbath, and other religion related celebrations. Most churches include: a bell tower, seating area, altar where the gospel book, bread, and wine are placed, pulpit for sermons, lectern that holds the Bible for readings, choir loft or seating area for the choir, stained glass windows, candles, a precious cross over or on the altar, and Baptismal font for baptisms. churches are built with the best the community has to offer as a way of showing respect and praising God. I followed a trail of many churches all the way to one of the most important spots in all of Christianity's history.
A bell tower located in the city of Bethlehem.
Since I am Christian, this fifth and last day has been so special to me and it meant everything that I got to end it with going to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus and is popularly known as the setting for Christmas tales and stories, a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. Bethlehem is located about six miles southwest of Jerusalem which is another sacred site in Christianity. in a small summary: Mary was due to give birth to Jesus so her and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem in order for her to give birth. When they arrived in Bethlehem every inn or place to stay was unavailable, so Mary and Joseph went to a stable where they met up with three wise men and Mary gave birth to Jesus. Every December 25th, Christians around the globe celebrate this holiday. Bethlehem is so important to Christianity because it is the birthplace of out Lord and Savior and where the whole story started. It was such a blessing to be able to end my "Tour of World Religions" here in the birthplace of mine.