The Stupas of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos

When visiting Southeast Asia, you will find a dazzling assortment of different religious buildings. None are more iconic than the stupas built to hold relics. In Thailand they are called chedis, in Myanmar, zedis… and in Laos, that. They are remarkable structures worthy of further investigation.

Stupas trace their history back to pre-Buddhist burial mounds, but they came into their own and developed after the passing of the Buddha, whose remains were buried in ten mounds. Later, more permanent structures started to be built to house relics such as the 3rd century BCE Great Stupa at Sanchi in India.

Sanchi. (Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sanchi1_N-MP-220.jpg)
Sanchi. (Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sanchi1_N-MP-220.jpg)

The original meaning was retained and the Sanskrit word stūpa literally means heap.

The Burmese, Thai and Lao all have styles that come as a result of the transmission of Theravāda Buddhism from Sri Lanka. One of the most common style of chedi in Thailand is the Lanka-style bell chedi. Interestingly, this bell shape is not much seen in Sri Lanka, where the original round Sanchi-style stupa remains the most usual. Looking at the great sites of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, we can observe some interesting styles that give us good reference points for stupas we see on our travels through Southeast Asia.

Myanmar

In Myanmar, there is a clear progression of styles. The earliest stupas were built by the Pyu people and this Pyu-style can be found at the 7th century Bawbawgyi Pagoda at the ancient city of Sri Ksetra near modern day Pyay.

Bawbawgyi. (Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BawbawgyiPaya.jpg)
Bawbawgyi. (Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BawbawgyiPaya.jpg)

This bulbous, but elongated version of the simple mound is the beginning of the Burmese stupa.

Buphaya. Photo credit, thetempletrail.com
Buphaya. Photo credit, thetempletrail.com

In the kingdom of Bagan, the Pyu-style turned into the gourd-shape evident in the Buphaya in Bagan.  Continue reading The Stupas of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos

The Stylish Way to See Myanmar: By River

River tours are becoming ever more popular with tourists in Southeast Asia, with both high-end luxury cruises and many more general options including day trips. The major river in Myanmar is the Ayeyarwady (also/formerly spelled Irrawaddy).

Myanmar rivers map, Copyright Pandaw River Expeditions
Myanmar rivers map, Copyright Pandaw River Expeditions

We recently posed some introductory questions to Sven Zika, Sales and Marketing Manager at Pandaw / The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, the first company to offer international tourists river expeditions in Myanmar, from 1995, with a company history going back over 100 years before that (see the history of the company here).

1. Has there been a growth of interest from travellers recently?

Sven: Yes, there has been a huge surge of interest in river cruising, especially as Myanmar has become more widely appreciated as a holiday destination. From two ships in 2013, our fleet has grown to 7 ships in 2014 with one more on the way in 2015.

2. What ages and nationalities of passengers most often come on your cruises?

Sven: At the moment the majority of passengers are 50+ and come mostly from the UK, USA, and Australia, as well as all over Western Europe

Many of the most famous sites to visit in Myanmar are directly accessible from river landings or nearby
Many of the most famous sites to visit in Myanmar are directly accessible from river landings or nearby (Photo copyright Pandaw River Expeditions)

3. Why are river tours a good way of seeing Myanmar?

Continue reading The Stylish Way to See Myanmar: By River

Photographing Temples in Southeast Asia: Golden Lands Photographer Marc Schlossman’s Tips

Marc Schlossman is one of our expert Golden Lands photographers – read our first interview with Marc here.

Wat Suthat, Bangkok, Thailand
Wat Suthat, Bangkok, – photo by Golden Lands photographer Marc Schlossman

In this second interview, we quiz Marc about some of the practical and technical aspects of working on photography for the Architecture of Buddhism book series…

1. Compared to normal photo projects, what were some of the technical differences and challenges around the Golden Lands project?

I carried a tripod at all times — long exposures inside dark temple interiors were very important.

Stone surfaces and facades can look very dull in bad light so we had to make the most of good light. We often had to visit a site more than twice to get the light falling just right on a feature or exterior so we were running around a lot and I had to keep a careful list of what I needed to do and at what time of day.

Shooting after dark can give the project a very different look so we were often shooting all day and then some!

Wat Xieng Thong, a Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang, Laos
Temple interiors are a lighting challenge – photo by Golden Lands photographer Marc Schlossman

2. Can you tell us about the camera(s) used and any equipment you found useful?

Nikon D700 (I now have a D800 too); 14-24mm zoom, 24-70mm zoom, 50mm, 105mm, 180mm and 300mm lenses.

A tripod is essential and a head torch for dark interiors to set the camera!

I used a lot of graduated filters to control scene contrast. Continue reading Photographing Temples in Southeast Asia: Golden Lands Photographer Marc Schlossman’s Tips

Interview with Marc Schlossman, Golden Lands Photographer

Marc Schlossman is an expert photographer who travelled with Golden Lands author Vikram Lall to capture views of Myanmar (particularly Bagan) as well as many of the other stupa, monastery, and temple photos for the other SE Asian countries in the book.

The pagoda-filled landscape at Bagan, Myanmar - photographed by Marc Schlossman for The Golden Lands
The pagoda-filled landscape at Bagan, Myanmar – photographed by Marc Schlossman for The Golden Lands

Here we interview Marc about his work on this Architecture of Buddhism series so far:

1. Which countries did you cover for the Golden Lands photography?
Had you already travelled in these countries?

Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. I had never been to the first two; I had traveled in Thailand a few times but never to Sukhothai or the other temples outside Bangkok.

Sunset seen from Dhamma-Yazika Pagoda (Dhammayazika), Bagan, Myanmar (Burma) - photographed by Marc Schlossman for The Golden Lands
Sunset seen from Dhamma-Yazika Pagoda (Dhammayazika), Bagan, Myanmar (Burma) – photographed by Marc Schlossman for The Golden Lands

2. Have you previously or subsequently done photography projects similar to this, focusing on SE Asian historical sites?

I was commissioned to shoot in Singapore and Malaysia for the book Paradise Found: Journeys Through Noble Gardens of Asia,  [ISBN 9789833214037] published by Cross Time Matrix in Kuala Lumpur in 2008. It’s a showcase of public gardens in the region and the shooting involved the same skills I needed to shoot the three chapters in Golden Lands. Continue reading Interview with Marc Schlossman, Golden Lands Photographer

Visiting Temples: Tips on Behaviour and Etiquette

You'll feel less daunted about visiting Buddhist temples and holy sites after reading these commonsense tips courtesy of thetempletrail.com
You’ll feel less daunted about visiting Buddhist temples and holy sites after reading these commonsense tips courtesy of thetempletrail.com

For the uninitiated, a visit to a temple in Southeast and East Asia could be a daunting undertaking. The unfamiliar breeds trepidation and you find yourself unsure of what to do. What are the rules for these mysterious places?

Well, you will find that there are surprisingly few.

Each region has their own set of customs, but they are easy to remember and even easier to adhere to. You should always bear in mind that the temple staff want you to be there. If they can, they will help you in any way, from explaining the etiquette, to assisting you make an offering of your own.

Feet

Probably the easiest thing to make a mistake with is your feet. The first thing to think about when entering a temple is your shoes. In Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, you will need to remove your shoes and leave them outside each hall of the temple, reclaiming them when you exit. This is a cultural norm for entering a house as well. Continue reading Visiting Temples: Tips on Behaviour and Etiquette

Reviews of The Golden Lands

Here are links to reviews and mentions of The Golden Lands by Vikram Lall in the press and online.

More to come – check back soon!

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Book Reviews

The Asian Review of Books

“Lall’s visually delightful showcase of Buddhist architecture succeeds in portraying the physical result of the faith’s tolerant, cosmopolitan nature, and the dynamism with which so many cultures have made it their own.”

http://www.asianreviewofbooks.com/new/?ID=2016#!
The reviewer, “Story of Angkor” author Jame DiBiasio also blogged about the book here

The Star, Malaysia

“it doesn’t matter if you are a professional architect or a practising Buddhist, Architecture Of The Buddhist World: The Golden Lands is a visual treat for everyone – it’s just a bonus that you’ll also learn some history.”

http://www.thestar.com.my/Lifestyle/Books/News/2014/11/02/Buddhist-architecture-in-focus/


Biblio [http://biblio-india.org/]

“With abundant analytic drawings – following the norms of architectural practice- [Lall] presents new insights to understand Buddhist architecture, thus making a compelling case for an architect to write the history of architecture. The information has also been collated and presented in an attractive and accessible format, so the publication can  be considered both a coffee-table book and a shcholarly treatise.”

Review by Professor A G Krishna Menon:

Biblio golden lands review part 1

Continue reading Reviews of The Golden Lands

Golden Lands book launch photos, October & November 2014

In October, Vikram Lall launched The Golden Lands in Malaysia and Hong Kong.  See some event photos below. Many thanks to the wonderful hosts at our different signings, lectures, and parties!

>> See London (September) launch event photos here

>> See the 2014 launch events diary here

Golden Lands author Vikram Lall in Kuala Lumpur
Golden Lands author Vikram Lall in Kuala Lumpur

Continue reading Golden Lands book launch photos, October & November 2014

Quan Su Pagoda, Hanoi, Vietnam

With over 1,000 years of history, Ha Noi has been Vietnam’s centre of Buddhism for centuries. The city has more than 600 temples and pagodas, many of which are not only religious relics but also popular tourist sites. Neither boasting a long history nor having an extraordinary architecture, Quan Su pagoda is still a precious treasure of Ha Noi and has been the Headquaters of the Vietnam Buddhism Association since 1858.

Courtyard at Quan Su Pagoda, Hanoi

Roof ornamentation at Quan Su Pagoda, Hanoi Continue reading Quan Su Pagoda, Hanoi, Vietnam

Thai Temple Structures 101

Thai temples, known as wats, are very distinctive.  The word wat means school, but is used only to refer to temple complexes.  The Phutthawat is what we think of when we see the word temple.  It is where all of the main religious buildings are contained.  The Sanghawat is the living area for the monks.

Roof of Ayutthaya. Photo by thetempletrail.com
Roof at Ayutthaya. Photo by thetempletrail.com

Phra Ubosot

The ubosot is the most important building in the temple.  It is the ordination hall and it is where the primary Buddha image of the temple is normally housed.  The Ubosot does not have physical contact with the other buildings and is clearly marked off by eight Bai Sema (marker stones named after their similarity to Bodhi leaves).  The ubosot is where the ceremonies and rituals for the monks take place and is, therefore, the holiest part of the temple. You will notice that the entrance to the ubosot will almost always face the east.

Ubosot in Ayutthaya. Photo by thetempletrail.com

Wiharn

The wiharn is a shrine hall.  It normally houses a Buddha image.  Larger temples can have more than one wiharn.  The wiharn is where ceremonies for both monks and lay people are conducted.

Wiharn of Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai. Photo by thetempletrail.com

Chedi

The chedi is amonument that contains a relic or the cremated remains of a monk or member of the royal family.  They vary enormously and in Thailand you will see a huge range of differing styles.  Chedis are normally constructed over a relic chamber.  They are traditionally made of laterite or brick andcovered in stucco.  Normally they are covered in gold.  Every temple typically has at least one main chedi.

Chedi at Wat Phra Keaw. Photo by thetempletrail.com

Continue reading Thai Temple Structures 101

Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall, Hoi An, Vietnam

Night view of Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall, Vietnam
Burning incense in the courtyard at Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall, Vietnam

The Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall, located at 46 Tran Phu Street, is a famous sign of Hoi An’s trading history and displays rich architectural features that reflect strong Chinese influence.

The building was constructed in 1692 by Vietnamese people living in Hoi An and originally a Buddhist thatched pagoda called Kim Son. It unfortunately became very damaged and was eventually sold to the rich Fukian merchants, who fled from China to Hoi An in the 17th century after their ancestors lost in the fight with the Qing to restore the Ming Dynasty. After the restoration in 1759, the pagoda was renamed “Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall” and dedicated to the worship of their ancestors and Thien Hau Holy Mother, who was believed to save and protect the traders during their escape.

Chinese characters around the doorway in Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall, Vietnam

 

Continue reading Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall, Hoi An, Vietnam

Linh Ung Pagoda, near Da Nang, Vietnam

Situated in the Son Tra peninsula, Linh Ung – Bai But Pagoda is an attractive tourist destination and the biggest pagoda in the charming coastal city of Da Nang.

Chinese style roofs at Linh Ung Pagoda, Vietnam
Unveiled in July 2010 after six years of construction, Linh Ung – Bai But pagoda features perfect harmony between the modern and traditional architectures of Vietnamese pagodas, especially in the three-entrance gate, the main chamber and the ancestors’ house. Tourists are also advised to spend their time admiring lively Buddha statues in the surrounding gardens as they illustrate fascinating myths and stories in Buddhism.

temple at Linh Ung Pagoda, Vietnam

Walking through the Linh Ung pagoda’s main gate, you’re greeted by 18 large white stone statues representing the 18 Arhats, which are a popular subject in Buddhist art, with all of the human emotions of joy, anger, love and sadness.

Guanyin statue at Linh Ung Pagoda, Vietnam

Continue reading Linh Ung Pagoda, near Da Nang, Vietnam

Temples of the Borobudur Region – Travel Diary, Day Three: Prambanan, Candi Sari, Kalasan, Lumbung, Sewu, Plaosan

This post covers the final day from the travel diary by Joan Foo Mahony, publisher of Architecture of the Buddhist World book series. Part One can be found here. Part Two here.

On the final day of our Borobudur region trip, we were taken to the Prambanan Park area, a sacred area where Hinduism and Buddhism thrived. Here, we were treated to not only the biggest and grandest Hindu temple complex in S.E Asia, known as Prambanan, but also some of the oldest and most interesting Buddhist temples which were located in the same park.

01 - borobudur watermarked

PRAMBANAN

The Prambanan Temple complex is Hindu and was built in 850 CE to 856 CE (after Borobodur and before Angkor), and by the Sanjaya Dynasty after the Shailendras were driven out of Java and back to Palembang in Sumatra. But the Sanjayites did not destroy the Buddhist temples already built nearby (Candi Sari, Kalasan, Lumbang, Plaosan and Sewu) but kept them, out of deference perhaps to the wife of the Hindu king, who was Buddhist and a member of the previous Buddhist Shailendra dynasty. It was also interesting to note that Hinduism in Java was not exactly the same as in India. When Hinduism took hold in Java, just as in the case of Buddhism, it incorporated part of the Javanese customs and traditions.

The Prambanan complex of temples consist of the biggest one in the centre dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, the destroyer with Vishnu (the preserver) and Brahma (the creator) on either side and their vehicles in front. These are the Hindu trinity or Makti. Just as in the case of India, the temple to Shiva dominates here. In fact, in India, there are very few temples dedicated to Brahma. Most are dedicated to Shiva and in northern India to Vishnu.

The consort of Shiva is Durga and there is a temple dedicated to Durga in the grounds and to Ganesha, Shiva’s son, half elephant, half man. The main shrine has a huge 3 meter high statue of Shiva and of Durga on the side as well as Ganesha. In all the balsutrades and walls, there are some very exquisite carvings showing a very level of Sri Vijayan art.

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The 3 vehicles or mounts of the Hindu Gods (called vahana or wahana) are located in front of each temple. Magnificent intricately carved stone statues of Shiva’s vehicle, Nandi (the bull) ; Brahma’s angsa (the swan) ; and Vishnu’s garuda (the eagle). Continue reading Temples of the Borobudur Region – Travel Diary, Day Three: Prambanan, Candi Sari, Kalasan, Lumbung, Sewu, Plaosan

Temples of the Borobudur Region – Travel Diary, Day Two (Borobudur Temple Visit)

This post covers Day 2 of 3 from the travel diary by Joan Foo Mahony, publisher of Architecture of the Buddhist World book series. Part One can be found here.

plains view at Borobudur

DAY TWO – BOROBODUR

3 am! It would be an early start, but I was too excited to sleep anyway. I jumped out of bed even before the alarm went at 2 am. Off we went in the dark towards one of the wonders of the world – for me it IS the wonder of the Buddhist world.

That day was also the day of the full moon so it was such an auspicious day to view Borobodur.

01 Borobudur watermarked

This was the highlight of the trip and we would be spending half a day at Borobodur itself. After a longish drive at 3 am in the morning, we arrived at the Borobodur Park and the Manohara Hotel on the ground to begin the morning hike to the temples to be there for the sunrise at 5:45 am. With flashlights, hiking shoes and stick in tow, we headed off in pitch black of the early morning climbing over the precarious stones. In spite of the darkness, I could see the magnificent silhouettes of the Buddhas and stupas looming in the distance and I had to hold my breath in anticipation. Then, after climbing over all the 10 terraces to the very top, we sat quietly, facing east – the mountains ( and the volcanoes of Merapi and Merbabu ) and the sunrise in the distance. We began our morning puja with Brother Tan and meditated, the ancient stones resonating with our Pali prayers. Borobodur – seeing the monuments at sunrise – sings and thrills the heart. Continue reading Temples of the Borobudur Region – Travel Diary, Day Two (Borobudur Temple Visit)

Bo Da Pagoda, Bac Giang Province, Vietnam

Courtyard and gateway Bo Da Pagoda, Vietnam The distinct brown colour of soil walls, the yin and yang tiles, its wooden fences and big water jars give Bo Da Pagoda an old-world feel. The pagoda houses a remarkable collection of the oldest Buddhist texts in Vietnam, which are engraved on a type of ebony [Diospyros decandra] wooden blocks and have lasted for hundreds of years without any preservatives.

Traditional mud brick walls at Bo Da Pagoda, Vietnam

Bo Da Pagoda was built in the 11th century during the Ly Dynasty, the golden age of Buddhism in Vietnam. The pagoda, which has survived several wars and been renovated many times throughout the centuries, now demonstrates the architectural style of the Nguyen Dynasty (the last dynasty of feudal Vietnam).

Entrance way at Bo Da Pagoda, Vietnam Continue reading Bo Da Pagoda, Bac Giang Province, Vietnam

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