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.
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.
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.
This bulbous, but elongated version of the simple mound is the beginning of the Burmese stupa.
Thai temples, known as wats, are very distinctive. The word watmeans school, but is used only to refer to temple complexes. The Phutthawatis what we think of when we see the word temple. It is where all of the main religious buildings are contained. The Sanghawatis the living area for the monks.
The ubosotis 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.
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.
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.
The Tiger Cave Temple (or Wat Tham Suea, also spelled Wat Tham Sua) is a magnificent Buddhist temple complex located 8 kilometers northeast of Krabi, in Thailand. Perhaps it is most famous for the huge Buddha statue that can be seen from the bottom of the mountain.
The temple’s history goes back to 1975 when a monk decided to meditate in the cave. According to the legends a tiger lived in the cave leaving paw prints on its walls. Since then a huge and diverse complex has built on the site.
Here is a selection of other architecture / design / history titles from the same publisher and associated publishers which are likely to be of interest to architects, Asian culture lovers, and travellers.
The ISBN can be searched in any online bookstore, and each image links to the book’s page on tuttlepublishing.com
Here are our top recommended resources about the history of architecture in Indonesia, and travel to the historical sites, with particular focus on Buddhist temples, monuments, and archaeological areas.
(Webliography is a word we’ve just invented to mean a bibliography of web resources…)
This is a work in progress so please send us your ideas with other sites and pages we should include.
Angkor Wat is rightly Cambodia’s most famous historical and religious site, visited by millions every year [4.6million estimated in 2014]. But what is not clear to many until visiting is that Angkor is quite a large area near the city of Siem Reap actually containing many temples, palaces, and other ancient buildings of a wide range of architectural styles spanning several centuries.
Here is a public domain simplified map showing the many major sites near the main complexes of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom:
An historical periodization of the styles of architecture found in and around Angkor can be a useful reference both to navigating the different eras of sites closely located in the area, as well as placing the temple architecture found around the rest of Cambodia.
But we’re not the only ones on Slideshare with interests in these topics! Here are some recommended slideshows from other sources, have a look through! [Information from 3rd parties comes with no warranty 🙂 ]