Buddhist Architecture Glossary

Here’s our short glossary of terms used in the Architecture of Buddhism, particularly focusing on Southeast Asia for now (because SE Asia is the focus of The Golden Lands book which also contains an extensive glossary).

A pagoda made from a word cloud of Buddhist architectural terms... click to download full size
A pagoda made from a word cloud of Buddhist architectural terms… click to download full size
  • Aedicule
    Ornamental pilastered niche to house a sacred image
  • Aisle
    Side passage running parallel to the nave of a temple and separated from it by columns
  • Anda
    Burial mound at the centre of a stupa, usually in the form of a solid dome or generally bell-shaped
  • Apadana
    Columned hypostyle hall, usually square in plan, with a portico to one or more sides
  • Apse
    Semi circular domed or vaulted space, especially at one end of a basilica space
  • Apsidal
    In the shape of an apse
  • Arca-griha
    Image-chamber in a Buddhist shrine
  • Bot
    Another word for Ubosot, the ordination hall in a Buddhist temple
  • Byauk
    In Myanmar, a temple with a colourfully painted interior
  • Candi
    Indo-Indonesian royal sepulchre and generally equivalent of “Stupa”; used generally to refer to any ancient Hindu or Buddhist temple or shrine in Indonesia (and sometimes non-religious structures too)
  • Candi bentar
    (Indonesian) Roofless gateway, usually to an East Javanese or Balinese temple
  • Cella
    The sanctuary of a temple, usually containing the cult statue
  • Chadya
    Awning, eave
  • Chaitya / Caitya
    Generally any sacred space, but usually means a shrine or prayer hall which has a stupa at one end
  • Chaitya-griha
    A temple assembly hall that houses a stupa
  • Chankama / Chankyama
    A promenade for walking meditation
  • Chatravali / Chattravali / Chhatraveli
    Tiers (disks) forming the chattri on top of a stupa – above the dome (anda) leading up to the railing/platform (harmika)
  • Chattri
    An umbrella-shaped dome or pavilion, sometimes acting as a turret on the roof of a stupa
  • Chaturmukha
    A four-sided temple
  • Chedi
    Thai term essentially equivalent to stupa
  • Chofa
    Ornamentation on the top/end of a roof of a temple, often in the shape of a mythical creature, or bird or fish
  • Chorten
    Tibetan term for a stupa
  • Clerestory
    A windowed upper level, providing light for a double-storey interior
  • Crepidoma
    Steps forming the platform of a temple
  • Dagoba
    The Sinhalese (i.e. Sri Lanka) word for Stupa
  • Dhamma-yon / Dhammasala
    The hall in a temple where the Dhamma (i.e. Buddhist teaching, lit. “doctrine”) is preached
  • Finial
    The object or decoration marking the top of something (like the top of a dome or tower) or the end of something like a roof edge or gable
  • Gandhakuti
    Literally a “perfumed chamber” – used to mean shrines placed around a stupa
  • Gu
    A cave, at Bagan in Myanmar used by extension to mean any temple that has an interior you can enter
  • Harmika
    Square railings at the top of a stupa, betewen the anda and the chattravali, which originally represented a platform/ enclosure with a fence.
  • Ho Rakang / Hor Rakang
    The bell tower in a Thai temple
  • Ho Trai
    In a Thai temple, the library or scriptures depository
  • Hti
    A sacred parasol on the upper part of a finial (qv)
  • Image Hall
    In a Buddhist monastery, the image hall is the one which contains the (main) statue of the Buddha
  • Iwan
    Vaulted hall with a roof supported by numerous columns more or less evenly spaced across its area
  • Jali
    Lattice of filigree patterned screen
  • Kraton
    Court of early Indonesian rulers, a term for a palace in Indonesia
  • Kutagara
    Pavilion on the terrace of a palace
  • Mahal
    Summer-house or pavilion
  • Mandapa
    Sanskrit word for a pillared outdoor hall or pavilion for public rituals; in Hindu temples the mandapa is often a porch-like structure leading into the temple
  • Medhi
    Drum forming the base of a stupa
  • Mondop
    (Thai) A free-standing square or cruciform building within a Thai temple complex, used to house relics, scriptures, or act as a shrine; the word is related to Mandapa, qv
  • Mulaprasada
    Main block of a temple, containing a shrine
  • Pagoda
    East Asian term for Stupa, often more likely to be used in the case of multi-tiered towers, but not necessarily; (NB In Vietnam and Cambodia, due to French translation, the English term pagoda is a more generic term referring to a place of worship, although pagoda is not an accurate word to describe a Buddhist vihara. )
  • Paya / Hpaya
    Burmese word for pagoda, literally meaning “lord”, hence often found in famous place names, e.g. Shwedigon Paya, and within names of pagodas, e.g. Bupaya Pagoda
  • Phamsana
    Stepped pyramidal type of roof with rectilinear profile
  • Pradakshina-patha
    Circumambulatory path or passage around a shrine
  • Prasada
    Multi-storey structure
  • Prasada-vimana
    Palace in a sacred environment
  • Sala
    An open pavilion used as a meeting place or shelter, usually a term used for these structures in Thai temples although also used for roadside pavilions
  • Sala Kan Prian
    A large hall where lay people can hear sermons in a Thai temple
  • Samvarana
    Pyramidical hall roof with tiers of bell-shaped mouldings
  • Sangharama
    Abode of a Buddhist order, i.e. a monastery
  • Sanghawat
    The living quarters of monks in a Thai temple compound
  • Serdab
    Subterranean room
  • Stambha
    Pillar or post
  • Stupa
    Originally a pre-Buddhist burial mound; this word is now used for the pre-eminent type of Buddhist monument, which is at least a freestanding mound, usually with a circular drum (medhi) forming the base for a massive solid dome (anda) topped by a turret (chattri); the bell or dome shaped mound covers the relics or holy objects; as the stupa architecturally becomes more complicated, so the word “Stupa” is applied in general to monuments and whole temples, interchangable in referring to many sites with words such as Pagoda, Wat, Candi
  • Tahoto
    Many-jewelled pagoda, Japanese variant of pagoda with a stupa emerging from the roof
  • Torana
    Ceremonial gateways in the fence surrounding a stupa, of which there are usually four, often richly decorated
  • Ubosot
    (Thai) Ordination hall of a Thai Temple, also known as Bot
  • Vastushastra / Vastu Shatra
    Traditional Indian doctrines of architecture and town planning in wide cirulation by the 6th century AD – “vastu sastras” refer to any ancient Sanskrit manuals in these topics
  • Vedika
    Railing, especially of a sacred enclosure
  • Verandah
    Roofed colonnade attached to one or more sides of a building
  • Vihara
    Residential quarters of a Buddhist monastery, or by extension a monastery generally
  • Vimana
    Storeyed building with receding terraces, used in the south as main element of sanctuaery, equivalent to northern Mulaprasada
  • Wat / Vat
    Buddhist temple or monastery particularly in Thailand, usually including buildings open to (and for the use of) lay people
  • Zedi / Zeidi
    A Burmese term for a stupa

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