Buddhist Architecture 101 Series

If you ever travel South East Asia extensively, you will be exposed to a diverse array of Buddhist architecture. Many terms for these exotic and sometimes fantastical structures get thrown about, but do you really know…

What makes a wat? The purpose of a pagoda? Or the significance of a stupa?

After two weeks travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia, I must admit my husband and I were a touch pagoda’d out. No doubt there is a variety of amazing Buddhist religious buildings worth checking out, but sometimes you wonder what is the significance, purpose and symbolism that makes one special from another.

When it came to planning our more recent trip through Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, I decided to be proactive by arming myself with some background knowledge that would help me to appreciate the more subtle differences between the various temples…and maybe teach James a thing or two. In the series, Buddhist Architecture 101, I have decoded these three common structures.

Chureito Pagoda, Japan

Buddhist Architecture 101: What is a Pagoda?

At times the word pagoda can be used generically to describe all Buddhist religious buildings, however this is technically incorrect. A pagoda is traditionally a tiered tower of an odd number of levels, with multiple eaves.

Shwe Zi Gon stupa in Bagan, Myanmar | Duende by Madam ZoZo

Buddhist Architecture 101: Stupa

Stupas began as pre-Buddhist burial mounds in Nepal. The originating name “stupa” actually translates to “heap” in the classical Indian language Sanskrit.

Wat Mai, Luang Prabang, Laos | Buddhist Architecture 101 | Duende by Madam ZoZo

Buddhist Architecture 101: Wat or not?

A wat is a complex that combines a number of important religious buildings.  These include a monks residence, a stupa, a building for a large image of Buddha, and a congregation hall for religious lessons, sermons and ordination of new monks.