Thứ Bảy, 11 tháng 8, 2018

Differences of Buddhist Architecture Among Indochina Countries

Five out six of Indochina countries including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and burma principally practice Buddhism, but it will be a large fault if you believe Buddhist architecture in these nations are the identical, and just or Vietnam is enough. The reason results from differences of Buddhism sects, cultural influences and folk beliefs. In fact, Buddhist team traveling to burma ples of the countries are charming distinct.


  • Stupa: A bell-shaped structure containing Buddhist relics, very widespread in burma. It’s called “zedi” in Burmese, “that” in Lao, “chedi” in Thai and “mộ tháp” in Vietnamese. A stupa of Vietnam, a small rectangular structure, is unlike stupas of the other countries.
  • Monastery temple: Common in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, known as “wat”.
  • Pagoda: The main form of Buddhist architecture in Vietnam, completely different to “pagoda” of China.
  • Buddhist monastery: may be found a lot in myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, known as “kyaung” in Burmese and "vihear" in Khmer.


1. In burma, visit know about "paya" and "kyaung"

many Myanmar’s Buddhist constructions are gold-covered, very grandiose and intricately decorated. Gleaning gold shines brightly over thousands of stupas, temples and shrines throughout the country, from the smallest village shrine placed in a bough of an ancient tree to enormous stupas and temples of grand cities.

Paya - that literally means "pagoda" but not truly "pagoda" as ones you are familiar

The most common equivalent of “pagoda” used in the country is “paya”. However, “paya” is unlike the ordinary meaning of English term “pagoda”. It’s translated as a “holy one”, where people, deities and places connected with religion. “Paya” is a generic term referring all stupa, temple and shrine.
There are two kinds of “paya”: the solid, bell-shaped “zedi” and the hollow rectangular “pahto”. "Payas" was constructed as a symbolic Mount Meru.
  • Zedi (stupa): A mightily spiritual structure constructed to conserve “relics”: objects taken from the Buddha (pieces of bone, teeth and hair), or holy materials. Early “zedi” during Pyu period is hemispherical or bulbous (e.g. Kaunghmudaw pyay in Sagaing). The up to date style is much more graceful – a curvaceously lower bell merging into a soaring spire.

*** Sea Wander offer Shwedagon, Sule (Yangon), Shwezigon (Bagan)and Uppatasanti (Naypidaw) as the typycal of up to date "zedi".
Shwezigon "zedi" in Bagan
  • Pahto” (Buddhist temple): Its interior was adorned by a series of impressive frescoes. A Mon-styled “pahto” is a broad cube with small windows and inner corridors, known as “gu” or “ku”.

*** Sea Wander strongly recommends a get to to Bagan where you be able to realize hundreds of "pahtos": Dhammayangyi, Gawdawpalin, Htilominlo, Sulamani, Ananda, etc.
Gawdawpalin buddhist architecture
Gawdawpalin "pahto" in Bagan

Traditionally, only “payas” were built of permanent materials (brick, stone). Inside “payas”, tremendous images and multiple shrines were set for cult.

Kyaung - living place of monks and nuns

It is the site where monks and nuns live, study and practice mediation. Most of the “kyaungs” in the country were made of wood, even the royal ones in Mandalay. The most significant part of a “kyaung” is the “thein”, a consecrated hall where monastic ordinations occur.

*** Sea Wander suggests some must-see "kyaungs": Shwe Yaunghwe in Nyangshwe, close to Inle lake; Shwenandaw (or Golden Palace monastery) and Bagaya in Mandalay.

2. In Vietnam - The architecture has elements of Taoism, Confucianism, Vietnamese folk belief and matriarchy

The term “pagoda” (chùa) is used to refer Buddhist temples in Vietnam. Nevertheless, Vietnamese pagoda, which is regarded as a place to worship the Buddha, is completely unlike Chinese pagoda, which is an eight-sided tower built to house the ashes of the deceased.
Vietnam buddhist architecture
But Thap pagoda, Vietnam

Vietnamese pagodas were made of wood, generally brown and simple-designed with small or medium scale. In front of a "chùa", usually there is a white standing statue of Quan The Am Bo Tat (Goddess of Mercy). Inside the main sanctuary are representations of three Buddhas: A Di Da (Amitahba), the Buddha of the past; Thich Ca Mau Ni (Siddhartha Gautama), the historical Buddha; and Di Lac (Maitreya), the Buddha of the future. Nearby, eight statues of eight Kim Cuong (Genies of the Cardinal Directions), images of La Han (arhats) and various Bo Tat (Bodhisattvas) were set. Female Buddha images are quite well known owning to the impact of matriarchy.

In some “chùa”, an altar is put aside for Taoist divinities such as Jade of Emperor and Queen of Heaven. Every pagoda has an altar for funerary tablets commemorating deceased Buddhist monks (often buried in stupas close to the pagoda) and lay citizen.
Vietnamese pagoda buddhist architecture
Stupas (mo thap) in Phat Tich pagoda, Bac Ninh, Vietnam, where have ashes of deceased monks

A very impressive variation of Goddess of Mercy showing her with multiple arms, sometimes multiple eyes and ears, permitting her to touch, find and hear all, be able to be found at some pagodas in North Vietnam.

*** You may want to know about some top typical Vietnamese pagodas, e.g. But Thap, Phat Tich (Bac Ninh); Yen Tu (Quang Ninh); Tran Quoc,Tay Phuong (Hanoi) and Thien Mu (Hue).

3. In Cambodia - Buddhist temples built of stone, under influences of Hinduism and the sun cult

Most of ancient Khmer Buddhist temples (“wats”) were built of perishable materials (stone, brick…), extremely giant and sophisticatedly carved. During the period of Angkor, only religious constructions were built of stone, often mixed with laterite, tiles and timbers in a unique proportion. The “central sanctuary” based in the core is the most important part of a Khmer “wat”, which is confined by concentric layers of walls, said to be the residence of the main deity. A gallery, another attraction, is a passageway running along the enclosed walls adorned with celestial dancing Apsaras, and the axis of the temple. This structure possess blind doors and windows that helped in keeping evenness in entrance ways. Colonettes were widely used as an embellishment along doorways. Many remarkable "wats" has entrance buildings (gopura), which feature a corbel arch and gigantic stone faces of Avalokiteshvara.
Cambodia buddhist architecture
Blind windows with colonettes in Angkor Wat temple
Angkor buddhist architecture
An entrance building (gopura) in the Complex of Angkor

The decorative motifs of Khmer temples were under the affect of Hinduism, with patterns depicting Hindu deities (comprising Apsaras, Devatas, Dvarapalas, Naga, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, etc), and using of Hindu origin structure such as quincunx (linga). Some of the temples were built as pyramids, symbolic of the cosmic Mount Meru in Hindu mythology. The sun cult impacted on Khmer Buddhist architecture too. Most of the “wats” were erected in eastern orientation to glorify the rising sun. Some archaeologists believed that position of most Angkor monuments corresponded to marking out the solar path, according to the solstitial alignments.

*** Sea Wander suggests: when taking the excellent Khmer "wats" in your Cambodia visit account, starting with Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Takeo, Preah Khan, Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean (Valley of 1000 Lingas) in Siem Reap; and Koh Ker in Preah Viihear.

4. In Laos - Unpretentious "wats" but charmingly and meticulously adorned.

Lao Buddhist architecture shares a similarity to Siamese (Thai) architecture, and is influenced by Khmer architecture as well, but it’s rare by its modest appearance. Constructed of relatively light materials, unpretentious Lao “wats” appear with gentle charm and elegance rather than an imposing, grandiose looking such as Khmer “wats”. A Lao wat is characterized by steep-tiled roofs, frescoes, mosaic, carved and gilded decorations depicting the natural world, mythical creatures, and the events of Buddha's life. Its compound comprises clusters of buildings, in which, the Sim (ordination hall) is the most significant, largest and most elaborately ornamented building, where treasure was sealed in its foundation, and monks are ordained. Generally longer than wide, it was set on a multi-level platform and made of brick covered with stucco. Inside it, at the far end, a large Buddha image is positioned on a dais. Without it, other main buildings involve a meeting site (Sala), meditation and living quarters (Kouti), a manuscript library (Ho Tai), bell tower (Ho Rakhang), drum tower (Ho Kong), and stupa (That). Lao-styled stupas has curvilinear design and four-cornered shape. It’s tall, thin and modelled on an opened lotus bud.

Phat That Luang in Vientiane is a Lao "that" (stupa)

Complicatedly and charmingly decorative elements found over Lao wats are not only imbued with religious and spiritual meanings, but also added aesthetic appeal. The high-peaked roofs are layered in strange numbers to correspond with Buddhist doctrines. The edge of roofs has a repeated flame motif that are said to catch evil spirits accessing the building. Stenciled designs on a red or black background can be found on surfaces of most buildings. Also under the affect of Hinduism, Lao "wats” possess elements of Naga and Mount Meru on roofs and at entrances; while metallic adornments called "Dok So Fa" (pointing to the sky) on rooftop are manifestations of the universe belief. These structures are also renowned for Buddha images performing unique Lao-styled mudras (gestures), like calling for rain, lying down and welcoming death after attaining Nirvana.
luang prabang buddhist architecture
A Lao wat in Luang Prang

*** Sea Wander recommends "wats" in Laos to get insight: Pha That Luang, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Si Muang, Wat Ong Teu, Wat Mixai (Vientiane); Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mahathat (Luang Prabang)

5. In Thailand - The architecture inflenced by diverse cultures

The most noticeable traits in Thai Buddhist temples ("wats") are the swooping multi-tiered roof-lines, distinct decorations, marvelous interior murals, vivid colors, lovingly crafted and gilded Buddha images.

The Thai “wat” is a group of buildings that each serves a own purpose and is set within a walled enclosure. In addition to being a site where the lessons of Buddha were educated, the Thai wat was traditionally a school, hospital, community center and even an entertainment venue. Functions of various buildings within a complex may be recognized through sets of designs.

This structure consists of two parts: the Phutthawat and the Sangkhawat. The Phutthawatis dedicated to the Buddha, generally including several buildings such as "chedi" (stupa in the form of a bell-shaped tower), prang (Thai version of Khmer temple towers), wihan (a shrine hall containing principal Buddha images), etc. The Sangkhawat covers living quarters of monks.

The style of Thai stupas is very various depending on which culture it was influenced: famed ‘corn cob’- shaped stupas developed from Khmer“wats”; stupas with multiple facets and tiers orginates in Lan-na (Laos); square, angular stupas that resemble elongated pyramids is Mon in style (Myanmar); and traditional “chedis” may be viewed in Bangkok.
thailand buddhist architecture
A corn cob - shaped stupa developed from Khmer architecture in Lopburi

*** Let's discover Thai Buddhist architecture via Wat Arun, Wat Traimit, Wat Benchamabophit (Bangkok); Sokhothai historical park; Ayutthaya historical park; Lopburi; and Wat Chedi Luang (Chiang Mai).

Your "pocket" dictionary of Religions & Buddhist Architecture while traveling to burma, Vietnam and Indochina countries

Stupa (zedi, that, chedi)A dome-shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine.
MonasteryA building in which monks live and worship.
Arhat(in Buddhism and Jainism) Someone who has attained the goal of the religious life.
ColonetteA small, relatively thin column, often used for decoration or to support an arcade.
Corbel arch An arch-like construction method that uses the architectural technique of corbeling to span a space or void in a structure, like an entranceway in a wall or as the span of a bridge.
Blind door/windowAn imitation of a door or window, without an opening for passage or light.
NagaA member of a semidivine race, part human and part cobra in form with multiple head, associated with water and sometimes with mystical initiation.
Mount MeruA spiritual mountain with five peaks in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist cosmology and is considered to be the center of all the physical, metaphysical and sacred universes.
Nirvana(in Buddhism) A transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism
Avalokiteśvara(Lord who looks down) A Bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas.
Bodhisattvas(in Mahayana Buddhism) A person who is able to reach Nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings.

More readings and suggested tours related to this topics:
  • Practicing Buddhsim in Vietnam and myanmar
  • A Guide for Meditation tours in burma
  • From Bodh Gaya (India) to Yangon (Myanmar) in 8 days to get to from the spiritual homeland of Buddhism in India to burma

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