Buddhist Sites in Thailand
Bangkok and Ayutthaya
Much important early and medieval Thai architecture was ruined in southeast Asian wars, but impressive 19th and 20th century Buddhist temples abound in Thailand, and in many parts of the country there are lovely archeological sites. In Bangkok, the Wat Phra Kaeo temple, built by King Rama 1 (1782-1809) in the precincts of his Grand Palace, is a spectacular monument to the Theravada Buddhist revival initiated in the 19th century. This temple is a centre of Thailand's religious life, symbolizing the close bond between the sangha (religious community) and state, and houses the "Emerald Buddha", a figurine of national importance to modern Thai people.
The southern Thai Ayutthaya period of the 14th to 18th centuries brought an influx of new architectural ideas from Sri Lanka. Perhaps the most beautifully preserved of Thailand's medieval monuments are at the Ayutthaya historical park, north of Bangkok. Of special interest are stupas with characteristic Thai "lotus bud" domes, and temple towers showing the influence both of medieval Khmer design and of "honeycombed" south Indian shikhara towers.
Buddhist Sites in Cambodia
After a horrifying period of war, the Hindu temple complex of Angkor Wat and the Buddhist Angkor Thom are again accessible. Angkor Thom was the creation of the Khmer "god-king" Jayavarman VII (1181-1219), who converted to Mahayana following the destruction of Angkor by the Cham (Vietnamese) during his father's reign. Jayavarman's Buddhism seems to have been a revised version of the Brahmanical religion which previous Khmer kings had exploited to deify their own persons. The central deity in Jayavarman's religion was Lokeshvara, "Lord of the Worlds", and rebuilding Angkor Thom on a stupendously grand scale, the king created a "Buddhist" city as a monument to Lokeshvara, who was an aspect of Jayavarman's divine self. This convergence of king and deity is still visible in the portrait masks of Jayavarman carved on the four faces of the Bayon temple towers of Angkor Thorn.
Borobudur and many other southeast Asian temples, Angkor Thom
was conceived as a model of the Buddhist universe. At the
centre of an immense complex of shrines is the great Bayon
temple with its cluster of five towers, the tallest of which
represents Mount Meru, the cosmic axis. The whole of Angkor
was moated with 100 yards (90m) of water and criss-crossed by
a brilliantly engineered system of canals: the water motif
symbolizing the cosmic ocean and the world's four sacred
rivers and - not least - acting as an irrigation system. Much
of the power of Angkor Thom emanates from a profusion of
Hindu-Buddhist iconography, carved in a wild, sweet style on the gates and terraces of Jayavarman's temple-mountain. The god-king's portrait gazing across his shattered domain adds sinister pathos.
Buddhist Sites in Indonesia
The Borobudur Temple complex is one of the greatest monuments in the world. It is of uncertain age, but thought to have been built between the end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth century A.D. For about a century and a half it was the spiritual centre of Buddhism in Java, then it was lost until its rediscovery in the eighteenth century. The structure, composed of 55,000 square metres of lava-rock is erected on a hill in the form of a stepped-pyramid of six rectangular storeys, three circular terraces and a central stupa forming the summit. The whole structure is in the form of a lotus, the sacred flower of Buddha.
Besides being the highest symbol of Buddhism, the Borobudur stupa is also a replica of the universe. It symbolises the micro-cosmos, which is divided into three levels, in which man's world of desire is influenced by negative impulses; the middle level, the world in which man has control of his negative impulses and uses his positive impulses; the highest level, in which the world of man is no longer bounded by physical and worldly desire. It is ancient devotional practice to circumambulate around the galleries and terraces always turning to the left and keeping the edifice to the right while either chanting or meditating. In total, Borobudur represents the ten levels of a Bodhisattva's life which a person must develop to become a Buddha or an awakened one.