Buddhists are not required to worship in temples, but many do so in order to meditate on the Four Noble Truths, the essence of Buddha’s teachings. Meditation itself is a central practice in Buddhism which today counts some 500 million followers. Mainly in Asia but increasingly so in western countries. Those Buddhists who can, undertake a pilgrimage to the holy places associated with the Buddha’s life. Stupas to accommodate any sacred relics are common. Pilgrims walk around these bell-shaped structures by way of paying their respects and to turn prayer wheels containing Buddhist texts. The most important sites revered by all branches of Buddhism are: Lumbini birthplace), Bodghaya (enlightenment) Sarnath (where Buddha gave his first sermon) and Kusinara (where he died).
Siddhartha Gautama, who was given the honorific title of Lord Buddha (literally meaning the awakened one) was born in 623 BCE in Lumbini in what is now southern Nepal. This is verified by an inscription on a pillar erected by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, an early convert to Buddhism in the third century. The Lumbini monuments were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.
The Dhamekh Stupa, built in 200 BCE, is located in Sarnath, 12 kms from the Hindu city of Varanasi in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It marks the place where Buddha delivered his first discourse on the noble Eightfold Path to enlightenment. Sarnath is one of the four holy sites in India sanctioned by the Buddha himself for pilgrimage. Pictured is a pilgrim circumambulating the lofty structure.
Buddha died c.487-483 BCE. His final days are described in the Pali text called the Great Parinirvana Sutra. On reaching the village of Kusinara in eastern Uttar Pradesh, he instructed Ananda, his most faithful disciple, to prepare a bed for him with its head aligned towards the north. Above is the 61 m. long dying Buddha statue in the Mahaparinivana Temple in Kusinara which all devout Buddhist hope to visit.
The group of Sanchi monuments, 32 km east of Bhopal in the state of Madya Pradesh, date from the Mauryan Empire, mid-third century BCE. Central is the Great Stupa, a solid hemispherical dome symbolizing the dome of heaven enclosing earth. Four gateways surrounding the stupa are adorned with scenes from the Buddha’s life. Carvings also depict the Emperor Ashoka’s visit to the sacred Bo Tree at Bodhgaya.
Bodhgaya in Bihar, is the centre of the universe for Buddhists. It was here, under a spreading bodhi tree, that Siddhartha Gautama spent six years meditating on the nature of life and the path to nirvana. When the young ascetic attained the higher state known as enlightenment, he became known as Lord Buddha. The Bo Tree and adjacent Mahabodi Temple were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2002.
The Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu is believed to have been a Buddhist pilgrimage destination since at least the 5thcentury. Legend says a miraculous lotus planted by a past Buddha blossomed into its golden spire set with two eyes. Between the eyes, the Nepali figure 1 symbolises the one righteous path to nirvana. Pilgrims include Vajrayana Buddhists of northern Nepal and Tibet and Newari Buddhists from central and southern Nepal. Sacred texts written on prayer flags are believed to disperse as the flags flutter in the wind.
Lhasa is noted for traditional buildings related to Tibetan Buddhism. Among them is the four-storey Johkang Palace housing the Jowo Shakyamuni Buddha statue, the most venerated object for Tibetan Buddhists. The gilded bronze tiled roof of the palace is topped with two deer flanking the eight-spoked dharma wheel, or “Wheel of Law” central to Buddhist philosophy. The original palace dates from around 642 CE.
Sri Lanka abounds in Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Everywhere are temples, stupas and rock carvings of the Buddha. There is also the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, whose shrine room contains a sacred tooth relic of the Buddha brought to the island in 4 CE. The tooth is paraded on the Maligawa temple elephant in an annual procession known as the Kandy Perahera.
Mount Kailash, in the Trans-Himalayan region of south-west Tibet, is venerated as a holy place by Hindus and Jains as well as Buddhists. Embedded in ancient Asian myths, the sacred mountains has historically attracted pilgrims. Most walk around the base, while especially devout Tibetan Buddhists make full body prostrations the entire way round, an arduous commitment taking some three weeks.
The Dazu rock carvings are a series of Buddha images, displaying Taoist and Confucian influences, in Chongqing Municipality of south-west China. The estimated 10,000 individual statues are in a remarkable state of preservation considering their age, late 9thcentury to mid 12th century. Like many Buddhist sites, today they are visited by tourists as well as Chinese Buddhist and Taoist pilgrims.
The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar. Built by the Mon people in the 6th century, it enshrines eight hairs of the Buddha and a tooth relic.The soaring gold plated stupa is crowned by a hti, or umbrella, embedded with thousands of rubies and diamonds. Entering via one of four stairways, pilgrims buy incense, candles and flowers to offer to at small shrines around its base.
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The mosque takes many forms across the Islamic world. While certain features are usually common to all —notably the prayer hall, dome and minaret—the architectural style and decoration are strongly influenced by regional traditions of the time and country where it was built. Today wealth also plays a big part in the construction of a mosque. By comparison with the very simple Muslim places of worship made of mud or palm fronds found in rural villages in Asia, are the elaborate mosques built by wealthy Arab states with no expense is spared. This said, the purpose is the same: ritualized worship especially on Friday when every male is expected to attend the jamii masjid (literally Friday mosque). Some Muslim countries do not admit non-believers in their mosques, but realizing their value as both a tourist attraction and in spreading the word, increasing numbers now allow visitors.
The Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif, north west Afghanistan, has foundations from the 12th century. It was rebuilt in the 15th century by the Seljuk Sultan Husayn Mirza Bayqarah using both Sunni and Shi’a artisans who covered the entire structure with turquoise tiles, many inscribed with verses from the holy Qur’an. Shi’ite followers believe it contains the tomb of Ali, a son-in-law of the Prophet whom they consider the Fourth Caliph.
The al-Azhar Mosque was established by the Fatimid dynasty shortly after the founding of Cairo in 969 CE. Built by the Caliph Muizz Li-Din Allah, it opened for prayers in 972 CE. The madrassa within the complex initially spread Ismaili-Shi`ite teachings before switching to mainstream Sunni doctrine when the Ayyubid dynasty assumed power in Egypt in the 12th century. The mosque and associated university is the most revered in the Muslim world.
The Sultan Ahmet or Blue Mosque in the Sultan Ahmet district of Istanbul is attributed to the architect Sedefkar Mehmet Aga who based its design on a fusion of Ottoman and Byzantine elements featuring cascading domes flanked by six soaring minarets. Commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I between 1603-17 CE, it takes its nickname from the misty blue Iznik tiles which cover the entire building.
The Great Mosque of Djenne located in the central west African country of Mali is the largest adobe building in the world. Built in Sudano-Sahelian style of architecture, it was raised in the 13thcentury. The nature of its material requires regular re-plastering with riverine mud. The present structure dates from 1907 and with other historic monuments in Djenne, it is inscribed on the UN World Heritage list.
The Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb c.1673. Paved in red sandstone, both the interior and exterior are decorated with elaborate white marble carvings in a floral design common to Mughal art. At the time of its completion, the Badshahi was the largest mosque in the world. The prayer-hall and courtyard can accommodate 56,000 worshippers.
The Masjid Gedhe Kauman State mosque of Yogakarta, Indonesia, was built in 1773. Its triple tiered roof design is typical of traditional Javanese religious architecture being also noted for the absence of a dome and minarets.The prayer hall features 36 columns of teak. A pavilion within the complex is for the gamelan orchestra used on various Islamic-Javanese religious occasions.
The Baitul Mukkaram in Dhaka is the national mosque of Bangladesh. Designed by the Indian architect Abdulhusein Meheraly Thariani, its unusual large cube shape is modeled on the sacred ka’abah in the holy city of Mecca. The mosque lacks the traditional Islamic dome over the prayer hall which is roofless to allow in natural light. It opened for worship in 1968.
The Ubudiah Mosque located in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar in the state of Perak, Malaysia, features the voluptuous Indo-Saracenic style of architecture popular in Asian colonies of the British Empire. Designed by Arthur Bension Hubback during the reign of the 28th sultan of Perak, it opened for worship in 1917.
The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca is the largest mosque in Morocco with the world’s tallest minaret (210 metres) whose laser beam is visible to shipping 10 kms out in the Atlantic Ocean. Standing on a coastal promontory, the huge building designed by architect Michel Pinseau, can accommodate more than 105,000 worshippers. It opened in 1993 and may be visited by non-believers.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, is one of the major modern mosques in Islam. In size equal to five football fields, it boasts the world’s largest dome, the biggest chandelier and the longest carpet made of 2,268,000 knots and weighing about 47 tonnes. Opened in 2007, the mosque can hold 40,000 worshippers. Guided tours are available except on Friday prayer time.
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EASTER commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, three days after his death by crucifixion, is observed by all branches of Christianity. According to the teachings of the Apostle Paul, had Jesus not been resurrected, the Christian faith would be meaningless (1 Cor. 15:14-17). Plainly put, without Easter there is no Christianity. Easter — Festa Paschalia—— is preceded by Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and repentance culminating in the manifestations of Holy Week and reaching a climax on Easter Sunday.
ASH WEDNESDAY, THE FIRST DAY OF CHRISTIAN LENT
CHRISTIANS COMMEMORATE PALM SUNDAY IN WINNEBA, GHANA
FOOT WASHING ON MAUNDY THURSDAY, ST SAVIOURS’ HIGH ANGLICAN CHURCH PIMLICO
HOLY WEEK PROCESSION IN GUATEMALA
CATHOLIC PENITENTS PROCESS DURING HOLY WEEK IN SEVILLE
MEMBERS OF THE CATHEDRAL OF JESUS THE KING IN NDOLA , ZAMBIA, RE-ENACT THE SUFFERING OF JESUS
GOOD FRIDAY SERVICE OUTSIDE ST BARTHOLOMEWS, EAST LONDON
JESUS ON THE CROSS
JESUS IS BROUGHT DOWN FROM THE CROSS, PAINTING ST PUBLIUS CHURCH, MALTA
LIGHTING THE PASCHAL CANDLE ON EASTER SATURDAY
CROWDS THRONG ST PETER’S SQUARE FOR THE PAPAL BLESSING ON EASTER SUNDAY
EASTER EGGS SYMBOLISING NEW LIFE AND THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST
DISTRIBUTION OF EGGS ON EASTER SUNDAY
THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST, ST JAMES CHURCH, DELHI
The lotus flower is more than just a beautiful bloom, it is richly symbolic in many Eastern religions featuring not only in worship and art, but in medicine and cuisine.
In Asia where it is widespread in swamps and lakes, it is considered a sacred plant, while murals from tombs in the Valley of the KIngs in Luxor, indicate its status in Pharaonic society..
The ancient Egyptians associated the lotus with the sun and creation. Their belief stems from the way the plant sends up a flower through muddy water to blossom in the sunshine. Then closing its petals at night, it sinks beneath the surface only to rise and open its petals again at dawn. Symbolic of rebirth.
The national flower of India, the sacred lotus, Nelumbo nucifera, is esteemed by Hindus who use it among other puja offerings to their deities. Artists often include a lotus in paintings of the gods Brahma and Vishnu and the goddess Lakshmi.
As well as being offered in Hindu worship rituals, the lotus has many uses in traditional Asian medicine. The root is used to treat a variety of ailments including skin rash and diarrhoea. Its large leaves act like cooling sheets to reduce a fever.
The lotus figures prominently in Buddhism where the pure, unblemished flower is considered to symbolise enlightenment. The “Noble Eightfold Path” —the Buddha’s guidance for righteous living— is believed to have been based on the eight-fold petals of the sacred flower.
Artwork of the Buddha frequently features him seated on an opened lotus flower. Hence the term “lotus position”, a cross-legged sitting asana originating from meditative postures in ancient India.
Lotus flowers are offered in Buddhist temple ceremonies, above. Below, a monk places a flower at the foot of a sacred Bo tree in Sri Lanka.
In Cambodia lotus leaves are used to sprinkle holy water on a bride and groom at a Khmer wedding. An excellent source of iron and fibre, the cooked root is used in many Buddhist vegetarian recipes.
The different colours of the lotus flower all have associated symbolism:
White represents a state of spiritual enlightenment and mental purity.
Red symbolises love and compassion.
Pink is reserved for the supreme deity: Lord Buddha himself.
Blue symbolises the victory of the spirit over the senses, significant of wisdom and knowledge.
Purple speaks of spirituality and mysticism.
Gold links the purity of the lotus with the divinity of an enlightened person.
A GOLD LOTUS FLOWER IN THE MEENAKSI TEMPLE IN MADURAI, TAMIL NADU, INDIA
As dawn breaks over the Ganges in Varanasi, flickering candles on banana leaf offerings drift past our boat.
As the sun rises higher, the stepped ghats lining the riverbank become a hive of activity.
Early arrivals are flower-sellers, priests and sadhus. or holy men, who make a living from the thousands of pilgrims who visit the sacred city.
Women wearing vividly patterned saris arrive to bathe.
Seated on the steps of the Assi Ghat, youths lather themselves with soap.
Ablutions performed, prayers are said and smoke curls upwards from the first cremation of the day on the Manarkarnika Ghat, the principal burning ghat in Varanasi.
On Kedar Ghat, professional laundry men begin washing clothes, slapping them on large flat stones with such force that we can hear the echo out on the river. There is religious merit in having your clothes washed in Varanasi, but Brahmins, the upper class in Hindu society, employ their own dhobi-wallahs to avoid caste contamination.
Varanasi is the home of Lord Shiva, one of the three main deities in Hinduism. Not only his Shaivite followers, but every devout Hindu hopes to die here and to have his ashes scattered on the holy river.
Throughout the day, corpses wrapped in gold-coloured bindings are brought for cremation. Another, then another, arrives on a litter borne through Varanasi’s narrow lanes by Doms —low caste untouchables, or Dalits.
Mourners stand watching the funeral pyres being built by other Dalits who perform all the unsavoury jobs at Varanasi.
Only male relatives attend a funeral. Normally the eldest son carries out the obsequies. He lights the pyre after first placing a burning stick in the mouth of the deceased.
Not everyone is cremated however. Sadhus, pregnant women and children under two are considered pure and do not need to be cleansed by the sacred fire. They are either buried or set adrift on the river.
Photography by Julian Worker, Nick Dawson and Prem Kapoor.
CHRISTIAN HOLY SACRAMENTS
Food has always played a significant role in worship. Probably the best known sacred foods are the bread and wine of the Christian Eucharist, but puja offerings in Eastern religions are equally blessed.
SIMPLE BUTTER LAMPS HINDU PUJA
While rooted in tradition and religious texts, the choice of sacred foods is clearly dependent on climate, availability and financial status. Hence a poor Hindu will light a simple butter lamp for a favourite deity while a wealthy Daoist family orders roasted suckling pigs for a grand send-off at a Chinese funeral.
ROAST SUCKLING PIGS FOR A CHINESE FUNERAL IN CAMBODIA
Edible offerings from temple ceremonies are not wasted being distributed among the less well off. Animals and birds also receive a share as do sacred eels in certain cultural beliefs.
MOON CAKE FESTIVAL OFFERINGS AT A HOKKIEN TEMPLE
Special status is accorded some foods such as the honey used in Jain purification rites.
JAIN PRIESTS BATHE A STATUE OF LORD MATHAVIR WITH HONEY
The seder plate, displayed on the dining table at the Jewish Passover, contains seven symbolic foods recalling the Exodus.
A SEDER PLATE WITH SYMBOLIC FOODS
Simple water becomes sanctified in Christian baptismal ceremonies, sacred water from the River Ganga is flown to Hindu festivals far from its source.
CHRISTIAN BAPTISM USING SANCTIFIED WATER
Beans are thrown during Khmer wedding rituals, eggs are offered to Taoist temple gods, milk is poured on Shiva linga.
HINDU BOY POURING SACRED MILK ON A SHIVA LINGUM
Once sacrificed on Aztec altars and pre-Islamic shrines, human beings were the ultimate in sacred offerings to the Divine.
ANCIENT MARAE ONCE USED FOR HUMAN SACRIFICES IN POLYNESIA (TAHITI)