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When you travel around Thailand, you will see a lot of Buddhist temples. Thais call a temple wat.

Like churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious places of worship, Buddhist temples are one of the most common places in Thailand where people gather.

Here you'll learn about the main buildings in Buddhist temples, their functions and basic temple etiquette.

Buddhist-Temple Buildings

In Buddhist temples, the ordination hall is usually the most outstanding building. Other structures in the temple compound include a shrine hall, pagodas, pavilions, monks' living quarters, a bell tower and a crematorium.

Ordination Hall

This temple is used for monk ordainations
The ordination hall or bot is usually the easiest building to spot at a temple. Generally, it's also the biggest and most beautiful structure on the temple grounds.

The ordination hall houses the temple's principle Buddha image, which can be in a sitting, standing or reclining posture.

Both the interior and exterior of the ordination hall can be very intricate with gold paint, wood work and clay work.

Interior mural paintings reflect Buddhist beliefs in reincarnation. The paintings illustrate life on earth, in heaven and hell. The mural paintings also portray Buddha's life, from birth until Nirvana.

Monks use the ordination hall for morning and evening chanting. On occasion, it's used to carry out religious rituals, where lay people participate. The most common ceremony being monk ordinations.

Buddha image in an ordination hall in Thailand
Religious ceremonies are also held in the ordination hall on Buddhist holidays.

During big religious holidays such as visakha bucha (the day the Buddha was born, became enlightened and died), most temples arrange a circumnavigation of the ordination hall. The participants walk clockwise round the ordination hall three times, this is called we-an te-an.

In this ceremony monks, nuns and lay people, walk bare feet carrying three burning incense sticks, a lit candle and flowers in their hands. It's done to pay respect to the Buddha and his teachings.

Shrine Hall

Shrine hall or vihan is another important building in Buddhist temples that houses one or more Buddha images. Certain shrine halls also have statues of respected masters, in addition to the Buddha images.

The exterior of a shrine hall may look very similar to that of an ordination hall. As a result, it can be difficult to differentiate between these two buildings.

The basic guidelines are as follows:

Thai Buddhist shrine hall
Ordination halls stand within the boundary of 8 sima stones and are used for religious functions. In addition, shrine halls are usually smaller than ordination halls.

Moreover, a shrine hall doesn't serve a ceremonial function. Instead, it's a place where lay people go to pay respect to the Buddha and other masters, in the form of Buddha images and statues.

Temple Etiquette

- Wear proper clothing (no see-throughs, no tank tops and don't expose your knees).

- Don't chew gum.

- Remove your shoes, sun-glasses and hat before entering the temple buildings.

- Don't point at anything with your feet.

- Don't sit and stretch your legs toward Buddha images, monks or other people.

- When entering an ordination hall, or a shrine hall, don't step on the threshold at the doorway called toranee pratoo.

- Don't climb on Buddha images or pose disrespectfully next to them.

- Certain temples don't permit the use of cameras.

- Always step aside when meeting monks and nuns, for example on a narrow path.

- Females can't touch monks.

Rules can be annoying, but some advice may be helpful when visiting Buddhist temples in Thailand.

Suggested Reading:   Buddhist Alms   Buddhism For Children

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