Collection Inspiration: Buddhist Sites

Posted on 4/23/2024

During the spring months, Buddha's birthday is observed across the globe, so we're celebrating with notes that feature images of various Buddhist sites.

Spring is in full swing, and millions of people are celebrating with numerous festivals across Asia in honor of Buddha's birthday. Buddhism, the religion and philosophical tradition based on teachings that are attributed to Buddha, is the fourth-largest religion globally. Originating in East Asia during the 5th century B.C., Buddhism is practiced by more than 500 million followers around the world today.

The date of Buddha's birthday is observed according to several Asian lunisolar calendars. Therefore, the date differs each year by Western Gregorian calendar standards, but his birthday is typically honored in either April or May.

Throughout South and Southeast Asia, Buddhist followers celebrate Vesak, a festival that celebrates Buddha's birth, enlightenment and nirvana-after-death. Tibetan Buddhism specifically celebrates his birthday on April 7. Meanwhile, in East Asia, Vietnam and the Philippines, Buddha's enlightenment and death are observed as separate holidays. As many cultures around the globe recognize Buddha's birthday at this time of year, we're celebrating with 10 examples of banknotes that feature various Buddhist sites.

Ten Banknotes Featuring Buddhist Sites


Bhutan is a small landlocked country between China and India that features a beautiful Buddhist monastery and fortress called Tashichho Dzong in the city of Thimphu. The original building was created in 1216, but most of it was destroyed in a fire in 1772. Since 1968, Tashichho Dzong has been the seat of Bhutan's government. Today, it still contains the King of Bhutan's throne room and offices, the cabinet secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance. The Buddhist monastery was commemorated in 1994 on the back of the Royal Monetary Authority's 100 Ngultrum banknote.

Click images to enlarge.


Said to be the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat is a gigantic Buddhist temple complex located in northern Cambodia. Spread across more than 400 acres of land, it was originally constructed as a Hindu temple during the 12th century. However, by the end of the same century, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple and has remained as such, even though it is now a beloved tourist attraction and not an active temple anymore. In 2004, a portion of the sprawling temple was used as the focal image of the front of the Cambodia, National Bank 500 Riels banknote.

Click images to enlarge.


Enshrined on modern banknotes for its cultural importance to India, the Sanchi Stupa is a Buddhist complex that includes one of the oldest stone structures in the country: the Great Stupa. Erected in the 3rd century BC, smaller stupas were also built in the area through the years, highlighted by Stupa No. 2 and Stupa No. 3. As one of the oldest and best-preserved groups of Buddhist monuments in India, the Sanchi Stupa sits proudly on the back of the 2017 India, Reserve Bank 200 Rupees note.

Click images to enlarge.


Similar to Cambodia's Angkor Wat listed previously, Indonesia's Borobudur ranks as one of the greatest archeological sites in Southeast Asia. As the largest Buddhist temple in the world in the world (not temple complex, like Angkor Wat), Borobudur is the most visited monument in the nation. To this day, it remains an important pilgrimage site, as Buddhists celebrate Vesak Day annually. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1980s, an image of Borobudur is shown on the back of the Indonesia, Bank Indonesia 1992 / 1996 10,000 Rupiah note.

Click images to enlarge.


Once considered one of the Seven Great Temples of the Nara Prefecture, the Hōryū-ji Temple is a Buddhist complex used as both a seminary and monastery. Founded in 607 by Prince Shōtoku and rebuilt after lightning started a fire in 670, the temple is recognized as the world's oldest wooden building. With its famous five-story pagoda as a centerpiece of the complex, the temple was registered as Japan's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. The temple was also showcased in bright blue ink on the back of Japanese 100 Yen notes in the mid-20th century.

Click images to enlarge.


The Haw Phra Kaew temple was first built in 1565 to house the Emerald Buddha, considered a sacred Buddhist monument of Thailand. Located in Vientiane, the capital and largest city of Laos, the temple has been rebuilt several times through the centuries. The Emerald Buddha was looted and taken to Thonburi in the late 1700s, now residing in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. Today, the interior of Haw Phra Kaew temple houses a museum of religious art and a small shop. In 2010, Laos included an image of the Buddhist temple on the country's commemorative 100,000 Kip banknote.

Click images to enlarge.


As one of the more unique Buddhist sites on our list, the Pillars of Ashoka are a series of monolithic pillars that were erected in several countries in Southeast Asia, including Nepal. Each averaging 40 to 50 feet in height, 20 of the pillars have survived to this day. The pillars were each originally built at Buddhist monasteries, which included several important sites from the life of Buddha, along with certain places of his pilgrimage. Nepal's famous pillar could easily be missed on the front of the 2019 Nepal, Rastra Bank 110 Rupees note since the image of the Himalayan mountains is the focal point. But a closer look in the middle of the note shows the monolith running parallel to the note's security strip.

Click images to enlarge.

Sri Lanka

The front of Sri Lanka's 10 Rupees banknote from 1987 features a rendering of Sri Dalada Maligawa, otherwise known as the Temple of the Tooth. Located in the Royal Palace Complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy (from the 15th to 19th centuries), this temple houses what Buddhists venerate as a prominent relic: the tooth of the Buddha. Worship is still conducted at the temple, including three daily rituals and a symbolic bathing of the tooth relic. Due to the importance of the Buddhist site and relic, Sri Dalada Maligawa was named a World Heritage Site in 1988.

Click images to enlarge.


Wat Pho is a Buddhist temple complex located in Bangkok, Thailand, which is also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Completed in the 16th century, the temple is listed as the first of six first-class royal temples in Thailand. It houses the largest collection of Buddha images in the country, including a 150-foot-long reclining Buddha. As the earliest site ever used in Thailand for public education, it still holds a school of Thai medicine and is considered the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, which is still taught and practiced at the temple. The Buddhist site was honored in 2014 by its inclusion on the back of the Thailand, Bank of Thailand ND(2014) 500 Baht banknote.

Click images to enlarge.


Built in 1262, this Vietnamese Buddhist site's construction includes two parts: Pho Minh pagoda and Pho Minh tower. They sit just west of the Trần dynasty's Trung Quang Palace and south of Hanoi. The pagoda was used for worship by the mandarins and the aristocracy of the Tran Royal Court, a Vietnamese dynasty that ruled from 1225 to 1400. In 2012, the historical and architectural art relics connected to the complex and housed in the pagoda were classified as special national relics. Vietnam paid tribute to the Buddhist site on the back of their 100 Dong banknotes from the early 1990s.

Click images to enlarge.

If you're interested in more banknotes connected to religious sites, check out our previous Collection Inspiration columns featuring churches and mosques.

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