Places of worship
The Gurdwara is the Sikh place of worship, literally meaning 'door to the Guru'. They are open to everyone, although Sikhs ask that shoes are removed and heads are covered before entry. The Gurdwara also houses the Langar, which is a free community kitchen. Most Gurdwaras also have a triangular flag flying outside with the Sikh emblem on.
Photo: Sikh temple in Ahmedabad, India, © iStockphoto/Loic Bernard
The Synagogue is a Jewish place of worship but is also the centre of the Jewish religious community, and is used for study and prayer as well as social activities. Traditional Jewish worship requires a minyan (a quorum of ten adult males) before worship can take place. Every synagogue contains an Ark, which is a cupboard where the Torah Scrolls are kept and a desk from which to read the Torah. An Eternal Light (called Ner Tamid) hangs above the Ark. This light is always burning, as a symbol of God's presence.
Photo: Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue, Berlin, © iStockphoto/Vincent Mosch
Zoroastrians worship in a Fire Temple, often called Dar be-mehr. Fire temples have the same basic architecture consisting of one large hall as you enter the building which is used for ceremonies and congregations. At the side of this is a small room, which leads onto another room which contains the fire altar itself. As Zoroastrians walk into the building, they offer sweet smelling dry wood to the priest. The priest takes the wood, holding it with a pair of silver tongs, and places the offering in the fire. Only priests attached to the temples may enter the inner sanctum of the fire altar.
Photo: A fire temple in Yazd, Iran, courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The Arabic term for Mosque is 'Masjid', which means place of prostration. Mosques are often the centre of a community, hosting the five daily prayers, classes, weddings, and meetings. When in congregation, Muslims line up in straight rows to pray, often shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot. Mosques have a large, usually carpeted hall for praying in. There is usually an alcove in the wall of bigger mosques, which magnifies a speaker's voice when they stand within it. Everyone is welcome to visit, and many hold open days.
Photo: Blue Mosque, Istanbul, © iStockphoto/Jarno Gonzalez Zarraonandia
Buddhist temples come in many shapes. Perhaps the best known are the pagodas of China and Japan. Buddhist temples are designed to symbolise the five elements: Fire; Air; Earth, symbolised by the square base; Water and Wisdom, symbolised by the pinnacle at the top. All Buddhist temples contain an image or a statue of Buddha. Worshippers may sit on the floor barefoot facing the representation of Buddha, chanting.
Photo: Kinkaku-ji temple in Japan, © iStockphoto/Luso
The Church is a building used for religious worship by Christians and it is often also used for community activities. Churches vary considerably in appearance, from small chapels to grand cathedrals, depending on the architectural style prevalent at the time they were built and also the particular branch of Christianity worshipping there. Some may consist of a single room and be very simply furnished, while others may have several additional chapels and altars with additional rooms for clergy and vestments.
Photo © iStockphoto/Moti Meiri
A Jinja is a shrine that is believed to house the spirit of a kami, and is therefore important to Shintoists. Religious services take the form of worshipping an object in which the kami is believed to reside. Jinjas are usually located in a natural environment, and are built so they look pure and simple. Originally, jinjas were located in open spaces and Shintoists would sit and observe the landscape. Due to Buddhist influence, however, jinjas were made into buildings. The area of before the jinja is usually marked, sometimes by a gate, and permission must be gained to enter it.
Photo: Torii (gate) of Itsukushima, © Dan Smith, courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The ground floor plan of a Hindu temple, called a Mandir in Hindi, is often designed to represent the cosmos and the human connection to God. It is based on a strict grid made of squares and triangles. The square shape is an important form, and the grid consists of either 64 or 81 squares. Each square represents one diety, with the most important diety taking the middle spot. The location of the temple is very important, so they are often built near lakes, mountains and rivers. Huge towers are built on the temple to represent the mountains that the gods live on.
Photo: The tower of the Meenakshi Amman temple, © iStockphoto
Bahá'í House of Worship
There are only seven purpose-built Bahá'í Houses of Worship around the world today. Most meetings occur in houses or local Bahá'í centres. According to Bahá'í belief, Houses of Worship must be nine sided and have domes. Although it is not necessary, the seven existing structures all face their meetings towards the shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, in Israel.
Photo: Bahá'í Lotus Temple in Delhi, India, © Bahá'í World News Service
The Temple is a holy building that Mormons regard as the house of the Lord. The Mormon Temple is not used for the regular weekly worship but is reserved for some of the Church's most holy ceremonies. For this reason, non-Mormons are not allowed to enter, although they are allowed to visit other Mormon places of worship. Before they take part in Temple ceremonies, Church members change into simple, modest, white clothing.
Photo: St George Temple, Utah © iStockphoto/Andrew Rich