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Buddhist shrines around the world
Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Buddhism is one of the planet's most popular religions, with estimates ranging from 350 to 550 million followers worldwide.

Like many other religions, Buddhism has a strong culture of pilgrimage, with the four most important sites located in southern Nepal and on the Gangetic plains of Northern India — where the Gautama Buddha is believed to have lived and taught. 

These sites include Lumbini, the Gautama Buddha's birthplace in southern Nepal, which received renewed attention in November 2013 after scientists investigated ancient ruins beneath the current pilgrimage site. 

More from GlobalPost: China vs. India: The battle for Buddha

Sarnath, the deer park where the Gautama Buddha was said to have first taught the Dharma is another major Buddhist site, located near the Hindu holy city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India. 

Third is Bodhi Gaya, where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment under the iconic Bodhi tree. The modern pilgrimage site is at the Mahabodhi Temple Complex in India's Bihar state — a popular destination for devotees from around the world. 

The final major site is Kusinara (now referred to as Kushinagar), where the Buddha is said to have died and reached Parinirvana, or total enlightenment. 

These four major sites are by no means the only important sites of Buddhist pilgrimage in the modern world, however. Here's a photographic sampling of other hot spots. 

mongolia shrine

This photo taken on June 1, 2013 shows a roadside Buddhist shrine used by travelers and pilgrims to bless their journeys on the outskirts of Ulan Bator, Mongolia. The country traditionally practiced a shamanist religion but converted to Tibetan Buddhisn after their invasion of China in the 14th century. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON

(MARK RALSTON - GlobalPost)

Women arrange flowers at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

(Faine Greenwood - GlobalPost)
Borobudur temple shrine

In this photo taken on May 28, 2010 in Magelang shows the Borobudur temple as both a shrine to Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrimage. The Borobudur is a ninth-Century Mahayana Buddhist monument located at Magelang, 42-km northwest of Yogyakarta. The Borobudur temple is the one of the best-preserved ancient monument in Indonesia that are most frequently visited by over a million domestic as well as foreign visitors. Borobudur temple built in the eighth century by the Cailendra dynasty.

(ADEK BERRY - AFP/Getty Images)
buddhist shrine kathmandu

A Buddhist monk walks amongst the various shrines at the Swayambhu Temple in Kathmandu, 05 August 2007. Swayambhu temple is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in the area of Kathmandu. Although the site is considered Buddhist, the place is revered by both Buddhists and Hindus.

mahabodhi temple india

Tibet's third holiest man, the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorjee (C) arrives at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya in the northern Bihar state on November 14, 2012. The Karmapa means 'the one who carries out Buddha activity' and in similiar fashion to the 14th Dalai Lama, the 17th Karmapa also fled his homeland Tibet for various freedoms and now lives in exile in the Indian Himalayan town of Dharamsala also known as the de facto capital of Tibetan exiles. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

(STR/Stringer - AFP/Getty Images)
sarnath dali lama

His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Foreground-R) offers prayers along with other Buddhist monks offers prayers during a meeting for world peace at Sarnath, some 18 Kms from Varanasi on January 13, 2009. The Dalai Lama lead a special prayer meeting with prayers offered for world peace at the sacred Buddhist site of Sarnath. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

(STRDEL - AFP/Getty Images)
Kushinagar shrine

The Parinirvana Temple with the Parinirvana Stupa at Kushinagar, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Kushinagar is believed to have been the site of the Buddha's death, and where he then attained Parinirvana. It is one of Buddhism's four most important pilgrimage sites.

( - Wikimedia commons)
bodhi tree buddhism

Monks chant as they sit under the Bodhi tree adjacent to the Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini some 200kms west of Kathmandu on April 17, 2013. The temple is dedicated to Buddha's mother and is one of the four most sacred places in Buddhism, as it is the site of his birth.

(Kyle Knight/AFP - AFP/Getty Images)
nepal Swayambhunath Stupa

A view of the moon and Swayambhunath Stupa during celebrations to mark Buddha's birthday in Kathmandu on May 27, 2010. Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal some 200 kms southwest of Kathmandu valley. Buddhists commemorate the birth of Buddha, his attaining enlightenment and his passing away on the full moon day of May which falls on May 27 this year. AFP PHOTO/Prakash MATHEMA (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images)

(Prakash Mathema - AFP/Getty Images)
senso-ji temple

Surrounded by a crowd, Japanese youth wearing traditional costumes carry a portable shrine on the approach to the Senso-ji Temple during Tokyo's largest festival 'Sanja Matsuri', 21 May 2005. Some 100 portable shrines are brought to the Buddhist temple to receive a purification ceremony which heralds the coming of summer in the Japanese capital. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA

(TORU YAMANAKA - AFP/Getty Images)
jokhang tibet

A Tibetan Buddhist nun prays outside the Jokhang Temple on June 20, 2009 in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. Traditionally, Lhasa is the seat of the Dalai Lama, the capital of Tibet and is the highest capital in the world. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

(Feng Li - AFP/Getty Images)
jokhang monks

Tibetan Buddhist monks debate doctrines at the Jokhang Temple on June 20, 2009 in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. Traditionally, Lhasa is the seat of the Dalai Lama and the capital of Tibet, and is the highest capital in the world. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

(Feng Li - AFP/Getty Images)
Shewe group

Worshippers at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar in May of 2013.

(Faine Greenwood - GlobalPost)
sri lanka buddhist monk

A Sri Lankan Buddhist monk walks at the Sri Maha Bodi, Sri Lanka's holiest tree which the faithful believe is a sapling from the original Banyan tree which sheltered the Buddha when he attained enlightenment over 2,500 years ago, in Anuradhapura on October 4, 2013. The predominantly Buddhist Island nation marks every full moon as a key religious holiday.

lotus shrine cambodia

Cambodian people pray in front of lotus flowers at a shrine in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on March 25, 2009. Buddhist followers use the lotus flower for praying to Buddha or in Buddhist ceremonies. It symbolizes the clarity of heart as well as the mind. as well as representing strength, good luck, long life as well as honor and respect.

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