Religion can come up in unexpected ways and unexpected places. While south Louisiana is thought of as a Catholic area, three tourist sites offer glimpses of Eastern religions. Each is an easy day trip from Baton Rouge.
When visiting the Tabasco factory, people can tour the Jungle Gardens and Bird City.
An Asian-themed garden features a pavilion housing a large Buddha. The website http://junglegardens.org/ says that a 1920s Chinese warlord sent a 900-year-old statue to America, where it sat unclaimed for years.
In 1936, friends of E.A. McIlhenny purchased it as a surprise for him. McIlhenny then designed the Asian garden for the statue.
The website says that many Buddhists visit to offer prayers and gifts to the statue.
Avery Island and Jungle Gardens and Bird City
WHERE: La. 329 (Avery Island Road), Avery Island.
HOURS: Tabaso Pepper Sauce Factory Tour, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. daily and Jungle Gardens and Bird City, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
ADMISSION: There is a $1 toll to enter the island. For the gardens: Adults $8, children 12 and under $5.
The Rip Van Winkle Garden has several southeast Asian-themed items in its garden.
Visitors are greeted with a temple bell from Burma (Myanmar) outside the main entrance.
This bell, probably from a Buddhist sect, would have been rung for good luck. The garden owner, Mike Richard Sr., said he purchased the bell in Thailand. He said that the temples replace the bells rather than keep old ones. They usually cast a new bell from the old one, but this bell may have been sold for money to help combat military problems in Myanmar.
The bell is covered with Sanskrit-related writing that is composed of dots to represent little moons.
Richard said he bought the bell because, “I love bells.”
He also has a relationship to Indonesia and southeast Asia because his daughter-in-law is from Thailand. After spending time in Thailand, Richard said, he visited Bali, which is very close to Thailand in spirit and is the only island in Indonesia that is not Muslim. It is Hindu.
Bali is represented on the property by a large gate custom-carved in Batubulan.
It is a symbolic gate for weddings.
The gate faces west so that the couple heads east toward the rising sun, the source of enlightenment. As they enter the gate, they enter their new life as a couple for life.
Standing guardians on one side prevent past lives from following the couple. Seated guardians on the other side discourage a return to single life as marriage is a lifetime commitment.
A small structure at the back symbolizes the hurdles one must overcome in life.
Richard said he has added pieces, including a large antique temple gong in the past year.
“We want to give people an awareness that there are other viewpoints,” Richard said.
He said these religions have “some of the same thoughts about humanity” as Christianity.
Jefferson Island and Rip Van Winkle Gardens
WHERE: 5505 Rip Van Winkle Road, New Iberia.
HOURS: Tours begin on the hour starting at 9 a.m. daily. The last tour begins at 4 p.m.
FOR INFORMATION: (337) 359-8525, http://www.ripvanwinklegardens.com/.
ADMISSION: Adults $10, children and senior citizens $8.
The zoo opened its Realm of the Tiger in April 2010. As visitors near the tigers, they pass under a carved bird on a gate known as torii (TORE-ee-ee). The gates are associated with the Shinto religion, common in Japan and found throughout southeast Asia.
A sign on the gate says that torii means where the birds nest. The sign says that the gate “marks the boundary between the sacred world of the shrine and the profane world outside.
“In Thailand the gates are often topped with a carved wooden bird. Birds are thought to be messengers of the gods and the torii represents a bird perch. The carved bird is thought to prevent evil spirits from entering the village.
“Torii are often donated by worshippers and companies in thanksgiving for good luck and financial success, or in hope of blessings.”
Realm of the Tiger at BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo
WHERE: 3601 Thomas Road, Baker.
HOURS: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Grounds close at 5 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Grounds close at 6 p.m.
FOR INFORMATION: http://www.brzoo.org/.
ADMISSION: Adults and teens $7, 2-12 years old $4, Senior citizens $6.