Religious architecture, often called ‘monuments’ within the current understanding of ancient shrines, are prominent features of the landscape in South and Southeast Asia. Many of these sites are admired for their artistic and aesthetic appeal and are centres of tourism and travel. This paper traces the historical trajectory of three contemporary monuments of Buddhist affiliation across the Bay of Bengal, namely Nalanda in north India, Borobudur in Central Java, and Nakhon Pathom in Central Thailand to address both their distinctiveness and their interconnectedness. The paper also focuses on the extent to which these shrines reflect the religious theories that prevailed between the sixth and the thirteenth centuries AD and are currently known to us through religious texts. It is not often appreciated that ‘collections’ of religious texts, as well as the ‘discovery’ of monuments were mediated through the priorities and practices of European and Western scholars from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The history of the study of Buddhism shows that it centred on religious texts and philosophical doctrines produced by a small group of monastic elites, with little attention paid to the more difficult questions of the contexts underlying textual production and circulation. This paper suggests that it is important to factor in the colonization of South and Southeast Asia into any discussion on the understanding of religions and monuments, as well as current interest in these monuments, which are also World Heritage Sites and associated with present interests in maritime heritage.