Stupas: Meaning and Importance

After the passing away of the Buddha, his remains were cremated and the ashes divided and buried under eight stupas with two further stupas encasing the urn and the embers. Little is known about these early stupas, particularly since it has not been possible to identify the original ten monuments. However, some later stupas, such as at Sarnath and Sanchi, seem to be embellishments of earlier mounds.

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Stupas

Emperor Ashoka had built a great number of stupas. , the emperor had the original stupas opened and the remains distributed among the several thousand stupas he had built. However the stupas that were built at the eight places which are associated with life of Buddha  are considered of importance. And with time the importance of these stupas changed from funerary monument to being an object of respect and prayer.

A stupa has a shape of a solid hemispherical dome on which stands a kind of kiosk. A railing surrounds this (vedika) . This railing were constructed of stone but it resembles the looks of wooden railings of the past in design.

Over the period these stupa has evolved into the pagoda as a result of Buddhism being spread to asian countries. In the western dictionary both stupa and pagoda there  is no clear difference or distinction mentioned. But in general stupa is used for a Buddhist structure of India or south-east Asia, while pagoda refers to a building in east Asia which can be entered and which may be secular in purpose.

There is no mention in tibetian text on stupa symbolism but it has been assumed from years that a represents the five purified elements:

  • The Square base represents earth.
    • The hemispherical dome/vase represents water.
      • The conical spire represents fire.
        • The upper lotus parasol and the crescent moon represents air.
        • The sun and the dissolving point represents the element of space.

        * The conical spire represents fire.

        * The upper lotus parasol and the crescent moon represents air.

        * The sun and the dissolving point represents the element of space.

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        The Sanchi stupa in Madhya Pradesh is the best specimen of stupa art. The finest of Buddhist stupas in South India is that in Amaravathi, Andhra Pradesh. Stupas were also erected in Nagarjunakonda, Jaggayapetta and Ghantasala in South India.

        Smaller miniature stupas were also placed around the main, as is the case in Bodh Gaya, Gandhara and Nepal, where the pilgrims placed the stone replicas, sometimes with a Buddha statue within. The Gandhara stupas show great development in decorative sculptural elegance with a higher base.

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