Stūpa Pagoda Caitya

Ulrich Pagel

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online April 2012 | | DOI:
Stūpa Pagoda Caitya

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The stūpa ranks among the most visible and enduring symbols of Buddhism. It first appeared in the shape of a hemispherical earthen mound sometime around 400 to 300 bce. In India, stūpas became a prominent and regular feature of Buddhist monastic complexes soon after that. Already during the 3rd and 2nd centuries bce, we meet with large-scale stūpa constructions at a number of key Buddhist sites, including Bhārhut, Sāñchī, and, perhaps a little later, Amarāvatī. As buddhist monks began to spread the buddha’s teachings to the other countries of Asia from the 2nd century bce onward, stūpas grew into one of the most readily identifiable symbols of their arrival. Even in those areas where Buddhism did not survive (including India), the stūpas were left behind to continue to testify to the (once-) widespread presence of Buddhist communities, including in Afghanistan, central Asia, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Laos, as well as in its variant form as a pagoda in China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. As Buddhism gained acceptance in these countries, it molded its prescriptions governing stūpa construction to accommodate local architectural traditions, discovering new building materials and changing shapes. From early on, stūpa structures were employed for multiple purposes. They served as central places of worship attracting monks and laymen, were adopted as mortuary containers to hold the ashes of local monks, were used to raise funds to improve living conditions in monasteries, became destinations of pilgrimage, and, more recently, have been turned into symbols of national unity, to name only a few. However, most importantly, they served to signal the presence of the buddha, not just in the abstract but also in a very physical living sense, commanding specific rights and privileges through the relics they enshrined. Furthermore, as a carrier of archaeological evidence, the stūpa continues to hold a prominent place in the study of the history of Buddhism, because its structures feature some of the earliest examples of religious architecture, stone sculpture, and inscriptions in South Asia.

Article.  10371 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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