Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Stupa
STOO pa

Excerpts
Wikipedia (online Dec. 2013)

A stupa is a mound-like or semi-hem spherical structure containing Buddhist relics, typically the ashes of Buddhist monks, used by Buddhists as a place of meditation.

Stupas originated as pre-Buddhist earthen burial mounds, in which ascetics were buried in a seated position, called chaitya.

Five types:

  • Relic stupa, in which the relics or remains of the Buddha, his disciples and lay saints are interred.

  • Object stupa, in which the items interred are objects belonged to the Buddha or his disciples such as a begging bowl or robe, or important Buddhist scriptures.

  • Commemorative stupa, built to commemorate events in the lives of Buddha or his disciples.

  • Symbolic stupa, to symbolize aspects of Buddhist theology, for example, Borobuddur is considered to be the symbol of "the Three Worlds (dhatu) and the spiritual stages (bhumi) in a Mahayana bodhisattva's character."
  • Votive stupa, constructed to commemorate visits or to gain spiritual benefits, usually at the site of prominent stupas which are regularly visited.

All stupas contain a treasury filled with various objects.

The shape of the stupa represents the Buddha, crowned and sitting in meditation posture on a lion throne. His crown is the top of the spire; his head is the square at the spire's base; his body is the vase shape; his legs are the four steps of the lower terrace; and the base is his throne.

The stupa was elaborated as Buddhism spread to other Asian countries becoming, for example, the chorten of Tibet and the pagoda in East Asia. The pagoda has varied forms that also include bell-shaped and pyramidal styles. In the Western context, there is no clear distinction between the stupa and the pagoda. In general, however, 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.

Examples:

Photos and their arrangement 2013 Chuck LaChiusa
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