Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The several names of a Stupa

An important Bhuddhist structure, the Stupa, is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics. The word ‘stupa’ is a Sanskrit word, in Pali, the language that Gautama Buddha used for teaching the Buddhist religion, the related word is ‘thupa’.  In the Thai language, it is more commonly known as ‘chedi’, which is related to the Pali word, ‘cetiya’.  In a more colloquial Thai, or the northeastern dialect, it is also know as ‘pra that’, which is related to the Sanskrit word, ‘dhatu’, for which the Sinhalese’s name for the stupa, “dagobah’ is derived from.  In Tibet, the stupa is known as a ‘chorten’.  In Koren, Vietnam, China and Japan, they are known as ‘Tap’, ‘Thap', 'Ta', and 'To', respectively.

Shwegaddon Pagoda, Myanmar

In Myanmar, the stupa is more commonly known as ‘pagoda’, the general English term for tiered tower with multiple eaves. According to wikipedia, the word is first attested for in English in the period c. 1625–35; introduced from the Portuguese pagode, temple, from the Persian butkada (but idol + kada temple, dwelling.)  Another etymology, found in many English language dictionaries, is modern English pagoda from Portuguese (via Dravidian), from Sanskrit bhagavati, feminine of bhagavat "blessed" bhaga "good fortune."

The architectural structure of the stupa has spread across Asia, taking on many diverse forms as details specific to different regions are incorporated into the overall design.  After his conversion to Buddhism in the third century BC, King Ashoka had several thousand stupas build across the Mauryan empire. According to Brahmi, Kharoshti, Pali and Sanskrit edicts Ashoka The Great  founded 84,000 stupas all over the south Asia.


Advanced engineering techniques and knowledge, for example the use of lightning conductors, were used and shared across cultures in their construction. Numerous stupas across South and Southeast Asia have been standing undamaged for a thousand years or two.

A stupa is essentially made up of a square base, a hemispherical dome, a conical spire, a crescent moon, and a circular disc, representing the five purified elements which constitute the fabric of manifest existence.  The elements are earth, water, fire, air and space. 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.

To build a stupa, transmission and ceremonies from a monk is necessary.  Which kind of stupa to be constructed in a certain area, is decided together with the teacher assisting in the construction. Some times the kind is directly connected with events that have taken place that certain area.  All stupas contain a treasury filled with various objects.

A very important element in every stupa is the Tree of Life. It is a wooden pole covered with gems and thousand of mantras, and placed in the central channel of the stupa.  It is placed here during a ceremony or initiation, where all the participant hold colorful ribbons connected to the Tree of Life. Together all make their most positive and powerful wishes, which are stored in the Tree of Life. In this way the stupa is charged up, and will start to function.

There are eight kinds of stupas which are related to major events of the Buddha’s life, however, a ninth, the Kalachakra Stupa’s symbolism relates to Tibetan Kalachakra Tantra, is created to protect against negative energies.  A Kalachakra Stupa was built in Karma Guen, Benalmádena city, Spain in 1994.

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