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Buddhist Art: Stupa and Pagoda

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Terrie Martinez

on 5 June 2016

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Transcript of Buddhist Art: Stupa and Pagoda

Buddhist Art:
Stupa to Pagoda

Origins of a Stupa
According to Buddhist sutras, after the Buddha’s parinirvana more than 2,500 years ago, his body was cremated by his disciples according to the custom of the time. Found among the ashes were corporeal remains of the Buddha in different shapes, sizes and colors, known as the Buddha’s
(Shih, Ju Chang, 2005).

Finger Relic of Sakyamuni Buddha
Ritual carried out
at the stupa
Since the Buddha was deemed to be present there, the stupa became an object of worship already at an early stage in its development. An ancient Indian rite was carried out, in which the worshippers circumambulated the stupa following the path of the sun (rite of pradakshina), making all manner of offerings and ritual performances (puja) (Seckel, 1964).
Circumambulation Path
The Ancient Stupa
In the earliest times, the sacred center of a monastery was not a temple with a sacred image but a stupa. The stupa is a sepulchral mound or tumulus, and dates back to prehistoric times. In its monumental form, as used for the burial of princes, it had a shape of a large hemisphere (Seckel, 1964).
Because people can no longer see the “true body” of the Buddha since his departure from the human world, disciples and devotees who miss him dearly revere and pay homage to his relics as if they were his true body (Shih, Ju Chang, 2005).
His relics were distributed to the 8 Mahajanapadas and 8 stupas were constructed.

Drona, the brahmin who initiated the distribution of the relics, enshrined the urn in a stupa.

The Moriyas who arrived late were given the wood ashes from the pyre and they built a stupa for it.

Total of 10 stupas were constructed.
In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Ananda asked the Buddha on how to deal with the Tathagatha's body and what rites to be performed.
The Buddha said to perform a rite similar to a funeral rite of a Cakravartin, a ruler of a Cakra, by custom due to an Emperor.
The bones should be deposited in a golden urn, and a stupa with his physical remains built at the crossing of four main roads, along with umbrellas, banners, and flags.
Spread of the stupa in India
The Indian ruler Asoka, a pious promoter of Buddhism, is said to have erected 84,000 stupas over the relics of Sakyamuni, scattered throughout his empire (Seckel, 1964).
King Asoka, the third monarch of the Indian Mauryan dynasty, has come to be regarded as one the most exemplary rulers in world history.
The loss of life caused by battle, reprisals, deportations and the turmoil that always exists in the aftermath of war so horrified Asoka that it brought about a complete change in his personality. After the war, Asoka dedicated the rest of his life trying to apply Buddhist principles to the administration of his vast empire. He had a crucial part to play in helping Buddhism to spread both throughout India and abroad. (Dhammika, 1994).
Basic parts of a stupa
1. Body – masonry hemisphere of considerable mass and solidarity
2. Base
3. Finial – symbolizes axletree – a pole going through three flattened circular umbrellas; three tiers of umbrella represents the stages of the Buddha towards enlightenment.

Types of Stupa
1. Sharirika – built to enshrine the body-relics
2. Paribhogika – built to enshrine objects used by the Buddha (example: robe, bowl or walking staff)
3. Uddesika – built to commemorate spots and events of religious significance
The Great Sanchi
Since the stupa is primarily a sepulchral and reliquary monument, it always played a crucial role as the very symbol of nirvana – the goal of every Buddhist.
The Great Sanchi
Parts of the Sanchi stupa:
1. A solid structural dome (anda) with a terrace (medhi)
2. Surmounted by a railed pavilion (harmika), into which the shaft (yupa) bearing the umbrellas (chatra) is inserted
3. One or more circumambulatory passages (pradakshina-patha) which were usually enclosed by railing (vedika)
4. Gateway (torana)

The earlier stupas were hemispherical in shape with a low base, while the later ones assumed an increasingly cylindrical from with a well-developed drum (Gandhara style).
Gandhara stupas are distinctive tall structures, raised on lofty square terraces, the drum consisting of several diminishing tiers crowned by multiple receding umbrellas.
Development and evolution
of a stupa to a pagoda
What brought about the development and evolution of the stupa? From a mound to show reverence and pay homage to a great teacher to a uniquely defined representation of the Buddha’s Nirvana, and teachings.
Stupa as a representational art
at that time, there were no Buddha images (not until first century CE), only symbolic objects to represent the Buddha and his teachings
A Symbol of
The stupa symbolizes the Buddha’s enlightened mind
Architectural elements symbolize the doctrine and may vary on the country's tradition.
Theravada tradition:
parts of the stupa represent the divisions of the noble eightfold path (ethical conduct, concentration, wisdom, and nirvana)
Vajrayana tradition:
attributes the components of the stupa to each of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, space)
Other symbolism and representations
Meaning of Umbrellas:
three tiers of umbrellas may signigfy the stages of the Buddha toward enlightenment
Other representations:
a. The first disc represents the mystical power to know the ability to perceive what is the position and what is not the position for the preaching and activity of the Buddha.
b. The second disc represents the mystical power to know the ability to perceive that everybody is responsible for his karma.
c. The third disc represents the mystical power to know the ability to perceive all meditations, liberation, concentration and union with superior spheres.
d. The fourth disc represents the mystical power to know the ability to perceive the superior and low moral faculties.
e. The fifth disc represents the mystical power to know the ability to perceive the various inclinations of beings.
f. The sixth disc represents the mystical power to know the ability to perceive the different spheres of existence.
g. The seventh disc represents the mystical power to know the ability to perceive the way leading to any desired place.
h. The eighth disc represents the mystical power to know the ability to remember previous existences.
i. The ninth disc represents the mystical power to know the ability to perceive the time of death and rebirth.
j. The tenth disc represents the mystical power consisting of destroying sinful forces.
k. The eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth disc represents the three supports of awareness unusual to the Buddha.
A Structural Mandala
Stupas were usually facing cardinal points; inside many of them was a pillar, stemming from the ground or more often stuck in the dome, protruding from the top and looking like a zenithal axis even if it bore parasols.
Early stages of
seen to advantage at Gandhara and its environs, as well as in the regions of Amaravati, and in the cave-temples in western India
Process of evolution
All other forms of stupa and pagoda, in all Buddhist countries of Asia, are directly or indirectly derived from the basic type. The process of evolution is remarkably consistent, and affords a splendid example of the way in which an art type lives and grows, according to an inherent law dictated by its meaning, its purpose and the cultural climate in which it exists.
a. The circular base is elongated, which gives the shape of a cylinder. It is then attenuated to a varying degree, and divided into zones.
b. The hemispherical dome is raised, so that it becomes smaller in proportion to the base.
c. Development of the Buddha image – rows of niches served to accommodate statues and narrative reliefs; believers passed by them as they walked around in their processional rite, using them as “stations” for meditation or prayer.
d. The superstructure took on a more attenuated form; the umbrellas steadily increased in number and were crowded more closely together; the top gradually tapered off, until it eventually formed a cone, and consisted of a number of discs or layers.
e. New element – the circular base was replaced by a square socle, which soon consisted of several layers, with flights of steps on all four sides leading up to the processional path at the foot of the stupa proper
Metamorphosis of the
stupa to a pagoda
Varying principles of building technique of each country and assimilation with other cultures
• Pagoda – type of spiritual, monumental and high-tech architecture of the period from the late Eastern Han (25-220 CE) until the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) in China (Guo, 2004)
• With its several storeys, it may have been influenced by another type of building: the tower (Seckel, 1964).
• The tower architecture pre-existed pagodas (Guo, 2004).
• The Buddhist pagoda may have adapted the indigenous towers (Guo, 2004).
• The Chinese translated the foreign architectural type into a form they had known for many centuries, which accorded with their own building techniques (Seckel, 1964).
• Influences of the pagoda = multi-storeyed tower, watch-tower, gate-tower and the pavilion tower.
o Pavilion tower – there are cosmological symbols reflecting Chinese concepts of the universe and functions as 1) to invite immortals down from high above, and 2) so man could fly off on a bird (Guo, 2004).
o Common feature of a pagoda – there is a miniature stupa on top of the roof (Guo, 2004).
• The pagoda was created by decorating a Chinese tower with an Indian stupa – the tower was crowned with a miniature stupa as a finial, instead of a phoenix (Guo, 2004).
• The mini stupa as a finial brought the multi-storeyed tower a more dignified appearance, and the Buddha’s relics gave meaning and sacredness to the building.
• Pagoda’s symbolism:
o Finial (cha) – long central pole passing through a number of discs (13 maximum), an umbrella and other symbolic elements to symbolize Buddhist heaven.
o Platform (xumi zuo) – represents earth; the pagoda seated on the platform represents the joining of heaven and earth
o The pagoda symbolizes the Buddha and the Buddhist sacred abode (Guo, 2004).
Sanchi, India
Mahathupa Ruwanveliseya, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
Shwedagon Pagoda,
Yangon, Myanmar
Svayambhu Stupa, Katmandu, Nepal
Inverted Alms-Bowl Stupa
Sakya Pagoda of Fogong Monastery,
Yingxian County, Shanxi Province, China
Youguo Monastery Pagoda,
Kaifeng City,
Henan Province, China
Five-Storey Pagoda
of Horyuji, Nara, Japan
Multi-Storey Pagoda
Single-Storey /
Tibetan Style
Diamond Throne Pagoda
Chua Dien Huu Pagoda
Dien Huu Tu Temple
Hanoi, Vietnam
Songyue Temple Pagoda, Dengfeng, Henan Province, China
White Dagoba
Miaoying Temple
Mahabodhi Temple Bihar State, India
Unique Stupas and Pagodas
Phra That Luang Vientiane, Laos
Manfeilong Pagodas
Xishuangbana Dai,
Autonomkus Prefecture, China
Shitennoji, Osaka, Japan
(Pagoda centered Monastery)
Activity 1
1. Create a miniature stupa or pagoda of your own design.
2. Identify the style and design functions.
3. Identify the symbols and representation embedded with the design.

Seckel, Dietrich. (1964). The Art of Buddhism. New York: Greystone Press.
Shih, Ju Chang. (2005). From the Stupa to the Pagoda. Taiwan: Fo Guang Shan Foundation for Culture and Education.

Harvey, Peter. (1984). The Symbolism of the Early Stupa. The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 7(2), 67-93.
Fussman, Gerard. (1986). The Symbolism of the Buddhist Stupa. The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 9(2), 37-54.
Guo, Qinghua. (2004). From Tower to Pagoda: Structural and Technological Transition. Construction History, 20, 3-19.

Buddhist Architecture in India. Retrieved from website: http://himalaya.socanth.cam.ac.uk/collections/journals/bot/pdf/bot_11_03_02.pdf
Development of Stupa Architecture in India. Retrieved from website: http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/27149/10/10_chapter%203.pdf
Dhammika, S. (1994). The Edicts of King Asoka. Retrieved from website: http://www.cs.colostate.edu/~malaiya/ashoka.html

The Stupa. Asian Art Museum.
The Great Stupa at Sanchi. Travel and Discover.
Reading materials and other references:
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