A stupa is a dome-shaped structure that was originally used in Buddhism as a shrine for the Buddha’s teachings and the remains of enlightened monks.
As time went on, the use of the stupa evolved. Monks would create them to hold relics or to commemorate important events or teachers. Laypeople would create them as devotional offerings or to gain merit.
Over time, the shape of the stupa changed from a circular base with a square top to all sides of a square and then a cone-shaped top. These shapes seemed to depend on what materials were available to construct them.
The earliest ones seem to be circular bases with square tops, and these are the most recognizable today. As time went on, materials changed and so did the shape of the stupa depending on what was available.
This article will tell you where in Asia each type originated from and why.
The country in which the stupa evolved into a watchtower is Thailand. During the Ayutthaya period, between the years 1350 and 1767, the stupas in Thailand became more elaborate.
The original shape of the stupa remained the same, but it was adorned with decorations and sometimes a spire on top. These new embellishments gave it more of a pavilion or tower look.
These new structures were used as watchtowers to look out for enemies approaching the city. The paintings on the stupa also depicted scenes of war to remind people of why they were fighting.
This brings us to our next evolution: making the stupa into a symbol of peace. In many cases, people who live near conflict zones turn to spirituality for comfort and healing. Due to this need, some people turn to faith healing through stupas.
In the small country of Bhutan, you will find many stupas. Most of these are made of clay or other materials, but a few are made of precious metals.
The original stupas evolved into pavilion-like watchtowers in Bhutan. There are many historical stories about enemies approaching the borders and soldiers stationed on top of watchtowers to spot them. When they did, they would sound an alarm that alerted the rest of the country.
Some of these towers had weapons caches underneath them, so if there was an extended battle, the soldiers could stay there until they either ran out of supplies or were victorious.
Stupas have been found in archaeological sites all over the Indian subcontinent and its surrounding regions. Some date back as far as third millennium BCE.
The country in which the stupa evolved into a pavilion-like watchtower is Myanmar (also known as Burma). Located in Southeast Asia, Myanmar is bordered by China, India, Bangladesh, and Thailand.
The city of Mrauk U was once the capital of the kingdom of Arakan. During the golden age of Arakan, from the 12th to 13th centuries, Mrauk U was a major sea port and trading center.
Arakan went through many changes during this period but maintained its independence until the 16th century when it was conquered by Sultan Sharif Khan of Bengal. For almost two centuries Arakan was part of the Sultanate of Bengal before being taken over by Britain in 1824.
During its golden age, thousands of Buddhist pilgrims visited Mrauk U each year to pay their respects at hundreds of temples and stupas scattered across the city. Many were built with donations from overseas traders who came to buy and sell goods at the port.
The country in which the stupa evolved into a pavilion-like watchtower is Nepal. In fact, this is where the word “stupa” comes from: it is a derivative of the Sanskrit word “pousa,” which means temple or edifice.
The earliest historical records of Nepal date back to the 8th century BC, when it was divided into several small kingdoms. One of these was the kingdom of Lichhavi, whose capital was Virat Nagar.
By the 3rd century BC, Lichhavi had become one of the most powerful states in northern India and had expanded its borders to include parts of what are now India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. This is when stupas first appeared on the scene in northern India.
Stupas have been found outside of Nepal as well; one was recently uncovered in Alexandria, Egypt.
While the stupa is a unique and important religious structure in India, it has also made its way into other countries and religions.
In China, the pagoda is a very similar structure that evolved from different influences. The Chinese pagoda can be seen as a direct descendent of the Indian stupa, with many similar features such as being a tall religious structure with several floors or levels, each with either a window or doorway and a rooftop element.
Like the stupa, the purpose of these structures is to house relics of important figures or deities. Pagodas are typically larger than stupas and have more elaborate roofs on them. Both can be used as watchtowers in emergencies due to their high elevation!
These structures are beautiful no matter where you find them.
While the origins of the stupa are unknown, one of the most prominent places that displays and uses stupas is in Japan. Many Japanese temples have a large central stupa, and many more have smaller ones on their grounds.
Many of the smaller ones serve as places to put prayers or petitions inside. These are then offered to Buddha or any other deity as recognition for help or guidance.
Since Japan has many mountains, the shape of the stupa may have been influenced by this landscape feature. Some theories claim that the earliest stupas were circular like a mountain, which may have influenced this shape shift.
Japan also has a tradition of watcher towers called tō (鐵) or tōyoko (通用) yagura (櫓). These were originally used as watchtowers during wars, but later became used for religious purposes such as praying for peace.
Another country that is famous for its stupas is Sri Lanka. This island country off the coast of India has a rich history and culture that shows in its architecture.
Many of the buildings on the island are in the traditional Sri Lankan style. These include houses, churches, and of course, stupas.
In fact, many of the tallest stupas in the world are located in Sri Lanka. One such structure is the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodhawatha which houses a statue of Buddha. It was built back in the mid-eighties by Chinese architects using marble from China.
Another impressive one is the Savithriya Devale which was built over a hundred years ago. Both of these structures exhibit many traditional features of Sri Lankan architecture including lots of rounded edges and domes like on a stupa.
While the origin of the stupa is murky, one of the most famous examples of this architecture is in Cambodia. The country saw a boom in stupa construction following the Khmer Rouge regime.
During this time, many artisans were killed and many more fled the country. This left a lot of empty spaces and need for restoration and new buildings.
Since then, there has been a huge resurgence in traditional Khmer artistry, including architecture. Many buildings feature both old and new styles melded together, creating very unique structures.
You can see these unique features like spires and domes on some of the newer stupas. Other features include coloration with traditional Khmer colors like yellow and red. These add a nice contrast to the structure.