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The stupa

A short documentary on the stupa, a hemispherical mound that represents the burial mound of the Buddha. Learn more about the stupa on education.asianart.org. Created by Asian Art Museum.

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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user nadineshores
    At the stupas begin looking more like pagodas. Does that mean that pagodas are stupas?
    (10 votes)
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    • winston baby style avatar for user kaurharmanjot83
      stupas are hemispherical structure used by Buddhists as a place of meditation,but later its new architectural designs have evolved that look like pagodas, but these are different from pagodas, because stupas contain Buddhist relics, typically the ashes of Buddhist monks where as pagodas are just plce of meditation
      (7 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user georgy
    why, do you think, people choose to walk specifically clock wise around the stupa? (Is there a reason the direction matters?) thank you for your time!
    (8 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Immortalf0x
    At the stupa looks a lot like many traditional Japanese houses, the roofs that is. Is the newer styles of stupas influenced by Japanese culture, or is it the other way around where the Buddhist sutras helped develop architecture in Japan?
    (5 votes)
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    • leaf orange style avatar for user Jake Suzuki
      Its much the other way round.
      Basically, veeeeeeery basically, the pagoda take their shape from ancient Chinese and Korean watchtowers.
      When Buddhism first travelled to Japan a millenia ago, the missionaries were asked to bring tradesmen and craftsmen with them to build the temples. Buddhism, along with Chinese and Korean politics, became a heavy influence on Japanese architecture, and over the course of a thousand years the Japanese assimilated architectural elements from those countries into their own native styles. Foreign and native influences waxed and waned over the years, up until the present day. Which is why Japan has such a unique, but heavily borrowed, architectural language.
      (4 votes)
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user stpatrick749
    , does anyone else see the squirrel or chipmonk climbing around on the stupa? Just thought it was funny.
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user imran.a.khan81
    This section covers Hindu/Buddhist art, almost all of which are buildings. Why is there no reference of Islamic art in Asia?
    (1 vote)
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  • mr pants green style avatar for user elmer
    why is india called the subcontent
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Victoria Barnes
    Is a stupa closely related to our modern-day urns?
    (1 vote)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Eliška
    So these symbols like wheel, foot, or umbrella are specific for buddhism ?
    (1 vote)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jake Suzuki
    The Pagoda at , is that the major one at Nara?
    I wonder how old these videos are; the construction work that's just been blocked out in the video is a huge... Hall? Warehouse? now, if it's the same place of course. Looks a lot like Nara though.
    (1 vote)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Darkia Urahara
    where did "stupa" come from?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

The main focal point in early Buddhism for a monastic complex was the stupa. A stupa takes the form usually of a hemispherical mound. And what it represents is the burial mound of the Buddha within which his relics would have been deposited. Stupas could also have enclosed the relics of great Buddhist teachers and monks. Stupas also take the form of small containers or reliquaries, such as these stone or metal stupas in the collection of the Asian Art Museum. These would have contained the ashes of a deceased person. Stupas appear as a focal point of worship in a number of the Buddhist rock-cut sanctuaries at Ajanta and Ellora. One of the best examples of an early stupa can still be seen at Sanchi, in central India. Perched on a hill, the Great Stupa is surrounded by monastic ruins and several smaller stupas. It was built some 2,000 years ago. Four gateways were later added, marking the cardinal directions. Worshipers entered through these gateways and then walked around the stupa in a clockwise direction. The hemispherical mound was undecorated, while the gateways were elaborately carved with many scenes and figures. For example, on this gateway, the worshiper sees a voluptuous figure holding on to a fruit-bearing tree. Buddhism made use of these types of fertility deities because they had to appeal to popular taste. And so they absorbed many of these local fertility deities into their pantheon. And images such as this were considered highly auspicious, may have served to delineate the transition between sacred and secular space, as well as sanctify the site. A similar image in the Asian Art Museum galleries from a railing pillar, probably served in much the same way. The gateways here at Sanchi also contain narrative scenes, but the Buddha is never depicted in human form. His presence is indicated in this relief, for instance, by emblems of royalty like the umbrella above the horse or by his footprints. In scenes of worship, the image of the wheel or of the stupa appear to stand for the Buddha himself. So his presence is indicated by these symbols. As Buddhism spread throughout Asia, the shape of the stupa and its decoration evolved as an architectural form. In East Asia, for example, the base of the stupa tended to become taller and taller, and to add more levels, like a tower. These new, sometimes unusual forms of the stupa, continue to serve as relic chambers, and as symbols of the Buddha and his teachings.