AN EXPLORATION OF ART HISTORY
Stupa: A large, mound-shaped Buddhist shrine.
A stupa is an essential element of Buddhist sanctuaries. It is a circular mound modeled after earlier South Asian burial mounds. A stupa is not a tomb instead, it holds relics of Buddha. When Buddha died, his cremated remains were placed into eight reliquaries. These reliquaries were similar in function to reliquaries in Medieval churches. However, Christian relics were meant to be viewed unlike Buddhist relics. Instead these relics were buried in solid mounds which were considered the stupa. These mounds could not be entered however, in the mid-third century BCE, Ashoka opened the original eight stupas and spread Buddha’s relics among thousands of stupas around his realm. Stupas come in many sizes, from handheld objects to huge structures. The domed stupa represents the “world mountain,” with the cardinal points marked by toranos, or gateways.
One of the most famous stupas is the Great Stupa in Sanchi India. This stupa was constructed during Ashoka’s reign in the third century BCE. The dome stands 50 feet high, filled with earth and rubble. People who wish to worship enter through one of the gateways and walk the lower circumambulation path. After, they climb to the second level and walk the upper circumambulation path. In the dome there are 600 brief inscriptions carved into the stone. These inscriptions are from the people who were responsible for the construction of the stupa. More than a third of the workers were women.