Have you ever visited a mound-like or hemispheric structure often thronged by the tourists in any part of the world? Most likely it is a Stupa, a structure containing relics and often used for prayer and meditation. The word 'Stupa' has a Sanskrit root where 'Stu' means 'to worship' or 'to praise'.
Such often venerated architectural structures are known to have existed even in pre-Buddhism era. But ancient Buddhist literature reveals that, after passing away of the Buddha, the cremated remains were divided into eight parts. These remains were housed in structures called Stupas in eight kingdoms in which the Buddha lived. Subsequently, Emperor Ashoka the Great got these Stupas opened and distributed the remains into 84,000 portions, thus paving the way for expansion of Buddhism in different parts of the world during the 3rd century BCE. The Stupas continue to be the nucleus of Buddhist faith and worship even today.
During introduction of Buddhism, the shapes of these Stupas were transformed due to the architectural impact of various cultures. As a result, many different stylistic types evolved. Also, they were known by different names in other parts of the world. For example, Pagoda in China, To in Japan, Tap in Korea, Zedi in Myanmar, Dagoba in Sri Lanka, Chedi in Thailand and Chorten in Tibet.
Tibetan Buddhism believes in eight significant events in the life of the Buddha which are often depicted in different Stupas. Commemorative Stupas of the Buddha have been built in different parts of the world. Traditionally, these Stupas are taken as visual manifestation of the Buddha and epitomization of his enlightenment and nirvana.
I re-visited Mindrolling Monastery at Dehradun (India) where there is systematic display of these significant events. At the first casual look some of these Stupas looked alike but a careful examination of these Stupas revealed that they were different from each other. Each Stupa depicted a major event in the life of the Buddha. My son helped me to organise photographs of these Stupas.
Presented below are these commemorative Stupas.
This Stupa refers to the birth of the Buddha. When the Buddha was born at Lumbini Garden in Kapilvastu, he took seven steps in each of the four directions (East, South, West and North). From each of his footsteps a lotus sprang up which symbolized The Four Immeasurables: love, compassion, joy and equanimity. To commemorate this, King Shuddhodhana built the Stupa known as The Stupa of Heaped Lotuses.
The four steps of the basis of this Stupa are circular, and it is decorated with lotus-petal designs. Occasionally, seven heaped lotus steps are constructed. These refer to the seven first steps of the Buddha
(a) Lotus Blossom Stupa
(b) Birth Stupa
(c) Birth of the Sugata Stupa
The Buddha defeated the hosts of Mara and attained enlightenment under the Boddhi tree in Bodh Gaya, thus, conquering the worldly temptations at the age of thirty five. To commemorate this, King Bimbisara built the Stupa of Conquest over Mara.
The Stupa of Enlightenment.
Tashi Gomang Choten
After reaching enlightenment, the Buddha taught his first students in the Dear Park in Sarnath, near Varanasi. The series of doors on each side of the steps represent the first teachings: the Four Noble Truths, the Six Paramitas, the Noble Eightfold Path and the Twelve Nidanas. Thus, the Buddha turned the First Wheel of Dharma. To commemorate this, the first five disciples of the Buddha built the Stupa of Many Doors.
The Stupa of Many Gates
This Stupa refers to inconceivable miracles performed by the Buddha in the Jetavana Grove at Shravasti, when he was 50 years old. The Buddha overpowered demons and heretics by engaging them in intellectual arguments and also by performing miracles. To commemorate this, the people of the Lichavi tribe built The Stupa of Great Miracles.
(a) Miracle Stupa
(b) The Stupa of Conquest of the Tirthikas
(c) The Stupa of Conquest of the Heretics
At the age of forty-two, the Buddha spent a summer retreat in Trayastrimsa, the heavenly realm of thirty three types of devas. In order to repay her kindness he taught the Dharma to the reincarnation of his mother, Mahamaya. He then descended into a garden of udumbara lotuses in the town of Sankasya. The inhabitants of Sankasya built the Stupa of Buddha's Descent from Devaloka in order to commemorate this event. This Stupa is characterized by having a central projection at each side containing a triple ladder or steps.
(a) The Stupa of Descent from Tushita Heaven
(b) The Stupa of Descent from the God Realm
When Devdutta, the Buddha's cousin, caused schism, in the Sangha, the Buddha reconciled the devisive factions in the Velluvana bamboo-grove at Rajgriha at Maghada. To commemorate the resolution of the dispute the inhabitants of Magadha built the Stupa of Reconciliation at the place where reconciliation occurred. It has four octagonal steps with equal sides
The Stupa of Reconciliation of the Sangha
The Buddha agreed to prolong his life by three months at the request of Upasaka Tsundra, while at Vaishali. To commemorate this, the inhabitants of Vaishali built the Stupa of Complete Victory. It has only three steps, which are circular and unadorned
This Stupa refers to the death of the Buddha, when he was 80 years old. The passing away of the Buddha into the mahaparinirvana between two sal trees at the city of Kushinagara symbolizes the Buddha's complete absorption into the highest state of mind. It is bell-shaped and usually not ornamented.
The Stupa of Parinirvana
Have a Glimpse of Eight Stupas
Your Experiences with the Stupas
© 2017 Sukhdev Shukla
Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on January 16, 2020:
Chitrangada, I have visited this place a number of times. These are the photographs taken from outside, but there are many beautiful pieces of art inside the main Stupa also, where clicking photographs is prohibited. I am sure you won't regret visiting it. It may preferably be on a sunny day as normally the main Stupa is locked during a rainy day to maintain cleanliness. Thanks for visiting.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 16, 2020:
Well written and informative article about Tibetan Buddhism. Very nicely illustrated with useful and interesting information.
I have visited some Buddhist places, but not this one. This is on my bucket list.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful information.
Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on October 21, 2017:
In reality, India is a continent. Many religions, languages, customs and traditions. This diversity makes it unique. One always gets peace on visiting any monument related with Buddhism. Thanks, Louise, for visiting this Hub.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on October 21, 2017:
I'd love to be able to visit India some day. It's a place I've always wanted to go. Hopefully one day!
Sukhdev Shukla (author) from Dehra Dun, India on September 16, 2017:
Thanks, Hari. A visit to such places is always invigorating. I am glad you showed interest and mentioned about your earlier experience too.
Hari Prasad S from Bangalore on September 16, 2017:
Well written sir. Useful for academic purposes too. Thanks. I had a chance to visit a remote Tibetan village in dhondenling in Karnataka. It has some beautiful stupas and temples.