Buddhism plays an important role in the lives of many. It is the main religion in a lot of the countries here and is integral to livelihood, way of thought, structures and even politics. The Buddha and his teachings are highly revered. In order to preserve the historical aspects of the religion (and even Buddha himself), stupas are built. That’s right; those pointy dome-like structures you see almost everywhere. What are they for? Let’s find out.
First of all, stupas were nothing more than clay or dirt mounds, meant to keep and preserve Buddha’s remains, relics of the Buddha as well as valuable Buddhist antiques. This can range from
- a strand of his hair
- a piece of bone from his body
- his footprint
- valuable statues and images
After Buddha’s final nirvana (which is also his death), his remains were cremated and the ashes divided and buried under eight stupas with two further encasing the urn and the embers. These ten still remain a mystery today, but it is believed that Sarnath and Sanchi in India could be two of them.
Through time (and with location and the cultural environment affecting construction styles) the stupas in Southeast Asia evolved into a pagoda design, with its tiered tower architecture. Different countries have different designs to the stupas. Some are grand, some are small, others well-known, some remain obscure to the unsuspecting visitor.
So, what are some of the popular ones in the region? Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar certainly springs to mind. What’s in it? Eight strands of the original Buddha’s (Gautama) hair as well as the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Konagamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa, all of whom are also Buddhas. In Thailand you have Phra Si Ratana Chedi in the Grand Palace complex, believed to hold the ashes of the first Buddha. The stupas in Borobudur, Indonesia encase beautiful Buddha images and statues. For the record, the biggest and tallest stupa in the world is Phra Pathom Chedi, with a height of 127 meters, located in Nakhon Pathom, not too far from Bangkok.
These are just the very few in Southeast Asia. The region proudly boasts hundreds if not thousands more, each presenting its own historical significance and telling its own interesting story. Whether it is for its architectural uniqueness or its historical significance, a stupa is waiting for you in Southeast Asia. Contact us if you have further questions or need further information.