A stupa is a hemispherical structure like a mound. It contains the remains of Buddhist monks and it is used as a place for meditation. Stupa means heap in Sanskrit. The shape of the stupa represents the Buddha, crowned and sitting in meditation posture on a lion throne. The square at the spire’s base represents his head, the vase shape represents his body, the four steps of the lower terrace represents his legs and the base represents his throne.
In the central channel of the stupa, there is a wooden pole covered with gems and thousand of mantras. This pole is known as the “tree of life” and it is an important element in every stupa. The pole is positioned during the initiation of the ceremony where participants make their positive wishes and these powerful wishes are stored in the Tree of Life in order to charge the stupa.
Building a stupa leaves very positive karmic imprints in the mind and brings the future benefit of fortunate rebirths. Fortune rebirth represents being born into a rich family, beautiful new body, long and happy life, fulfillment of one’s wishes and to reach the goal of Buddhism.
The old stupas were renovated during the rule of the Guptas and Mauryas. the stupas of Bharhut and Sanchi in the state of Madhya Pradesh and the one at Amaravati in the state of Andhra Pradesh were the part of the renovation.
Presenting the list of must-visit Buddhist Stupa in India –
1. Great Stupa, Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh
- Sanchi Stupa is a Buddhist stupa which contains relics of Buddha, on the hilltops at Sanchi town of Madhya Pradesh. This beautiful Stupa represents and safeguards the ancient history and art of the Mauryan period.
- In order to preserve and spread the Buddhist philosophy, stupa of Sanchi was constructed on the orders of Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE.
- The Sanchi Stupa was built as a simple hemispherical stone structure with a ‘chatra’ signifying to honor and shelter the relics of Buddha. Four ornamented gateways were also added surrounding the stupa.
- The complex holds the famous sandstone pillar having Ashokan inscription and an inscription in the ornamental Sankha Lipi from the Gupta period.
2. Dhamek Stupa, Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh
- Dhamek Stupa is the most famous structure in Sarnath, near Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. It was built in 500 CE.
- It is believed that the solid cylinder of bricks and stone structure with a diameter of 28 meters and the height of 43.6 meters represents the spot of a deer park where Lord Buddha gave the first sermon to his five disciples after attaining enlightenment, “revealing his Eightfold Path leading to nirvana”.
- The wall of the Stupa is covered with carved figures of humans and birds with inscriptions in the Brahmi Script. The stone facing the lower part is decorated with the carving of Gupta origin and floral carvings.
3. Maha Stupa at Thotlakonda, Andhra Pradesh
- Thotlakonda is nestled on a top of the hill at an altitude of 128m. It is an idyllic destination for Buddhists who visit this place in large number from wide and far away.
- Thotlakonda, literally means ” Hill with stone wells ” because of its stone wells that collected water for Buddhist people.
- Maha stupa is said to date back to some 2000 years. This stupa is an ancient brickwork architecture and it is surrounded by other structures like the university, monasteries, a swamedha altar, royal baths, advanced drainage systems, viharas, chaityas.
4. Animeshlocha Stupa at Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya, Bihar
- Mahabodhi Temple literally means “Great Awakening Temple” and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This temple is much rebuilt and restored Buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya.
- It is believed that this is the location where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.
- This place also contains a descendant of the Bodhi Tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment.
- Animeshlocha Stupa is located on the north-east of the Mahabodhi Temple. There is also a statue of Buddha with his eyes fixed towards the Bodhi tree. Lord Buddha is said to have walked back and forth between the location of the Animeshlocha Stupa and the Bodhi tree. The stupa was built in the 7th century.
5. Shanti Stupa, Leh, Jammu, and Kashmir
- The Shanti Stupa is located on a hilltop in Chanspa, Leh district of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a Buddhist white domed stupa and it was built in 1991 by Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu, Gyomyo Nakamura, and Ladakh Buddhists.
- This stupa holds the relics of the Buddha at its base. Due to its religious significance and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape, it has become a tourist attraction.
- The stupa is a two-level structure, the first level represents the central relief of Dharmacakra with deer on each side. A central golden Buddha image sits on a platform depicting the “turning wheel of Dharma”. The second has reliefs depicting the “birth” of Buddha, the death of Buddha and Buddha “defeating the devils” while meditating.
- The Shanti stupa is a symbol of the tie between the people of Ladhak and Japan.
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