Symbols and art

In the Buddhist context, a stupa (Skt. ‘relic shrine’) originally described a burial place where the ashes of the Buddha were interred. Over time, the stupa became an important object of veneration and as such constitutes a key feature in Buddhist temples. However, not all stupas contain the bodily remains of the Buddha or some other Buddhist master. Buddhist texts as well as certain objects or symbols are also often regarded as ‘remains’ or relics. The stupa stands for the Buddhist teaching (dharma) and the highest wisdom. During rituals it is circumambulated clockwise.

Over the course of time, the stupa grew from a simple burial mound to a structure made of wood and stone. In early India it usually consisted of a square base, a hemispherical body, and an extension in the shape of parasols stacked on top of each other. Over time, a multi storey substructure was added to the stupa. In East Asia, the stupa developed into a tower-like structure, the so-called pagoda. Today one encounters stupas in all shapes and sizes across Asia.