stupa (stōˈpə) [key] [Sanskrit, = mound], Buddhist monument in tumulus, or mound, form, often containing relics. The words tope and dagoba are synonymous, though the latter properly refers only to a Sinhalese Buddhist stupa. The stupa is probably derived from a pre-Buddhist burial mound. The oldest known prototypes (c.700 B.C.) are the enormous mounds of earth at Lauriya Nandangarh in NE India, which were the burial places of royalty. The wooden masts embedded in the center of these mounds probably carried the umbrellas that served as a symbol of royalty and authority; early Buddhists appropriated not only the royal symbol of the stupa but also used the umbrella as a symbol for the Buddha. The Emperor Asoka was the first to encourage the building of stupas. The earliest mound forms that can properly be termed stupas, those at Sanchi and Bharhut (see Indian art and architecture), are hemispherical masses of earth raised on a base and faced with brick or stone. The structure is surrounded by a processional path, the whole being enclosed by a stone railing and topped by a balcony. Though in its development the stupa often became elaborate and complex, in its purest form the plan consisted of a circle within a square. Many of the most significant monuments of the Buddhist world are stupas, and they can be found in every country in which Buddhism has been practiced. Some examples are the Thuparama dagoba (244 B.C.) in Sri Lanka, Borobudur in Java (8th or 9th cent. A.D.), and the Mingalazedi stupa in Myanmar (A.D. 1274). In East Asian Buddhist architecture, the function of the stupa has been taken over by the pagoda.
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