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The stupa ( Sanskrit : m., स्तूप, stūpa , Pali thupa or tope , Sinhala dagoba , Chinese or pagoda , Burmese Paya , Tibetan chörten , Thai chedi ) is a Buddhist building that symbolizes Buddha himself and his teaching, the Dharma . A circular burial mound ( tumulus ), similar to the early stupas , was originally used for burial of rulers in India and has been known since prehistoric megalithic times. In early Buddhism relics of the Buddha and later of outstanding monks ( arhats ) were kept in a stupa ; so he became the ritual center of Buddha and Arhat worship. The stupa is ritually circled clockwise by Buddhists ( pradakshina ) .

The "Great Stupa" of Sanchi with fencing ( vedika ) and gates ( toranas ) as well as a fence ( harmika ) and umbrella (chhattra) on the top of the hemisphere (anda)


While the Germanized word corresponds to the Sanskrit word stūpa , the synonym tope can be traced back to the Pali form thupa .

The English-language specialist literature of the 19th century also referred to the stupa as tope . The term is said to come from Afghanistan, where Johann Martin Honigberger and Charles Masson discovered solidly bricked Buddhist burial mounds (“Kabul Minars”) in 1833, which they called topes . The same term was used for the burial mounds of Mankiala in the Pakistani part of Punjab . Therefore, Alexander Cunningham in his book The Bhilsa Topes comes to the conclusion that tope comes from the Pali word tupo , which, like the Sanskrit word stupa, describes a burial mound ( tumulus ).


Pre-Buddhist origin

With stupa ( Sanskrit stup : ' heap up', ' collect ') was meant in ancient times the elongated stone or earth mound that was built over the remains of a dead person. At an unknown time which put Indians a bar (possibly already with shield) in the center of the hemisphere and buried after the cremation remaining bone and tooth remains under him. The stick was seen as a connection to the center of the universe, which gathered all energy and influenced the birth of all life. The (hem) sphere as a symbol of completeness showed the balance of energy in the universe and became a symbol of the universe.

First stupas in Buddhism

Buddhism later adopted these basic ideas. Stupas are considered to be the first most important monuments and places of artistic design in Buddhism. The Buddha is said to have instructed the construction of stupas, but the oldest known stupas are from the time of Emperor Ashoka . According to legend, he had 84,000 stupas built in his domain. In the Mahaparinibbana Sutra it is mentioned that four groups of people are worthy enough to receive such a burial mound : A perfect one, a saint, "fully awakened" (i.e. a historical Buddha - Samma-Sambuddha ), an "individually awakened" (i.e. a Buddha, who, however, does not preach the Dharma - Pacceka Buddha ), a disciple of the perfect and an Imperial King ( Chakravartin - Universal Monarch).

Later development

Already in the first centuries after Christianity hardly any large stupas were built in India; however, the buildings in Nepal (e.g. Bodnath and Swayambhunath stupa), Pakistan (e.g. Amlukdara stupa , Shingardara stupa ) or other areas of Southeast Asia date from this period. In the Buddhist temple complexes of India (. Eg Sanchi ) or the Chaitya , however, was bingo halls a variety of smaller stupas, which were often carved into the natural rock and therefore no relics contained or from the outset as Memorial Votivstupas were interpreted .

Symbolic meaning

Develop your own design language

In just a few centuries, the simple burial mound developed into the basic shape of today's stupas, that of the stupa of Sanchi (Central India). The four basic elements can already be recognized here: a square base as the base, the hemispherical dome, a reliquary chamber and the top, often replaced by a stylized umbrella with a crown / a "jewel" (which is often taken literally is) is completed.


Lotus flower
Stupa as Mount Meru

The stupa has a variety of symbolic meanings.

  • The floor plan of the stupa can be a symbol of
  • The entire stupa construction can be a symbol for
  • The dome of the stupa can be a symbol for
    • a "cosmic egg" ( Sanskrit : aṇḍa ) or the womb (Sanskrit: garbha ; she also garbhagriha ) - that is, a "container of the elements" ( dhātu -garbha - origin of the word Dagoba )

The ancient Indian stupa has the following components and symbols from top to bottom:

component jewel element Buddha
Crown Buddha Air and space Bodhi
Top / mast with honor umbrellas Fire Ushnisha
square relic chamber head
dome Dharma water upper body
circular base crossed legs
square base / platform Sangha earth Lion throne

Meaning and use of the stupa:

Wat Chang Lom, Si Satchanalai is said to contain a relic
  • The stupa as a relic container - After his cremation, the relics of the Buddha were divided into eight parts and distributed to the eight kings present. More than 200 years later, these eight parts were miraculously found in the possession of Emperor Asoka . According to legend, he then divided it into 84,000 parts and included them in as many stupas throughout his empire. Given the number of stupas that today claim to contain relics of the Buddha, it is very unlikely that they actually contain any of these 84,000 pieces. It is possible that these are often just copies of such stupas.
Dhâmek Stûpa in Sarnath
  • The stupa as a memorial (Sanskrit: uddesika-stūpa ) - in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta ( DN 16.5.3) the Buddha indicates four places that believers can visit after entering the Parinirvana . Stupas should be erected here in memory of the events: at the place of his birth ( Lumbini ), at the place of his enlightenment ( Bodhgaya ), at the place of the First Sermon ( Sarnath ) and at the place of his Parinirvana ( Kushinagar ). The list of Buddhist pilgrimage sites was later expanded to include four places: Srāvastī, Sāmkāśya, Vaiśali and Rājagṛha. In Tibet, eight different types of stupas are assigned to these eight locations (see e.g. Dzogchen Monastery in Kham).
  • The stupa as a votive offering :
    • Many passages in the Mahayana canon indicate that building a stupa is a meritorious act. This is associated with up to 18 different types of merit. However, there are a few things to consider when building. It doesn't matter what size you plan a stupa - but correct proportions and pure motivation of the client are important. According to Tibetan tradition, a knowledgeable lama must therefore supervise the building and then consecrate it in order not to receive a “black stupa” (“like a body without entrails”). The stupa is filled with so-called Tsa-Tsas .
    • In Thailand it is a tradition to build stupas ( chedis ) out of sand in the temples at New Year ( songkran ) . The sand is supposed to bring the dust back to its place of origin, which the believers carried away from there in the course of the year, clinging to their shoes.


Erecting a stupa is considered to be very beneficial in Buddhism, as positive karma remains in the mind of the builder. In the future, too, the builder would be given a variety of advantages through advantageous rebirths. In the best case scenario, it enables a quick enlightenment . Walking around a stupa is also very beneficial and enables positive rebirths.

Various developments


From the stupa developed in Sri Lanka since the 2nd century BC. The dagoba , in Myanmar the paya , in Thailand the chedi , which is based on the Sinhalese dagoba . This resulted in Laos of fact . The Borobudur complex on the Indonesian island of Java , built between 750 and 850 and based on a mandala, is a special case in many respects.

The northern line of development shows the pagoda in East Asia , the Chinese version of which is accessible inside. The Chinese pagoda spread in the 5th-8th centuries. Century to Korea and Japan (in Japan constructed exclusively from wood). In Tibet , the stupa evolved into Chorten on whose design in texts of Tengyur, the comments section of the Tibetan Buddhist canon , is fixed. The Chörten symbolizes the stepped path to enlightenment and at the same time represents a symbol for the active path of the Bodhisattva.

Important historical stupas

Wat Phra That, Thailand
Sri Lanka

Picture gallery


  • Alexander Cunningham : The Bhilsa Topes; Or, Buddhist Monuments of Central India. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, ISBN 81-215-0759-6 . ( PDF ) - Detailed English description of the Sanchi stupas.
  • Heino Kottkamp: The stupa as a representation of the Buddhist way of salvation. Investigations into the origin and development of architectural symbolism. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1992, ISBN 3-447-03306-1 .
  • Adrian Snodgrass: The symbolism of the stupa. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1992, ISBN 81-208-0781-2 .
  • Johannes W. Glauche: The stupa. Cult building of Buddhism. DuMont, Cologne 1995 ISBN 3-7701-3018-9 .
  • Joe Cummings, Bill Wassman: Buddhist Stupas in Asia, the Shape of Perfection. Lonely Planet Productions, Hawthorne 2001, ISBN 1-86450-120-0 .
  • Lama Anagarika Govinda : The stupa. Psychocosmic life and death symbol. Aurum-Verlag, Freiburg im Breisgau, ISBN 3-591-08062-4 .

Web links

Commons : Stupa  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Stupa  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Klaus-Josef Notz: Herders Lexikon des Buddhismus. Basic concepts, traditions, practice in 1200 key words from AZ , Hohe Verlag, Erftstadt 2007, p. 437f.
  2. See Duden online: Stupa and Tope
  3. ^ Newsletter of the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage, May 1999, p. 6 f. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014 ; accessed on November 29, 2015 .
  4. Cunningham: The Bhilsa Topes , page 9
  5. a b c d Helwig Schmidt-Glintzer: The Buddhism . Beck 2005, p. 105.
  6. ^ Adrian Snodgrass: The Symbolism Of The Stupa. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Cornell Southeast Asia Program), Delhi, 1992, ISBN 81-208-0781-2 , p. 255
  7. The stupa - symbol for the nature of the mind. In: Buddhism Today No. 23 (1997). Retrieved June 16, 2018 .
  8. The Tibetan Stupa - Part 1. In: Buddhismus Heute No. 45 (Summer 2008). Retrieved June 16, 2018 .
  9. Tibetan stupa: moon, sun and jewel
  10. ^ For photos see Joe Cummings, Bill Wassman: Buddhist Stupas in Asia, the Shape of Perfection . Lonely Planet Productions, Hawthorne 2001, ISBN 1-86450-120-0 , pp. 128, 129
  11. ^ How to Build a Stupa
  12. a b c d Merits from the erection of stupas , accessed on January 20, 2010.
  13. Gabriele Seitz: The visual language of Buddhism. Düsseldorf: Patmos 2006. pp. 46–59, here: p. 53.
  14. Gabriele Seitz: The visual language of Buddhism. Düsseldorf: Patmos 2006. pp. 243–247, here: p. 243 f.