Friday, 10 April 2015

Stupa and Chedi

In Thailand the terms stupa and chedi are interchangeable. They refer to the mound shape found in many Buddhist buildings. They are one of the core designs of Thai Buddhist architecture.

A stupa or chedi looks like a cup upside. Indeed there is a story that the original Buddha’s disciples asked their master what sort of monument they should build for his dead body. The Buddha folded a cloth into a square and placed his begging bowl on top to demonstrate what he wanted.

This story is relevant because historians believe that the first stupas in India were originally burial mounds. This aspect of stupas is retained in a sense that a stupa is meant to contain relics from Buddhist saints, although some modern stupas are just symbolic and don’t contain any relics.

Stupas are believed to have derived from burial bounds pre-dating Buddhism. Indeed the word ‘stupa’ derives from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘to pile up’. The stupa was adopted as a key element to Buddhist temple architecture in India. And from India the stupa (along with Buddhism) was exported all over Asia including Thailand.

The symbolism involved in the Buddhist stupa is complex:
  1. The square base is the head of the Buddha
  2. The hemisphere is the Buddha’s body
  3. The top of the spire coming out of the mound is his crown
  4. The base is his throne
  5. The steps below are his legs.
The totality represents the Buddha meditating in lotus position on his lion throne.

Famous Stupa in Thailand

  • Phra Pathommachedi – Nakhon Pathom. Tallest stupa in the world
  • Phra Boromathat Chaiya – Chaiya in Suratthani Province
  • Wat Arun – Bangkok. Also a representation of Mount Meru
  • Wat Yai Chai Mongkon – Ayutthaya. UNESCO site
The image above shows the 8 different styles of stupa. This gives you a clue to the added significance different designs in stupa have. This picture is based on Tibetan sources but could just as well apply to Thai stupas.

Resources: Wikipedia entry about Stupas

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