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Home > Facts > Ancient Architecture > Stupas and Pagodas

Stupas and Pagodas

Stupas appeared in China with the import of Buddhism and, during a long history of well over a thousand years, have become a valued part of the national Buddhist art. Stupa, a word from ancient Sanskrit meaning a square or round tomb or a 'soul shrine', was mentioned by old Chinese works under no less than half a dozen vary­ing translations. In modern times, people call all tower-like Buddhist structure ta, which includes all types of stupas and pogodas. Blow are some famous types of pagodas in China.

At the beginning, the stupa was a reliquary for keeping the relics or ashes of a saintly Buddhist. It is said that bead-like crystals of white or some other colour were often found among the ashes after cremation, and they are called shelizi or 'holy relics'.

Buddhists believe that when Sakyamuni, founder of the faith, was cremated, 84,000 beads of holy relics were found. They were shared among the kings of eight nations, who built stupas to house them for worship. This was generally thought to be the origin of stupas or pogadas. Subsequently, they were built not only to bury the relics or ashes of venerable monks but also to safe keep the holy scriptures and various ritual implements. They are therefore also called fota (Buddha's pagodas) or baota (treasure pagodas) and are objects of homage.

A Chinese proverb says, 'To save a life is a holier deed than to build a stupa of seven storeys.' Pagodas are mostly of seven or thirteen stories. This is because odd numbers were supposed to be masculine and auspicious in China, but this has nothing to do with the teachings of Buddhism.

Architecturally speaking, Chinese pagodas have special features of their own. A pagoda may be built of any of a number of materials-stone, brick, wood, glazed tile, iron or gold. In plan figure, it may be round, square, hexagonal or octagonal. In architectural style, it may be in one of a variety of forms, which will be listed in the following form.

Chinese pagodas, in short, are a significant part of the country's cultural heritage. With their beautiful shapes, bas-relief carvings, dougong brackets and upturned eaves, they no longer serve religious purposes alone but are exquisite tourist attractions as well.

The Close-Eaved Pagoda 
The Tower Pagoda
The Diamond-Throne Pagodas
The Dagoba
Mother-and-Children Pagodas
Forest of Pagoda

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