Buddhist History - Evolution of the Stupa

Buddhist History - the Evolution of the Stupa

This part of the web site is devoted to the historical development of the stupa and its environs, beginning with the parinirvana of the Buddha. It is a fascinating subject and up until recently, difficult to study due to lack of information. Exploring the evolution of the stupa is more than tracking its changes in physical form. It also includes how people interacted with stupas, who built and paid for them, how these sites were managed and what went on around them.

Stupas and their precincts developed as an alternative socio-economic foundation alongside the traditional Brahman class structure and worldview. As such, they are an extremely important part of the overall Buddhist cultural evolution that took place in ancient India. These were the main centers of worship for the laity. The sravakas or monks were also part of this scene. As the years wore on, there were many changes that occurred in the balance between the laity and the monastics, as well as the treatment of Buddhism and stupa building by the ruling dynasties. This ebb and flow, with its influence on stupa design and its geographic migration is the subject of our inquiry.

Most of this material is about South Asia, the first 1,000 years of stupa building limited to India, Sri Lanka, and Gandhara (today’s northern reaches of Pakistan and Afghanistan). From 500 CE to 1,100 CE when Buddhism in India disappeared, various migrations took the art of stupa building out to the rest of Asia.

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