Stupas in Orissa (Study)

by Meenakshi Chauley | 2013 | 109,845 words

This study examines the Stupas and Votive Stupas in Odisha or Orissa (Eastern India).—In this thesis an attempt has been made to trace the historicity of Buddhism in Odisha on the basis of the architectural development of the Stupa architecture. Archaeological evidence obtained from excavated sites dates such structures as early as third-second cen...

Evolution of Stupa as seen from Archaeological remains

Amongst all the religious monuments of the world, the stupa has the largest uninterrupted historical development spanning more than 3 millenniums. In India all most all the early structural Stupas were in ruins, most of which were destroyed in due course of time by weather and treasure hunters or have lost its original shape due to subsequent renovations (Whenever an old Stupa was repaired it was renovated according to the style prevalent during that period. For instance, the present form of the great Stupa at Sanchi is after the renovation done in the second century BCE, but within its core are the remains of another Stupa built more than 100 years before i.e. belonging to the Ashoka period. Similar instances are found in the Stupas at Taxila and Nagarjunakonda), making it difficult to describe the shape of the earliest Stupas. For this one has to fall back on sculptural representations of them in order to form a correct idea of their appearance when complete; fortunately there are plenty of materials for this purpose (Longhurst 1992: 14)

The Stupa symbolised legitimating through sanctification and stability. The signs of sanctification were the addition of a tuft hair, representing supreme power. Stability was shown by a stump or wooden shaft as the axial pillar in the centre of the monument. Irwin (1979:838) emphasizes that the primary component of the early Stupa had been an axial pillar of wood. The wooden shaft in the centre of the Stupa was found at Vaishali, Bihar. Here the first recorded excavation was conducted in the year 1800.

After the first century CE, Stupa architecture underwent a gradual transformation. The heights of the accessory parts became more accentuate.

The Stupas in ancient India were generally composed of three parts (Fig. 3).

1. The base or drum.

2. The dome (anda) which resting on the drum, demarcating a terrace called medhi in the Divyavadana (Cowell & Neil 1886:244) and in Ceylon, pupphaddhana, a Pali word meaning “place for depositing flowers”. The relics are kept in the hollow space in the interior of the dome of a Stupa. The relic casket is generally made of precious metal in the shape of a miniature Stupa.

3. The upper part is made up of a square structure called harmika (meaning Pavilion), into which the shaft (yupa) bearing the umbrellas (chatra) is inserted. The term harmika is not available in the Mahavamsa, and this part of the Stupa is called caturassa-caya meaning quadrangular enclosure. In Ceylon, it is also called devata kotuwa, “citadel of Gods”. (Benisti 2003:6); (also see Pranavitana, The Stupa in Ceylon, in MASC V 1947:16. Mahavamsa XXXI: 124).

The Stupa comprising of the above three parts was generally surrounded by a railing, this space was used by the devotees for performing pradikshina, a rite of worship. The pradikshinapatha (circumambulatory passage) of the Stupa was often paved with stone panels bearing votive inscriptions. In the Mahavamsa this railing is called pada-vedika: railing at the foot or ground railing around the Stupa.

The vedika reminds of the ancient wooden railings, it is made up of a plinth (alambana), upright (stambha) in to which cross-bars (suchi) are fitted followed by a coping stone (usnisha). According to Coomarswamy, this part of the vedika is called usnisha “turban”, it is “due to its relationship to the Stupa which it encircles, like a turban or ribbon encircles the head of the person wearing it”. It is generally cut by one or four doorways. The toranas are built up of two large pillars linked by two or three lintels. Close to the toranas are isolated lat pillars holding various symbols above a capital. Hiuen-tsang mentions the existence of these columns erected in front of Stupas in his writings. According to him, one was erected to recall the circumstances of the death of the Buddha, another one with inscription, to mark that it was here that the relic was divided. He mentions one more whose surface is polished and were we can constantly see the shadow of the Buddha.

Generally the bigger Stupas were constructed of bricks, some small ones were made of soap stone or blue schist, etc. The bigger ones were plastered which is mentioned in the texts: for example, in the Mahavastu it is said that a Stupa was built ‘too big nor too small, covered with clay (mrttika) and stucco (sudha)’; the same word is found in the Mahavamsa. Wood was also used in construction; it is thus that a story from the Sutralamkara mentions a tree which was used as a beam for supporting a Stupa.

In the earliest phase the Stupa was always in the shape of a large hemisphere resting on a drum. It is only after the fifth century CE (Intermediate period) that it underwent two important modifications: basement on the one hand, and the crown on the other, concurrently increasing their importance to the determent of the dome which earlier constituted the entire structure. (Fig.3)

The later versions in contrast, were tall, often resting on a higher platform with the surmounting structures such as the chatra becoming more elongated (Late period) and spire-shaped (Fig.3).

The early Stupas such as at Sanchi and Bharhut, only the railings were decorated with motives and symbols later doors and domes became covered like them with bas-reliefs representing scenes from the Buddha’s life and from jataka. Hence a Stupa worked like a book in stone offered for mediation to the devotees who came to circumambulate around the Stupa.

The images of the masters appeared only in the first century CE till then his presence was represented only as symbols.

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