Tag Archives: Stupa

The Stupas of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos

When visiting Southeast Asia, you will find a dazzling assortment of different religious buildings. None are more iconic than the stupas built to hold relics. In Thailand they are called chedis, in Myanmar, zedis… and in Laos, that. They are remarkable structures worthy of further investigation.

Stupas trace their history back to pre-Buddhist burial mounds, but they came into their own and developed after the passing of the Buddha, whose remains were buried in ten mounds. Later, more permanent structures started to be built to house relics such as the 3rd century BCE Great Stupa at Sanchi in India.

Sanchi. (Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sanchi1_N-MP-220.jpg)
Sanchi. (Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sanchi1_N-MP-220.jpg)

The original meaning was retained and the Sanskrit word stūpa literally means heap.

The Burmese, Thai and Lao all have styles that come as a result of the transmission of Theravāda Buddhism from Sri Lanka. One of the most common style of chedi in Thailand is the Lanka-style bell chedi. Interestingly, this bell shape is not much seen in Sri Lanka, where the original round Sanchi-style stupa remains the most usual. Looking at the great sites of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, we can observe some interesting styles that give us good reference points for stupas we see on our travels through Southeast Asia.

Myanmar

In Myanmar, there is a clear progression of styles. The earliest stupas were built by the Pyu people and this Pyu-style can be found at the 7th century Bawbawgyi Pagoda at the ancient city of Sri Ksetra near modern day Pyay.

Bawbawgyi. (Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BawbawgyiPaya.jpg)
Bawbawgyi. (Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BawbawgyiPaya.jpg)

This bulbous, but elongated version of the simple mound is the beginning of the Burmese stupa.

Buphaya. Photo credit, thetempletrail.com
Buphaya. Photo credit, thetempletrail.com

In the kingdom of Bagan, the Pyu-style turned into the gourd-shape evident in the Buphaya in Bagan.  Continue reading The Stupas of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos