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.
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.
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.
This bulbous, but elongated version of the simple mound is the beginning of the Burmese stupa.
Angkor Wat is rightly Cambodia’s most famous historical and religious site, visited by millions every year [4.6million estimated in 2014]. But what is not clear to many until visiting is that Angkor is quite a large area near the city of Siem Reap actually containing many temples, palaces, and other ancient buildings of a wide range of architectural styles spanning several centuries.
Here is a public domain simplified map showing the many major sites near the main complexes of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom:
An historical periodization of the styles of architecture found in and around Angkor can be a useful reference both to navigating the different eras of sites closely located in the area, as well as placing the temple architecture found around the rest of Cambodia.
But we’re not the only ones on Slideshare with interests in these topics! Here are some recommended slideshows from other sources, have a look through! [Information from 3rd parties comes with no warranty 🙂 ]
The most novel, and technically challenging aspect of the several years of research for The Golden Lands has been the surveying of these scores of Buddhist architectural sites, and CAD-illustration into accurate 3D rendered computer models. This has been an incredibly detailed and demanding process, pioneered by the author Vikram Lall.
On this page you can see just a few examples of the architectural diagrams produced in this book, and please sign up to the book newsletter or contact us for more resources related to the surveying and diagrams of Buddhist architecture as we continue the series.
The first ever art historical survey focusing comprehensively on the Architecture of the Buddhist World