Stupas in Nepal by Dr. Vaijayanti Khare

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INTRODUCTION and SCOPE

The study of stupas is closely connected to the evolution of the European understanding of Buddhism. It may have begun as early as the c. 13-14 centuries when fragmentary accounts of the Buddhism in Asia began to reach Europe through records and personal diaries of travelers and explorers, further strengthened around the c. 16th century with the direct contacts established by the merchants and the missionaries.

Over the next two centuries and especially all through the colonial history, studies into the language, script, inscriptions and even coins increased the understanding of Buddhism. On this backdrop, it was Eugene Burnouf who wrote the first comprehensive study of ancient Indian Buddhism using the Sanskrit manuscripts acquired by Brian Houghton Hodgson in Kathmandu, Nepal, (Burnouf, 1844). The scholarly works of James Princep, Alexander Cunningham, James Fergusson, Alfred Foucher, John Marshall, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Rhys-Davids, to name a few gave a stupendous boost to the understanding of Buddhist thought and the Stupa.

It was but obvious that such a study would reach into the stupas and monasteries of Tibet and Nepal. And here, we salute the pioneering work of Giuseppe Tucci (Tucci, 1932) who visited both these lands between 1920s and 1940s and began our current understanding of these lands. Later works by scholars like Mary Shepherd Slusser and Niels Gutschow added volumes in both textual and pictorial details.

The earliest occurrence of the word ‘stupa’ or ‘thube’ is on the Nigalisagara pillar inscription of Ashoka and this concurs with the archaeological evidence that supports a Mauryan beginning of the earliest Buddhist stupa in India. The Sanskrit word stupa, however, occurs as early as the Rgveda and the Taittriya samhita, where it means a ‘crest’ or ‘summit’. As a form, the origins of such a structure are to be found in grain silos, repositories, tumulus, mounds and hilltops and the origins of the word itself are found in words like ‘thupa’, ‘thuva’, ‘ thupi-kata’, ‘thupana’, ‘thopana’, ‘stupos’ giving the structure meanings that range from a top-knot, tuft of hair, a stem, tree, pillar, post to heaped up or piled up. The structure that houses the relics of Buddha or a revered monk is variously called ‘Dagoba’ in Sinhalese, Sri Lanka from the words ‘dhatu garbha’; ‘Chedi’ in Thailand from the Pali word ‘chetiya’; ‘Chorten’ in Tibetan from words that mean ‘dharma place’.

Be as it may be in word or in form, it is true that both have come to mean and indicate a Buddhist system of thought and belief. The Stupa as we say and see today has evolved to be a quintessential feature of Buddhism the world over. Architecture, sculpture and other structural accretions may denote a particular style or patronage, but all evoke Buddhism.

In Nepal, particularly in the Kathmandu valley, a legend tells of the spontaneous occurrence of the stupa; a ‘chaitya’ or ‘gumba’ as it is called here. The word Chaitya is often taken to have its origin in a funerary mound, from its root word chita i.e ashes; so chaitya comes to mean the ashes worthy of worship. But, perhaps, as some scholars point out, the earliest reference of this word as found in Sanskrit and in the Rgveda as ‘lokasya chaityam’: any object of veneration. The word ‘Gumba’, used more often than chaitya by the common folk here, is a mix of two words actually. The earliest stupa structures in India were in rock-cut caves, so in a ‘gupha, guha, gumpha: literally cave’. In the Newar Buddhist, a Baha and a Bahi are essential structures, both being Viharas (Bihara = Baha =place of residence and Bahira = Bahi =outside). So, a Baha is a small monastery or place for the residence of monks near the chaitya and a Bahi is away /outside from the chaitya. Now, the word Gumba is a combination of the Gumpha and Baha, and so all chaityas are gumbas, in the common man’s language and usage even today. Another variation is in the Tibetan origin of the word ‘Gum’ which means a ‘forest’ so a Gum Vihara or Gum Baha is a chaitya in the forest. As most such structures in Nepal are / were in such locations, the common word is Gumba, or even Gompa in some dialect.

It is now easier to understand the Gum Vihara, Cha Bahil, Oku Bahal, Khasti Gumba, Seto Gumba and so many such wonderful and quaint places that the lanes and roads in Kathmandu bring you upon.

Nepal is the land of Chaityas. It is a structure that encapsulates the movement of Buddhism as a philosophy and as a way of living; a presence that depicts the Dyanakanda and the Karmakanda. This ubiquitous feature of Nepal’s landscape fascinates all; the scholar and the traveller, the believer and the atheist, the writer and the artist.

This presentation would take us into Nepal and along its known and lesser known structures. It is a story board scheme meaning that we shall go along the fascinating stories, legends and folklore and not dwell too deep on the rigorous academic aspects of history, archaeology, art history, dates and royalty. Language, colloquial references and today’s practices would make it more a walk-through in the way these structures are a part of the daily life of the Newars, the Buddhist and even the Hindus.

SACRED GEOGRAPHY

The presentation begins (v.1) from the legend where the valley of Kathmandu was made accessible and goes around almost in a circular path touching the Swayambhunath, the Cha Bahil, the Bouddhanath, the Bandegaon Gumba and Gum Vihara. Then we take a smaller inner circle as it were, in the region of Patan, and walk around the 4 big Stupas and the known and lesser known Chaityabahas.

Lord Manjushri the great Buddhist monk was up in the Himalayas, in present day Tibet, deep in meditation when the blooming of a thousand petalled lotus signifying the emergence of an enlightened sacred Space burst upon him. The search for this Divinity brought him to the edge of a deep valley, flooded in water, in the middle of which shone this Lotus bloom. He struck the farther edge of the mountains with his Sword, cutting a Gorge and letting the waters flow away. Thus he could reach and pay obeisance to the Divine bloom, which held the Divine mound. The Valley is the present day Kathmandu and the Gorge is the Chobar gorge (v.2). The Valley was thus drained of the waters which were full of serpents and made habitable.

The Tau daha lake that greets you as you enter Kathmandu from this mountainous road is even today inhabited by a naga-king, Krakotak, and his nagi, the pair of serpent gods, as the watchers of the Valley beneath. Even now, the annual Rato Macchindanath festival that begins on the first day of the Baisakh month (April), marking the Newar farmers’ call for rains, ends with a display of a bejeweled vest that was gifted by this Naga king to a farmer. Legend has it that it was stolen from the farmer, retrieved by the naga king and the search for that rightful owner is still on. The display is a call for that person to come forward and claim it.

(v.3) The story of Swayambhunath, is actually the lore of ‘Singu Vihara’ Scholars have long established that this earliest of the recorded structures was built in the early 5th century by the Buddhist King Vrsadeva, documented in the much trusted Gopalarajavamsavali as consecration of the ‘Singu Vihara chaitya’. The Newari name for the hill on which this chaitya stands is the Singu, Sinagu, Singum, Sahyengu, Sahmegu, meaning ‘cow’s horns’. It is possible that the name ‘swayambu’ is a variation of these words, rather than the literal translation as ‘self existent’ or ‘spontaneously emerged’. Even today, the common folk call it the ‘Singuchaitya’, or even the ‘Yendenceta’: the kathmandu chaitya, yen being the Newari word for Kathmandu. It was also called the ‘bhu chaitya’ at some time. That this stupa was an object of worship in the Lichhavi Nepal is seen from the Licchavi Chaityas and the inscriptions nearby.

According to the legend, this is the Divine lotus that Lord Manjushri saw and came here to pay his respects!

This is beautifully depicted by having the Stupa rest on a stylized lotus mandala. The dome is made of brick and stone, an obvious result of the series of renovations the reigning royalty brought upon it. The harmika has the eyes of Vairochana on the four sides, believed to have been painted in the Malla period of Nepal’s history. The 13 gold plated spires above this, symbolize the 13 stages to salvation. A golden umbrella crowns the structure, supported by a pole from within the center.

The 380 steps that lead you all the way up open up a magnificent view of Kathamandu valley, now densely populated, and the panoramic Himalayan range. The Stupa tradition is of the Vajrayana form of Buddhism. A number of Vajrayana deities are housed in small temples around the stupa. The Stupa itself has 10 niches that represent the different forms of Buddha and their consorts, viz. Akshobhya, Vairochana, Vajradhatesvari, Mamaki Tara, Ratnasambhava, Pandara, Amitabha, Tara, Amoghasiddhi and Saptalochini.

(v.4) An interesting structure here is that of the Bajra Dhatu Mandala.

The Mandala depicts 12 animals representing the twelve months of the Tibetan year. The gilt Bajra installed by King Pratap Malla in the middle of the 17th century represents the sword of Manjushree.

This stupa is of paramount religious significance to the Buddhist, just as the Pashupatinath is to the Hindus. It would be appropriate at this juncture to relate the interesting story of how the Pashupati also becomes a Buddhist shrine once in the year.

The Swaymabhu-purana, a Buddhist text, equates the Pashupati with Avalokiteshvara and affirms that He shall receive homage from the local Brahmins, the Bhatta Brahmins, the kshatriyas and the shudras and that his name will be Pashupati. The story suggests that the place, Deopatan-the location of this shrine, was settled by the Buddhists and it was they who had the primal rights over the worship site which became that of the Pashupati. A local Buddhist deity was being worshipped here which later changed into the Shaiva divinity. Records of such dissension between the Buddhists occupants and the Brahmanical settlers are found in later chronicles. A long standing practice is symbolic of this and a gesture to acknowledge this provenance. Every year, in the month of Kartik (October), on the 8th day of the first fortnight of Kartik, called mukhashtami, the pashupati linga is adorned with a Bodhisattva crown. On this day, the Buddhists worship Pashupati as Avalokitesvara!

Another legend makes it more than just a gesture in remembrance of this transformation. Virupaksha, a shaiva devotee happened to unknowingly cohabit with his mother. On realizing this, he is filled with remorse and asks Lord Shiva how he could expiate this crime. Shiva prescribes drinking of molten metal ! Angry with Shiva for such an unreasonable penance, Virupaksha set out to destroy Shiva. He looked for Shiva all over, smashing shaiva emblems as he went along. Shiva had fled in fear. When Virupaksha came to the Pashupati shrine to destroy it too, he saw not the shiva linga but the Avalokiteshvara ! Confounded and stopped from his outrage, Virupaksha bowed to the Compassionate One. The Buddha saved Shiva and at the same time duped Virupaksha in paying obeisance to Shiva in disguise.

And so, we have the Pashupati wear a Buddhist crown.

Moving on from the SahyenguChaitya, we come to the Dharmadeva Chaitya, variously called the Dhamode Chaitya or Dhamado. King Dharmadeva, affirms the trusted Gopalrajvamsavali, built the Dhamodechaitya in Rajavihara, around the mid c 5th century. The living quarters of this Stupa, the Dharmachitavihara shared space with another famed vihara, the Charumati Vihara.

This entire area is now called Chabahil, Cha Bahil being a Newar connotation and not derived from Ashoka’s daughter, Charumati ! Around the c 17th century trade between the Newar traders and the Tibetan lands flourished under the encouraging rule of the Malla King, Pratapmalla. It was customary for these traders to break their journey, to and fro, at this Maha Rajvihara, simply meaning the ‘Big vihara at Rajvihara’, the area where the dhamodechaitya was. Practice had it that, the traders’ family accompanied them upto this vihara, stayed overnight, performed the rituals and worship to the tantric, vajrayana deity for blessings for a good trade and safe journey and then the trader carried on. The family returned home. Similarly, on their way back from Tibet, the trader was met by his family, rested the night at the vihara, performed the ritual of thanksgiving and all went homewards. In Newari, Ca means ‘night or overnight’; and as this Bahil was an overnight halt, it became the Ca Bahil. The entire area, so the dharmadeva chaitya and the cha bahil, is referred to as just Chabil. Although, right on a busy main road now, this Stupa is at level with the road and the eyes on the Harmika seem to look straight at you and not upon you as in the other higher structures. Festooned with the Tibetan flag rows and girdled by the praying wheels, this space can still exude a sense of peace and wonder. (v.5)

(v.6) Moving onwards from here, we come to the Khasa or Khasti chaitya. The Bouddhanath, as it is known, is the biggest Stupa. In local parlance, especially the Tibetan folk, it is the Khasa or Khasti Gumba. Oldfield has mention of the origin of this stupa in the holy remains of the Tibetan Lama, named Khasa, who died on his pilgrimage to Nepal. Another story has it that a certain pious lady, Jyajimi, of a Magat village had the deep desire to spread the faith of the Master and approached the King for a piece of land where she could build a stupa. The King granted her this land on which this stupa was built by her own hands. Yet another legend talks of the time of a severe drought in the Valley. King Dharmadev in his concern and anxiety asked of an astrologer a solution for this. He was told that the only answer was the sacrifice of the ideal man of 32 virtues in front of the dry royal water spout. Unable to find anyone other than himself eligible for this, the King decides to sacrifice himself. On a certain day, he commands his son to go the dry water spout near the royal palace at mid night and behead the person clad in white robes without looking at him. The Prince obeyed his father and to his great horror found that it was none other than his own father that he beheads.

In order to atone for the heinous sin, he prayed to goddess Vajrayogini who asked him to make a stupa and practice rigorous penance. This is the Stupa thus built by Manadev, the Licchavi prince.

The Bouddhanath stands over a 3- tiered platform, made in crossed rectangles making the base as a Yantra or the tantric mandala. Vairochana is the deity in the centre with Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabh and Amoghsiddhi in east, south, west and north directions respectively. The Harmika has the Vairochana eyes in gold and black. A hundred and eight small niches around the stupa house the various Buddhas, Bodhisatavas and other female deities, some in conjoint tantric poses. At the base, along the circumambulatory path, are more than a 150 praying wheels embossed with Om Mani Padme Hum.

A small farmer’s settlement called Bandegaon, in the Patan region, has the Bandegaon Chaitya. Although not as big or popular as the other three, this stupa built by Vrsadeva, the builder of Swayambhuchaitya, was nevertheless very important culturally. It embraced the farmers and the various artisans of that land into the care and patronage of the King. It spoke of a missionary activity and it even completed the quartet of stupas around the Valley. Each direction now had a Chaitya, a structure worthy of worship and a structure that guarded its people.

The Gum vihara, as mentioned earlier is a Vihara in the forest. This is the forest where Prince Manadeva went for his penance as instructed by the Goddess Vajrayogini. And legend has it that ‘under the influence of the King’s penance a large chaitya rose and remained’. The gumvihara is commonly called the Sankhu Vajrayogini, (after the village as it is now) and has a temple for this tantric deity as well as an enshrined chaitya. She has been called Ugratara-Vajrayogini at least since 1775 when King Pratap Malla of Kathmandu put up that inscription after he built the present temple. A story says that this Ugratara was brought to Nepal by Bengali priests about A. D. 1350. However, the site is far more ancient.

The gilt torana over the main doorway depicts the tantric form of Amitabha with three faces and twelve arms sitting in vajrasana on the peacock throne. He is flanked by a 4-armed female figure, Prajnaparamita on his right, and on his left by the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Together they symbolize the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Inside the temple, instead of an image, is a caitya over a thousand years old. An inscription dated 608 AD put up by King Amsuvarman mentions a grant for Gum Vihara in the form of the land around it, a village below and the delegation of the Vajracharya priests for the Gum Baha’s care.

North of the enshrined chaitya are four small chaityas dated from the fifth to the eight centuries. Of obvious Licchavi style, these simple undecorated structures are characteristic of the oldest chaityas having the original squat finial. A short stairway leads up to another level and opens onto an enclosed, paved courtyard with a sunken fountain in the center. The residential place houses the Vajracharyas and Shakyas entrusted with this Vihara. They claim descent from those appointed in the c 7th century. On the ground floor of the building where this priest stays is a small room. To the left as one enters is a large gilt copper chaitya about 5 feet tall. To the left of this is a colossal cast copper and bronze Buddha head, dated to the c. 5th century. On the floor above, is another shrine for a smaller image of Vajrayogini and two other wonderful pieces.

The first is a solid cast bronze image of the Buddha standing with his right hand in the boongranting gesture and his left hand clasping his robes at the shoulder. This image is too is about 5 feet tall, dated to the c. 11th century. The other is the Padmapani Lokesvara, a solid bronze about 3 feet high dated to the c. 13th century. This site is thus a beautiful blend of the Vajrayana Buddhist and the Newar style temple with the simple chaityas, the tantric deities and the 3 Jewels of the Buddhist system.

On the full-moon day of the month of Chaitra (April), a festival marks the link between the divinities on the hill and the people of the village below. A procession takes the smaller image of Vajrayogini down to the village as if the deity visits her devotees. At another time, during the annual worship of lineage deities, the Shakyas and Vajracharyas from Patan, Kathmandu, Banepa and Panauti gather here to worship the chaitya. This chaitya is worshipped by people from the various Bahas of these towns expressing the links with the shrine and site of this ancient Gum Vihara.

PATAN STUPAS & CHAITYABAHAS

Patan, is a stronghold of the Newar Buddhists like the nearby Kirtipur and Bhaktapur. Here is the culture of the Bahas. In Kathmandu, some parts of the old city have a similar Baha culture, but not as elaborate as it is in Patan. The one most known to the visitors from abroad is the Tham Bahal, or Thamel. Before looking at the chaityabahas, however, let us quickly circle around this town to see the 4 big stupas more on the lines of the ones we saw earlier.

Some works attribute these stupas to Samrat Ashoka of India, but a larger school believes that this is more in gratitude and honour than in real terms. Nor as it is claimed, are these stupas exactly in the cardinal directions. They are named after the location they stand on. So we have the stupas at Laghan, Ebahi or Yampi, Pucco and Tyeta or Traita. The suffix ‘thur’ is used from the Newari ‘thura’ meaning ‘mound, stupa’. So it is Laghanthur, Tetathur and so on.

(v.7) The stupa in Ebahi has been renovated a number of times and sports a cement and limestone covered look and stands in a paved courtyard with a pond. It is surrounded by brick and stone houses and is a part of the daily life of people here. The other 3 are more grass covered brick mounds, standing on low platforms, either railed in and not.

All these stupas have different finials changed time and again and some niches for icons of Buddha and the bodhisattvas. Some icons are attached on the surface rather than housed in niches clearly showing a much later addition. The ubiquitous rows of prayer wheels circle the lower border along the circumambulatory path.

The Chaitya baha is an interesting feature of the Patan Buddhist life, a cultural canvas of the Newar Buddhists., not seen anywhere else in the Buddhist world. It began when monks took residence to tend and worship the chaityas and impart Buddhist learning to the aspiring monks and the householder. The laity of the nearby farms and settlements found a social and spiritual solace in these places of worship. (v.8 – show rock –cut vihara and cave stupa pics of India). Structurally the chaitya bahas seem to be a variation of these rock-cut structures with a small Chaitya in the courtyard surrounded by Buddhist deities and the living quarters above and further outwards in the courtyard. Sometimes there are more than 1 chaitya, made in stone, carved on all 4 sides. The main deity, usually Akshobhya, is enshrined in a temple structure with a gilt tapering roof, having beaten metal banners hanging from the finial. The shrine is usually closed by a lattice door and only the Vajracharya, the priest is allowed. A dharmadhatu mandala is installed in front of the shrine. The second floor has a room called the ‘agama’ where the tantric deities reside and rituals are conducted in secrecy and by select persons.

Patan is a warren of lanes and dotted with about a twenty-odd Bahas, small and big, famous and lesser known. Fronted by figures of lions or not, having large wooden carved or simple unembellished doors, these bahas are a part of the life of its people. The Rudravarna Mahavihar in the Oku Bahal (Onkuli) (v.9), the Mahabouddha in the U Bahal nearby and the Kwa Bahal (Hiranyavarna Mahavihara) (v.10) are some of the known ones. The Aki Baha, Ta Baha, the Bhincche Baha, Tyagal chaitya, Iba Bahi and the Ga Bahal are the lesser known ones. Many more are almost forgotten and obscure except by the people connected with it. One comes upon them in surprise when you happen to take the smaller and less travelled by lanes.

The Baha culture and the chaityabahas are evidence of the Vajrayana Buddhism since atleast the early c 7th century. The concept of the 5 tathagatas is clearly seen on some of the older chaityas like the one at the Om Bahal, stylistically dated to the seventh century (v.10). This is the chaitya that was noted by the Chinese traveler Wang Hsuan-tse’ as proof of the Nepalese people worshipping the 5 celestial spirits. If this chaitya clearly shows the Vajrayana leanings the chaityas at Tyagal- Tol, the Nag-Bahal and Alko-hiti show the period of the Mahayana moving into a more Vajrayana leaning.

The Chaitya bahas of Patan have now grown to be are more like brahmanical temples. The number of bronze sculptures, the bronze garlands around the inner temple doors, the numerous votive chaityas, the lions, elephants and peacocks sculptures and the rows of prayer wheels populate the entire courtyard. The rituals are again elaborate with bells, lamps and offerings.

And ofcourse, the chaityas are far smaller than the Buddha or Boddhisattva figures; almost like just another structure among the many to be worshipped.

CONTEXT, THEN & NOW

All the Stupas and Chaityabahas we just saw are now in the midst of the growing population and disorganized brick and mortar development. Even the names of the structures or the locations and roads have changed. The sea of people around it knows them depending on its tourist attraction and the festivals. The Swayambhunath continues to draw the Buddhist and the Hindu and the tourist alike. The Gumvihara is completely hidden in the folds of the increasing number of votive images and decorative sculptures. Except on the days of the Vajrayogini festival, when the crowds are mainly the Vajracharyas and the Shakyas, it draws the tourist, the trekker, the Buddhist and the Hindu.

Over the years, the Bouddhanath and the Chabil stupa have become more and more Tibetan occupied as it were. The small monasteries, the curios shops and the numerous festivals mark this as a major tourist attraction. Just a 5 minute walk from a lane behind the Bouddha is a ‘Seto Gumba’, that houses the Centre for Buddhist Studies under the aegis of the Kathmandu University. In conjunction with the Rangjung Yeshe Institute, it conducts courses that attract foreigners wanting to study Buddhism. (v.11)

The Bandegaon stupa is almost gone and is replaced by a forest goddess very akin to the Brahmanical Kali or Goddess of Time. The people living here have forgotten the stupa altogether and when asked of it draw a blank or give you directions to the other smaller new Buddha temples that have sprung up. They even have names like ‘Taukhel Gumba, ‘Hadegaon Gumba’, but here the word means a small dwelling, 2 storey house (monastery) for a few women nuns run by a Lama who looks after a number of such places in and around Kathmandu and performs the daily ritual Puja like a visiting Lama. A similar Monastery has come up on the hillock overlooking the Chobar gorge amidst a working class population. The Mahabouddha is lost behind the curio shops and easily missed were it not for the concrete arch with the painted name on the street level. Even inside, the courtyard is lost to the shops and extended balconies of the houses around it. The 1000 buddha temple stands in a pit and has barely a single person walking space round it. The Oku Bahal wears a forlorn, dusty look; the courtyard a place for teenagers escaping the adult eye and idle folk playing card games.


NEW STUPAS

The new Stupas that have come up in the past few years are at Pokhara, Lumbini and the Kapan monastery in Kathmandu. The Great Thousand Buddha Relic Stupa at the Kapan Monastery near Kathmandu is a part of the project begun by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who has already inspired the construction of nearly forty large stupas around the world.

The World Peace Pagoda as it is called is on a narrow ridge high above the Phewa Tal in Pokhara. This brilliant-white, massive Buddhist stupa was constructed by Buddhist monks from the Japanese Nipponzan Myōhōji organisation. It is surely an impressive sight and is a vantage point which offers spectacular views of the Annapurna range and Pokhara city.

Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, has been made out into a large monastic zone, in that it allows only monasteries to be built. A number of countries’ have built their kind of a Monastery, giving this place architecture and art from lands like Vietnam, Japan, Myanmar, Thailand, India, Korea, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and now soon China. It is separated into an eastern and western monastic zone, the eastern having the Theravadin monasteries, the western having Mahayana and Vajrayana monasteries. A Stupa called the Peace Pagoda shines a brilliant white at the end of a water canal that runs from the place of birth at the other end. Lumbini, as of 1997, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site specifically nominated for the international World Heritage program

IN CONCLUSION

The Stupa is a metaphor, a sutra in itself; it embodies the meaning and essence of not just Buddhism but of the entire question of existence. Although, the symbolism of the Stupa was outside the purview of this essay, but that its meaning is far before, during and beyond the Buddha is clear in the context of Nepal. It is understood here that the Stupa incorporates and expresses the Mount Sumeru world or the Cosmos, that the Stupa is the representation of the 5 Great Elements and that this is why the Stupa is equated to Buddha.

The Milindpanha, a work of the early centuries is the dialogue between King Milinda and the Buddhist sage Nagasena. One of the interesting questions the King asks of the sage goes like, ‘What is the Buddha’s shop, O Learned one?’, the reply: ‘The Lord’s general shop, O King, is the 9-bodied speech of the Buddha, the shrines for his bodily relics and the things he used and the jewel of the Sangha’. Nagasena’s speech of the Buddha is the teaching or Dharma, the jewel of the Sangha is the monastic community and the shrine for his relics and the things he used is the Stupa. The Stupa is a shrine for the Buddha’s corporeal relics, the relics of use and association and the relics of indication. The stupas in Nepal are a Shrine for the relics of indication: the uddeshika dhatu. And that they are indicative of the Buddha, the Cosmos and the syncretism of the religious thought and practice is amply evident in structure, story and practice.

SELECT REFERENCES

1. Nepal Mandala: A cultural study of the Kathmandu Valley

Mary Shepherd Slusser, 1982

2. Stupa : Art, Architectonics and Symbolism (Indo-Tibetica I)

Guiseppe Tucci, (Tr. Uma Marina Vesci), 1988

3. The Nepalese Chaitya - 1500 Years of Buddhist Votive Architecture in the

Kathmandu Valley
Niels Gutschow, 1997 Ed. Axel Menges

4. Buddhist Stupas in South Asia: Recent Archaeological, Art-Historical and Historical

Perspectives
Ed. Jason Hawkes & Akira Shimada, 2009