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Archeological Survey Discovers 2 1200-Year-Old Miniature Stupas At Nalanda

GS Paper 1

Syllabus: Architecture

Source: TOI


Context:  Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has discovered two 1200-year-old miniature votive stupas during landscaping activities near Sarai Tila mound on the premises of ‘Nalanda Mahavihara’, a world heritage site in Nalanda district.

  • The stupas, carved from stone, depict Buddha figures.


What are stupas?

A Stupa is a hemispherical structure which symbolizes the burial mound of Buddha. It rose to prominence after the advent of Buddhism and peaked during Ashoka’s reign. Stupas evolved as Chorten in Tibet and pagodas in East Asia.


What is a votive stupa?

The form of the stupa, with its distinctive domelike drum, originates in eight cylindrical structures in which the Buddha’s relics were placed after his death.

  • Votive stupas were offered in fulfilment of a vow. Beginning in the 7th century CE in India, small miniature terracotta stupas became popular as votive offerings.



Importance of stupas

  • Religious importance –
    • Relic repository: In the beginning stupas were built to venerate and safeguard relics and remains of Buddha.
    • Sacred place: Along with monasteries (viharas) later, stupas were included in chaityas, which is a prayer halls.
    • Circumambulation path: an important Buddhist ritual around the path surrounding it.
    • The object of veneration– it is believed that relics of buddhas body were buried within the stupas
  • Philosophical
    • Meditation: It is an important place for meditation.
    • Commemorative: In the Tibetan tradition, stupas were built to celebrate the life events of the Buddha.
  • Symbolic: The stupas encapsulate the teachings and ideology of Buddha
    • g. Dhamek stupa at Sarnath marks the spot where the Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, revealing his Eightfold Path leading to nirvana.
  • Historical: Provide information about the various dynasties who ruled India. Eg :
    • Mauryas : Bairat stupa , Sanchi stupa , Bharhut stupa etc
    • Sathavahanas : Amaravati stupa etc
  • Architectural –
    • Oldest stone structures: The stupas at Sanchi and Bharhut are one of the oldest stone structures in India.
    • Inclusion of text in narrative panels – at Bharhut (Queen Maya’s dream)
    • Use of marble – at Amravati stupa
    • Taxila excavations reveal stupas with Boddhisatva images, Gandhara influence and patronage of Kanishka

About Nalanda university:

Nalanda University (427 CE to 1197 CE)  stands out as the most ancient university of the Indian Subcontinent. It engaged in the organized transmission of knowledge over an uninterrupted period of 800 years. It was the leading centre for the teaching of Mahayana Buddhism but other topics were also taught there. It was destroyed in 12th CE by Bakhtiyar Khilji.


Mains Links:

Q. Shed light on the importance of Stupas, detailing their architectural features. (10M)

Q. Stupa is regarded as a monument for veneration. It is associated with votive and commemorative purposes. Trace the development of Stupa architecture during ancient India. (10M)


Prelims links:

Which one of the following statements is correct? (UPSC 2021)

(a)    Ajanta Caves lie in the gorge of Waghora river.

(b)    Sanchi Stupa lies in the gorge of Chambal river.

(c)    Pandu-lena Cave shrines lie in the gorge of Narmada river.

(d)    Amaravati Stupa lies in the gorge of Godavari river.

Answer: (a)