Stuupa, and Tomb

By B. M. Barua
The Indian Historical Quarterly
vol 2:1, 1926.03, p. 16-27

p. 16 The Stupa is classed in Buddhist literature as Saariirikacetiya or sepulchral sanctuary enshrining the charred bones or ashes from the funeral pyre of a deceased hero. The Buddhist hero is a Buddha or a Thera, the greatest hero being the Buddha himself. The Sinhalese word denoting this class of sanctuaries is Daagaba, which is a shorter form of Dhaatugarbha. The Dhaatugarbha strictly denotes the underground, inner or lower chamber, containing the relic-casket or steatite-box, and the Stuupa the upper structure or covering mound. Thus as in one cast: the whole sanctuary is denoted by the name of the upper structure, so in the other the name of the lower or inner structure denotes the whole. The word Stuupa is the Buddhist Sanskrit form of the Pali Thuupa. The origin of the form Thuupa can be traced back to an Indo-European word like Tumba(1), from which the English Tomb or the French Tombe has been derived. According to this connexion, the Stuupa is nothing but a Tomb or tumulus. ------------------------ 1. The place mentioned in the Sutta-Nipaata, p. 103, as Vana is evidently referred to in some of the Votive Labels of Sanchi Stuupa, I as Tumbavana or Tubavana (Buhler's Sanchi Stuupa Inscriptions I. 22, 23, 81, 264, 265 and 330 in Epigraphia Indica, vol. II). The same place came to be known in Buddhaghosa's time by two names: Tumbanagara and Vanasavatthi. See Paramatthajotikaa, II, p.583. The word tumbaa or tumba is in the Chittagong dialect a synonym of tu.m, tubaa, tuppaa, tuuaa and tuup, meaning `a piled up heap', e.g., the heap of earth, of straw, of paddy, of cow-dung. Tumbaa is an East-Bengal and a Maraathi form. Cf. Latin tumba. In the Jaina Prakrit and tu.mbii mean alaabu or gourd and tumba also means the navel of a wheel (Haragovinda Das Seth's Paia-Sadda-Maha^n^nava). In Pali tumba means an aa.lhaka which is a measure of grain, and tu.mbii a gourd (See Childers). But these words occur in this sense in comparatively modern works. p. 17 But in spite of this kinship, the Stuupa considered as a Buddhist sepulchral sanctuary and the Tomb a Christian sepulchral structure represent two different lines on which tumulus or mound has developed. The custom behind the Stuupa is cremation land the custom which is bound up with the Tomb is burial. The transition from the latter to the former is a long step. The Tomb is essentially a mound covering a grave in which the actual dead body is buried. The body within the grave may be either directly covered by clods of earth, particles of sand or pieces of stone and brick, or put inside a coffin or life-size box or cylinder of wood or stone. The body may be interred as mere body, or it may be washed and embalmed, wrapped up in cloth, dressed up, adorned with jewellery, honoured with flowers and garlands, and provided with personal belongings and necessaries, as a tribute and mark of affection, either out of a pure aesthetic feeling of taste, or owing to a superstitious fear of visits and oppressions from the disembodied spirits, or on account of a human compassion for the helpless condition of the deceased. With the elaboration of protective mechanism, there may be a tomb within a tomb, a grave within a grave, and a coffin within a coffin. Here the desire To protect the body by all possible means from destruction, mutilation, shame and insult is persistent throughout, and the hoarding of jewellery is a side-issue. The Stuupa is essentially a mound covering a garbha or chamber in which the bodily remains are deposited. The remains consist of the charred bones and ashes from the funeral pyre where the dead body is burnt. These, as deposited in the chamber, may be covered with the heap of earth, sand, stone or brick, or secured inside a large stone-box along with precious metals and small gold-leaves, or separately in urns. The urn in a Buddhist sanctuary is represented by a vase of crystal or ordinary stone, covered by a lid and inscribed with a label recording whose bodily remains the contents are. Here the hoarding of treasures takes the place p. 18 of the preservation of the body(1). In covering the chamber with a mound, the offerings of flowers, garlands and burning oil-lamps are made in honour of the relics. The implication is that the relies are not only deposited but enshrined. With the elaboration of hoarding and enshrining mechanism, there may be a mound within a mound, a chamber within a chamber, a box within a box, and an urn within an urn. The jewels and coins are deposited with the express purpose of enabling the poorer kings to repair or rebuild the shrine. The fiction of the burial of a warrior-hero continues to play its part. The erection of the sanctuary proceeds on the line of the building of a fort, surrounded by walls and ramparts, and supervised by a military guard. The towers and gateways, as well as the representations of achievements of heroes are external features of the art of fort-building. In passing the custom of burial through the fire of the funeral pyre, the superstitions elements in it are sought to be eliminated and the aesthetic elements separated and cast into brighter forms. The processes of elimination and sublimation were tried along both the lines, in the one by retaining the earlier custom of burial and preserving the actual body, and in the other by introducing the system of burning and hoarding the remains of the pyre together with other treasures. But the animistic beliefs, the superstitious fears, natural weaknesses and primitive sentiments were persistent among the people at large. The screen of fire of the funeral pyre served only to separate these elements, keeping some on one side to do their works as before, and passing some to the other side to improve the quality of art. The burial aspect of the Stupa ------------------- 1. The very expression dhatu-nidhana suggests it. Cf. the phrase nidhim nidketi, meaning 'hoards the treasure', Nidhikanda Sutta in Khuddakapatha. The other expression dhatu-ovopana suggests also the allegory of planting the seed, the seed of the tree of art, the tree of faith and culture. p. 19 continued to be associated with primitive beliefs, rites and practices. It will be interesting to examine the Indian literary evidence in this connexion. In a Pali canonical passage the Buddha is said to have made a statement referring to the bleaching of bones (atthidhopana) as a rite prevalent in southern countries (i. e., in South India). In explaining the rite Buddhaghosa says that in some of the countries among some of the aboriginal tribes) when a man died, his body was not cremated but buried in a grave. When the body was sufficiently decomposed, the bones were dug out of the grave and left to dry up after being washed and rubbed with aromatic substances. A lucky day was fixed for the celebration of the mourning festival. On the selected site the bones were arranged on one side, and wine and other things on the other. The kinsmen of the deceased person assembled there, drank wine and wept(1). Here the custom is that of burial, the bones are the objects of preservation, the behaviour is characterised by drunkenness and savagery, and the weeping is a natural expression of sorrow. Now take a case where cremation is the custom, The Sujata-Jataka (No.352) relates that a landowner from the day of his father's death was filled with sorrow, and taking his bones from the place of cremation he erected an earth-mound in his pleasure-garden, and depositing the remains there, he visited the place from time to time, adorned the tope with flowers and studiously lamented, neglecting his daily duties and personal comforts. Though here the custom is one of cremation and the man is a member of the Aryan or cultured community, he is said to have lamented, being subject to natural weakness and subconsciously under the superstitious belief that his weeping might bring back the departed soul, and he was not cured of this malady until his wise son, the Bodhisattva Sujata, convinced him of the fact that his weeping -------------- 1. Sumangala Vilasini, I, pp, 84, 85p p. 20 webs less availing as a means of bringing back into life the deceased whose body was burnt than feeding a dead cow whose body still remained.(1) Then consider a case where the custom is burial, The Rg-Vedic hymn (x. 18) gives a vivid description of the funeral of a warrior. It appears that the dead-body was carried to the funeral ground by one path, the path of death and the party returned by another, the path of life. The wife of the deceased hero followed the dead body, accompanied by Other ladies, the ladies who were not widows walking ahead. The earth was dug out to make a grave. The spot was surrounded by an enclosure (paridhi) , by a atone-rampart (pasana) as Sayana interprets it(2). The wife of the hero was urged by the priest to go back, together with other ladies, to the world of mirth and joy and begin her life anew. The circle of atone was set up as a device to separate the world of living ones from that of the dead, the priest's interpretation changing the original motive of guarding the grave and imprisoning the ghost. But this was also put up as a memorial, the kinsmen of the hero being exhorted by the priest to keep alive hits tradition and continue his work for their prosperity and glory. The bow was taken off from the hand of the hero for preservation as a source of inspiration to the nation. The body was afterwards gently laid in the grave and covered with the heap of earth marked with a post (sthuu^na). The mother-earth was asked to hold her son in her bosom, not allowing the heap or mound above him to press him heavily, and the tomb was intended to serve as a mansion and a monument. Though here the custom is one ----------------------- 1. Scene in Cunningham's Stuupa of Bharhut, pi. XLVII, 3. 2. Mahiidhara, in commenting upon the Yajurveda hymn (xxxv, 15), says that after the burning of the body, the duty of the priest was to raise a bank or lump of earth between the village where the deceased dwelt and the funeral ground, as a rampart against death. See Wilson's Rg-Veda Samhita, vol, VI, p. 47, f.n. 4. p. 21 of burial, the rites and prayers, the motives and expressions are of an Aryan or exalted character, breathing as they do, a high moral tone. It is well observed that the topes were not especially Buddhist monuments, but, in fact, pre-Buddhistic, and indeed only a modification of a world-wide custom (1). There are clear evidences showing that certain sections of the Aryan community began to make solid brick structures instead of heaps of earth, or of stones covered with earth(2), and that the urn (asthikumbha), containing the bones and ashes and covered by a lid, came to be buried after the dead body had been burnt(3). On being asked how his body should be disposed of, the Buddha, said that it should be done in royal manner. The Mahaakapi-Jaataka (No. 407) gives an account of the obsequies of a king. The ladies of the royal harem came to the funeral garound, as retinue for the deceased king, with red garments, dishevelled hair and torches in their hands. The ministers made a funeral pile with a hundred waggon loads of wood. On the spot where the body was burnt a shrine was erected and honoured for seven days with offerings of incense and flowers. The burnt skull, inlaid with gold, was put at the king's gate, raised on the spearlike staff serving as royal insignia (kuntagge), and was honoured. Then taking it, as a relic, another shrine was built and honoured with incense and garlands. It is well suggested: "The first step was probably merely to build the cairn more carefully than usual with stones, and to cover the outside with fine cunam plaster to give it a marble-like surface". The next step was to build the cairn ------------------- 1. Buddhist India, p. 80. 2. White Yajurveda, xxxv. 15. 3. AA`svalaayana G.rhya-Suutra, IV. 5; on the .Rg-Veda hymn (X, 18). 4. Cf. Divyaavadaana, p. 381: cakre stuupaanaa.m saradabhraprabhana.m, "made the topes that shone forth like autumn-clouds". p. 22 of concentric layers of the huge bricks in use at the time, and to surround the whole with a wooden railing"(1). The heroes over whose graves, funeral pyres, or bodily remains, the shrines were raised, were all as yet `deceased persons of distinction, either by birth, or wealth, or official position, the chief of them being warrior, king, overlord. The mounds built in honour of their memory were all as yet looked upon as monuments of victory. The presiding deities of such shrines built on four sides of the cities like Vesali, Malls and Alavaka were all Yaksas or dreaded personalities among the luminaries, the elemental forces, the inanimate things, the animate forms, the animals on land and in water, the savage tribes and civilised men. They were at the same time ail entombed eponymic and deified heroes from whom the members of ruling clans, tribes and nations sought to derive their strength and inspiration. Though the basic idea was hero-worship, the Yaksa-shrines built beside the Yaksa-mansions were all believed to have been possessed by the disembodied spirits and haunted by the ghosts of these heroes. The elements of dread superstition clang on to these shrines which were evidently tombs over the prehistoric graves in which the heroes were buried together with their jewels and hoardings. Though the mode of worship became imperceptibly Brahmanical or priestly, the heroes continued to be remembered in tradition and myth of the people at large as their own leaders, and religious offerings and worship at the tombs enshrining their memory and bodily remains regarded as a way of producing the permanent mental attitude to remain loyal to the glorious tradition of the past and not to depart therefrom. When, in course of time, the kings and nobles became `the leaders of thought, or reformers, or philosophers, they were claimed by the people at large as their own teachers, much to the detriment of the interest of the priests who traded by mediation between men on one -------------- 1. Buddhist India, p. 80. p. 23 side and the unseen and invisible world of spirits on the other. A passage in tile Divyaavadaana supplies a typical case where the Brahmin priests as a class are represented as so much opposed to this mode of worship that the bankers who wanted to build a Stuupa in spite of the oppositen, but were fewer in number, that they had to seek the protection of the king and complete their project under the guard of the royal army(1). The development of the art of building this class of shrines took a new turn and followed a direction which went to overshadow warrior the king by warrior the teacher. In the history of this development the Buddha was certainly the greatest landmark. What is the new turn that it took and what the direction that it followed? Hitherto the mounds were built and shrines honoured as monuments of victory. Henceforth they were intended to serve as monuments of victory in defeat. In a Buddhist sanctuary with the mound in its centre, the carvings and frescoes, depicting various scenes from the Buddha's life, and the temples and niches containing the images illustrative of the formal modes of various meditative moods, are all placed in the outer zone, added as ornaments or decorative designs, full of lesson and artistic value. From the artists' point of view these are various expressions of refined human imagination and finer emotion, and in the devotees' perception these appear as representations of the actual and possible achievements in human life. The central structure towering with its imposing sight is but a device to preserve and enshrine the bones and ashes from the funeral pyre where the body of the Buddha or that of a disciple after death was cremated. There are old inscriptions or epitaphs, incised on the relic-caskets and recording when, by whom, and whose remains were enshrined. The famous -------------- 1. Divyavaadaana, pp. 243-244; "The priestly records carefully ignore these topes" (Buddhist India, p. 82). p. 24 Piprawa Vase Inscription, found in Nepal Terai, records: ¢wlya.m salila-nidhane Budhasa Bhagavate Sakiyanam sukitithatinam. "This (memorial mound enshrining the relics was built) on the demise of Buddha the Divine Teacher by his Sakyan kinsmen of glorious deed." The expression salila-nidhane occurring in it signifies that the Buddha's body, exactly like that of any other man, was subject to decay and consumable by fire. There are passages where he is represented as saying that he was anyhow dragging his worn-out body, like a cart after careful repairing. The presence of hair, nail, bone, tooth, and the rest indicates that he had a human form. The legends and traditions, the sculptures and paintings, the images and inscriptions go to represent that he was born under all ideal circumstances of life, and that in all respects he was perfect, as perfect as a man could be. And yet the fact remains that he died. The mounds contain: the monumental evidence of man's inability to overcome death in spite of all ideal circumstances, opportunities, attainments and perfections. By mere explaining away or mocking at death, the truth about man's inability to overcome it cannot be denied. The fact of the demise and funeral of the Buddha decides once for all that the denial of it is a mere act of fancy and frenzy, and all attempts to deny it are a bad bargain and a hopeless muddle. The bold proclamation of this truth is the obvious Buddhist motive behind the Stuupa. The Barhut Stupa as a creation of art represents a distinct form or type. The Stuupas at Sanchi and Sonari, in short, all the Bhilsa topes belong to this type. The models produced by the Barhut artists can be taken as faithful representations of the forms known to them at the time or they imagined what they ought to be. The scenes of relic-procession represent how the casket containing the remains of the funeral pyre was carried to the site where it was deposited, One of the Pillars full of medallions contains a geometrical symbol, which may be taken to represent the ground plan of the brick- p. 25 mound(1). It shows that the layers of large bricks were so arranged as to illustrate various permutations and combinations of Svastikas(2). The forms changed or were modified with times and according to localities, the process being one of differentiation or harmonisation between the mound on one hand and the mansion or temple on the other. The tope built by the Sakyan kinsmen of the Buddha over their portion of the remains of his funeral pyre is an earlier example, but this is still in ruins and has not as yet been restored(3). The Ahin Posh tope, restored by Mr. W. Simpson, is a later example, and it shows a long flight of steps in front, leading up to the dome(4). Buddhaghosa gives the following description of the tope built by and during the reign of king Ajaata`satru for hoarding the relies in one place (dhaatu-nidhaana) . His description is evidently coloured by what he saw at Thuupaaraama in Ceylon. (1) To start with, the bricks were made out of pure earth dug out of a held to the south-east of Raajagrha. The people were told that the king's intention was to build some shrines in honour of the eighty great Disciples. When the cavity had been dug so deep as 80 cubits, the bed was metalled with iron, and upon it was built a chamber of copper and iron of the same dimension as the shrine of Thuupaaraama. In this chamber were placed eight mound-shaped relic-boxes of white sandal, containing the relies of the Buddha. Each of these was put within seven other boxes of red sandal, of ivory and the like, the uppermost one being made of crystal. All these were covered up by three chambers, one within another, the uppermost one of copper and iron serving as the upper half of the chamber-box. Having scattered sand with seven precious metals, one thousand lotus flowers growing on land ----------------------- 1. Cunningham's Stuupa of Bharhut, pi. xii. 2. Ibid., pi. xi. 3. Buddhist India, p. 33. Smith's History of Fine Art in India and Ceylon, p. 84. 4. Buddhist India, p. 83. 5. Sumangala-Vilaasinii, Siamese ed., Part II. pp. 271-276. p. 26 and in water were strewn over it. Five hundred and fifty Jaataka-illustrations and the figures of eighty great Disciples and those of `Suddhodana and Mahaamaayaa as well as those of seven comrades were made all in gold. Five thousand gold and silver jars filled with water were set up, five hundred golden flags were hoisted, five hundred golden lamps, and silver lamps of equal number were filled with fragrant oil and provided with wick on two sides. The Venerable Mahaakaa`syapa sanctified them, saying, "Let these garlands never wither, let this fragrance never vanish and these lamps never become extinct." A prophecy was inscribed on a goldplate to the effect that king A`soka would in time to come spread these relics far and wide. The king having honoured the relics with all kinds of jewellery, came out shutting the doors one by one. The door of the copper-and-iron chamber was scaled, and upon it was placed a piece of precious gem with an inscription, authorising the poorer kings to honour the relics with its aid. Thereafter `Sakra sent Vi`svakarmaa to do all that was needed to protect the hoarded relics. He set up traps to keep off wild animals (vaalasanghaatayanta) , surrounded the relic-chamber (dhaatugabbha) by a wooden enclosure with wooden posts carved with the figures of soldiers holding swords (asihatthaani ka.t.tharuupakaani), and encircled the same by stone in the manner of a brick-structure. After having thrown dust-heap over it, and levelled the ground, a stone-mound was built covering it. When king A`soka opened this tope after 218 years, he saw the oil-lamps burning as though they were just now lit up, and the lotus flowers fresh as though they were just now gathered and offered. The story of Dharmaruci in the Divyaavadaana contains the description of another example of a tope. Here the tope, among other details, is said to have four staircases with steps leeding, layer after layer, up to the dome with a crowning construction, surmounted by an umbrella, inlaid with all precious metals. On its four sides there were four doorways, and four shrines, one containing the representation p. 27 of the scene of birth, another that of enlightenment, the third that of first sermon, and the fourth that of demise of the Buddha(1).