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Sri Lankan Stupa: A unique Buddhist Architectural design of Sri Lanka

By Devik Balami at
Sri Lankan Stupa

Stupas are one of the outstanding architectural design which is mainly used in the Buddhist community. In Sri Lanka, stupas are also called as dagobas and cetiyas. It is believed that the construction of Sri Lankan stupa was started with the introduction of Buddhism during the reign of King Devenampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura. The first ever stupa constructed was Thuparamaya which is situated at Mahamewna Park in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Later on, numerous stupas were constructed and the biggest stupa that is built till now is Jetavanaramaya located at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

Nature of Sri Lankan Stupa

The construction of stupa is considered to be the acts of great merit. It is mainly because the stupa enshrine relics of Buddha and other higher level monks and at the same time it is also perceived as the hub to spread the wisdom and knowledge of Buddha. The stupa that was built over the period of time had the consistent design. Generally, the entrance to the stupa is placed outside of the stupa. The purpose to construct entrance outside of the stupa is to house Buddha relics at the center of the stupa. The stupa generally cover or painted with a coating of lime plaster. Along with the lime, other materials like clay, sand, pebbles, crushed seashells, sugar syrup, and white of egg, coconut water, plant resin, drying oil, glues, and saliva of white ants are also used to make the plaster. But the plaster combination changes with the requirements of the design. For example, the plaster used at Kiri Vehera includes small pebbles, crushed seashells mixed with lime and sand.

Parts of Sri Lankan Stupa

Normally while constructing the stupa, it is usually divided into six parts. They are as follows:

Pesavalalu: It is a berm on which the dome is constructed. The stupa consists of three circular berms at its base which gradually reduce in size.

Gharbaya: It is a hemispherical dome which is constructed above the berms. The middle or core part of the Gharbaya, a relic chamber or Dhathu garbhaya is built to enshrine the Buddha's relics. Along with the Buddha's relics, Buddha statues are also placed in the center of the Relic Chamber.

Hatharas Kotuwa: This part is just above the Gharbaya. It is three-dimensional rectangle or square in shape which also enshrines the relic of the Buddha.

Devath Kotuwa: it is also know was the cylindrical neck of the stupa which is built over the Hatharas Kotuwa. We can observe images of different deities carved on the surface.

Koth Kerella: it is the long conical spire which is built on the Devatha Kotuwa. It is observed as a circle, decreasing in its size, is placed on the top of the larger circle.

Koth: it is the topmost part of the stupa which is often called as "silumina" in Sinhala. It is usually made up of metal which is precious crystal or gemstone.

Along with these parts, sometimes the stupa is also decorated with Vahalkada and Chethiyagara. Vahalkada is the decorative design which is constructed at the four cardinal directions adjoining the stupa. Chethiyagara is the one-story building constructed around the stupa. The Chethiyagara serves the two purposes. One is to safeguard the main stupa while another one is to provide a place for the Buddha statues, stupa, and other various Buddhists arts that were built or collected from different places.

Types of Sri Lankan Stupas

The ancient Sinhalese text, "Vijayantha Potha", it is mentioned that the stupas that were built in Sri Lanka were of various types that can be categorized according to the shape of the dome or body. These six types are as follows:

Dhanyakara: This type of stupa are of shape like the heap of paddy and its example is Kelaniya Stupa which is situated near to Colombo city.

Ghantakara: This type of stupa are of Bell shape and its example is Ambastala stupa located at Mihintale.

Bubbulakara: This type of stupa are of Bubble shape and its example is Ruwanweli Maha Seya located at Anuradhapura.

Ghatakara: This type of stupa is of shape like pot and its example is Situplavwa, Somawathiya located at Kataragama.

Padmakara: This type of stupa are of Lotus shape and its example are Vijayarama situated at Anuradhapura, Indikatu Seya situated at Mihintale.

Amlakara: This type of stupa is of shape like Nelli fruit. This type of stupa is only mentioned in the text but the real example is nowhere found in Sri Lanka.

Palandawakara: This type of stupa is of a shape like an onion and its example is Nadigamvila stupa.