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Stupas as guardians of virtues

india Updated: Jul 02, 2009 01:48 IST
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A visitor to Ladakh gets attracted by, among other things, Stupas (Chortens) of all sizes and shapes that dot its sandy landscape. A row of Stupas greets you before you come across a monastery or a village.

This time when I visited Ladakh, I had a pleasant surprise: three huge, newly-built Chortens had replaced the old ones in front of my parental home that were almost a derelict when I saw them last. I was overjoyed and felt peace.

Chortens are architectural reliquaries, built in the memory of a saint or someone you loved for his qualities. Apart from relics, Chortens contain precious metals, stones and religious artefacts.

The idea behind the Chortens is to let them stand tall and grand in the purity of white colour, so that they remind us of the need to live a meaningful and purposeful life.

Initially, during the pre or post-Buddha time, Chortens did not have much of a shape to describe. They were just a mound of sand and soil with the relics inside. With the passage of time, artistes’ imagination took wings and Chortens too got various shapes and designs.

Today, different Buddhist countries have Chortens in different designs and shapes. The ones in Ladakh, according to a non-Ladakhi friend, who accompanied me recently to the ‘Little Tibet’, “looked like giant rockets”.

Every part and design of a Stupa has a symbolic meaning. The basic structure consists of a four-stepped square foundation, facing all four directions, and symbolises the earth.

A dome symbolises water, and 13 tapering steps of enlightenment symbolise fire. The steps lead to a stylised parasol (chattra), the symbol of wind.

It is topped on the ethereal sphere by a symbol “uniting sun and moon”, which is the shimmering crown of the Chorten.

History tells us that Emperor Ashoka had some of the original Stupas opened up and the remains therein distributed among the several thousand Stupas he had built to remind us about our conduct and work.