Buddhist architecture

In Southeast Asia, there are a huge number of Buddhist buildings, which often differ in their design and construction. Read the article below about Buddhist architecture and answer the questions with NO MORE than TWO words.

  1. What are typically contained in stupas?

  2. What does the architectural design of stupas derive from?

  3. Which style of stupa is not prevalent in Sri Lanka?

  4. In what way is the shape of the Bawbawgyi Pagoda different from older styles of stupa?

  5. What design began with the Shwezigon Pagoda?

  6. Who contributed to making Shwedagon Pagoda bigger?

  7. What crowns the Shwedagon Pagoda?


Most prevalent and most iconic of the Buddhist buildings in Southeast Asia are the stupas built to hold religious relics. Stupas trace their history back to pre-Buddhist burial mounds, but they came popular and developed significantly after the passing of the Buddha, whose remains were buried in ten mounds. Later, more permanent structures started to be built to house relics however the original meaning was retained and the Sanskrit word stūpa literally means heap.

Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam all have styles that come as a result of the transmission of Theravada Buddhism from Sri Lanka. One of the most common style of stupa in Thailand is the Lanka-style bell chedi (Thai word for stupa). Interestingly, this bell shape is not much seen in Sri Lanka, where the original round Sanchi-style half round stupa remains the most usual.

Bawbawgyi Stupa in Pyay

In Myanmar, there can be seen a clear progression of architectural styles. The earliest stupas were built by the Pyu people and this Pyu-style can be found at the 7th century Bawbawgyi Pagoda at the ancient city of Sri Ksetra near Pyay. This elongated version of the simple mound is the beginning of the Myanmar stupa and one of the oldest Buddhist structures in Myanmar.

In the kingdom of Bagan, the Pyu-style turned into the gourd-shape stupa evident in the Bu Phaya in Bagan. The small stupa, which are often called 'pagoda' in Myanmar has a bulbous shaped dome and is crowned with a finial much longer than that of the Bawbawgyi Pagoda. Bu Phaya is widely believed to have been built by the third King of Pagan, Pyusawhti who ruled from 168 to 243 AD.

The wonderful 11th century Shwezigon Pagoda located in Nyaung-U, pioneered the banana bud design and the continuation of elongation. This became the prototype architectural feature for many stupas built in Myanmar. In was built in the traditional Mon style, consisting of a circular gold leaf-gilded stupa surrounded by smaller temples and shrines.

By the 12th century, the bell-shape of the golden Dhammayazika Pagoda, also in Bagan, had come to be the standard. The stunningly beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is the culmination of centuries of Burmese architectural innovation. Expanded many times by various rulers, the Shwedagon has elements of the bell shape, the banana bud, upturned and down-turned lotus petals, a turban and a diamond bud, topped with a hti (umbrella). It is the zenith of grace in stupa design.

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