non-perishable materials like stone or brick in
maturity and final culmination.
Stupa Construction
The stupa was a usual representation of a funeral tumulus, evolved out of
earthen funerary mounds (smasana), in which the ashes of the dead were
buried. According to the Buddhist tradition, a number of stupas were
constructed immediately after the death of the Buddha—eight of them over
his corporeal relics and the ninth over the vessel in which such relics were
originally deposited. Here the Buddhists were simply following a long
established tradition. Before the rise of theism in Buddhism, relic worship
occupied a prominent place in the rituals of early Buddhism and the stupa, as
the container of the relics, gained in sanctity and importance. It was raised for
a number of purposes, besides the original one, enshrining the relics, and
became practically a universal symbol of Buddhism.
    Although differing in detail and elaboration, the stupas were evolved out
of a simple dome-shaped hemispherical structure on a circular base. Ashoka
is said to have pulled down the original stupas and reconstructed them,
besides building many new ones. In these monuments the form of the stupa
acquired a precise architectural character which served as a model for the
later ones. The extant Ashokan stupas have undergone successive repairs and
extensions. However, this general pattern may be identified in the great stupa
at Sanchi. Built in brick by Ashoka, it was encased in stone about two
centuries later and enlarged to nearly double its original size. It consists of a
hemispherical dome flattened at the top, supported on a low circular base
(medhi) approached by a double ramp on the south and enclosed by a
balustrade serving as an upper procession path. Over the dome is a square
pavilion, literally box (harmika) enclosed again by a balustrade surrounding
the sacred parasol (chatra). The whole structure is encircled by a massive rail
with four imposing gateways (toranas) on the four sides. Unlike the rail
which is purely plain, the gateways are covered with elaborate carvings.
There are other early stupas in which the rails as well as the gateways have
generous carvings.
    This simple design of the stupa went through many improvements in the
succeeding centuries. The tendency was towards elongation and increase of
the height of the structure as a whole. As the height of the dome was