Dominating the Hill of Sanchi, India’s greatest-preserved and most extensive Buddhist site, is the Great Stupa. Its hemispherical form is believed to represent the upturned alms bowl of a Buddhist monk, or an umbrella of safety for followers of the Buddhist dharma (doctrine). The stupa’s major glory lies in its 4 stone toranas (gateways), added in the 1st century BC. Their excellent sculptures replicate the strategies of wooden and ivory carving, and cover a rich variety of Buddhist themes.
The Buddha was born in 566 BC as Siddhartha Gautama, prince of Kapilavastu. Renouncing his princely life, he left his palace at the age of 30 to seek for answers to the meaning of human existence and struggling. He spent six years residing with hermits, endeavor extreme penances and fasts, but discovered these gave him no solutions. Enlightenment finally came at Bodh Gaya, where, after meditating for forty-nine days underneath the Bodhi Tree, he discovered that the reason for suffering is desire; and that desire could be conquered by following the Eigtfold Path of Righteousness: Right Thought, Understanding, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Concentration and Contemplation. The essence of the Buddha’s teachings is non-violence and peace.
India’s earliest Buddhist monuments have been stupas, massive reliquaries in which the ashes of the Buddha and other great teachers have been interred. Strong throughout, the stupa itself is undecorated and designed to stimulate prayer and symbolize the trail to divine understanding. As Indian traditions spread all through Southeast Asia, the Buddhist stupa reached new heights of complex Buddhist symbolism. Borobodur Temple in Java, with its design and sculpture of the highest order, might be the best monument of this architectural style.