Mahaparinirvana Stupa – Stupa of the Great Perfect Nirvana
  See it in the Museum
Orientation 2
Display 2

ABR 019

 Code: ABR 019

  Country: Tibet (central)


  Date: 1150 - 1350

  Dimensions in cm WxHxD: 4.8 x 9.7 x 4.8

  Materials: Brass

Mahaparinirvana Stupa – “Stupa of the Great Extinction”

The stupa, or chöten in Tibetan, is a significant religious monument in Buddhism and serves as a reliquary for the remains of eminent masters. Stupas are also portable works of art created from precious materials, as is the case here.

In Tibet, stupas all share a similar general structure with symbolism associated with the elements: a stepped square base for earth, a cylindrical “vase” for water, a conical spire for fire, a parasol for air, and at the top the sun and moon representing space and wisdom. Tibetan stupas are often found in groups of eight. Each of the eight stupas represents one of the eight most important events in the life of Buddha, which is expressed in eight different shapes. These events are the birth at Lumbini; the victory over Mara at Bodhgaya; his first teaching at Sarnath; the miracle at Shravasti; the descent from Tushita Heaven at Sankasya; the taming of the raging elephant at Rajgriha; the prolongation of his lifetime at Vaishali; and his extinction at Kushinagar.

This stupa commemorates the Buddha’s Mahaparinirvana or his “passing away beyond suffering” at Kushinagar. At the end of his life, being aged and ill, he is said to have lied on his side between two sal trees before entering in the state of complete extinction. Unlike the usual models, the round base is formed by a lotus rather than a square pedestal. The distinctive bell-shaped dome is circular, adorned with two lines and topped by a balustrade. Above it, discs of decreasing diameter are stacked to form a cone, topped by a soberly suggested parasol. The symbols of the sun and moon are not represented at the top, bearing instead a large sphere. In Tibet, this type of stupa is also called “Kadampa stupa”—named after the Tibetan school founded by the Indian master Atisha.