Gilding these sacred buildings is done to inspire others to
practice and meditate. The Stupa, a symbol
of the Buddha, as the enlightenment principle, points to both the Teacher and his Teachings.
in the Burmese style with gilded
domes (IMC Sunshine, NSW)
The stupa is by far the earliest and architecturally the most
significant Buddhist expression. Burial mounds were already in use at
the time of the Buddha and he suggested that a stupa be built for his
remains at the intersection of four major roads - i.e. in a public
place. After his death the relics were divided into eight portions and
perhaps the earliest datable stupas are those at Kusinara, site of his
cremation, and the one raised by his family. Presumably these were built
not long after his death. Originally stupas were little more than a
mound of earth raised over the remains of saints, kings, etc. but over
the centuries they have been gradually transformed into major works of
The basic elements of construction had evolved after only a few
centuries of development and the main four are: the base - usually
square; a 'hemispherical' dome; a reliquary - often on top of the dome
including a spire (often a stylised umbrella) and, the jewel or crown.
There is a great deal of symbolism and stylistic developments that have
come to be associated with stupas.
With the spread of Buddhism, the need
many people had for a
tangible focus for worshiping the Buddha as a
semi-divine and then a divine figure gradually developed. The worship of
stupas increased parallel with this. Stupas were also made on a small
scale as (portable) objects for devotional worship and/or as containers
to hold sacred relics. These reliquary stupas (and stupas generally)
might contain human remains and an assortment of beads, crystal, pearls,
gem stones, and gold or silver in various forms are sometimes found in the
relic chamber. The mixture of sacred and precious often seems haphazard,
suggesting that the intention of the donor was of primary importance.
Close up of the Crown. For ease of access to the inside,
it was gilded upside-down. Sizing and laying the leaf took two days.
Hti (Burmese: ထီး; Mon: ဍိုၚ်; Shan: ထီး; and pronounced 'tee') is the
name of the crown-like parasol or umbrella, the top ornament found on
almost all pagodas in Myanmar, formerly Burma.
The Hti is one of the
distinctive features of Myanmar pagodas as they are more prominent than
their Sri Lankan counterparts, while the Laotian and Thai pagodas rarely
have any at all or are of a smaller size and of less complex
Usually seen as an architectural element forming the pinnacle of a stupa
the Htis of the temples of Bagan and Mrauk U, the two archeological
sites in Myanmar, are made of stone, while the htis of the pagodas
elsewhere around Myanmar are made of metal usually copper, iron or
steel. Gilt finished with goldleaf, the hti is then decorated with
bronze bells (ခေါင်းလောင်း), a metal flag, and topped with a large
faceted quartz crystal called the sein hpu daw (စိန်ဖူးတော်; lit.
esteemed diamond bud).
Traditionally, a symbol of royalty and
protection, the parasol protects from the blazing heat of the tropical
sun and the relentless monsoon rains. Its shade symbolizes protection
from the pain of suffering, desire, obstacles, illnesses and negative
forces. Early Buddhists adopted the 13 stacked umbrella-wheels that form
the Htis to commemorate the 13 main events of the Buddha’s life.
Parasols continue to this day to be one of the essential monk’s
Hti of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is about one and a half stories
tall, however, this gilt finished copper formed Hti, installed on the
pinnacle of a pagoda in Maryland, USA, is about one and a half metres