Origins of Stupas in India
Stupas have become a distinctive building style in not just India and China, but all over the world. The word stupa, derived from Sanskrit, actually means "to worship" or "to praise."
Stupas were originally used as a burial mounds, which were built to enshrine body relics, often bones. While, recent evidence indictates that some stupas were built as early as 2000 BCE, stupas were common during the lifetime of Buddha. They were built for great kings, heroes and sages. After his death, his students felt that it was only fair that they construct a stupa in his honor. The stupa is believed to allow the worshiper to think of Buddha as an eternal force in life, and to summarize his enlightenment and nirvana.
The structure of the stupa itself is symbolic, as well as the way it is constructed. The base consists of a square foundation which symbolizes the earth, a dome which symbolizes water, and thirteen steps which symbolizing enlightenment and the element of fire.
There are eight basic stupa designs, all which tell parts of the story of the Buddha's life.
The Stupa of Heaped Lotuses, symbolizes Buddha's birth and the seven steps he took in each of the four cardinal directions.
The Stupa of Enlightenment, symbolizes Buddha's achieving enlightenment at Bodhgaya.
The Stupa of the Turning Wheel, symbolizes the Wheel of Dharma turning for the first time.
The Stupa of Conquest, refers to Buddha's conquering the non-believers of India.
The Stupa of Descent, symbolizes Buddha's mothers ascent from the Gods to repay her son for the happiness he brought her.
The Stupa of Reconciliation, symbolizes when Sangha was fighting with maras (negative energies) and Buddha bringing reconciliation to him.
The Stupa of Victory, symbolizes when Buddha was about to die and his life was prolonged.
The Stupa of Nirvana, symbolizes Buddha's death and passing sorrow.