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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.


Meditation Pagoda 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 art.

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 workmanship.
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 requisites.
The 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 high.


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