Mahastupas-Relics of the Buddha

Although the Buddha left instructions on what should be done with His remains, there was much disagreement amongst the rulers of the eight clans in the area over where the stupa for the Buddha’s relics or ‘sharira‘ should be erected. These clans represented the eight major and minor sites of key events in the Buddha’s life and where He taught. A Brahmin named Dona proposed dividing the relics into eight portions so that “the stupas could be put up far and wide, that all may see and gain in faith.” Dona would receive the vessel containing the relics. Thus the stupas served as both markers of the physical presence of the Buddha and His teachings. Only a few of the original sites of these “mahastupas” are known, but they are generally thought to be at:

1. Rajgir, the Magadhan Ajatasatru of Videhi Stupa (known)

2. Veshali, the Licchavi Stupa (known)

3. Allakappa, the Bulis Stupa (unknown)

4. Ramagama, the Koliyas Stupa (may be the great stupa at Svayambhu Mahachaitya in Nepal)

5. Vethadipa, the Vethadipaka Stupa (unknown)

6. Pava, the Mallas Stupa (unknown)

7. Kushinagara, another Mallas Stupa (uncertain–one of two sites)

8. Pipphalivana, the Moriyas Stupa (unknown)

9. Unknown location for Dona Stupa for the vessel of the Division of the Relics.

During the time Mauryan period, King Ashoka opened seven of the eight mahastupas, removed most of the relics, and widely redistributed them into newly erected stupas over much of south-east Asia from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Thailand, and even China. Since shariras of holy beings can reproduce and manifest in supernormal ways there are many sharira in stupas now all over the world. Hua Zang Si’s Amitabha Buddha Hall has such a sharira in the holy yun sculpture of Mt. Sumeru.