The Sanskrit word stupa signifies “heap, mound, and pile” and is derived from the root ‘stup’ “to pile up.”
The ashes of Buddha collected were divided into eight parts and stupa was erected on them. The legend of relic sharing may has been imagined latter on, after the establishment of relic worship and stupa would have been raised only when the Buddha was considered as a God, a Chakravartin.
The second, relic sharing was Ashoka’s work. During his reign, “Buddhism spread all parts of India. New monuments were built everywhere. In order to sanctify so many stupas, countless relics are required. In order to distribute the relics to everyone, Ashoka emptied old stupas except Ramagrama deposit which remained inviolable (sacred)”.
As his ashes were no longer available, they were replaced by his written law –i.e. factitious body of the Buddha (Niramanakaya), the relic stupas contain the spiritual relics (Dharama Sarira) and the body of law (Dharamakaya) of these represented as Buddha.
These stupas erected over relics are called Sariraka Stupas. Other stupas called Paribhogika were erected over objects used by the Buddha, such as his bowl, girdle, clothes etc. and others called Uddesika(votive) were raised over places which were made famous by the presence of Buddha (Buddha’s presence). These are commemorative stupas. Thus, Buddha himself distinguished three kinds of stupa(Chaitya): (i) Sariraka, (ii) Paribhogika and (iii) Uddesika.(according to Mahaparinibbanasutta). Beside all these, there are also the sculpted, engraved painted stupas intended to procure merit for the donors. Mostly stupa is containing a relic, that the stupa must have been considered from ancient times as a substitute of the Buddha. In Buddhist history, the Buddha was considered to be a Chakravartin, a universal monarch.
According to Mahaparinibbanasutta: “Ananda, there are educated ksatriyas, educated Brahmines, educated heads of families who are very devoted to Tathagata. They will honour Tathagata’s body.
An one behave towards a Chakravatin Kings body,…. .at the crossing of four main roads, a stupa should be erected for Tathagata. Those who bring garlands, perfumed unguents, coloured powders or those who pay respect or find solace in this place, will get beneficial joy for a long time”.
Other votive stupas within Sarnath Ruins: - After the first sermon by Lord Buddha (628 B.C.) and the establishment of Sangha at Sarnath, this place had became very popular, holiest for the Buddhist and after the death of Buddha (483 B.C.) at Kushinagar, District-Deoria, U.P., Sarnath had also developed as an important Buddhist pilgrimage centre. As a result of that for to get universal beneficial joy, the devotees had constructed numbers of votive stupas from time to time within the premises of Sarnath Ruins. These votive stupas are situated on three sides of ancient Mulgandh Kuti Vihara (Shrine). Altogether 172 votive stupas are situated towards north-east, 72 votive stupas are situated towards north-west and 115 are towards south-west of the ancient Mulgandh Kuti Vihara (Shrine) at Sarnath. These clusters of votive stupas were constructed as well renovated from Pre-Mauryan Period to 12th century A.D. (Plate–IV, V & VI).