Our Writer of the Week for our week on art papers is
Jessie Poppie ’22.
About her: “I’m a Junior majoring in Marketing with a Religion Minor. Currently I am an intern at the Kenosha County Courthouse and enjoy traveling, volunteering in the community, and spending time in downtown Kenosha.”
Her paper is titled “The Impact of Tourism on Stupas” and describes the purpose and significance of stupas and the significance of their modern status as popular tourist sites.
Our fellows found it engaging and well-written.
Jackie: “I found the paper really enjoyable to read. It has an interesting topic, good flow of ideas, and is concise.”
Jessie said of her paper, “This was a final paper I did for my Asian Art and Architecture class last Fall. I picked this topic specifically because it combined history and art as well as my minor of religion all together into one fascinating research on stupas. ”
The Impact of Tourism on Stupas
A stupa is a dome-shaped structure for Buddhist meditation. These religious sites are spread across Asia, with many being located in India. Stupas often are said to contain relics of past Buddhas (meaning “Enlightened one”) and help show the path to enlightenment. It is important to note that while Buddhists tend to meditate here, it is not a site for weekly worship making it different from a Buddhist temple. Ancient stupas were often built by a country’s leader as a way to receive good karma in this life and help them to attain enlightenment (http://carthage.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&Au). The Sanchi Stupa is a famous example of an ancient Asian stupa located in India 46KM from Bhopal. This stupa was built by Emperor Ashoka, who famously built several stupas, during his reign from 268 to 232 BCE which makes it one of the oldest ones in existence (https://www.culturalindia.net/monuments/sanchi-stupa.html). Being one of the oldest and wanting to preserve this site, it started going through restoration in 1881. It is still to this day being kept up by the Archeological Survey of India. The Sanchi Stupa has distinct architecture showing the Buddha’s story (Siddhartha Gautama) and several engravings of stories with different messages on how to and not to live life. To the north east is another famous stupa known as The Boudhanath Stupa, or it is also called the Boudha. It is located in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was built around the 14th century; it is generally unclear who it was built by. This stupa is 36 meters tall, making it the tallest stupa in Nepal (https://www.tibetdiscovery.com/what-to-see/boudhanath-stupa/#highlights). Unlike the Sanchi Stupa this one has much more color to it. It is constructed in the shape of a mandala. The mandala shape is significant for Buddhists as it represents the body, teachings, and the mind of a Buddha. It is also a common tool for meditation. These stupas were built with many details with each part of the architecture also relating back to a belief of Buddhism. On this stupa in particular there are 13 steps that represent the 13 rites of passage and on each side there are eyes on the stupa which represent the eyes of the Buddha- Siddhartha Gautama, and it is five layers which represent the 5 elements of life. Relics from the Buddha Kashyapa are said to be in the dome of this stupa. The Sanchi Stupa and Boudhanath Stupa are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites which is a title given to places with special cultural or physical significance. With the money that comes from the tourists that visit not only the stupa but the surrounding businesses, it ensures that these sites will remain standing for viewing for future generations who admire them for their unique architecture and religious significance. Tourism and the reliance of it to these sites is something that has become extremely important to the economy and the preservation of the stupas.
Overall, stupas in the past years have become more popular places to visit as it combines art, a form of entertainment, with pilgrimage which is traveling to a place of religious significance. With the overabundance of transportation now available it has become easier to reach these areas. Both of these stupas are extremely popular holy spaces to visit for Buddhists. The Sanchi stupa being famous in India and the Boudhanath Stupa as one of the most famous tourist spots to visit in Nepal. The Sanchi stupa is open from sunrise to sunset year-round. Typically, this site receives 400-500 visitors daily. While the history describes how earlier tourism took the form of pilgrimage of laypeople and rulers, it is now commonly visited by not only Buddhists but by tourists, historians, and archeologists. There is an entrance fee of 500 Indian Rupee for foreigners to visit which is $6.76 American dollars and 30 Indian Rupee for citizens, children under 15 are free. While traditionally visiting hours are until sunset, it was recently made possible to have a Sound and Light show on the stupa’s grounds during the night. This show is offered in both Hindi and English and discusses the history of the city touching on Emperor Ashoka and Gautam Buddha (https://www.thehitavada.com/Encyc/2020/10/2/MPSTDC-restarts-Sound-Light-Show-for-tourists-in-Sanchi-Stupa.html). A photo is attached showing what this would look like at night. There are also several tours offered that take tourists on a guided look which describes the history and specific architecture of the stupa. While typically this place receives thousands of visitors a year, COVID-19 put a damper on this. Sanchi Stupa was forced to close to the public for a couple months and did not reopen until July. The Sound and Light show only opening this past October. Even after reopening things have not gone back to normal as they were forced to make changes to ensure safety. New measures include changing how visitors buy tickets. Now people who come have virtual tickets and scan their tickets when they enter. This virus has put a strong decrease overall in the number of people visiting. After reopening they only received a reported 80-90 visitors one day versus hundreds (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhopal/sanchi-stupa-open-for-tourist-after-3-months/articleshow/76822139.cms). This decrease is also due to the fact that traditional forms of transportation are currently not in operation and not as many people are currently traveling.
Boudhanath Stupa is also a popular tourist destination that contributes greatly to the economy of Nepal. There are several events that take place at this stupa every year including the Losar which is the New Year in Tibet as well as Buddha Jayanti which celebrates the three major events of the Buddha-his life, enlightenment, and attaining nirvana (https://www.nepalvisitors.com/boudhanath-stupa/). Anyone is able to visit this site. It is open all day, so it is possible to visit this stupa at night and see the lights and candles lit as shown in the photo below. It is very common for Buddhist monks and nuns to be around the area and at this stupa as besides having smaller stupas nearby, there are also several monasteries or gompas. One more well-known gompa located nearby is the Tamang Gompa. Admission to the stupa free to the people of Nepal and children under 10, 100 NPR for SAARC people, and 250 NPR for foreigners which converts to around 2.50 U.S. dollars. For tourists this stupa draws them in is walking around clockwise and admiring it for its unique architecture. Similar to the Sanchi Stupa there are tours offered that according to Trip Advisor range from 40 to 80 dollars depending on if it is a full or half day tour. The city does market this stupa well, building many local restaurants and stores nearby and having many vendors selling souvenirs that are available near the stupa. While this has been a popular religious site to visit, the Boudhanath Stupa has faced challenges throughout its existence. The stupa has faced damage over the years including in 2015 when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake caused damage to the structure including the pinnacle. The cost for repair was around $2,000,000 dollars. Repairs were finished in late 2016 (https://www.thelongestwayhome.com/travel-guides/nepal/guide-to-boudhanath.html). The pandemic has also affected this area. Back in May, it was closed to the public and it wasn’t until July that it ended up reopening to reduced crowds. Many of the local businesses that surround the stupa are still closed, unfortunately.
While in some Asian countries, earlier tourism to the stupas took the forms of pilgrimage by Buddhist laypeople and rulers. These sites however are not just for Buddhist monks and nuns
anymore, they are traditionally visited by historians, architects, and tourists coming to see the intricate details and stories engraved on the buildings themselves. There is a lot of history in these stupas and each part of the architecture relates to a piece of a specific Buddhist belief. While tourism to these sites of both the Sanchi Stupa and Boudhanath Stupa remain high, they both are famous for being either one of the oldest stupas or the tallest. Like many other tourist spots across the globe, they have faced a sharp decrease in the number of visitors due to COVID-19. This effect hurts not only the stupas which need to be cleaned and preserved, but also the city and businesses that exist around the stupa itself. These religious/historic sites rely on people spending money for souvenirs or food on their way to see the stupa. With the earthquake that caused damaged in Nepal, they were able to fix this but at a large cost. Had it not been for the frequent tourism, this restoration may have taken much longer and may not have been as meticulously repaired. COVID-19 and the current effects it’s causing on the tourism industry to stupas is only a temporary setback. The people in these countries are extremely dedicated to the preservation of these historic religious sites and their history continues to inspire and intrigue people across the globe to this day.
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Baral, K., Twitter, F., & Email, S. (2020, June 18). Boudhanath Stupa: Places to see in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.nepalvisitors.com/boudhanath-stupa/
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Build During The 3rd Century BC, Sanchi Stupa Is The Oldest Stone Structure In India. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.culturalindia.net/monuments/sanchi-stupa.html
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The Hitavada. (2020, October 02). MPSTDC restarts Sound & Light Show for tourists in Sanchi Stupa. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.thehitavada.com/Encyc/2020/10/2/MPSTDC-restarts-Sound-Light-Show-for-tourists-in-Sanchi-Stupa.html
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