• ta (Pinyin without tones)1
  • (Traditional Chinese)
  • (Simplified Chinese)
  • (Pinyin)1
  • t'a (Wade-Giles)
  • pagoda (English)2
  • tower (English)2
  • stupa (English)8


    Usually denoting a towering structure containing objects associated with the Buddha or his teachings, the underlying concept behind the Chinese character ta 塔, as well as the etymology of the term, are still debated. Our earliest textual sources suggest that ta was the abbreviation of a transliterated “foreign term” (“barbarian speech” 胡言, “outer states speech” 外國言, “Sanskrit phrase” 梵之稱), likely something akin to “buddha,” into Chinese characters. As an architectural form, the ta is a structure organized around a vertical axis and/or spire.

    The earliest definition of ta we have found comes from the Han dynasty Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 (Xu Shen 許慎 (ca. 58 – ca. 148 CE)). Here it is defined as a futu 浮屠, a term which, when used in the same text to translate the term seng 僧 (Buddhist monk), appears to be a transliteration of the word “buddha” (Xu 1978, 13xia.290; 8shang.168). Textual sources from the second through fifth centuries suggest that ta continued to be linked to other Chinese transliterations of the word “buddha,” or “structure containing a buddha,” including futu 浮圖, fotu 佛圖, fota 佛塔, and gongta 宮塔 (e.g. Wei shu 114.3029). The earliest evidence we have found for transliterations of the Pali term thūpa, which should denote a domical masonry structure containing the relic of the Buddha or (potentially somewhat later) a powerful Buddhist monk (Buswell and Lopez, 2013, entry on stupa), are doupo 兜婆, toupo 鍮婆, and tapo 塔婆 and are from sutras translated in the fourth-eighth centuries. Sources linking ta to transliterations of the Sanskrit word stupa (such as sutabo 窣塔波 or sudupo 窣堵波), may date back to the sixth century, but are found more commonly from the seventh century and after. Transliterations of both thupa and stupa appear to refer to structures rather than an individual or belief system.3

    Architecturally speaking, the terms ta and thupa/stupa often denote very different types of objects with the primary unifying characteristics being a central vertical axis and the containment of a sacred Buddhist object. Prior to the fourteenth century, the term ta usually referred to Buddhist structures (Zhang and Luo 1988, 6-7). Examples of ta found in both physical and textual records indicate a variety of types related to Indic, Central Asian, and Sinitic Buddhist architecture. They generally constituted (a) open-access shrines which could be made of timber or masonry, and which might house iconic images of the Buddha. These include descriptions of multi-storied structures (chonglou 重樓) in sources like the Hou Han shu and objects like the great Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya, which were referred to in Indic languages with terms such as prasada, vimana, or mandira (Meister 1988-89, 256-257)). Or (b) domed, masonry structures whose sanctifying object was usually a relic and which were called stupa in Sanskrit or thupa in Pali (objects like Stupa 1 at Sanci; Wang 1988, 410).4

    Following Liang Sicheng, research on the architecture of Chinese ta usually emphasized the taxonomy of structures, describing differences between either multi-story timber frame buildings derived from Han-dynasty towers (including lou 樓 and que 闕), or masonry domed stupa architecture derived from Indic models (Liang 2005, 125, fig. 63). More recently, others also aim to locate precedents for multi-storied timber-framed ta in relic shrines and towering temples found in India as well as Central Asia (Wu 2007, Zhang 1997, Miller 2018, Steinhardt 2014).5

    As a carefully designed container for sacred Buddhist objects (which, by at least the sixth century CE could include corporeal remains, precious stones or metals, or even Buddhist texts), the Sinitic ta, like the Indic stupa and also caitya, was a defining focus of rituals across the Buddhist world (Boucher 1991, Schopen 1975). In English-language scholarship on Buddhism (and consequently Buddhist art), ta is usually translated as stūpa (or stupa) regardless of the shape of the structure (Buswell and Lopez 2013, entry on stūpa). This may reflect a preference for the use of Sanskrit forms of Buddhist terms when translating Chinese Buddhist texts into English (e.g. Boucher used stupa for ta in his full translation of the "Foshuo zaota gongde jing 佛說造塔功德經" into English, yet there is no extant Sanskrit original and we thus do not know what Indic term the original author might have had in mind (Boucher 1991, Miller 2018)). It also may reflect the influence of Tang dynasty interpretations of ta, which emphasized the ritual function of ta over its various structural forms (Miller 2018). While some scholars suggest the preservation of relics in dramatic towering containers was intended for commemorative purposes (Seckel 1980, Wang 1988), or as a foci for Buddhist patronage (Buswell and Lopez, 2013, entry on stūpa), others emphasize that relics and their containers across Buddhist Asia were also thought to have thaumaturgic and transformative power (Schopen 1982, E. Wang 2005). The belief in the thaumaturgic power of the Buddha and his relics was widespread and developed in a multi-lingual, multi-cultural context, with textual descriptions written by religious professionals in elite languages (such as Sanskrit) potentially coming later (see Granoff 1996; Copp 2014; Miller 2021). The multiplicity of terms and ambiguity around the appropriate shape for a Buddhist reliquary may thus be a reflection of the different languages and source terms for these objects.6

    By the fourteenth century towering wenfeng ta 文峰塔 (“literary peak” ta) began to be constructed outside the Buddhist context as a means to help rectify deficiencies in the landscape relating to fengshui 風水 practice (Zhang and Luo 1988, 6). By the twentieth century, the term ta could simply refer to a type of tower, with no religious overtones (e.g. “television tower” dianshita 電視塔).7


    我們能找到的最早的“塔”的定義來自漢代的《說文解字》(許慎,58-148年)。這裡它被定義為“浮屠”,而“浮屠”在該書的其餘地方作為“僧“的翻譯時似乎是“Buddha”一詞的音譯 (許 1978, 13下.290; 8上.168;)。2至5世紀的文獻資料表明,“塔”與“buddha”一詞的其他音譯有關聯;亦可指代“容納佛陀(a buddha)的建築,例如浮圖、佛圖,佛塔,宮塔等有關的名稱,參見《魏書》中提到的一些例子(魏書 114.3029)。 4-8世紀所譯的佛經是我們所知的最早的證據,表明巴厘語詞匯“thupa”音譯為兜婆,鍮婆,和塔婆。“Thupa”一詞表示一種容納佛陀遺物的圓頂砖石建築,稍晚一些亦可能指代法力強大的僧人(Buswell and Lopez, 2013, “stūpa”條目)。將“塔”與梵語詞匯“stupa”的音譯(如窣塔波或窣堵波)相關聯的文獻,可能可追溯至6世紀,但于7世紀及之後更為常見。Thupa 和Stupa的音譯後來通常指代一種構築物,而非一個人或一種信仰體系。3

    于建築角度而言,塔和窣堵坡(thupa/stupa)通常指代完全不同的兩類對象,其主要的共同特徵為垂直的中軸並容納神聖的佛教物品。14世紀前,塔通常表示佛教建築 (張和羅 1988, 6-7)。實例及文獻中能找到的案例表明塔有同印度、中亞及漢傳佛教建築相關的各種類型。它們通常為木造或磚石造的開放式神殿(shrine),內部可能安置佛陀造像。它們可能包括《後漢書》中描述的重樓,或如菩提伽耶寺廟(Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya)式的建築,其在印度語中被稱為"prasada," "vimana," 或 "mandira")(Meister 1988-89, 256-257)。或是穹頂的磚石建築,即梵語的stupa或巴利語的thupa,其中的聖物通常是佛的遺物 (如桑奇一號塔;王 1988, 410)。4

    梁思成之后,对中国塔的研究通常强调结构分类,描述源于汉代闕的多層木結構建築源于印度範例的磚石造穹頂窣堵坡式建築間的差異 (Liang 2005, 125, 圖 63)。晚近一些,其他人則致力于在印度北部及中亚发现的龕窟遺跡和高聳廟宇中找尋多层木结构塔的先例 (吴 2007, 張 1997, Miller 2018, Steinhardt 2014)。5

    作為一個精心設計的佛教聖物容器(至少在6世紀前,其中可能包括遺體、寶石或金屬,甚至是佛經,中國塔就像印度窣堵坡及支提(caitya)一樣,在佛教世界中是儀式的決定性焦點 (Boucher 1991, Schopen 1975)。在關於佛教(以及佛教藝術)的英語學術研究中,無論其結構形式如何,“塔”通常被翻譯為“stūpa”(或“stupa”)(Buswell and Lopez 2013,“stūpa”條目)。這可能反映了在英譯中國佛教文獻時使用梵文佛教術語的偏好(如Boucher在英譯《佛說造塔功德經》全文時即用“stupa”翻譯“塔”,而該文本並無梵文原文,因此我們不知道原作者腦中的印度詞語究竟是什麼 (Boucher 1991, Miller 2018))。這也可能反映了唐代對“塔”的闡釋的影響,其強調“塔”的儀式功能,而非它眾多的結構形式 (Miller 2018)。雖然一些學者認為將遺物保存在引人注目的高聳容器中是為了强調其紀念性 (Seckel 1980,王 1988),或强調其作為佛教捐助的中心 (Buswell 和 Lopez, 2013, "stūpa" 條目),但其他人則強調遍佈佛教亞洲的遺物及其容器也被認為具有神通與變化的力量 (Schopen 1982, E. Wang 2005)。認為佛陀及其遺物具有神通的這種信仰非常普遍,而且是在多語言、多文化的背景下得到發展,而宗教專業人士用精英語言(如梵語)對其進行描述的文本則可能出現得較晚 (見 Granoff 1996; Copp 2014; Miller 2021)。因此,詞彙的多樣性,以及何為佛教聖物容器的合宜形式的這一模糊的概念,可能正反映了與這些對象相關的來自不同語言的不同的源術語。6

    到了14世紀,高聳的文峰塔開始脫離佛教語境而建造,用以幫助糾正與風水相關的地景缺陷 (張和羅 1988, 6)。 到了20世紀,“塔”一詞則可用以簡單地表示高樓,而沒有宗教色彩(如電視塔)。7

Works Cited

Any information without attribution has been created following the editorial guidelines.

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Tracy Miller, “ ” in Architectura Sinica last modified June 29, 2022,


Tracy Miller, “ .” In Architectura Sinica, edited by Tracy Miller. Entry published March 21, 2018.

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