AskDefine | Define pagodas

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  1. Plural of pagoda

Extensive Definition

A pagoda is the general term in the English language for a tiered tower with multiple eaves common in Nepal, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia. Most pagodas were built to have a religious function, most commonly Buddhist, and were often located in or near temples. This term may refer to other religious structures in some countries. In Myanmar and Thailand, "pagoda" usually means the same as stupa or chatiya, while in Vietnam, "pagoda" is a more generic term referring to a place of worship. The modern pagoda is an evolution of the Ancient Indian stupa, a tomb-like structure where sacred relics could be kept safe and venerated. The architectural structure of the stupa has spread across Asia, taking on many diverse forms as details specific to different regions are incorporated into the overall design.


The word is first attested for in English in the period c. 1625–35; introduced from the Portuguese pagode, temple, from the Persian butkada (but idol + kada temple, dwelling.) Another etymology, found in many English language dictionaries, is modern English pagoda from Portuguese (via Dravidian), from Sanskrit bhagavati, feminine of bhagavat "blessed" < bhaga "good fortune."

History of the Pagoda

The pagoda's original purpose was to house relics and sacred writings. This purpose was popularized due to the efforts of Buddhist missionaries, pilgrims, rulers, and ordinary devotees to seek out, distribute, and extol Buddhist relics.


Chinese iconography is noticeable in Chinese pagoda as well as other East Asian pagoda architectures. The image of the Shakyamuni Buddha in the abhaya mudra is also noticeable in some Pagodas. Buddhist iconography can be observed throughout the pagoda symbolism.
In an article on Buddhist elements in Han art, Wu Hung suggests that in these tombs, Buddhist iconography was so well incorporated into native Chinese traditions that a unique system of symbolism had been developed.


Pagodas attract lightning strikes because of their height. This tendency may have played a role in their perception as spiritually charged places. Many pagodas have a decorated finial at the top of the structure. The finial is designed in such a way as to have symbolic meaning within Buddhism; for example, it may include designs representing a lotus. The finial also functions as a lightning rod, and thus helps to both attract lightning and protect the pagoda from lightning damage. Early pagodas were constructed out of wood, but steadily progressed to sturdier materials, which helped protect against fires and rot.
Pagodas traditionally have an odd number of floors, a famous exception being the eighteenth century pagoda "folly" designed by Sir William Chambers at Kew Gardens in London.

Land of Pagodas

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is famous for its pagoda-studded landscape, and is thus called as the Land of Pagodas. The Shwedagon Pagoda and the Pagodas of Bagan are amongst the most famous and reverred pagodas in the world.

Some famous pagodas

Modern skyscrapers that evoke pagoda architecture:



  • The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture By John Kieschnick. Published 2003. Princeton University Press . ISBN 0691096767.
  • A World History of Architecture By Michael W. Fazio, Marian Moffett, Lawrence Wodehouse. Published 2003. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 0071417516.
  • Psycho-cosmic symbolism of the Buddhist stupa, AB Govinda, 1976, Emeryville, California. Dharma Publications.
pagodas in Bengali: প্যাগোডা
pagodas in Danish: Pagode
pagodas in German: Pagode
pagodas in Spanish: Pagoda
pagodas in Esperanto: Pagodo
pagodas in French: Pagode
pagodas in Korean: 탑파
pagodas in Croatian: Pagoda
pagodas in Indonesian: Pagoda
pagodas in Italian: Pagoda
pagodas in Luxembourgish: Pagod
pagodas in Lithuanian: Pagoda
pagodas in Dutch: Pagode
pagodas in Norwegian: Pagode
pagodas in Japanese: 仏塔
pagodas in Portuguese: Pagode (templo)
pagodas in Russian: Пагода
pagodas in Serbian: Пагода
pagodas in Serbo-Croatian: Pagoda
pagodas in Swedish: Pagod
pagodas in Vietnamese: Chùa
pagodas in Turkish: Pagoda
pagodas in Ukrainian: Пагода
pagodas in Urdu: پگوڈا
pagodas in Chinese: 塔
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