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Dagoba vs. Stupa — What's the Difference?

By Urooj Arif & Maham Liaqat — Updated on March 25, 2024
Dagoba refers to a Buddhist monument in Sri Lanka, often dome-shaped, while a Stupa is a Buddhist commemorative monument found across Asia.
Dagoba vs. Stupa — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Dagoba and Stupa


Key Differences

A dagoba, in the context of Sri Lankan Buddhism, specifically refers to a structure built to house sacred relics or to commemorate significant places associated with the life of the Buddha. These structures are typically dome-shaped and serve as focal points for meditation and veneration. The term "dagoba" is derived from the Sanskrit word "stupa," yet in Sri Lanka, it has come to embody a unique architectural style that reflects the island's cultural and religious heritage. A stupa, on the other hand, is a broader term used across various Buddhist cultures in countries like India, Nepal, Tibet, and beyond. It represents a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics, typically the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns, and is used as a place of meditation.
Dagobas are often elaborately decorated and can be large in scale, with the Ruwanwelisaya and Jetavanaramaya being among the most famous examples. Stupas have evolved in form and complexity across different regions, influenced by local architectural styles, materials, and religious practices. From the simple mounds of ancient India to the elaborate stupas of Southeast Asia and the Tibetan chortens, the stupa serves a similar purpose across these diverse cultures: to symbolize the Buddha's presence, his enlightenment, and the spread of his teachings.
While both dagobas and stupas serve as important religious monuments within Buddhism, their distinctions lie in their regional characteristics and cultural significance. Dagobas in Sri Lanka are specifically designed according to ancient Sinhalese architectural concepts, often featuring elaborate bas-reliefs, spires (kotas), and "vahalkadas" (frontispieces). They hold a special place in the heart of Sri Lankan Buddhists and are central to the island's Buddhist practices and festivals.
Stupas, embodying the essence of Buddhist architectural principles, vary greatly in design and symbolism. For example, the Sanchi Stupa in India is known for its gateways or toranas, decorated with scenes from the Buddha's life, while the Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal is famed for its massive mandala design, making it one of the largest spherical stupas in the world. The diversity among stupas reflects the adaptability of Buddhism to different cultural contexts, highlighting the religion's inclusive nature.
Despite these differences, both dagobas and stupas serve the primary purpose of venerating the Buddha and his teachings. They act as sanctuaries for devotees to reflect, meditate, and pay homage, illustrating the universal appeal of Buddhism and its capacity to find expression in a variety of cultural forms.

Comparison Chart


Sri Lanka
Asia (India, Nepal, Tibet, etc.)


Dome-shaped, with elaborate decorations and spires.
Varies widely, from simple mounds to elaborate structures.

Cultural Significance

Reflects Sinhalese architectural styles and Buddhist practices in Sri Lanka.
Represents Buddhist principles and is significant in various Buddhist cultures.

Primary Purpose

To house sacred relics and serve as a place for meditation and veneration.
To contain relics, symbolize Buddha's presence, and serve as a meditation site.


Ruwanwelisaya, Jetavanaramaya.
Sanchi Stupa in India, Boudhanath Stupa in Nepal.

Compare with Definitions


A Buddhist monument in Sri Lanka, often dome-shaped, used to house relics.
The ancient city of Anuradhapura is known for its majestic dagobas.


A dome-shaped structure symbolizing Buddha's enlightenment.
The stupa's dome represents the universe.


A place of worship and meditation.
The serene environment around the dagoba provides a perfect setting for meditation.


A Buddhist commemorative monument housing relics.
The stupa stands as a focal point for the local Buddhist community.


A sacred structure reflecting Sinhalese architecture.
The intricate carvings on the dagoba illustrate scenes from the Jataka tales.


A site for meditation and veneration across Asia.
Devotees walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction as a form of meditation.


A shrine or stupa in Sri Lankan Buddhism.
Pilgrims gather at the dagoba to offer flowers and prayers.


A key element in Buddhist architecture.
The design of the stupa reflects the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space.


Architectural representation of the Buddha's mind.
Each dagoba is a symbol of the Buddha's path to enlightenment.


A stūpa (Sanskrit: स्तूप, lit. 'heap') is a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics (such as śarīra – typically the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns) that is used as a place of meditation. A related architectural term is a chaitya, which is a prayer hall or temple containing a stupa.


A stupa.


A dome-shaped building erected as a Buddhist shrine.


A dome-shaped structure built over relics of Buddha or some Buddhist saint.


A dome-shaped monument used as a Buddhist or Jainist reliquary or commemorative shrine. Also called tope3.


(Buddhism) A dome-shaped Buddhist monument, used to house relics of the Lord Buddha.


A mound or monument commemorative of Buddha.


See 1st Stupe.


A symbol of the spread of Buddhism.
The presence of stupas across Asia marks the historical spread of Buddhist teachings.

Common Curiosities

What is the main difference between a dagoba and a stupa?

The main difference lies in their regional and cultural contexts: dagobas are specifically associated with Sri Lankan Buddhism, while stupas are found across various Asian countries.

How do the architectural styles of dagobas and stupas differ?

Dagobas often feature specific elements like spires and frontispieces unique to Sinhalese architecture, while stupas can vary widely in design based on local traditions and materials.

Can dagobas be found outside of Sri Lanka?

While the term "dagoba" is specifically used in Sri Lanka, similar structures can be found in other parts of Asia but are generally referred to as stupas.

How old are the oldest stupas and dagobas?

Some of the oldest stupas and dagobas date back to the 3rd century BCE, constructed shortly after the passing of the Buddha.

Can the architecture of a dagoba or stupa tell us about its historical context?

Yes, the architectural features of dagobas and stupas, such as their design and decorations, can provide insights into the cultural and historical context of the time and place where they were constructed.

Are all stupas dome-shaped?

Many stupas are dome-shaped, reflecting the original design, but variations exist due to regional architectural influences.

What is the significance of walking around a stupa?

Walking around a stupa in a clockwise direction is a meditative practice that symbolizes the journey to enlightenment.

How do Buddhists celebrate or honor dagobas and stupas?

Buddhists honor these sacred structures by conducting rituals, offering flowers and incense, and engaging in meditative practices around them.

What is the significance of the location of a dagoba or stupa?

The location of a dagoba or stupa is often significant, chosen for its spiritual significance, historical importance, or to commemorate a specific event or teaching associated with Buddhism.

Do dagobas and stupas serve the same religious purpose?

Yes, both are built to house sacred relics and serve as places for meditation and veneration, symbolizing the Buddha's presence and teachings.

Can non-Buddhists visit dagobas and stupas?

Yes, non-Buddhists are welcome to visit these monuments, but they are expected to show respect for the religious practices and customs observed there.

What materials are used to construct dagobas and stupas?

Dagobas and stupas are typically made from brick or stone. The choice of materials may vary depending on the region and the period in which they were built.

Is visiting a dagoba or stupa considered a pilgrimage?

Yes, visiting these sacred monuments is often considered a form of pilgrimage for Buddhists, providing an opportunity for reflection and spiritual growth.

Do dagobas contain relics of the Buddha?

Yes, many dagobas, like stupas, are built to enshrine relics of the Buddha or other important Buddhist figures.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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