The stupa is a symbol found across all Buddhist traditions. It originated in India as a mound made to hold sacred remains, like those of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. This is not limited to the mortal remains of a holy person but may also include objects associated with that person, such as clothes, as well as sacred texts, articles of worship, and figures made of clay and the ashes of the deceased (tsa tsa). While a statue or painting of a buddha represents the divine body of an enlightened being and a book symbolizes divine speech, a stupa represents the mind of supreme spiritual awakening and is thus a symbol of buddhahood.
There are several different traditional types of stupa, and this metal sculpture is an example of a Kadam stupa and can be differentiated from other kinds of stupas by its bell-like shape. This style of stupa was introduced to Tibet by the Indian scholar Atisha (982-1054) in the mideleventh century.