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Indian Umbrellas

garden umbrellasThe fourth invention of the royal umbrella was in India, where the earliest evidence is from Buddhist literature and reliefs dating back to about 300
bce. In these early texts, when Siddhartha Gautama left behind his royal upbringing to meditate on the sufferings of the world, he was shaded by a cobra's
hood, a tree, or an umbrella. In particular, the umbrella became a symbol of his successful search for enlightenment, and in these texts he is referred to as the "Buddha of the White Umbrella." Early Buddhist sculpture does not portray the Buddha, but rather objects associated with him: An empty platform and the bodhi tree, a cobra or an honorific umbrella signify his presence.

After the Buddha's death, his followers sent small portions of his ashes to other groups of followers, who built mounds over the ashes. Several umbrellas mounted on a single shaft topped these mounds, and these became known as stupas, such as those built at Sanchi in Central India around 100 bce. The reliefs on the stupas at Sanchi also show kings, under royal umbrellas, arriving in procession to honor the Buddha. (Incidentally, multiple umbrellas on the tops of stupas are the origin of the Chinese pagoda, which added walls and made the multiple umbrella into an architectural form.)