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Sacred Kapilavastu Relics Being Brought from India for Veneration in Sri Lanka

The special casket carrying the sacred relics

During President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s State visit to India in June 2010, it was agreed that Sri Lanka and India will undertake joint activities to commemorate the 2600th Year of Enlightenment of Gautama Buddha. Following this agreement, President Rajapaksa wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requesting for the Sacred Kapilavastu Relics to be sent to Sri Lanka for veneration on this historic occasion of significance for both countries.

The Relics, discovered in 1898 in Kapilavastu, the ancient land of the Sakyas, are housed in the National Museum of India, under the greatest care and attention.

The shifting of the Relics is a delicate process. As a result, the request from President Rajapaksa initiated a process requiring dedicated effort with much attention to detail on the part of relevant officials in both India and in Sri Lanka, to prepare for the Relics to be taken to Sri Lanka for exposition.

The dates and venues for the exposition in Sri Lanka were agreed with the signing of a MOU last week between the Director General of the National Museum of India and the Secretary of the Ministry of Buddhasasana of Sri Lanka.

Accordingly, the portion of the Corporeal Relics of Gautama Buddha that was handed over to the Sakyas of Kapilavastu, according to what is recorded in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, will make their journey to Sri Lanka for the second time since their discovery in 1898. The first exposition took place in 1978, thirty-four years ago. During the landmark State visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to India in June 2010, it was decided that the 2600th Year of the Attainment of Enlightenment of Prince Siddharatha as Gautama Buddha (Sambuddhatva Jayanthi) will be commemorated by India and Sri Lanka through joint activities.

Ruins of the ancient City of Kapilavastu

Following this agreement, President Rajapaksa personally requested the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to afford Sri Lankan Buddhists an opportunity to pay homage to the Sacred Kapilavastu Relics by allowing the Relics to be taken to Sri Lanka as a part of the commemoration of the 2600th Year of the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi. These Relics of the Gautama Buddha which are known to the world as the ‘Kapilavastu Relics’ are from a site in Bihar first discovered in 1898 which is believed to be the ancient City of Kapilavastu. This epoch making discovery was at a stupa site, Piprahwa.

The relic casket discovered in 1898 bore the inscription “The shrine for relics of the Buddha, the August One, is that of the Sakyas, The Relics were excavated by Alexander Cunningham, the first Director of the Archaeological Survey of India Historical chronicles record that, after the Buddha’s “Parinibbana” (passing away), the holy Relics taken from the cremation site were divided into eight portions, and handed over to separate groups for preservation.

According to “Mahaparinibbana Sutta”, penned in the fifth century BC, one portion of the Buddha’s bodily Relics was handed to the Sakyas of Kapilavastu. These came to be known as the Kapilavastu Relics.

The first exposition of the sacred Relics of Kapilavastu outside India was in Sri Lanka in 1978. Subsequent expositions of the Relics took place in Mongolia in August 1993, in Singapore in July 1994, in South Korea in 1995 and in Thailand in 1996. Subsequently, taking into consideration the inestimable value and delicate nature of the Sacred object Relics, the authorities in India entrusted with the care of the Relics decided that the Sacred Kapilavastu Relics will henceforth remain as a venerable at the National Museum of India in New Delhi and will not be taken outside India for public veneration.

The ruins of Kapilavastu

However, the request made by President Rajapaksa in the 2600th Year of the Sambuddhatva Jayanthi received special consideration at the highest level of the Government of India. Making an exception, the Government of India decided to lend the Sacred Relics to Sri Lanka for public veneration, once again. The Sacred Relics are thus being brought to Sri Lanka after three decades since their first exposition in 1978.

Announcing the decision of the Government of India during an official visit to Sri Lanka last year (2011), the Speaker of the Parliament of India (Lok Sabha) Srimati Meira Kumar stated that “this sacred expositions would have a calming and peaceful effect in the region and spread the word of non-violence”.

Authorities of both countries worked hard, with commitment and perseverance, to make this sacred exposition a reality by making substantial effort in terms of logistics, safety of the Sacred Relics, facilities for devotees to pay homage, and other matters that a monumental event of this nature involves.

In view of the importance attached by both countries to this occasion, the sacred Relics will be brought to Sri Lanka in a special Indian Air Force aircraft by a delegation from India led by Indian Minister of Culture, Kumari Selja and the Director General of the National Museum of India. Prior to the departure of the Relics to Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Maha Sangha resident throughout India at several sites associated with the Life of Gautama Buddha, will perform a special religious Ceremony and offer Buddha Pooja at the Indian Air Force Base in Delhi. High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam and the staff at the Sri Lanka High Commission in India will organise and attend this important event.

The Sacred Relics will be received in Sri Lanka at a Stately ceremony led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, with the participation of the Venerable Maha Sangha and other dignitaries.

It is a matter of immense satisfaction that the noble initiative taken by President Rajapaksa has become a reality with the Sacred Kapilavastu Relics of Gautama Buddha being brought to Sri Lanka for the nation to pay tribute, and in particular for Buddhists to pay homage, in continuation of the celebration of the enlightenment of Prince Siddhartha Gautama 2600 years ago in the land of Jambudvipa.

On the occasion of exposition of Sacred Kapilavastu Relics in Sri Lanka, the centre for Contemporary Indian Studies (CCIS), Pali and Buddhist Studies Unit, University of Colombo in association with the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) would be organizing a Half- day Symposium on “Relic Worship: History, Archaeology and Religion” at LKIIRSS Auditorium on 20 August.

India has taken a number of initiatives to jointly celebrate the 2600th anniversary of the Attainment of Enlightenment by Lord Buddha – Sambuddhatva Jayanti – with Sri Lanka, which, inter alia, include: Organisation of an International Buddhist Conference in Kandy (March 2011), which was inaugurated by H.E. the President of Sri Lanka; Installation of a 16-foot high statue of Lord Buddha in the Sarnath style from Gupta period at the entrance of International Buddhist Museum in Sri Dalada Maligawa complex in Kandy (September 2011); Launch of a new Buddhist pilgrimage circuit train “Damba Diva Vandana” originating from Chennai and touching key Buddhist sites in the Northern India (from February 2012); Issuing gratis visas to Sri Lankan pilgrims; Organisation of a photographic exhibition “India through Sri Lankan Eyes” during ‘Deyata Kirula 2012’ of Buddhist pilgrimage sites captured by reputed Sri Lankan photographer.

The relationship between India and Sri Lanka is more than 2500 years old and is built upon a legacy of intellectual, cultural, religious and linguistic ties. Since Prince Arahat Mahinda’s arrival in Anuradhapura in the 3rd century BC which heralded the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Buddhism continues to be a common thread binding India and Sri Lanka together.

The Exposition of Sacred Kapilavastu Relics in Sri Lanka will reinforce the common cultural heritage shared between India and Sri Lanka and will further strengthen the multi-faceted relationship between India and Sri Lanka.