Holy relics of Lord Buddha, his two disciples to be displayed in Thailand from Feb 22 to March 18


Team Udayavani, Feb 21, 2024, 8:58 AM IST

Some of the holy relics of Lord Buddha along with those of his disciples Arahata Sariputra and Arahata Maudgalayana, preserved in India, will be displayed in Thailand as part of a 26-day exposition starting February 22, officials said on Tuesday.

This would be the first time that the holy relics of Lord Buddha and his disciples would be showcased together, the Union culture ministry said.

The holy relics of Arahata Sariputra and Arahata Maudgalayana have been brought to Delhi from Sanchi in preparation for their journey to Thailand, further enriching this sacred expedition, it said.

These relics, revered by Buddhist followers around the world, will be ferried in a special Indian Air Force plane on February 22. The relics will reach Thailand in the forenoon of the same day as a ‘State Guest’, officials said.

Union Culture Secretary Govind Mohan told a press conference here that four of the 20 pieces of holy relics of Lord Buddha kept at the National Museum in Delhi will be displayed in Thailand. He said given the ancient ties of India with Thailand, this occasion would also be a “diplomatic achievement” for New Delhi with that Asian country.

A 22-member Indian delegation, led by Bihar Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar and Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Virendra Kumar, will accompany the relics to Thailand, the ministry said.

These relics are dated 4th–5th century BC and were found in an excavation at Piprahwa, considered a part of the site of ancient Kapilavastu, by a team of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officials in the 1970s.

The ASI conducted excavations at Piprahwa during 1971-77 under the supervision of then Director (Archaeology) K M Srivastava. The excavation team had discovered two inscribed steatite stone caskets containing 12 sacred relics from a bigger casket and 10 sacred relics from a smaller casket, according to a note shared by the ministry.

Piprahwa falls in today’s Siddharthnagar district of Uttar Pradesh.

Of these 22 pieces of relics (bone fragments), 20 were kept at the National Museum and two at the Indian Museum in Kolkata, Mohan told reporters.

Lord Buddha achieved Mahaparinirvana at the age of 80 in Kushinagar.

“The Mallas of Kushinagara cremated his body with ceremonies befitting a ‘Universal King’ (‘cakravartin’). His holy relics, from the funeral pyre, were collected, divided and given by Brahmin priest Dhona of Kushinagar to kings and priests.

“The eight shares were distributed among Ajatashatru of Magadha, the Licchavis of Vaishali, the Sakyas of Kapilavastu, Mallas of Kushinagar, Bullies of Allakappa, the Mallas of Pava, the Koliyas of Ramagrama and a Brahmana of Vethadipa,” Union culture ministry said.

The sacred relics were commemorated in eight different stupas. Two more stupas came into existence, one over the urn in which the relics had been collected and one over the embers. Thus, stupas erected over the bodily relics of Buddha (Saririka-stupas) are the earliest surviving Buddhist shrines, the note shared by the ministry said.

It is stated that Ashoka (circa 272-232 BC), being an ardent follower of Buddhism, opened up seven of these eight stupas, and collected a major portion of the relics for enshrinement within innumerable stupas built by him to popularise Buddhism and spread dharma.

In 1898, the discovery of an inscribed casket by William Claxton Peppé, a British colonial engineer and an estate manager at a Buddhist stupa site at Piprahwa, was an epoch-making incident. The inscription on the lid referred to the relics of Buddha and his community, it said.

“The bone relics present in the stone coffer were presented to King Rama V of Thailand. The relics were further divided into three shares and gifted to Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. In Thailand, the holy relic has been enshrined in a chedi on the top of Suwanbanphot, Bangkok.

“Every year, during the Loi Krathong Festival, there is a seven-day and seven-night celebration, which has become a tradition to worship the Buddha’s relics,” it added.

Ministry officials on Tuesday said a “beautiful pagoda has been specially constructed in Bangkok by the Thailand government to enshrine the holy relics which will be on display there”.

The exhibition itinerary includes visits to multiple venues across Thailand, allowing devotees and enthusiasts alike to pay homage to these revered artefacts, officials said.

Mohan said the relics will be displayed at Sanam Luang Pavilion in Bangkok from February 22 to March 3, at Ho Kum Luang, Royal Rujapruek, Chiang Mai from March 4 to 8, at Wat Maha Wanaram, Ubon Ratchathani from March 9 to 13 and at Wat MahaThat, Aoluek, Krabi from March 14 to 18.

On March 19, the relics will be brought back to India, he said.

“These relics are being sent at the request of the Thai government. The Thai government has also requested to send relics of the two disciples of Lord Buddha — Arahata Sariputra and Arahata Maudgalayana. The relics of these two disciples are preserved at Sanchi.

“We had requested the Madhya Pradesh government, and it is a matter of happiness that they have accepted it. Alongside the relics of Lord Buddha, the relics of Sariputta and Mogallana will also be part of the delegation,” Mohan told reporters.

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