Four holy relics of Lord Buddha arrived in Mongolia for an 11-day exposition to coincide with Budhha Purnima celebrations in the country. The four relics come from among 22 Buddha relics, known as the Kapilavastu relics since they were recovered from a site in Bihar believed to be the ancient city of Kapilavastu. The site was discovered in 1898. The relics are currently housed at Delhi’s National Museum.
THE SACRED RELICS
According to Buddhist belief, Buddha attained salvation in Kushinagar (Uttar Pradesh) at the age of 80. The Mallas of Kushinagar cremated him with ceremonies befitting a universal king. The relics from the funeral pyre were then collected and divided into eight shares to be distributed among the Licchavis of Vaishali, Sakyas of Kapilavastu, Ajathsatrus of Magadha, Mallas of Kushinagar, Mallas of Pava, Bullies of Allakappa, Koliyas of Ramagrama and a Brahmana of Vethadipa. The purpose was to erect stupas over the sacred relics. Two more stupas also came up — one over the embers and the other over the urn in which the relics were collected.
Stupas erected over the Buddha’s bodily relics (Saririka stupas) are the earliest surviving shrines of Buddhism. Ashoka (272–232 BC), an ardent follower of Buddhism, is believed to have opened up seven of these eight stupas and collected the relics for enshrinement within the 84,000 stupas built by him to popularise Buddhism.
THE KAPILAVASTU RELICS
The discovery of an inscribed casket at the stupa site in Piprahwa (near Siddharthnagar in Uttar Pradesh) helped identify the place with ancient Kapilavastu. The inscription on the lid of the casket referred to the relics of Buddha and his community, the Sakya.
Union Ministry of Culture records suggest that this discovery was followed by several explorations. An Archaeological Survey of India excavation of the stupa in 1971-77 brought to light two more steatite relic caskets containing 22 sacred bone relics, now under the care of the National Museum.
This was followed by the discovery of over 40 terracotta sealings that establish that Piprahwa was the ancient city of Kapilavastu.
Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, who led a 25-member delegation accompanying the relics, said the historical relations between India and Mongolia would further strengthen with the arrival of the relics. He added that the Indian delegation was carrying Buddha’s message of peace to the world.
Rijiju also said the main Buddha statue at the Gandan Monastery was gifted to the people of Mongolia by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015. It was installed in 2018. Mongolians enjoy a strong bond with India and look up to India as a source of wisdom, Rijiju said.
The holy relics were welcomed at the Gandan Monastery with prayers and Buddhist chants. The relics were handed over to the monastery in the presence of Buddhist monks for safekeeping ahead of its 11-day exposition beginning on Tuesday.