COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is celebrating its most important annual Buddhist festival, Vesak — celebrated on the first full moon in the month of May. Sacred relics from both India and Pakistan, have been sent to the country to be displayed for the devotees of the Buddhist faith.
Relics of the Buddha brought to Sri Lanka from Sarnath in India and those brought from the Taxila Museum in Pakistan, will be placed at several temples to commemorate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha.
The relics from Sarnath, India, carried by the General Secretary of the Maha Bodhi Society of Calcutta, Ven. P. Seewali Thera, were received by India’s High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu, and presented to Sri Lanka’s parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya.
The relics — brought to Sri Lanka for the first time in more than a century — were enshrined, at Mulagandhakuti Vihara in Sarnath, in Uttar Pradesh India. Sarnath is a place of holy significance for the Buddhist faith, as it was in the village, in a deer park, where Gautama Buddha is said to have delivered his first sermon, giving birth to the Buddhist sangha — the community of monks, who have achieved a significant level of enlightenment.
Anagarika Dharmapala, the Sri Lankan founder of the Maha Bodhi Society of India, built the Mulagandhakuti Vihara to restore the glory of Sarnath. The relics of the Buddha were presented as gifts to the Maha Bodhi Society by the Government of India.
The relics sent by Pakistan were received by Buddha Sasana Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and the Pakistan High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Dr Shahid Hashmat.
Dr Hashmat said that the artefacts are a priceless part of the archaeological heritage of Pakistan and depict the rich Buddhist tradition of the country.
The high commission of Pakistan in Sri Lanka, in a statement, said that Pakistan is keen to take part in the celebrations. The various artefacts will be on display, till May 2, at the Temple Trees, the official residence of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister. From May 3 to May 12, the relics will be placed at several temples across the island.
A casket has been specially designed to secure the two most revered relics from India and Pakistan. The relics, enclosed in the silver casket, enshrined in the Vihara, were excavated by Sir John Marshall in 1913-14, near the ancient city of Taxila, (Takshashila).
They were found in a small Buddhist chapel close to the Dharmarajika Stupa in a silver reliquary — a container for holy relics — with inscriptions dating back to the year 136 (circa 79AD). The second relic enshrined at Sarnath was found by A. H. Longhurst of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1929 in a large Stupa at Nagarjunakonda in the Guntur District of the then Madras Presidency. The Stupa in which the relic was found is described as the Maha Chetiyaor — the ‘Great Stupa’ of the Blessed One. The relics will be displayed — among other areas — in the districts of Colombo, Matara, Anuradhapura and Kandy. All displays will be open for the public till May 16.
Buddhism was founded in India, 2600 years ago. It spread across the Indian subcontinent and extended to nearby regions, but lost significance in its birthplace due to the revival of Hindu sects like Shaivism and Vaishnavism. The faith however, thrived in many other regions including far east states like Myanmar, and Thailand. Today, Sri Lanka and Bhutan are the only Buddhist majority countries in the Indian subcontinent. Strategically important for both Pakistan and India, Sri Lanka has always been extended friendly diplomacy through the preservation of Buddhist relics.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2018