16 November, 2018

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Gautama Buddha, Four Bones And Three Countries

By A. Srivathsan –

A. Srivathsan

India uses history and artefacts contested by Nepal to build bridges with Sri Lanka

Four bone fragments of the Buddha housed in the National Museum, Delhi are on a two-week tour of Sri Lanka to enable Buddhists there to pay homage to them. While all relics of the Buddha are revered, these are special. They are part of the trove of 22 bone fragments that were discovered by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in the 1970s in Kapilavastu, Uttar Pradesh, where he grew up as a prince before renouncing the world.

The journey of the relics, from New Delhi to Colombo, and to six other places in Sri Lanka this year, being observed as the 2,600th anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment, brings up some old questions.

For the two governments, the historical antecedent of the relics is a settled fact, and the exchange of cultural artefacts between the two countries is a continuation of the long history that dates back to the days of Emperor Ashoka.

But Nepal has for years raised doubts about the relics, claiming that the true Kapilavastu lies in its territory, and not in U.P. as Indian archaeologists claim.

After Gautama Buddha died or attained Mahaparinirvana in the 5th century BCE, eight ruling families shared the relics from his body. Among them were the Sakyas, the clan to which the Buddha belonged. They built a stupa over their share in Kapilavastu, the capital city. After the decline of Buddhism, manystupas and monasteries were abandoned and the one built by the Sakyas too went to seed. When the Chinese pilgrims Fa-hien and Hiuen Tsang visited India centuries later in the 5th and 7th C.E respectively, most of these sites lay in ruins.

PEPPÉ’S DISCOVERY

It was in the 19th century that Buddhist archaeology began to be properly noticed as British antiquarians set out to pursue the Buddha’s trail. In 1898, William Peppé, a planter, while clearing his estate near Piprahwa, a village in eastern Uttar Pradesh near the India-Nepal border, found a brick dome that contained a sand stone box with five caskets, relics said to be that of the Buddha, and other artefacts. An inscription found on one of the caskets, though dated to after the Buddha’s death, established the authenticity of the relics.

Based on this discovery and the location with respect to Lumbini, the Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal, Piprahwa was identified as Kapilavastu. But there were counter claims. In 1896, and again in 1899, a few archaeologists identified Tilaurakot, a village in Nepal’s terai region as Kapilavastu. Though they could not find any relics, the presence of a large ensemble of structures and their correlation with the Chinese pilgrims’ description supported their claim. Tilaurkot’s case was bolstered by the disagreement among archaeologists over the decipherment of the Piprahwa inscription.

The dispute continued in the post-independence period. Nepal commenced a series of excavations in 1962 and found more structures around Tilaurakot, but failed to locate any relics. Matters turned in India’s favour in 1971. K.M. Srivastava, an archaeologist with the ASI, following a complaint forwarded to him from the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the poor upkeep of Piprahwa, decided to look afresh at the place. He began new excavations and dug deeper to discover two remarkable soap stone urns. One of them contained 10 bone fragments and the other 12, all dateable to 5th century BCE. Besides this, many terracotta seals with inscriptions found at the site supported India’s claim. This was “an epoch making discovery” that settled the location of Kapilavastu, Mr. Srivastava said in his report. For reasons that are still unknown, the ASI published the report only 20 years after the excavations were completed.

Nepal refused to acknowledge these developments and persists with its claim. It even nominated Tilaurakot along with Lumbini for World Heritage status. Unesco, which accepted the nominations, declared Lumbini as a World Heritage Site in 1997. Tilaurakot is still on the tentative list. The controversies over Kapilavastu were in the spotlight again last year when Charles Allen published his absorbing book, The Buddha and Dr. Füher: an Archaeological Scandal.

Evidently none of the contesting claims has worried Sri Lanka. It was the first county to invite the relics and exhibit them in 1978. The exhibition, The Hindu reported then, drew more than 10 million visitors.

TIRUKETHEESWARAM PROJECT

The exchange of ideas and objects around Buddhism between India and Sri Lanka go back more than two millennia. In the 3rd century BCE, a mission led by Mahinda, Ashoka’s son, reached Sri Lanka and converted the Sri Lankan king Tissa to Buddhism. One of Tissa’s first requests, as the Sri Lankan text Mahavamsa compiled in 6th century CE describes, was for a branch of the Bodhi tree. The request was accepted, and Sanghamitra, Ashoka’s daughter, carried the branch to Anuradhapura.

Unlike in 1978, when the Indian government first exhibited the relics at Chennai’s Egmore Museum, en route to Sri Lanka, this time, in the current atmosphere of political antipathy in Tamil Nadu towards the Sri Lankan government, it evidently did not want to take chances. The relics were flown directly to Colombo.

This brings us to a second question around the lending of the relics to Sri Lanka. In the light of the unresolved Tamil issue, at least one political party, the MDMK, has objected to it. In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, its leader Vaiko wrote that this was an “unpardonable betrayal” of Sri Lankan Tamils by the Indian government.

Perhaps it was in anticipation of such criticism that at the same time as the inauguration of the relics exposition in Colombo, India will launch a project for the conservation of the Tiruketheeswaram temple in Mannar.

Indeed, in the joint declaration issued on June 9, 2010, during the visit of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to India, alongside the plans for “joint activities” by the two countries to mark this year’s anniversary of Buddha’s enlightenment, there is also the following line: “Both leaders also welcomed the proposal for the restoration of Tiruketheeswaram temple at Mannar to be undertaken with the assistance of the Archaeological Survey of India and the College of Architecture and Sculpture, Mamallapuram, with the involvement of the Department of Archaeology of Sri Lanka.”

Union Minister of Culture Kumari Selja, who has accompanied the relics to Colombo, will travel to Mannar on Monday to launch the project, to which New Delhi has committed Rs.135 million.

srivathsan.a@thehindu.co.in

The Hindu

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    Everyone is FIGHTING to claim the Buddha and so-called relics, fake and otherwise as their own, while the spirit of what the Buddha taught – ahimsa, tolerance, simplicity is forgotten!
    Instead lots of political mileage and points are being scored by wanna be god kings like Mahinds RajaPASSA with these relics sent by a questionable Indian regime!
    Meanwhile what happened to the gold swords and coins loot from the Colombo museum – said to be in MR’s possession to ensure his golden rule in Lanka

    • 0
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      Kumari

      Lets reclaim Buddha’s teaching from the Sinhala/Buddhists.

      • 1
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        As the writer has described locating Kapilavasthupura, whether it is whithin Nepal or Uthra Pradesh has been an issue. Therefore there is no certainity that these relics are of Buddha’s. The only evidence is that it dates back to the period of Buddha’s death. Then again it could well be of someone else’s who lived during that time. Sariyuth or Mugalan’s who both predeceased Buddha. It could even be that of Ananda or any other Disciple for that matter. Besides it is interesting to find out whether Buddha was cremated or buried? The reason being the practise of disposing the dead in India at that time has been placing the dead on a light pyre, the affluent using sandle wood and the ordinary using other fire wood, setting it on fire and allowing it to float down the River Ganges. If that was so, how Buddha’s body was disposed off, then all these relics are fictitious. If Buddha could have seen the mockery being made of his body parts, being marketed to achieve agendas of Political Powers of Countries and individuals, instead living by his Philosophy, I wonder what he would have said. Then again it baffles me, that for one who had such insight of things around him of the past and the future, he should have definitely foreseen this mockery and for certain should have spoken of this eventuality. The fact that he had not mentioned this in his sermons, leaves doubt why he failed to.

        • 0
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          Even if these are true relics of Buddha, it is just left in a Museum with no rituals performed. I doubt very much India risking them being handed to MR as the pieces of bones will be replaced by our friend. India knows who MR is, better than the Sri Lankans. India will have the last laugh if the bones sent are of a dog or some other human or animal and the Sri Lankans queing up by the million to pay homage and obeisance. What a Nation the Sri Lankans are?

  • 0
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    The practise of worshiping relics is not akin to Buddhism, but a practice of Jainism. It was the Jains who used to worship relics. Jainism is much much older to both Hinduism and Buddhism. It is said long ago the Jains had to eat a small part of flesh of the dead Cult leader in order to draw inspiration believing that the genes would pass on. This practise after some time being abhored had been abandoned and the followers had been retaining relics of Cult leaders for veneration. Lord Buddha lived upto 45years after attaining enlightenment. He never encouraged any to worship him in the manner as it is done now, as a means to attain Nirvana. What he preached was that one could attain Nirvana by developping one’s intuitive mind. Todays labled Buddhists believe that by collecting merit one could attain Nirvana. Hence the practise of venerating Relics, shrines and Bo-trees to collect merit.

    As Buddha lay dieing, his disciple Ananda thera asks Buddha as to who will be the next Leader. To which Buddha replies that there is no leader as the Philosophy is not owned by any and it is free for anyone to practise. There is no mention in the Philosophy that Buddha advocated for parts of his body to be shared for veneration. Besides there is controvessy refernce these relics whether they are genuine or not as the writer has stated. Even the tooth relic which I have seen at close quarters, to have a canine tooth of that size, should be of a skeletal structure of a minimum ten to twelve feet high. Buddha being a Napalese, the Napalese were a mountain race and comparatively short people with an average height of around five feet or less. Then the question naturally arise as to the authenticity of the claim of the object. I remember when there was debate sometime back, reference the authenticity, suggestions were made to carbon test the tooth. However there were objections from the custodians. All in all this trading of Buddhas Relics seems to serve the Rulers on both sides of the devide to make capital of the situation marketing it to the gullible masses. No wonder Carl Marx said, Religion is the Opium of the masses.

  • 0
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    Indias gift to MR just before he introduces a settlement to the Tamil Issue before the next UNHRC sessions. When the Relics are displayed, millions of Unsuspecting MODA Buddhists will flock in numbers as if Buddha has physically come. In the crowd there will be plants of people who will remove their gold jewellery and offer it to the Relics. Seeing this the moda village upasaka and upasikawas will automatically remove their jewellery too and donate as alms. During expositions of Relics I understand tray full of jewellery is collected from the gullible public. MR not only will rob the votes but also their life time savings as well and his catcher the Custodian the DN will this time around not only gold plate the buffers and the door handles of his car but the mudguards as well. As Native Vaddha said these Sinhalese and Tamils in this country are REAL STUPIDS and IDIOTS.

    • 0
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      gamini says:

      “In the crowd there will be plants of people who will remove their gold jewellery and offer it to the Relics. Seeing this the moda village upasaka and upasikawas will automatically remove their jewellery too and donate as alms.”

      Can you clearly see a parallel between stupid Tamils donating precious gold to LTTE con men and what you envisage as would stupid Sinhalese do?

      Until and otherwise people wise up one cannot put things right.

      • 0
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        “Can you clearly see a parallel between stupid Tamils donating precious gold to LTTE con men and what you envisage as would stupid Sinhalese do?”

        Native Vedda, tamils only donated their precious gold to LTTE out of FEAR of being robbed or being one of their family member kidnapped for ransom by LTTE.

        • 0
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          G1

          reconfirms what LTTE did.

          “tamils only donated their precious gold to LTTE out of FEAR of being robbed or being one of their family member kidnapped for ransom by LTTE.”

          Good shot.

          G1 is bit coy about the gold that the armed forces under Terror Gota’s captured when they broke into LTTE’s Fort Knox.

          Could G1 explain or account for the gold found in the LTTE’s fortress.

          The gold was stolen property. LTTE stole it from people. Gota stole the gold from LTTE. It rightfully belongs to the people hence G1 should help to find it and return it to the people .

          Is G1 now in position to return the gold to the rightful owners?

  • 0
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    The proof that Sinhalayas are stupid modayas is more than evident
    of thse so-called religious actions of the Leaders, solely for
    enticing Votes and I am ashamed to be called a sri lankan Buddhist.

  • 0
    0

    Where did Budha die and what happened to his body?
    Where was it buried?
    This artice does not mention anything about this.
    It merely says that Budha grew up in Kapilavastu, Uttar Pradesh
    where he grew up as a prince before renouncing the world.

    So how come there are bones in Kapilavastu?

    • 0
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      Good question.
      How could the relics come to Indian state, if Buddha died in Nepal?
      Only some finger nails and/or toe nails cut by Buddha when he was growing up is a possibility.

    • 0
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      HE DIED AFTER A LAST MEAL OF PORK. SO WHY DO BUDDHISTS TALK OF VEGETARIANISM, WHEN THE BHIKKU DANAS ARE ALL WITH FLESH.
      IN FACT THE PRIEST GIVES THE MENU?
      CAN THEY BE THIS SIZE ON VEGGIES.?
      AND DO YOU EXPECT THEM TO BE CELIBATE?
      THEN THEY GO POKING FINGERS WHERE THEY SHOULD NOT.
      THE LATEST IS DEMOS’ AGAINST OTHER RELIGIONS.
      IS THIS THE BUDDHISM PREACHED BY BUDDHA OR A “REVISED VERSION”
      SHOW ME A BUDDHIST IN SRI LANKA

  • 0
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    Still Colsed Billions people OF WESTERN COUNTRIES BELIVE” GOD CREAT WORLD” AND WORSHIP.Why highlly educated and wise and kowledgeble WESTERN COUTRY NATION GO BEHAIND SUCH WORSHIPPING?
    NO MEANING IT IS BELIVE.RELIGION BELIVER ‘S WILL REAMIN MANY YEARS TO COME!In human civilization.

    • 0
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      IN “UDANA” VERSE 81. THE BUDDHA SAYS”IT IT IS HARD TO REALISE THE ESSENTIAL,THE TRUTH IS NOT EASILY PERCEIVED,DESIRE IS MASTERED BY HIM WHO KNOWS,AND TO HIM WHO SEES ARIGHT ALL THINGS ARE NAUGHT.
      HE GOES FURTHER TO SAY; “THERE IS, O MONKS! THIS UNBORN,UNORIGINATED,UNCREATED,UNFORMED,THERE WOULD BE NO ESCAPE FROM THE WORLD OF THE BORN,ORIGINATED CREATED FORMED”

      WELL, THIS IS A SIMPLE REFERENCE TO GOD.

      CAN, BUDDHISTS NOW DENY THE EXISTENCE OF GOD???????

      DO NOT GO ON DECEIVING YOURSELVES ANY LONGER

  • 0
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    Who ever what ever says, buddhism is the only philosophy which says that an infinite number of humans were born from time to time on earth, irrespective of the periodic destruction and rejuvenation of the earth and the plantary system as all knower buddhas.

    Religions are recent. For example Christianity is only 2012 years old. Hinduism is a collection of brahminic faiths into one.

    IT you study religions of native peoples of each continent those religions have roots of buddhist teachings. they all believe in environment and life is precious etc., etc.

  • 0
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    Jimsofty, you say,’If you study religions of native peoples of each continent those religions have roots of buddhist teachings. they all believe in environment and life is precious etc., etc. ‘Life is Precious’,Is that the reason why the Buddhist govt. of MR in retaliation massacred thousands of Tamils, some unarmed and some innocent? Of which act you all are euphoric?

  • 0
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    Ancient India was a hugh country which spread upto modern Iran, russia and covered many russian republics, Afghanistan pakistan and Neapl etc.,

    Every body knows after Buddha’s parinirvana remains were distributed among kings and some are found even in china and burma.

    What this journalist explains is ho India made Neapl concerned about it’s territorial sovereignity because of this thing (remember modern NEpal is mostly hindu) and how Tribalist Tamils went low even to use Buddha’s remains for political reasons etc., etc.,

    Srivastavan is a HIndu who never will comprehend of having a human as
    a Religious leader. Besides, Some hindu sects are against Buddhism as Buddha talked against Casteism and brahminism which exploited people in India. It is Hinduism in India that did most damage to buddhism including massacring of whole buddhist villages.

    • 0
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      India spreading to Russia !%@?%!
      India invaded by Aryans from between Iran and Russia

      no casteism in SL $%&$?”!
      SL has silly casteism despite Buddhism
      actually SL Buddhism is a bastion of casteism
      rice mud Buddhism over pot mud Buddhism
      advocated by monks, no doubt corrupt and evil, but revered
      it is also v likely that these relics are kept at only rice board temples
      India has moved leaps and bounds where muti ethnic, caste and religion persons as head of state while we are yet stuck in the mud.

    • 0
      0

      dIndia spreading to Russia !%@?%!
      India invaded by Aryans from between Iran and Russia

      no casteism in SL $%&$?”!
      SL has silly casteism despite Buddhism
      actually SL Buddhi
      sm is a bastion of casteism
      rice mud Buddhism over pot mud Buddhism
      advocated by monks, no doubt corrupt and evil, but revered
      it is also v likely that these relics are kept at only rice board temples
      India has moved leaps and bounds where muti ethnic, caste and religion persons as head of state while we are yet stuck in the mud.

    • 0
      0

      DONT TALK “POPPYCOCK”

      FIRST YOUR GEOGRAPHY THAT INDIA EXTENDED FROM AFGHANISTAN TO RUSSIA !!!!

      DO YOU SAY THAT THERE IS NO CASTEISM IN BUDDHISM. IT IS THERE CLEARLY
      PREVALENT AMONG THE SANGHA ITSELF.

      WHERE IS THE PROOF THE BUDDHAS REMAINS WERE DISTRIBUTED; BY WHOM AND
      TO WHOM. COME WITH HISTORICAL FACTS NOT LEGEND. AND JATAKA STORIES,
      WHO WERE THE MOURNERS. COME WITH FACTS.

  • 0
    0

    “Is G1 now in position to return the gold to the rightful owners?”

    Native Vedda, First of all GoSL forces or our white van fleet owner defense secretary or GoSL Govt never mentioned anything about the gold that the armed forces under Terror Gota’s captured. So how can I volunteer to return those gold to the rightful owners that has never been captured in the first place?

    :-)

    • 0
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      G1

      “white van fleet owner defense secretary or GoSL Govt never mentioned anything about the gold that the armed forces under Terror Gota’s captured”

      Defence Lanka web reported with photographs of a small part of the looted gold. Questions were raised by politicians about Terror Gota’s refusal to account for the looted gold.

      Probably you are suffering from selective amnesia or ignorance or both.

      • 0
        0

        War has won with zero/very few civilian casualties.
        The people in North & East are liberated from terrorism and living happily ever after.
        Our military is most disciplined & powerful in the world.
        The tamil diaspora, TNA , UN, and INGOs are making falls allegations against Sri Lanka because they are either LTTE rump or under LTTE payroll.
        The western nations are conspiring against us because we won the war again terrorism and they couldn’t.
        Our great visionary president along with his brothers,sisters, children, cousins, niece & nephews, in-laws, out laws, PhD holders, O/L dropouts the nation is marching forward to become a miracle of Asia & according to CB governor Cabral it will be soon be a world economic hub in this region.
        Lanka is only belongs to Sinhala buddhist………..etc,etc

        See N.V, its not only me suffering from selective amnesia or ignorance or both!!!

        :-)

  • 0
    0

    G1

    The question I posed was “where is the people’s gold”.

    No sooner this question is posed you conveniently ignored it and went on praising the elected Prabaharan and his family members.

    Isn’t it a form of mild amnesia on your part or a strategy to deflect hard questions. If both are true you ought to see a medicine man.

    If your comments are meant to be sarcasm they are not very good ones.

  • 0
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    Stupid Liars who hoodwink the Moda Singhalayas.

  • 0
    0

    HOW IS IT THERE ARE SO MANY RELICS?

    WAS THE BUDDHA BURIED OR CREMATED AND IF SO WHERE?

    THESE QUESTIONS HAVE TO BE ANSWERED FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 0
    2

    TOMORROW IS WESAK,THE THRICE BLESSED DAY. HAPPY WESAK

    BUDDHISTS FOLLOW THE LUNAR CALENDAR.

    HOW COME WESAK IS ALWAYS IN MAY??????????????????????

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