A significant milestone in Indo-Lanka ties:
Sacred Kapilavastu Relics exposition after 34 years
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
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.
Ruins of the ancient City of Kapilavastu
The ruins of Kapilavastu
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.
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
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
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
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.