Exposition of the Kapilavastu Relics in Sri Lanka



The life of the Siddhartha (Buddha)

Siddhartha was born to king Shuddhodhana and Mayadevi around 566 B.C. at Lumbini (now in Nepal) and thereafter spent the first twenty-nine years of his life in Kapilavastu, before renouncing earthly pleasures in a tireless quest for salvation. While leaving the city he declared in a lion’s roar that “I shall not enter Kapilavastu till I have seen the bourne beyond life and death.”

Seated under a pipal tree, with an intense desire, which he expressed in his own words, “…I will not stir from this seat until I have attained supreme and absolute insight,” he received enlightenment and was called Gautama (his gotra) Buddha (the Enlightened One). Thereafter, during 45 year of his illustrious sojourn he visited many places on foot teaching his doctrine (saddharma), converting people and organizing them into a community (sangha).

Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha and Distribution of the ‘Sacred Relics’ of the Buddha.

After bidding farewell to Vaishali he proceeded towards Pava, halting at places on the way. The Buddha, as he reached the last days of his illustrious sojourn spoke to Ananda, his beloved disciple saying,

“I too, O Ananda, am now grown old, and full of years, my journey is drawing to its close, I have reached my sum of days, I am turning eighty years of age; and just as a worn-out cart, Ananda, can only with much additional care be made to move along, so, methinks, the body of the Tathagata can only be kept going with much additional care.”

On reaching Pava (variously identified with Padaraona and Fazilpur, both near Kasia), he halted in the mango-grove of Chunda, the  smith. Soon after taking the meal offered by Chunda he had an attack of dysentery, but he persisted in his journey till he reached the suburbs of Kushinagara (Kasia) in Uttar Pradesh, the capital of the Mallas. There Ananda, a beloved disciple of the Buddha, spread a couch between two shaala trees on which the Buddha laid himself on his right side and passed away in the last watch of the night. He breathed his last, with the words,

            “Behold now, brethren, I exhort you, saying,

              Decay is inherent in all component things!

              Work out your own salvation with diligence!”

            The Mallas of Kushinagara cremated his body with ceremonies befitting a universal king. His corporeal relics, from the funeral pyre were collected and divided into eight shares and distributed amongAjatashatru of Magadha, the Lichchhavis of Vaishali, the Shaakyas of Kapilavastu, the Bulis of Allakappa, the Koliyas of Ramagrama, the Mallas of Pava and a Brahmin of Vethadipa.

            They built the first eight shaaririka stupas over the corporeal remains of the Buddha as suggested by himself that stupas should be erected over his mortal remains. Thus, these stupas are the earliest surviving Buddhist shrines.

Kapilavastu identified with Piprahwa (Uttar Pradesh)

The mound at Piprahwa is rich in Buddhist remains and reveals the secret in identifying it with the ancient Kapilavastu. The discovery of one inscribed casket in 1898 by W.C. Peppe refers to the relics of the Buddha and his clan, ‘Sakya’ and the inscription runs thus: “Sukiti bhatinam sa-bhaginikanam sa-puta-dalanam iyam salila nidhane Buddhasa bhagavate sakiynam”.

            It’s meaning according to Rhys Davids, “This shrine for the relics of the Buddha, the August One, is that of the Shaakyas, the brethren of the Distinguished One, in association with his sisters and with their children and their wives”.

            Further excavations conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India (1971-77), resulted in the discovery of two more un-inscribed steatite caskets which has been epoch-making discovery.

The inscription on the relic casket discovered at Piprahwa and its proximity to Lumbini which is only nine miles eastward compelled the Archeological Survey to further dig the stupa that was partly dug by W.C. Peppe. The two steatite relic-caskets, one each from the northern and southern chambers contained a total of 22 sacred bone relics, of which, four have been brought to Sri Lanka for this Exposition.

            This was followed by the discovery of more than 30 terracotta sealings from different levels and spots in the eastern monastery at Piprahwa with the legends “Om, Devaputra Vihare, Kapilavastu,Bhikshu Sanghasa” meaning ‘Community of the Buddhist monks of Kapilavastu living in DevaputraVihara’ and ‘Maha Kapilavastu Bhikshu Sanghasa’ in Brahmi characters of 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. which have provided adequate evidence to establish that Piprahwa was the ancient Kapilavastu.

Finally, the remains of the main township of Kapilavastu were unearthed at Ganwaria, which had its beginning in the eight century B.C. where a few centuries later monasteries were constructed to enable the monks to stay.

This brief account has been drawn from the Maha-parinibbana-suttanta, translated in T.W. RhysDavids, Buddhist Suttas, Sacred books of the East, XI (Oxford, 1981), which contains a detailed description of the events in the last few months of Buddha’s life.

Respecting the sentiments of the Sri Lankan people, the Government of India has sent the sacred relics from Kapilavastu in 1978, soon after their discovery. Now, after 34 years these are sent again for an exposition that will take place in seven venues.

Date Venue
18.08.2012 to 04.09.2012
  1.    i.        Vidyalankara Pirivena Kelaniya,Western Province.
  2.   ii.        Naravita Temple, Gampola, Central Province.
  3. iii.        Jayanti Viharaya, Anuradhapura, North Central Province.
  4. iv.        Agrabodhi Viharaya, Kantle, Eastern Province.
  5.   v.        Sri Sumangala Pirivena, Wariyapola, North Western Province
  6. vi.        Sri Vidyananda Pirivena, Eastern Province.

 vii.       Matara Bodhiya, Matara, Southern Province.

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Prof.K.Nageshwar
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