Original relics of the Buddha Sakyamuni.
The historical inquiry 1: discovery of the original relics of the Buddha Sakyamuni.
From Mahaparinibbana sutta.
31. And it so happened, that when the body of the Most Honored was burnt down, neither from the skin, nor from the internal organs, nor from the flesh, nor from the sinews, nor from the body liquids did remain any ashes, the only remains were his bones. Just as from animal fats (from buffalo milk, for example) or from vegetable oil does not remain any ashes when burnt down, so did it came to pass, that when the body of the Most Honored was burnt down neither from the skin, nor from the internal organs, nor from the flesh, nor from the sinews, nor from the body liquids did remain any ashes, the only remains were bones. And from the five hundred double shrouds, only two did not burn down: the innermost and the outermost
32. And when the body of the Most Honored burned down, torrents of rain poured from the heavens, flooding the funeral fire of the Most Honored; and also from sals trees water came down pouring into the funeral fire of the Most Honored; the Mallas of Kusinara brought the water filled with aromas and they also filled the funeral fire of the Most Honored.
And then The Mallas of Kusinara gathered the remaining relics of the Most Honored in a hall for meeting and surrounding them with lattice of spears and a fence from bows they worshipped the remains of the Most Honored for seven days paying honor in the form of dances, songs, music, flower garlands and aromas. And so they expressed their respect, esteem and admiration to the relics of the Most Honored
Distribution of the relics.
35. And Sakyas from Kapilavastu heard the news that the Most Honored had died in Kusinara. So they sent messengers with a message to the Mallas of Kusinara stating that: "The Most Honored was the greatest saint of our family. We deserve to receive a part from the hallows of the Most Honored. We will Build a Stupa over the hallows of the Most Honored and hold a ceremony in honor of his remains.
40. But, having heard these words, the Mallas from Kusinara appealed to all those gathered with the words:
- The Most Honored attained Parinirvana in our tenure. We will not divide into parts the hallows of the Most Honored.
Then the brahman Drona addressed the meeting with the words:
- Allow me to say some words, ladies and gentlemen. Our Buddha taught us patience. It is not right, we engage in quarrels, fighting and shedding blood for the possession of the relics of the man who was the best among men! Let us, my friends, come to an agreement and divide the hallows into eight parts so that stupas could appear everywhere! And let, seeing them, the human race will become stronger in belief in the Entirely Enlightened!
- So be it, Brahmin! We trust you to divide hallows into eight equal parts.
And then the priest Drona answered the meeting:
- Let it be, ladies and gentlemen.
And he rightly divided the hallows of the Most Honored into eight parts, and by doing so, he turned to the crowd with the words:
- Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you to bestow me this funeral vessel. Above it, I will build a stupa and in honor of it I will hold a solemn ceremony.
And the funeral vessel was granted to the brahmin Drona.
Sakyas from Kapilavastu built Stupa over the hallows of the Most Honored and arranged in its honor a solemn ceremony ….
Thus, eight stupas were built for hallows, the ninth Stupa was devoted to the funeral vessel and the tenth - ashes from the funeral fire.
So was it in those old days.
43. There were eight parts from his hallows,
Omniscient, greatest of people.
Seven of them revere in Djambudvipa,
And one - in Ramagama,
In the Naga kingdom it is honored by kings.
One tooth of the Buddha is honored in the realms of the Thirty Three gods,
Another - in the kingdom of Kalinga and the third - by the Naga kings.
Thanks to their brilliance, this generous earth
Endowed with many excellent gifts.
And these hallows of the Omniscient are better honored by
Those who are worth honors - gods and nagas,
And kings of people, really, only the best among people.
We revere them with folded palm
After all, truly, it is difficult throughout hundreds of centuries
To meet with an Entirely Enlightened!
It is ended - the Mahaparinibbana sutta.
The historical inquiry 2: discovery of the relics of Buddha Sakyamuni in Kapilavastu.
Kapilavastu - native town of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), the area of Sakya Kingdom was approximately 25 km from Lumbini. Siddhartha Gautama spent 29 years in Kapilavastu in complete luxury without knowing of any worldly suffering. He was married to Yasodhara and they had a son named Rahula. However, having learnt about sufferings such as illnesses, old age and death, he left the palace in his native town in search of enlightenment.
Some years later, after achieving enlightenment, Siddhartha Gautama visited Kapilavastu on the invitation of his father. The king and his subjects met the Buddha and his entourage with honors. 500 young men become monks including Rahula, the son of Siddhartha Gautama. Ananda, his half-brother and Upali, the barber of Siddhartha Gautama also became monks and would later become some of his chief disciples.
Kapilavastu did not flourish for long since King Vaydraka, during the time of the Buddha himself (two years before the Parinirvana of the Most Honored) raided and tore down the city, destroying many of the Sakya dynasties.
According to the description of Chinese travelers and pilgrims (7-th century) in Kapilavastu were ruins and desolation and barely a handful of people and monks lived in that place. However, all the significant places were shown by pilgrims. Some of these places were marked by stupas. After that, Kapilavastu was engulfed by jungle and up to the 21-st century one could get there only by an elephant.
At the end of XIX century, the head of the Department of Archaeology of England, Dr. Sir Alexander Kanningham began excavations at the site of the ancient city of Kapilavastu. Sir Kanningham has also conducted archaeological excavations in many locations and other ancient cities of India, besides Kapilavastu. In 1861, in Kushinagar (a place where the Buddha Sakyamuni went to nirvana) Dr. Kanningham excavated a large brick hill and found a stupa, a temple and a statue of Buddha Parinirvana longer than 5.4 m. In 1863, Dr. Kanningham carried out archaeological excavations in the ancient Indian city Shravasti (modern-Saheth Maheth).
Mr. Peppe - the owner of the land where the excavation was conducted became the colleague and assistant of Alexander Kanningham in excavating at the site in Kapilavastu. Without his permission and participation no archeological excavations in that place would have been possible.
In 1898 Sir Kanningham and Mr. Peppe made a major discovery: in the remains of an ancient Stupa they found a stone box. On this box they found some phrases in Brahmi language (the root of Sanskrit language).
Sir Kanningham and Mr. Peppe were familiar with the Honourable Shri Arhat Subhuti, the founder of the temple Abhinavaramaya (now the temple is named after the Great Arhat) at Vaskaduva on the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He also served as the head of the Buddhist community, Amarapura on Ceylon.
Sri Subhuti Maha Thero, as a matter of fact, supervised the excavation since Alexander Kanningham did not possess sufficient knowledge of the Buddha and his teachings. As can be seen from more than ten volumes of correspondence between Sir Kanningham and Honourable Sri Subhuti, the archaeologist constantly consulted and coordinated his steps with the great monk. Venerable Sri Subhuti never went to India, however, thanks to his high spiritual level, he could see much further than ordinary scientists, and, giving valuable advice in the letters to Alexander Kanningham, Sri Subhuti Arhat led the excavation in the right direction while remaining in the temple on the island of Ceylon. Besides, Sri Subhuti Maha Nayaka Thero was the greatest expert in ancient eastern languages in those days. He has an excellent knowledge of Pali, Sanskrit and English. It was the Venerable Sri Subhuti Maha Thero who translated the ancient inscription on the stone box on the request of Dr.Kanningham and Mr. Peppe. The translation was made into three languages: Pali, Singhalese and English. The inscription reads:
"Burial Sharira (relics) of the Bhagavan Buddha (Buddha Sakyamuni). This good deed was done by the spouses, children, siblings and other members of the family of Sakya Buddha."
In the stone box they found some small urns for ashes which, in form, resembled Buddhist stupas. In each urn there were small solid particles of different shapes. These particles have been identified later as fragments of bones of the Buddha Sakyamuni which remained after the cremation of his body as described in Mahaparinibbana sutta.
For the first time, Dr. Sir Alexander Kanningham has attracted the attention of the world’s scientists to the fact that these relics of the Buddha – were original and scientists recognised this since there was a corresponding inscription on the stone box where they were found. In addition, as mentioned above, the excavations were carried out exactly in the same place referred to in Mahaparinibbane Sutta:
"…Sakyas from Kapilavastu built Stupa over the hallows of the Most Honored and arranged in its honor solemn ceremonies..."
It should also be noted that, in conducting the archaeological excavation helped the then owner of the land in Kapilavastu - Mr. Peppe - who knew the history of the land belonging to him.
Thus, the urns with the relics (bone fragments) inside the stone box, discovered by Sir Kanningham and Mr. Peppe, are those urns containing the hallows of the Buddha Sakyamuni, presented to the Sakya family by the brahman Drona, as described at the end of Mahaparinibbany Sutta:
"And he (Drona) has fairly divided the hallows of the Most Honored into eight parts".
At the end of the research of the found relics, Sir Kannigham and Mr. Peppe sent 21 relics (particle of bones) of the Buddha to theVenerable Sri Subhuti in Ceylon. Mr. Peppe wrote a letter accompanying the parcel with relics in English:
I am very sorry I have been so long in visiting and also in answering four his letters.
I have been very busy and I wished to wait till I heard what government intended doing with the relics and bones I found. I have made over the bones to government and they are going to send them to the king of Seam with a request that he sends to you as the Buddhists of Ceylon a portion. The coffer of relics are placed in the museum in Calcutta .I will send the answers to your questions today. I sent you under registered cover a parcel containing 21 of the relics I found in the vases and I hope you will accept them as a present of me. You will see how beautifully they are made. Be very careful how you open the parcel and take relics out…
With kind regards
Commenting on this letter, Ven. Mahindawansa Maha Thero (the current keeper of the relics, who will be discussed below), explained that the "relics" and "bones" referred to in the letter – are the same. That is "the relics of the Buddha" are fragments of teeth, nails and bones of his body which remained after cremation. He also explained that, members of the Sakya family received remains of bones, instead of ashes from the funeral fire. This letter was written in 1898, so the manner of presentation of thoughts might seem a bit unusual for a modern person.This covering letter of Mr. Peppe became an official document of the authenticity of the relics. It is still kept in the public Document Repository in Sri Lanka as an important state document.
Thus, 21 relics were received by the Honorable Sri Subhuti and one relic by the King of Siam. The remaining relics were transferred to the Department of Archaeology of England, whose colony was then India. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why part of the relics has remained in this country, for example, one relic can be seen today at the National Museum of India in New Delhi.
The historical inquiry 3. The subsequent fate of the relics.
After receiving the relics, the Venerable Sri Subhuti placed them in the main building of his temple in Waskaduwe, making in the building a special sanctuary (now in this building there is a temple museum).
In 1908, the Sri Maha Nayaka Thero Subhuti laid a relic in a unique stupa-pagoda (a miniature temple of Maha Bodhi temple in Bohgaya, India) built in the premises of the temple Dipaduttamarama Thai Raja Maha Viharaya in Colombo (Ceylon). This Thai temple belonged to the same Amarapura community, whose leader was at that time Subhuti Sri Maha Thero, moreover, he was the abbot of this temple for some time.
Later, the relics were transferred from abbot to abbot of the temple of Radjaguru Sri Subhuti Maha Viharaya (Waskaduwa, Sri Lanka). So, each successive abbot of the temple became the keeper of the original relics of the Buddha Sakmuni.
From time to time, one of the relics was given out to be put in a stupa. For example, in 1960 the third abbot of the temple - Venerable Waskaduwe Sri Silavansa Nayaka Thero (years of abbotship 1966 - 1993) gave out one relic to be put in a stupa under reconstruction on the island in a revered temple - Kalutara Bodhi
In 1993 the present abbot of the temple Radjaguru Sri Subhuti Maha Viharaya and the keeper of the relics of the Buddha the Venerable Waskaduwe Mahindawansa Maha Thero placed one relic inside the Parinirvana Stupa built in his temple. Currently, most part of the relics are still being kept in the temple Radjaguru Sri Subhuti Maha Viharaya. The second, smaller part is being kept in Colombo in the temple Dipaduttamarama Thai Radja Maha Wiharaya the abbot of which is also the Venerable Waskaduwe Mahindawansa Maha Thero.
The historical connection of the temples of Sri Subhuti and Dipaduttamarama with the royal family of Thailand continues for more than 125 years. In 2000, in the royal palace in Bangkok, Ven. Mahindawansa Thero gave the Crown Prince of Thailand one of the relics of the Buddha. In addition, Mahindawansa Maha Thero repeatedly carried the relics to Thailand, at the request of the Government. Relics were exposed to public view and worship.
This Article was written from the words of the Venerable Mahindawansa Maha Nayaka Thero – Leader of the Amarapura School in Sri Lanka, Chief Incumbent of the temples Radjaguru Sri Subhuti Maha Viharaya (Waskaduwa) and Dipaduttamarama Thai Radja Maha Wiharaya (Colombo), the keeper of the original relics of Buddha Sakyamuni.
2010 May 23rd-26th, Wadduwa, Sri Lanka
In August 2010 the remarkable event took place which created the new page in history of Original Buddha Sakyamuni’s Relic. At 11 of August 2010 Venerable Mahindawansa Maha Nayaka Thero arrived to Moscow by invitation of his Russian disciples and friends’ in Dharma. Maha Thero took with him one of the priceless Buddha’s Relics that are kept in two monasteries headed by him. Venerable Mahindawansa transferred the sacred relic to the leader of International Dharma Center «Samma Ditthi» on behalf of Amarapura Chapter and Arhat Sri Subhuti aiming that all Russian people could get the Tathagata’s blessing and the light of true Dharma would burn up in Russia.