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Holy Relics Of Lord Buddha Gather Dust

Updated: March 8, 2014 3:35 pm

The holy relics of Lord Buddha, which had been unearthed at the famous Buddhist site at Lalitagiri in Odisha, have been gathering dust in the office of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Bhubaneswar for more than three decades. The villagers of Lalitagiri are now up in arms against the slipshod attitude of the authorities for not keeping the relics in its original place at Lalitagiri.

“The rare relics of Lord Buddha had been unearthed in 1986 at Lalitagiri. Seven consecutive sessions of archaeological spadework brought to light a huge stupa on a hilltop at Lalitagiri. Several stone images of Buddha and others including three Buddha vihars were unearthed. But a magnificent discovery at Lalitagiri was a golden casket containing tiny bones, presumed to be the relics of Lord Buddha and his favourite disciple. The relics are kept like a Chinese puzzle box in four independent caskets one inside the other, forming a unique unity. Those caskets are of Khandolite, stupa shaped, pale grey soap stone, with silver and gold enclosed. The caskets were discovered from among the ruins of a stupa on the Lalitagiri hill. These have been shifted to the strong room of the ASI in Bhubaneswar. The ASI and noted archeologists found the relics of Buddha at Viashali in Bihar, at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh, at Bhatipralu of Andhra Pradesh, at Saranath in Uttar Pradesh, at Nagarjunakonda in Andhra Pradesh, at Taxasila in Pakistan and other places with inscriptions to prove these relics are of Lord Buddha. The Vaishali relics were discovered during an excavation conducted by archaeologists A S Altekar and Sitaram Rai in 1958-62. “Buddha relics are the remains of Buddha and are sacred treasures, which are revered and respected by Buddhist devotees,” said Harish Chandra Prusty a noted historian of Odisha.

Buddhism held sway over large parts of Odisha in ancient times and the region forms an important part of Buddhist history. The excavation of numerous Buddha images is not only historically significant but also reveals the artistic excellence and iconography know-how during the Buddhist era.

Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri and Udayagiri form an important Buddhist complex in Jajpur district. Magnificent remains of Buddhist edifices and images of the Vajrayana pantheon have been unearthed at Lalitagiri. The Buddhist art in the region attained a high degree of excellence under the patronage of the Bouma-Kara rulers, most of whom were devout Buddhists. Lalitagiri was an important centre of Buddhist art. Numerous Buddha idols were unearthed during excavation by the Archeological Survey of India—An impressive stupa, a single-winged monastery, two magnificent monasteries, three temples, a large number of small stupas, stone sculptures and various bronze images. Seals and sculptured articles were also unearthed. Many of these articles are carved with Buddha icons and ornaments, including garlands and miniature figures. Excavations have also unearthed remains of a huge apsidal Chaitagriha facing east and measuring 20 metres in length and 11.40 metres in width. “The Chaitya is the only one of its kind in the excavations in Odisha,” said Prusti. “Three years back, Jajpur MP, Mohan Jena, noted historian Harish Chandra Prusti and many locals of Lalitagiri demanded before the union minister of culture in New Delhi to keep holy relics of Lord Buddha in the famous Buddhist site in Lalitagiri after building a museum”, said Ajay Bebarta Das, vice-president of Buddhayan, a cultural organisation of Lalitigiri.

“Thanks to the slipshod attitude of the officials of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the government, the relics of Lord Buddha are yet to return to its original place after their excavation twenty eight years back. It is an insult to large numbers of Buddhists and the locals of Lalitagiri that the ASI officials kept the relics in a strong room in Bhubaneswar and they never allow the common people to see or worship the relics,” added Das.

When contacted Jiban Patnaik,, deputy superintendent of ASI of Bhubaneswar, said: “The Union government has recently granted Rs 9.41 crore to the state unit of ASI to build a museum along with a strong room in the famous Buddhist site at Lalitagiri to keep the holy relics of Buddha. The preparation of plan, drawings and design of the museum building is being initiated. The Central Public Works Department (CPWD) will soon start the construction work of the museum. We will also keep all the stone idols of Buddha and others which had been unearthed at Lalitagiri in the museum. The holy relics will also be preserved with tight security in the museum,” added Patnaik.

By Ashis Senapati from Bhubaneswar

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