Exposition of the Sacred Kapilavastu relics at Sri Subhuti Maha Viharaya, Waskaduwa


by Rasika Nanayakkara

The exposition of Kapilavastu relics to the public for worship will continue today and on Sunday at the Rajaguru Sri Subhuthi Maha Viharaya, Waskaduwa, Kalutara.

Little is known about Sri Lanka’s involvement in the discovery of the relics in India. While it must be credited that Sir Alexander Cunningham played a key role in discovering the Kapilavastu relics, he couldn’t have done it without the assistance of Ven. Rajaguru Waskaduwe Sri Subhuti Maha Nayaka Thero.

Relics of the Gautama Buddha are known as the Kapilavastu Relics which were first discovered in 1898 from a site in Bihar, believed to be the ancient city of Kapilavastu. According to the "MahaparinibbanaSutta", written in the 5th century BC, following the passing away (Parinibbana) of the Buddha, the relics taken from the cremation site were divided into eight portions and given to: Ajasatta, King of Magadha; Licchavis of Vesali; Bulis of Allakappa; Koliyas of Ramagama; Brahmin of Vethadipa; Mallas of Pava; Mallas of Kusinara and Sakyas of Kapilavastu. The Sakyas placed the relics in a stupa in Kapilavastu, the native town of the Buddha. But soon after, Kapilavastu fell into ruin and was lost into history.

During the end of the 19th century, the Director of Archaeology India, Sir Alexander Cunningham, began excavation on the ancient ruins of Kapilavastu. Mr. Peppe, the owner of the land where the excavation was conducted became a colleague and assistant to Sir Cunningham. Without Mr. Peppe’s invaluable assistance, the discovery of the Kapilavastu relics would’ve not been possible. Shortly after, in 1898, Sir Cunningham and Mr. Peppemade a breakthrough finding in the remains of an ancient Stupa. A stone box was discovered with inscriptions which could not be deciphered.

Sir Cunningham and Mr. Peppe turned to Ven. Rajaguru Waskaduwe Sri SubhutiMaha NayakaThero, renowned as the foremost expert in Pali and Buddhism whose reputation spread across the globe, for assistance in this regard. So great was the fame of Ven. Sri SubhutiThero that, he ordained a Prince from the Kingdom of Thailand, for which he was bestowed upon with the title: Rajaguru.

Ven. Sri SubhutiThero supervised the entire excavation without ever leaving Sri Lanka and more than ten volumes of correspondence were exchanged between Sir Cunningham and the Thero. The Thero utilised his unparalleledknowledge on ancient eastern languages and translated the inscription on the stone box which read,

"Burial of relics of the Lord Buddha. This good deed was done by the spouses, children, siblings and other members of the family of Sakya Buddha."

Finally the mystery of the box was solved. What Sir Alexander Cunningham and Mr. Peppe had inadvertently stumbled upon was the lost relics of the Buddha, untouched for almost two millennia. Inside the stone box, several small urns resembling Buddhist stupas were found. In each urn there were particles which were later identified as fragments of bones belonging to the Buddha following cremation.

Mr Peppe sent 21 relics of the Buddha to the Ven. Waskaduwe Sri SubhutiTheroas a token of appreciation through registered post with an accompanying letter. This letter can still be found in the National Archives. The remaining relics were put on display at the National Museum of India, where it has remained ever since.Therelicsreceived by the Ven. Sri SubhutiTherowere subsequently interred in the Radjaguru Sri SubhutiMahaViharaya in Waskaduwa.

Since then a few relics have been gifted to other temples. In 1960 one relic was gifted to be interred in the KalutaraBodhiya and later to the Dipaduttamarama Thai Raja MahaViharaya, Kotahena and SithulpauwaNawa Seya.

In 2000, the current Chief Incumbent of the Radjaguru Sri SubhutiMahaViharaya, Ven. Shasthrapathi Waskaduwe Mahindawansa MahaNayakaThero, gifted a relic to the Crown Prince of Thailand.

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