A museum for Buddha's relics

by Rajiv Shah, TTIMES NEWS NETWORK, Dec 31, 2006

GANDHINAGAR, India -- Have you ever driven by the lush green vistas at Shamlaji on Gujarat's border with Rajasthan? They may soon have another attraction — a vibrant centre for spiritual tourism.

The Gujarat government is planning to set up a museum there to house the relics of Buddha found during the excavation of a stupa complex in Shamlaji.

The state government has also approached the Japanese government to help build this museum,which will have a 1,700-year-old casket that is termed as the 'dhashavala sharira nilayah' or the 'abode of the bodily relics of Lord Buddha'.

At present, the casket is stored at the archaeology department of MS University in Vadodara. The ashes are lying in a gold-plated bottle placed in yet another box in the casket.

The inscription on it, in Brahmi script, deciphered by SN Chowdhury, one of the archaeologists involved in the excavation, says the casket was made "during the rule of King Rudrasena, some time during the 127-year rule of the Kathika kings".

Made in stone by 'Varah, the son of Sena', the box inside the casket also contains silk bags found in India. The excavation was begun by PA Inamdar of MS University in 1936 and completed by RN Mehta and SN Chowdhury in 1963.

The state governmnt has asked the Japanese to help build a replica of 'Dev Ni Mori' (in front of god),which is what the Buddhist archaeological site was called.

The site was submerged after the construction of Meshwo dam in 1965-68 and all that was found pottery, terracotta decorations around the 40-feet high Stupa with a 120-feet base, human and animal figures, arches, medallions and Buddha images was shifted to Vadodara along with the casket.

A video presentation, specially made for a top Japanese envoy, who met Chief Minister Narendra Modi a month ago says the site can be a potential "gateway for other Buddhist places of Gujarat".

Gujarat has a rich Buddhist tradition, with caves serving as 'viharas' found in Junagadh, Bhavnagar and Kutch districts, with Ashokan rock edicts.

Along with the relics museum, an interpretation centre, a research centre, an institute of Buddhist studies, a library and a meditation centre have also been planned.

The presentation urges Japanese government to turn this into an internationally acclaimed Buddhist centre and thus help create a "spiritual beacon for all Buddhists".