Anxious wait in Sri Lanka for Buddha's scared hair

by Rezaul Karim, The Daily Star, July 18, 2007

Chittagong, Bangladesh -- 'People of Sri Lanka are now eagerly waiting to receive Lord Buddha's scared hair relic which is to be taken to Colombo from Bangladesh tomorrow (Thursday) by a high-powered ministerial delegation led by Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama. The relic is to be handed over to the Sri Lankan delegation today (Wednesday).

According to the officials of Sri Lankan High Commission in Dhaka, elaborate programmes have been taken up to receive the sacred relic. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Rathnasiri Wickramanayaka will receive the relic on the tarmac of Bandaranaike International Airport tomorrow.

The sacred relic is being given to Madampe Senanayake Aramaya by the ancient monastery of Chittagong Buddhist Viharaya on request of Keerthi Senanayake, chief patron of Madampe Senanayake Aramaya.

Several strands of the sacred hair, kept under tight security in Chittagong, had earlier been donated to Thailand and Japan for veneration by the Buddhists of those countries.

According to Ajit Ranjan Barua, president of Bangladesh Buddhist Association, a Tibetan monk brought the hair of Buddha, who lived more than 2,550 years ago in Nepal and India, to Bangladesh in the 1930s.

An official of the foreign ministry said Dhaka would hand over the relic of Gautam Buddha's hair as a gift to Colombo and as a gesture of friendship and goodwill. "There is a strong relationship between the two countries' Buddhist communities, and Bangladeshi monks go to Sri Lanka for higher education," he added.

The sacred relic would officially be handed over to the visiting Sri Lankan foreign minister at a simple ceremony and he will return to Colombo with the hair relic tomorrow. His return with the Buddha's hair coincide with the Sri Lanka government's plans to celebrate the Thoppigala victory in the East.

The road leading to Colombo from Katunayake has already been decorated and religious observances and pujas will be held at the Gangaramaya Temple in Colombo where the relic would be on display round the clock for the public on July 19, 20 and 21. The display could be extended to July 22 if the number of devotees rises.

President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa and Mrs Rajapaksa are scheduled to pay homage to the sacred hair Thursday afternoon.

The sacred relic will be taken to the Senanayake Aramaya in Madampe in a religious procession from Gangaramaya. The Senanayake Aramaya had received relics of Buddha from Chittagong and Takshila in 1956 and 1960.

Sri Lankan government has taken steps to provide necessary facilities including transport, security and utility services for the devotees who wish to pay homage to the relic.

According to scholars, ancient Buddhist scriptures record that two Indian traders were given a lock of Buddha's hair when they earnestly requested for it. They have been identified as Thapassu and Bhalluka. According to an ancient Pali text, Jathakatta Katha, the two received the lock of hair seven weeks after the ascetic Siddhartha Gauthama attained Buddhahood.

A pali stone inscription at Girhadu Seya in an eastern province of Sri Lanka states that Thapassu and Bhalluka enshrined the hair at Girihadu Seya, which would place Buddhism in Sri Lanka well before Indian kings introduced the religion to the region.

Some religious scholars contend that the lock of hair was carried to Girhadu Seya by descendants of Thapassu and Bhalluka. Ancient texts show that traders, as well as kings, were instrumental in the spread of Buddhism.