Buddhist Chetiyagiri Vihar festival held at Sanchi

By Ram Chand Sahu, ANI, Nov 27, 2007

Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh (India) -- Hundreds of Buddhists and foreign tourists converged at Sanchi to pay homage to the holy remains of Lord Buddha's two chief disciples, Sariputra and Mahamodgilya, during the 55th Chetiyagiri Vihar festival held on the weekend.

The holy relics are displayed once a year, particularly, on the last Sunday of November during the annual Chetiyagiri Vihar festival. The tradition has been followed for the past 55 years.

The memorable event was held at Sanchi, a small village, 46 kilometres north east of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.

"This is a very famous religious place for Buddhists from all over the world. The remains of Sariputra and Mahamodgilya are shown only once for one day in the whole year and hence devotees come here in large number. We feel honoured to be a part of this annual festival," said Nilami Virsingha, a devout Buddhist from Sri Lanka.

"Thousands of Buddhist devotees throng this place to seek the blessings of the two Buddhist saints every year during this festival. These remains are displayed throughout the entire day for the benefit of the devotees," said Chandra Boudhi Patil, another devout.

It is said that around a century ago, General Cunningham, a British official, having a fascination for collection of art relics pilfered the mortal remains of Sariputra and Mahamodgilya from Sanchi Stupa.

Years later, the Mahabodhi Society of Ceylon managed to trace these remains, held in deep reverence by Buddhists and brought them back with the assistance of the government at the Centre.

In 1952, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had placed the remains of Sariputra and Mahamodgilya in the third Stupa located at the complex of the historical Buddhist monuments at Sanchi.

The Mahabodhi Society of Ceylon took the initiative and established Chaityagiri Vihar at the third Stupa. Since 1952, the Mahabodhi Society has been organising this annual festival, attended by devotees from countries such as Japan, Sri Lanka, Korea, Thailand and other places.

"This Chaityagiri Vihar was established on November 29, 1952 to keep the holy remains of Sariputra and Mahamodgilya, the two prime disciples of Lord Buddha, by a renowned priest of Sri Lanka Mahabodhi Society," said another devotee.

Buddhist monuments dating from the 3rd century B.C to the 12th century A.D are located here. It was crowned by the Chhatra, a parasol-like structure symbolising high rank, which was intended to honour and shelter the relics.

The Stupas at Sanchi also happen to be the home to the remains of numerous other Buddhist disciples. Buddhist devotees seek immense happiness to see the remains of their reverend saints.

"When we see the remains of Sariputra and Mahamodgilya, we feel as if we have sought the blessings of the two holy saints. This makes us happy," said Bangal, a monk at the Chaityagiri Vihar in Sanchi.

The Sri Lanka Mahabodhi Society that manages the Chaityagiri Vihar has also evinced keen interest the restoration of the ancient Buddhist shrines at Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kushinara.

Though not directly related to Lord Buddha's life, Sanchi became a pilgrimage site after Emperor Ashoka Maurya erected a Stupa (a dome shaped Buddhist shrine) and column there in the middle of the 3rd century B.C. Later, rulers enlarged the complex.

After the decline of Buddhism in India, the ruins lay neglected until the 19th century, when they were despoiled by treasure hunters. Restoration activity commenced in the early 20th century, with the rebuilding of the principal Stupas and the creation of the existing park and museum.

Sanchi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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