Worship of the Relics
Throughout much of the Buddhist world the items discovered at Piprahwa are referred to as the Kapilavastu relics, millions of devotee’s pay homage whenever they are displayed. Veneration of relics associated with the Buddha has been a widespread feature of Buddhist devotional practice since immediately after the paranirvana of the Buddha. For many the Buddha is perceived to be ‘alive’ in his relics; it is believed that the relics themselves personify the spiritual forces of a living Buddha. In his book 'Relics of the Buddha' Professor John Strong observes that some make no distinction between ‘a living Buddha and a collection of relics – both make the sacred person equally present as an object of worship’. Numerous legends have surrounded the history of relics as they facilitated the spread of Buddhism and provided legitimacy to rulers. The Indian Government has only allowed the relics excavated at Piprahwa by K.M. Srivastava in 1971-73 to be viewed outside of India on six occasions; the first time was in 1978 when they were exhibited in Sri Lanka and drew crowds of nearly 10 million people. This was followed by exhibitions in Mongolia in 1993, Singapore in 1994, South Korea in 1995 and Thailand in 1996. In 2012, at the request of the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaska, the relics once again travelled from India to Sri Lanka to commemorate the 2600th anniversary of the Enlightenment of the Buddha. The relics were bought to Sri Lanka by a delegation led by the Indian Minister of Culture Kumari Selja. Over a two week period the relics toured the country and again drew crowds of many millions.
The Speaker of the Indian Parliament stated that the relic exhibition ‘would have a calming and peaceful effect in the region and spread the word of non – violence’. In 2015, during the Vesak festival, three of the relics donated to the Waskaduwe Vihara in Kaltura, Sri Lanka, from the original Piprahwa discovery were, over a period of four days, displayed at three different locations. An estimated 2 million devotees venerated the relics during this period. In October 2015 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Dr Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, embracing Buddhism along with 500,00 followers, the same relics from the Waskaduwe Vihara were for the first time taken out of Sri Lanka and exhibited in India at Nagpur. An estimated 5 million worshippers were expected to arrive in Nagpur to venerate the relics, however these figures were far exceeded and over 8 million people paid homage. Today Buddhists all around the world venerate the relics that were discovered at Piprahwa. Relics from the original discovery currently reside in a number of locations, these include; The Golden Temple in Bangkok, several temples in Sri Lanka, including the Waskaduwe temple in Kaltura, the Jodo Shinsu Buddhist Centre in California and the Grande Pagode de Vincennes in Paris. The bone fragments from Srivastava's excavation are located at the National Museum in New Delhi. W.C Peppé's share of the jewels which he discovered have remained within the Peppé family since 1898.