Wednesday, May 28, 2003
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By R. Nagaswamy
There have been news reports that the bones of Gautama the Buddha, excavated in 1958, are on display in a specially-designed security room at the Patna Museum from May 20. The visitors to the museum are being charged Rs. 100 to view the bones. The reports state that the bones were found during the 1958-1962 excavations by the archaeologist, A.S. Altekar, from a Buddhist monastery at Vaishaligarh, 35 km from Patna.
"The bones of Lord Buddha were found in a casket made of stone, along with a gold plate, zinc coin and glass beads," according to the Museum Director, Ms. Agarwal. It is also reported that the archaeologists have authenticated the bones as that of the Buddha.
A number of Buddhist organisations have objected to the display of the bodily relic of the Buddha in a museum and have suggested that the venue should be a specially erected building in a place like Bodhgaya. But the Bihar Government, which had been reluctant to display the bones all these years, rejected the request.
Keeping the Buddha's bone for public viewing is a laudable idea, but the aim seems to be its exploitation by the State Tourism Ministry. The decision displays scant respect for the religious sentiments of the Buddhists. The Buddha's bones certainly cannot be reduced to a "museum exhibit". The Buddha is worshipped and adored as God by millions of people around the world. His Buddha's bodily remains should not be considered the property of the Bihar Government. It is a venerable relic of the entire nation and of the world.The proper place is a specially-designed monument in the shape of a `stupa', where the relic could be placed in a crystal casket with precious gems and golden flowers, as is the Buddhist practice. It should be kept in a bullet-proof glass room. The people manning the relic should be Buddhist monks and only people with flowers in hand as offering should be allowed access, as is being done in the case of the samadhis of Mahatma Gandhi and other great leaders. The whole environment and setting must be one of great veneration. A museum certainly cannot provide that environment or create that feeling in the minds of the visitors. The hall of Emerald Buddha in the Royal Palace of Thailand, visited by thousands everyday, preserves the atmosphere of veneration and is an example that could be emulated. The Central Government cannot remain a silent spectator and allow the Bihar Government to make the bodily remains of one of the greatest personalities of the world a tourist attraction.
The State may argue that any place other than a museum is unsafe. The entire nation must rise as one and demand the immediate withdrawal of this uncivilised move. Exhibition of bodily remains is repugnant to civilised sensibilities. It is strange that our vociferous politicians have shown little interest in the issue.
The Buddha's relic has been safe all these years and there is no reason why it will not remain so till a proper memorial to the great and noble soul is erected.
Buddha's relic as a museum exhibit in the land of his birth is unthinkable. It is nothing but desecration.
(The writer is a former Director of Archaeology, Tamil Nadu.)
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