The Kapilavastu relics (fragments of Buddha's bones) will travel to Sri Lanka next January, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ashok K. Kantha, said here on Saturday.

This is the first time in recent history that the relics will travel out of India. All protocol extended to a head of state will be given to the relics. An Indian delegation arrived in Colombo recently to work out of the modalities, he said.

The move follows a request by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his India visit in June last. Thousands of Buddhists in Sri Lanka are expected to have a glimpse of the relics.

The relics were excavated in the 19th century by Alexander Cunningham, the first director of the Archaeological Survey of India. The place of excavation, now called Piprahwa in Bihar, was known as Kapilavastu earlier.

Indian and Sri Lankan officials on Saturday unveiled a 16-foot tall idol of Lord Buddha in the Sarnath style from the Gupta period, installed at the entrance to the International Buddhist Museum complex in Sri Dalada Maligawa here amid chanting of Buddhist hymns.

The Sarnath idol is an exquisite sculpture based on the famous 5th century Gupta period idol from Sarnath, where Buddha preached his first sermon after attaining enlightenment. The idol in the Dharmachakra pravartana mudra (turning the wheel of law) and its pedestal have been carved out of a single piece of beige-coloured Chunar sandstone.

Mr. Kantha, Governor of Central Province Tikri Kobbekanda, and Chief Minister of Central Provincial Council Sarath Ekanayake and Diyawadana Nilame, unveiled the idol in the presence of Most Venerable Mahanayake Asigiriya, Most Venerable Anunayake Malawatte and teachers of Mahasangh.

Indian Railways is planning to launch a special Buddhist train “Damba Diwa Vandana” from Chennai catering to Sri Lankan pilgrims from November this year. The train will touch more than a dozen Buddhist centres, including Bodhgaya, Sarnath, Kapilavastu, Sanchi and Kushi Nagar. Special provision will be made in these trains for Sri Lankan food.

The Indian government would also work out details of linking up the ferry service between Colombo and Tuticorin with the pilgrimage train. India was also working on the setting up of an Indian gallery at the International Buddhist Museum in Kandy.

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