This is a sight that has become familiar across Sri Lanka since the Kapilavastu relics arrived here mid-August: Thousands of people, young and old, all clad in white — the colour associated with purity and peace — wait hours on end for a second’s glimpse of an object they consider divine.

People move in the queues round the clock. With three queues moving sequentially – one for men, another for women and a third for infirm and VIPs – each person gets just about enough time to offer his or her prayers and move on.

“None of us can see Buddha. This is the next best thing we can revere and worship,” said Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Sri Lankan Minister, who was overseeing the arrangements for the devotees at Matara Kotikagoda Rajamaha Viharaya, about 160 km from Colombo.

The relics came from their ‘home’ in India, the National Museum in New Delhi on August 20. President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited each one of the sites where the relics are on display. He has inspected arrangements; and has offered worship.

The exhibition should have ended on September 4. But in response to a request received from Colombo, New Delhi agreed to extend it by a week at three additional venues.

Head of State status

The relics have been accorded the status of a Head of State in Sri Lanka. They move from one site to another in bullet proof cars or helicopters or a combination of the two. They were on display round the clock at the Jayanthi Viharaya, Anuradhapura for three days.

The country, which had received scanty rainfall from the south-west monsoon, witnessed copious showers after the relics arrived here. Many worshippers — both in government and lay people — believe that relics brought the rains with them. It did not matter to those who had gathered that the rains delayed the transport of the relics from one place to another. They waited patiently.

Some devotees had come to the venue the day before and had spent the night outside the venue at most places.

“I am told that there are people already in Tissamaharama, the venue for the exposition from September 5,” said the Indian Consul General in Hambantota, R.Raghunathan. On Tuesday, the relics will be taken on a procession from Matara to Tissamaharama, just over 100 km away.

The relics might also swing votes in at least two of the three provinces going to polls on September

The opposition UNP has alleged that the government is deliberately taking it to places where provincial polls have been announced; while its leader Ranil Wickramasinghe, has cast doubts over the authenticity of the relics. Of course, hundreds of leaders, big and small, from his party and outside, have drowned out his voice.