Thousands of Sri Lankans stood in queue for long hours, mindless of a merciless sun, to offer worship to the Kapilavastu relics (bone fragments considered sacred by Buddhists) at the Manelwatta Viharaya, Kelaniya, about 10 km from here on Sunday.
At 9 p.m. there were still a few thousands in the serpentine line. Indian officials said the exposition would be open round-the-clock, if need be.
In the three days that the relics are on public display at the Kelaniya Viharaya, almost all Buddhists in the Western Province, the most populous of Sri Lanka’s nine provinces, are expected to have darshan. The exposition will be held in seven of the nine provinces, including the holy city of Anuradhapura.
The relics from the National Museum in Delhi were brought to Sri Lanka after three decades since their first exposition in 1978. They will travel back at the end of the display on September 4.
This is the biggest event in Sri Lanka in recent times. The only celebration that came close was that held to mark the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009. In 1978, about 10 million worshipped the relics in Sri Lanka.
Earlier, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa received the relics at a ceremony at the Bandaranaike airport here. They were brought in a special Indian Air Force aircraft by a delegation from India led by Minister of Culture Kumari Selja. Ms. Selja handed them over to Mr. Rajapaksa.
The President, walking barefoot, carried the relics, which have been accorded the status of a Head of State, from the tarmac to the VIP lounge where about 100 senior monks chanted pirith (Sinhala word for protection from all directions). After the chanting, they were taken in a procession to Kelaniya.
Sri Lankan Maha Sangha residents throughout India at several sites associated with the life of Gautama Buddha, performed a special religious ceremony and offered Buddha Pooja at the Indian Air Force Base in Delhi, prior to the departure of the relics. High Commissioner Prasad Kariyawasam and the staff at the Sri Lanka High Commission attended the event.
The relics discovered in 1898 are from a site believed to be the ancient city of Kapilavastu.
After the exposition in Sri Lanka, they were put on display in Mongolia in August 1993, in Singapore in July 1994, in South Korea in 1995 and in Thailand in 1996. Taking into consideration their inestimable value and delicate nature, the authorities in India decided that the relics would remain as a venerable object at the National Museum of India in New Delhi and not be taken outside India.
In June 2010, Mr. Rajapaksa requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to afford Sri Lankan Buddhists an opportunity to pay homage to the relics.
Making an exception, the Government of India decided to send them to Sri Lanka.