Pilgrims disappointed as Buddha ashes stay in Patna

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PATNA – Bihar’s decision not to display the Buddha’s ashes at their religion’s birthplace has disappointed thousands of Buddhist pilgrims.

The State Government decided against heeding to demands from monks and pilgrims to display the holy ashes in Bodh Gaya, 110 km from this State capital, during the nine-day Kalchakra festival beginning on Sunday. Instead the Government has put the ashes on display at a museum here.

“It is not easy for the majority of pilgrims to come to Patna to see the ashes,” grumbled a Buddhist monk here.

State Minister for Tourism, Art and Culture Ashok Kumar Singh said the Government decided not to send the relic outside Patna in view of its historical and religious importance.

Sources at the police headquarters said the Government took the decision because of security concerns. “There is a risk involved in transportation as well as during display of the holy ashes,” an officer told IANS.

Unprecedented security arrangements are in place in Bodh Gaya for the visit of the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama for the Kalchakra festival. The heavy security is on account of intelligence reports of threats to his life from some groups opposed to him.

“If the holy ashes are put on display in Bodh Gaya, special security has to be made for it and protection for them (Tibetan leaders) has to be reduced, which is not proper,” said the police officer.

This will be the first time the holy ashes will be brought out of a strong room in the nearly 100-year-old Patna Museum for public display. A casket containing the Buddha’s ashes mixed with clay, a copper punch-marked coin and a tiny leaf made of gold will be the prized exhibits of the Buddha Gallery.

An archaeologist team led by A S Altekar had discovered the casket containing the holy ashes in 1958 during excavations at Raja Vishal Ka Garh in Vaishali district.

Some years ago the ashes were taken to Bodh Gaya — where the Buddha attained enlightenment two and a half centuries ago — for public display during the first Buddha Mahotsva, now an annual festival to attract tourists, particularly Buddhists.

The Government’s decision to charge Rs 100 for a glimpse of the holy ashes is also drawing flak.

“The Government should charge much less from the local people and perhaps charge Rs 100 from foreigners,” said Ajay Kumar, a social activist.

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