Temples of Sri Lanka

HOLY RELICS OF THE BUDDHA (Part 1) Remains of Fragmented Sacred Relics

“He who sees the sacred relics sees the Exalted One” – Arahant Mahinda

“He who sees the sacred relics sees the Exalted One” – Arahant Mahinda

Fragmented relics are the fractured and cracked bones of the Buddha, which were reduced into miniature particles being burnt at the cremation.  However, the main seven relics including one Lalata Dhathu (Forehead relics) both of Aku Dhathu (collarbone relics), four tooth relics (Dhanta Dhatu) have still remained much the same, without being perished, fragmented or scattered, according to the wish of the Buddha. The other remainder of bone relics were dismantled and reduced into small particles.  The detailed information regarding the scattered elements (Dhatu) and their shades of colour etc. are given precisely in the Chronicle of Maha Parinirvana Sutra and also in the Dhatu Bhajaniya story of the Buddhawamsa Pali.

As described in Buddhawansa Pali, relics in their smaller size resemble green grain. The medium-sized relics are similar to seeds of crumbled rice whilst tiniest relics in size are like seeds of mustard. The relics in the size of a green grain are of golden color whilst those in the size of crumbled rice are of bead-like in color. Mustard size relics are like jasmine blossoms in colour. Five ‘neliyas’ (neliya= a measurement) were there of average size relics and five ‘neliyas’ of smallest size relics. Six neliyas of relics were there of small size. Altogether the total quantity of relics amounts to sixteen Magadha neliyas. According to the measurement by ‘drona’, it was eight ‘dronas’.

The Brahmin Drona took steps to distribute the relics in proportionate to eight states. Accordingly each country received two Neliyas (One Drona). The recipient Kings who brought the relics have built up eight Stupas by enshrining them in their respective capitals and offered them homage and highest veneration.

Later Arahant Maha Kashyapa thero, foreseeing that the relics were at risk in future by other followers, met with King Ajasatta and said, “O King, many places were there where the relics of the Exalted One have been enshrined which wouldn’t at all be prudent. In future, I think, that the chances would be there to inflict harm on the relic-enshrined Stupas by unscrupulous elements. Therefore, great king, we have to do one single enshrinement gathering all the relics” On hearing this, the King Ajasatta overwhelmingly rejoiced and said, “O, great Venerable Sir, I would erect a great Stupa enshrining all the relics, however, Venerable Sir, how could we reclaim the already distributed relics?”.  Then the Venerable Maha Kasyapala Thero said. “O Great King, don’t worry about that and leave the task for us to bring back the relics. You carry on the task of erecting the Stupa”.


Then Arahant Maha Kasyapala Thero thought thus, “A drona full of relics enshrined in this Stupa at the Ramagrama would not be at risk. Protected by Nagas, this drona would definitely be enshrined in the future Stupa in Sri Lanka to be built by King Dutugemunu. It would therefore be more appropriate for us to obtain the relics from other Stupas”.


Having thought thus, he got the Stupas of the cities of Rajagaha, Vishsala, Kimbulwath, Vetadeepaka, Pawa, Kusinara and the State of Allakappa, opened (except for the relics of Rama Grama Stupa) and took all the relics leaving the rest therein for veneration.


Having obtained the relics, Arahant Maha Kasyapa Thero, accompanied by King Ajasatta, set off to a certain place in Rajagaha and advised the King, “Great King, the relics should be enshrined here” and then a Stupa was erected in an atmosphere of absolute secrecy and enshrined the relics.


Thereafter by offering flowers, lights and scented fume he made a strong wish that the flowers, flames of the lamps and aroma of the scented fumes embedded in the stupa may not vanish and he deposited a golden scroll with the statement, which says, “in future, a prince by the name of Piyadassi would become a virtuous king by the name of Dharmasoka in Jambuddeepa. The king would erect eighty four thousand stupas all over the India (Jambuddeepa) with the relics so enshrined in this Stupa. The great king would, with his royal patronage, flourish the splendor of Buddhism once again”.


Written by Vipul Pathiranage in conversation with Dr. Damenda Porage, Chairman, The Buddhist Brotherhood


© Buddhist Brotherhood

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