Conservationists in Myanmar have expressed concern that a public procession and display scheduled this month of an ancient Buddhist relic, believed to be a hair from the historical Buddha, risks damaging the object of reverence.
The relic, believed to have come from the head of Shakyamuni Buddha more than 2,500 years ago is usually enshrined within Botataung Pagoda in downtown Yangon. However, due to planned renovation work at the ancient monument, the Buddha’s hair relic has been moved to a nearby prayer hall where it has been placed on public display. The relic is scheduled to be carried by procession and placed in the Chanthagyi Prayer Hall of the city’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda for five days, along with a number of other sacred items from Botataung Pagoda, on the morning of 19 April. On 24 April, the hair relic and other revered objects are to be conveyed back to Botataung Pagoda.
“The interior of the chamber needs renovation,” said U Sein Maw, director of Yangon Region’s Ministry of Religious Affairs. “Water leaks from its ceiling,” he added, explaining that the removal of the relic was necessary before the repairs could be carried out. (The Irrawaddy)
The Buddha’s hair relic will be carried around Yangon in a procession for people to venerate, said Dr. Badana Eidi Bala, chair Sayadaw of the Yangon Region Sangha Nayaka was cited as saying by the Myanmar Times.
“We carried out a consecration ceremony at Shwedagon Pagoda with 18,000 sangha [members], and now we will schedule a meeting with every sangha [member] . . . in Yangon Region,” said Dr. Badana. “This ceremony for the relic is led by the regional Sangha Nayaka and the regional government, so I urge believers to follow.” (Myanmar Times)
Critics of the decision, who include conservationists as well as members of State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, a government-appointed body of high-ranking Buddhist monks that oversees the country’s monastic sangha, have expressed concern for the safety of the relic.
“Should a piece of national heritage like the sacred hair relic be out for a long time due to its fragility?” said Daw Moe Moe Lwin, director of the Yangon Heritage Trust. “What if it is accidentally damaged during the display and procession? I wonder if precautions have been taken.” (The Irrawaddy)
She drew a comparison with Sri Lanka’s most sacred Buddhist relic, a tooth of the historical Buddha, which is enshrined in a heavily guarded room in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth in the city of Kandy. “Even when you are in the room, you don’t actually see the tooth. It’s kept in a gold casket which contains a series of six caskets of diminishing size,” she observed. (The Irrawaddy)
According to accounts of its history, Botataung Pagoda was first built by the region’s Mon civilization some 2,500 years ago. The pagoda was destroyed by British aircraft during the Second World War, although the relic casket was found undamaged in the rubble. The pagoda was rebuilt in 1948 after the country regained independence.
U Sein Maw offered assurances that a plan had been put in place to ensure the relic is properly protected during thr renovation period. “We have been discussing the best way to carefully put the relic casket in the car and transport it from Botataung to Shwedagon Pagoda,” he said, noting that repairs and renovations for the relic chamber were part of a larger plan to restore the entire pagoda, including replacing all the gold on the structure. An estimated 50–60 kilograms of gold would be needed to complete the project, he added. (The Irrawaddy)
Myanmar is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, with 80.1 per cent of the population of almost 48 million people identifying as Buddhists, according to 2010 data from the Washington, DC-based Pew Research Center. Christians, folk religions, and Muslims account for the bulk of the remainder. Buddhist monks, venerated throughout Burmese society, are believed to number around 500,000, with an estimated 75,000 nuns in the Southeast Asian country.
Concerns Raised Over Public Display of Sacred Buddhist Relic (The Irrawaddy)
PUBLIC REVERENCE: SACRED HAIR RELIC WILL BE CONVEYED TO SHWEDAGON PAGODA (mitv)
Botahtaung Pagoda’s Buddha hair relic to tour Yangon (Myanmar Times)