November 30, 2020 marks the 73rd year of the proud history of Sanchi Chethiyagara Temple, built in 1947, enshrining the sacred Relics of “Agrashrawaka”: Sariputra and Maha Moggalana, the two chief disciples of Lord Buddha. The Agrashrawaka Relics were discovered by Sir Cunningham in 1851 during the excavations done at Sanchi Stupa situated in the State of Madhya Pradesh, in India, built during the third century BC.
The Stupa complex built atop Sanchi Mountain by Vidisha Devi, the queen of emperor Ashoka, enshrines the Relics of the Lord Buddha as well as the Relics of “Agrashrawaka.” In 1952, the enshrinement of the Agrshrawaka Relics at the Sanchi Chethiyagara temple was performed with the participation of Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister of India, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, then President of India, the Venerable Parawahara Vajiraghana Thero , Minister A. Rathnayake, and many other Buddhist leaders of Sri Lanka including Raja Hewawitharana. Venerable Banagala Upathissa Thero, the Chief Incumbent of the Sanchi Temple, India and the Agrashrawaka Maha Vihara, Colombo, the Chief Sangha Nayaka of Japan, stated that, every year a ceremonial displaying of the Relics and the veneration of the Relics of Agrashrawaka is carried out on the last week of November, as a request made by then prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. Accordingly on the last Sunday of the month of November every year, Sanchi- Mahabodhi Relic Veneration ceremony will be held.
Bangala Thero further said that it is unthinkable of to break the custom continued consecutively for 67 years at Sanchi – Mahabodhi celebrations and therefore along with the government of the State of Madhya Pradesh, a humble celebration would be carried out to commemorate this occasion. During this Covid- 19 pandemic, respecting the health precautions given by the Indian government, and with a limited participation, the sacred traditional rituals would be conducted. The Agrashrawaka Relics will be taken out of the underground Relic shrine and placed at the alter by the Saranath Statue which was plated with gold last year by the Vietnam Buddhists guided by the Bhikkuni Bhodhichiththa of Vietnam. On 29th November at 8am, the relic veneration celebration will commence with the participation of Anuradha Shanker Singh, Special Director General of Police-Madhya Pradesh, Umashankar Bhargav, District Collector- Raisen district, and Monika Shukla, SP- Raisen district. All the religious rituals will be conducted by Venerable Udugama Thapassi Thero, who currently resides at Sanchi and conducts the daily religious observances there. A live broadcasting of this sacred event will be done by the MyNewsUpdate, news channel, Madhya Pradesh. The Asian Media and Cultural Association (AMCA) has taken initiatives to provide the Buddhists in Sri Lanka an opportunity to take part in this sacred event through a Facebook live coverage.
(Pathum Wickramarathne )