Indica et Mongolica: Four Relics of the Buddha in Ulaanbaatar

Today, the 14th, marks Buddha Purnima in Mongolia and a symbolic milestone in Buddhist-influenced Indo-Mongolian relations. Two days ago, Minister of Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju led a 25-member delegation to Ulaanbaatar, meeting Khamba Lama Gabju Choijamts Demberel, the most senior Buddhist leader in the country. Accompanying the delegation was a quartet of relics of the Buddha. The relics, currently housed in India’s National Museum, will be displayed at the Batsagaan Temple within the premises of Gandan Monastery, the center of Buddhist activity in the Mongolian capital. They are known as the Kapilavastu Relics, having been excavated in 1898 at Bihar, where the ancient city of Kapilvastu is believed to have once stood.

“This is a very special gesture from the Government of India. The main Buddha statue here is gifted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Modi in 2015,” Rijiju told Indian platform ANI. “The Relics which I have carried from India will be kept here for public exposition for 11 days and Mongolian Buddha Relics will also be kept together.” (The Print)

The Buddhist relics of Kapilavastu. From The Indian Express

2015 marks a years-long project by Indian PM Narendra Modi to bring Buddhism to not only the forefront of Indian diplomacy, but also to stake a claim of stewardship of Buddhism itself. Modi launched the Samvad initiative in 2015, and, in the same year, elevated Indo-Mongolian ties the level of “strategic partnership.” Currently at the height of his influence, Rijiju himself has long been involved in Buddhist diplomacy since seizing back the Arunachal West seat from Takam Sanjoy in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. With a populist touch and a tendency to make headline-grabbing statements, Rijiju was more subtle during his visit to Mongolia, but did not completely abandon his characteristic flamboyance: “Mongolians are deeply connected with India; they look up to India as a source of Buddhism, wisdom and knowledge,” he stated, further adding that his country enjoyed a “very special position in the hearts and minds of people of Mongolia. They are extremely happy to see the large Indian delegation along with the holy relics.” (The Print)

From Modi’s perspective, the Indo-Mongolian relationship is to be nurtured at several levels: the diplomatic, the cultural and religious, and the economic. There have been several milestones over the past few years, including the 11th General Assembly of the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace (ABCP) was held in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar from 21–23 June 2019, and also the third Samvad conclave from 6–7 September 2019 in Ulaanbaatar. There have been other long-term initiatives, such as the reprinting of all 108 volumes of the Mongolian Kanjur by the National Mission for Manuscripts, which was launched by India’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture in 2003. Notably, through this project India and Mongolia have brought in the interest of another Eurasian country: Russia, which has strong ties to both. This Mongolian Kanjur was presented to Russia by an official Indian delegation, in September 2021.

While Indian media has placed emphasis on the Indian origins of the relics and the centrality of the Indian delegation, it was at the request of the Mongolian government that India “made a special exception and permitted the exposition of the Holy Relics in Mongolia” (The Print). This seems to indicate that Mongolia’s Buddhists and government have worked together to shore up each other domestically, by demonstrating their diplomatic finesses in drawing India’s top level Buddhist delegates to Gandan Monastery. There will very likely be more initiatives to come as the bilateral relationship grows, especially if there continue to be mutual benefits for both countries, and their respective Buddhist leaders.  

See more

Holy Relics of Lord Buddha to be taken from India to Mongolia for an 11-day exposition on occasion of Mongolia’s Buddha Purnima on 14th June, 2022 (Ministry of Culture)
Mongolians happy to see Indian delegation along with Buddha relics: Kiren Rijiju in Ulaanbaatar (The Print)
India Sends Holy Relics Of Lord Buddha To Mongolia (YouTube)

Related blog posts from Buddhistdoor Global

Observations on the Indo-Mongolian Buddhist Partnership
Mongolia’s Buddhist Diplomacy and India’s Union of Religious and Foreign Policy

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