Kathmandu: A quiet monastery in Kathmandu became the centre of worship and much veneration on Tuesday as worldwide the 2,555th birth anniversary of Buddha was celebrated. Devotees in large numbers thronged it for a rare glimpse of relics of the apostle of peace, gifted to Nepal by Sri Lanka.
The Ananda Kuti Vihar began as a humble hut founded by Sri Lankan monks in 1943 to carry on the school of Theravada Buddhism, one of the oldest forms of the Buddha`s teachings that now predominates the Buddhist island of Sri Lanka.
Though located just a km north of Swayambhunath, the famous Buddhist shrine in Kathmandu said to have been visited by Emperor Ashok, the monastery remains relatively unknown to visiting tourists and pilgrims.
However, on Buddha Jayanti - the day when the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment and also breathed his last - the quiet monastery bustles with devotees and monks as three teeth of the Buddha, gifted to the monastery by the Sri Lankan government in 1946, are taken out of the reliquary where they are kept during the rest of the year for the faithful to see and offer their prayers.
"I came to know about the teeth when I visited Swayambhunath to light lamps," said Dhanmaya Tamang, a 45-year-old housewife who made the pilgrimage from Kavre district in central Nepal with her teenaged son and daughter.
"We are going to pray for peace in Nepal and the safety of my husband Dil Bahadur, who is working in Saudi Arabia as a brick layer," Dhanmaya said.
In 2009, when Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Nepal, it was one of the shrines he went to, besides Lumbini in southern Nepal, the sacred garden where the Buddha was born.
About five years ago, more Buddha relics were brought from Sri Lanka and kept temporarily in a monastery in the Kathmandu Valley`s Bhaktapur city before travelling to India and Thailand.
Though the Buddha was born in a royal family in Nepal with his father King Shudhdhodan`s kingdom identified as lying in southwestern Nepal, Nepal originally possessed no relics of its greatest son, except for some robes reported to have been worn by the prince who renounced his heritage to become a monk seeking salvation.
However, fresh archaeological explorations have begun, both in Tilaurakot, said to have been the young prince`s childhood home, and Lumbini, where his mother Maya Devi gave birth to him.
Lumbini is now a centre of monasteries built by various Buddhist countries and a major destination for pilgrims.
On Tuesday, the government of Nepal also paid a tribute to the Buddha by awarding the first Gautam Buddha International Peace Award to Tadatoshi Akiba, the immediate past mayor of Hiroshima who became renowned for his campaign against nuclear arms, and fellow campaigner Tomihisa Taue, the mayor of Nagasaki.
Nepal`s President, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, honoured the two recipients at a programme in Lumbini. To be announced every five years, the new peace award carries a purse of $50,000.
Spontaneous processions wended their way through the capital and other cities with devotees beating drums and carrying banners. Lamps were also lit at the hundreds of monasteries nationwide.
Buddha Jayanti is a national holiday in Nepal and probably the only non-Buddhist country where all meat shops are closed as a tribute to the man who preached non-violence.