Buddha Tooth Relics


Buddha Tooth Relics
   When Gotama Buddha died and passed into nibbana, parts of his body, especially his teeth and bones, were regarded as holy relics, a belief similar to the veneration of Christian saints' remains in Catholic countries. In the 16th century, the king of Kandy in Sri Lanka was the proud possessor of one of four Buddha tooth relics said to be extant. A devout Buddhist, King Bayinnaung sent special offerings to the Kandy tooth, including brooms made from his hair and that of his chief queen. When the Portuguese captured the tooth in 1561, bringing it back to their colony of Goa in western India, the Burmese king offered them a royal ransom in exchange.
   The Portuguese civil authorities were happy to convey the tooth to Bayinnaung's capital of Pegu (Bago), but the archbishop of Goa intervened and demanded that it be destroyed. As horrified Burmese envoys looked on, the tooth was ground to dust and cast into a river (though according to legend, it magically reconstituted itself and returned to Kandy, where it remains today). Some years later, Bayinnaung accepted a tooth relic from the king of Colombo, which was placed in Pegu's Mahazedi Pagoda but later moved to the Kaunghmudaw Pagoda in Sagaing.
   Tooth relics were also brought to China and venerated at the Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE) capital of Chang-an. At the beginning of the 20th century, one was discovered at a Buddhist monastery near Beijing. Though the People's Republic of China is a communist regime that disparages religion as "superstition," it has used this tooth relic as a means of promoting friendship with Buddhist communities in neighboring countries. In the 1950s, the relic was sent to Burma as part of the Sixth Great Buddhist Council sponsored by Prime Minister U Nu; in 1994, it was sent again to Burma, where it stayed for 45 days amid great pomp and ceremony, reflecting close ties between China and the State Law and Order Restoration Council. Two replicas of the relic were made, one of which is kept at Mandalay, the other at the "Tooth Relic Pagoda," located north of Inya Lake in Rangoon (Yangon). The pagoda is frequently visited by members of the State Peace and Development Council, including its chairman, Senior General Than Shwe. The histories of the Sri Lankan and Chinese tooth relics in relation to Burma show how politics, diplomacy, and religion have been complexly intertwined.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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