What is Buddha's Relics?

Relics of the Buddha are believed to have existed throughout the regions of Asia where Buddhism has spread since they originated at the actual cremation of the Buddha. Legend tells that following the cremation, there was a great argument over who would possess the remains and to avoid conflict the remains were divided into eight portions and sheltered by umbrellas, which is why the umbrella is a prominent symbol in Buddhist art. The portions were sent to various kingdoms to be enshrined inside stupas. Legend further tells that a hundred years later, King Asoka propagated the Buddhist faith and gathered all the relics and they were subsequently enshrined in 84,000 stupas across Buddhist Asia in what comprises many nations today. Many devotees believe that these relics have miraculously multiplied into sacred substances. Most of these sacred relics look like tiny pearly globules, some of them opaque and others pearly, in a range of colors with varied beliefs regarding which parts of the body are associated with the different colors. Most of these relics are enshrined in temples, but others have been distributed by monks to the faithful and are placed on family altars, though rarely seen. The fact that the material is believed to miraculously multiply is testimony that it is a sacred substance meant to be shared among the faithful. Generally, in Thailand, the opaque cream-colored, light brown or white pearly relics are believed to have multiplied from bones of the Buddha and in Thai are referred to as Kradook Phra Phutta Jao or the “Bones of the Lord Buddha”. Golden color granules are believed by many to have originated from flesh, red color from blood and pink-colored gem-like ones from the Buddha’s head or radiance. Again, there is variation in the beliefs in color associations. In general, Thais refer to these relics as Phrathat or “Holy Remains”. The Sanskrit term for these relics is Sarira. Tibetans refer to them as Ringsels. I like the description a friend of mine gave them: “Little jewel drops of condensed spirit.”

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