National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul is indeed the revered ‘bhiksha patra’ (begging bowl) of Lord Buddha, and bringing it back to Vaishali, Bihar, from where it was moved out about two millennia ago.
What began as a lone effort of Dr. Singh about four years ago, has evolved into a campaign, engaging universities and historians, to convince a rather cautious government that the artefact is indeed the one that the Buddha gave to the people of Vaishali over 2500 years ago as a memento, after placating them and obtaining their permission for his journey to attain Parinirvana in Kushinagar.
Dr. Singh refused to accept the government’s plea of helplessness in making an effort to get back the relic, despite the Indian ambassador in Afghanistan confirming with a photograph that the ‘begging bowl’ was on display at the Kabul museum.
The Union government appended the photograph to its written reply to a question Mr. Singh raised in Parliament in 2011. Any appeal to Kabul to return the bowl, the government clarified, could not be made till its authenticity was proved beyond doubt.
Apparently, the relic survived the Taliban’s onslaught on Buddhist monuments and artefacts because it bears Koranic inscriptions. As a result, the Centre has asked the Archaeological Survey of India to gather evidence on it.
On Dr. Singh’s request, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Banaras Hindu University and Patna University have submitted papers, tracing the journey of the ‘begging bowl’ after it was taken out of Vaishali. The accounts of the bowl written by Chinese traveller Fa Hien and the first ASI director general Alexander Cunningham (1871-85) are also being used as evidence.
According to these accounts, the relic remained in Vaishali for about 500 years till the middle of 100 AD, when Kanishka took it to Pushpakar (now Peshawar). Several Chinese travellers have maintained that they saw it in Kabulbetween the third and ninth centuries. A vessel similar to the Buddha’s bowl is also depicted in an Ajanta fresco painting belonging to the Vakataka period (third century AD).
The artefact remained in Kandahar till the reign of President Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai and was later moved to the Kabul museum.
Dr. Singh wrote to the former External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, who while appreciating his effort, stressed the need for establishing the provenance of the artefact before initiating any process through the ASI to get it back.
Dr. Singh intends taking up the matter in Parliament to compel the government to take his struggle forward and restore Vaishali’s prized possession, which will also give an impetus to tourism.