India eyes return of 'Buddha begging bowl' from Afghanistan
NEW DELHI - Agence France-PresseTwo Indian archaeologists are being sent to Kabul to study a "begging bowl" thought to have been used by Buddha in a first step to bringing the artifact back to India, an official said.
The huge stone vessel, weighing nearly 400 kilograms (880 pounds), is currently displayed at the National Museum of Afghanistan and is regarded as important in the Buddhist religion.
The experts will examine the piece after demands in the national parliament last year for the return of the bowl which the state-run Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) believes belongs to India.
"We will be sending two experts to Kabul to examine the bowl. We are very much in favour of bringing it back to India," ASI additional director general B. R. Mani told AFP late Monday.
"They will examine if the raw material has been sourced locally from one of the Afghan cities. If not, it will strengthen our claim that it belongs to us," Mani said. The ASI says its historical documents and research suggests that Buddha donated the bowl, which is 1.75 metres (5.7 feet) in diameter, to the people of Vaishali, a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.
A king who ruled northern India and other parts of Asia in the second century took the bowl to what is now Peshawar in Pakistan, before being moved to what is now Kandahar in Afghanistan, ASI says its research shows. The bowl was then believed to have been moved to the Kabul museum during the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
"In Buddhist monasteries such huge stone troughs used to kept at the entrance gates as donation bowls. This bowl was also perhaps used similarly," Mani said. The greenish-grey granite bowl has a lotus flower chiseled around its base, suggesting its Buddhist past. The bowl was later inscribed along its rim with rows of Arabic verses from the Koran, said Mani.
The safety of Buddhist relics in Afghanistan caused concern after the Taliban destroyed monumental Buddha statues carved into a hill in Bamiyan province in 2001. Mani said he hoped the Indian government would take up the matter with Kabul if the ASI experts established that the bowl originated in Vaishali. It's not known exactly when the experts will leave for Kabul.
"We will have to see whether they (the Afghanistan government) agree to give it back to India," Mani said.