Chinese archaeologists say they have found what they believe to be part of the skull of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. A team of archaeologists in China found a parietal bone, believed to be Buddha’s, inside a stone chest stored beneath an ancient Buddhist temple in Nanjing.
According to a report by the Chinese Cultural Relics journal, the skull bone was discovered inside a model of a stupa made of sandalwood, gold, silver and gemstones. The stupa model was found hidden in a crypt beneath the Grand Bao’en Temple in Nanjing, China, by archaeologists with the Nanjing Municipal Institute of Archaeology who began excavating the site in 2007 and finished the job in 2010, LiveScience reports.
The sacred skull bone relic was stored inside a casket of gold, which, in turn, was stored inside a casket made of silver. The silver casket was then placed inside the 1,000-year-old stupa model (roughly 4 feet by 1.5 feet) which, in turn, was placed inside an iron box, and which, in turn, was stored inside a stone chest.
The caskets were decorated ornately with images of a phoenix bird, lotus designs, and spirits armed with swords and musical instruments guarding the sacred treasure, which included other relics. Archaeologists also found a 1,000-year-old text inscribed on the stone chest by a monk named Deming, who identified himself as the “Master of Perfect Enlightenment, Abbot of Chengtian Monastery, Holder of the Purple Robe.”
Deming explained that the skull inside the stupa belonged to the Buddha, who was cremated after death near the Hirannavati River in India. According to Deming, after Buddha ‘entered parinirvana’ (the ultimate death that terminates the otherwise endless cycle of death and rebirth), King Ashoka of India, who reigned from 268-232 B.C., ordered the body of Buddha preserved and then divided it into 84,000 parts.
“Our land of China received 19 of [the 84,000 parts].”
Deming explained that China received 19 pieces of the 84,000 parts, which included a choice part — a parietal or skull bone. Deming came into possession of the parietal bone after it was found in a temple that was destroyed during a war in China about 1,400 years ago.
Describing the state of the temple where the sacred relic was found, Deming wrote, “The foundation ruins… were scattered with weeds. In this time of turbulence, did no one care for Buddhist affairs?”
Emperor Zhenzong (A.D. 997-1022) of the Song Dynasty rebuilt the temple and ordered the construction of an underground crypt inside which the sacred relic and other remains of Buddhist saints were interred on July 21, 1011, A.D. “in a solemn and elaborate ceremony,” according to Deming.
The pious monk expressed gratitude to Emperor Zhenzong for rebuilding the ancient temple. He wished the emperor long life and prosperity and did not leave out the heir apparent and princess in his invocation of blessings.
“May the Heir Apparent and the imperial princes be blessed and prosperous with 10,000 offspring; may Civil and Military Ministers of the Court be loyal and patriotic; may the three armed forces and citizens enjoy a happy and peaceful time,” he wrote.
The inscription also included other vital bits of information, such as a complete list of the people who helped to recover the skull bone and donated money to build the stupa model in which the bone was stored. He also included on the list the names of the artisans who constructed the stupa model.
But some experts have pointed out that although Deming states clearly that the skull bone belonged to the Buddha, we cannot be certain that the information is correct. However, the skull bone is being treated with utmost reverence as a sacred relic. It has been interred at the Quixia Temple in the Qixia District of Nanjing, Jiangsu Province.