AHMEDABAD: In a bid to turn Gujarat into a pilgrim place for countries which follow Buddhism, chief minister Narendra Modi is pulling out all stops to build the world's biggest stupa, over 100 km from the place Suzuki has chosen for the biggest Maruti plant in North Gujarat.
The project will cost Rs 1,000 crore, centred around a 351-ft high stupa towering over a 151-ft statue of Lord Buddha. The site - Dev-ni-Mori in Sabarkantha district - is two km away from Shamlaji temple located on the Ahmedabad-Delhi National Highway. An active archeological site, this is the 5th place in the world where Buddha's body relics have been found.
The relics are at present kept wrapped in a silk cloth in a gold-plated casket at the archaeology department of MS University in Vadodara. A team from the department then headed by well-known archaeologist and professor B Subbarao had unearthed the ashes belonging to third or fourth century in Dev-ni-Mori in 1957. It was shifted to Vadodara as the site was getting submerged under the Meshwo dam. Prominent archaeologist and former MSU professor V H Sonawane says the casket's inscription refers to it as bodily remains of Buddha.
Modi is not only eyeing foreign tourists from the Buddhist world but also big business from South-East Asia economies like Japan and South Korea which have lined up bigticket investments here. Of 22 companies which evinced interest in the project, Gujarat has shortlisted two from China, a country Modi is visiting next week.
Lord Buddha himself visited several places in Gujarat. Excavations of stupas and viharas suggest that Buddhism came to Gujarat during his lifetime itself. Chinese traveller Huen Tsang has mentioned about the several monasteries in the Vadnagar-Vijaynagar region and that almost 1,300 monks lived here.
Modi may also steal the thunder of his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar, who has been actively promoting Bodh Gaya, Nalanda and other sites. This may enhance his appeal among dalits - a large number of them being Buddhists - besides tribals who also have belief in the Buddha sites in North Gujarat.
Bihar would, of course, not be able to match the money power of Gujarat which plans to spruce up the stupa site with resorts, retreats, ecotourism and a riverfront on the Meshwo. About 100 acres of land have been notified for it and more may be acquired.