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11 April 2024, 12:36

14th-century Buddhist 'sarira' expected to return home from Boston next month

SEOUL, 11 April (BelTA - Yonhap News Agency) - The Jogye Order, South Korea's largest Buddhist sect, is expected to reclaim next month the remains of Buddhist monks from the country's 14th-century Goryeo Dynasty after their stay for 85 years in the United States.

The "sarira" relics, believed to have been taken illegally out of South Korea, are currently housed in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, one of the three most prestigious art museums in the U.S.

After 15 years of negotiations involving the Jogye Order and the South Korean government, the museum agreed last month to donate the remains to the Buddhist sect. The museum also agreed to push for the return of the culturally significant reliquary containing the sarira on a long-term loan for public display in Korea.

 "A delegation from the Jogye Order will visit the Boston museum on April 16 (U.S. time) to retrieve the sarira," a Buddhist official told Yonhap News Agency.

The exact date of the delegation's return has not been decided yet, but it is expected to be sometime this month.

As for the loan of the sarira reliquary, South Korea's Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) and the Boston museum are known to be in discussions over the timing and method.

Sarira is a Buddhist term for bead-shaped bodily relics of spiritual masters. While sarira holds great religious significance, sarira reliquaries carry additional meaning in art history as they represent Buddhist crafts created by the finest artisans of the time, reflecting contemporary styles.

The "silver-gilt Lamaist pagoda-shaped sarira reliquary," presumed to date back to the 14th century in the Guryeo Dynasty (918-1392), is considered a masterpiece of Goryeo Buddhist art.

It enshrines a total of four sets of remains -- one set of the remains of the Buddha himself, alongside one and two sets of two revered Korean monks, Jigong and Naong. The two monks are celebrated for their contributions to the history of Korean Buddhism.

The CHA believes the sarira container was crafted after the latter monk passed away in the late years of the Goryeo Dynasty.

The sarira reportedly was illegally taken out of the country during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945) before being purchased by the Boston museum from a dealer in 1939. The CHA believes the sarira originated from Hoeam Temple in Yangju, just north of Seoul.

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