SAINT OR MONK?
01 February 2014
A mysterious claim, from Sri Lankan scholars and Buddhists that the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier is that of Buddhist monk Rahula Thero, could deeply upset Goans. We report on the claim that has yet again surfaced in the past few weeks in Sri Lanka
The legend may be blasphemous and unbelievable by Christian beliefs, but in Sri Lanka, the Buddhists want their reverend Sri Rahula Thero back.
In the words of Benjamin Disraeli, “Where knowledge ends, Religion begins.” And this is one question where both shall collide again. He is the Patron Saint of Goa, St. Francis Xavier, popularly known as Goemcho Saib, whose incorrupted body has been lying in Goa since 1553. A fact which was undisputed. Till Sri Lankan press and Buddhists in that country started claiming that the body in the glass coffin that lies at Basilica of Bom Jesus, belongs to Sri Rahula Thero, a Sinhalese Buddhist litterateur, astrologer and Ayurveda physician, who was prominent in the fifteenth century AD. Their tales entwine even though Sri Rahula died decades before St. Francis Xavier came to Sri Lanka and a mystery is born.
The issue has been ignited again in the Sinhala press in Sri Lanka as well as leading English media with the leading Sunday Observer doing a front page article in their Features section
“Even today, 522 years since he passed away, his mortal remains are lying in a Roman Catholic Church in the district of Goa in India, with his hair and nails growing. Today the Roman Catholic community in Goa pay their respects to the remains of The Venerable Sri Rahula Thero of Sri Lanka, under the misguided belief that these are the remains of St. Francis Xavier, a Spanish saint of the Roman Catholic Church”.
Powerful words but very much in public domain on a Buddhist website called srirahulathero.com.
Venerable Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thero was born Vijayabahu Wijesundera in Dematana village in the Kegalle district of Sri Lanka on June 9, 1409 AD in a poor peasant’s family. His father died of asthma when he was just six years old. His poor mother took Rahula and his brother to her native village of Thelwatte in the Galle district he was ordained as a Bhikku (a Buddhist Monk) in March 1429. Sri Rahula learnt sorcery, Ayurveda and astrology besides Buddhist religious scriptures to emerge as one of the greatest litterateurs and Buddhist teachers in Sri Lanka. His fame spread far and wide and even the Portuguese who were eyeing Sri Lanka for spreading the Christian faith came to know of him.
Though the Portuguese formally began to annex Sri Lanka in 1505, the trouble between Portuguese Missionaries and soldiers and Sri Lankan Buddhists had begun earlier. Genocide by Portuguese invaders and their ruthless actions left the natives scared. Sri Rahula Thero too went into hiding in a cave at Ambana Indurugiri in Sri Lanka’s Galle district for his own safety and security as early as 1476. He died in September 1491. Legend has it that Sri Rahula had before his death engraved in on a copper sheet that he had been consuming an Ayurvedic medicine Siddaloka Rasaya till he breathed his last. In the inscription he said that his body would remain for a very long time (approximately till the year 4230 AD).
After his death, the venerated teacher’s mysterious holy body (supposed to have growing hair and nails) was protected by the villagers around from marauding Portuguese. Many years after his death, Sri Rahula’s legend spread to the Portuguese who wanted to take control of this mysterious and miraculous cadaver. A Portuguese team had made three vain attempts to search for the cave but drew a blank. Locals believe that after the body was captured by the Portuguese after a bloody fight where one of Sri Rahula’s hands was lost as villagers tried to stop him being taken away. Sri Lankan Buddhists believe that after the Portuguse made preliminary arrangements to despatch the holy body to Goa, it was St Francis Xavier himself who was the leader of the expedition to shift the body to Goa. While on the journey he had suffered and attack of dysentery and had passed away. The locals believe that that the participants of the expedition cremated St. Francis locally in Sri Lanka and interpreted that the body they were carrying was his. Finally, this sacred body of Sri Rahula came as that of St. Francis Xavier.
Even the story of St. Francis as we know of in Goa has been given an unusual twist by the Lankans. They say when St. Francis’s body was being transported to Goa, his body was lost en route at sea. The Portuguese team that was accompanying his body came to know of the miraculous body of Sri Rahula in Sri Lanka. The team then went into the jungles and brought is body out. In the resultant skirmish with the villagers, Sri Rahula’s arm that had a tattoo saying “I am Rahula” was lost. Sri Rahula’s body then was transferred to Goa as St. Francis’s.
BONE OF CONTENTION
Sri Lankan realists want a DNA test on the extra ordinary mortal remains at the Basilica of Bom Jesus
01 February 2014
01 February 2014
Sunday Observer Sri Lanka’s Special Correspondent W.T.J.S.Kaviratne, was one of the most recent writers on the subject. He happened to be in Goa last week and met The Goan
Sri Lankan newspaper Sunday Observer’s Ambalangoda Special Correspondent W.T.J.S.Kaviratne smiles helplessly. “I don’t know why there is a sudden flurry of articles and features in the Sinhalese Press about this body claim now”, says Kavi about the Sri Lankan press claiming that St. Francis Xavier’s body in Basilica of Bom Jesus is actually of Buddhist legend Sri Rahula Thero. The barrage started early this year when militant Buddhist monks led mobs attacked two Churches and a prayer centre in Southern Sri Lanka. The intolerance in Sri Lanka has prompted many pacifist and liberal minded Sinhalese Buddhist to reach out and build peace bridges between different communities.
More than half a decade ago in 2006 when the wounds of the Sri Lankan Civil War were beginning to heal, Gopitha Peiris Himbutana another Buddhist Historian and writer, wrote in a Lake House journal, “Christians too are in possession of similar legendary and historical factors to prove and establish that this cadaver is of St. Francis Xavier. Hence time is opportune to focus the attention of the officials concerned to get this bone of contention cleared and resolved to ascertain whether these extraordinary mortal remains are of Ven. Sri Rahula Thera or St. Francis Xavier”.
Himbutana and many others across the globe raise a very interesting question. St. Francis Xavier, a Spaniard was from Basque country, a place known for its distinctly tall people with high cheek bones and well-built bodies. St. Francis Xavier’s body they say is shorter in stature with more South Asian features. What the realists want is a DNA test of the bones to ascertain the origin of the now shrinking body. Buddhists in Sri Lanka have even asked for a DNA fingerprinting and matching of St. Francis Xavier’s bones with that of one of the living descendants of Sri Rahula Thero who is himself a Buddhist monk.
Another major piece of evidence that the realists are banking upon is a post mortem of St. Francis Xaviers’ body that was published in the Christian journal Catholic Messenger in its December 1, 1931 edition. The post mortem report Sri Lankan’s allege clearly mentioned that St. Francis’s body was proven to be of Asian and not European origin. This argument was however not emphatically debated in the world arena of science or religion by the Lankans thereafter.
As Himbutana said in his piece, “This is the space era and it will not be a complicated exercise to establish by the application of modern technology and science whether this prodigious cadaver is of Asian or Western origin”.