The Buddha is said to have died between 486-483 B.C., according to traditional accounts, at the age of eighty in Kushinagara, after ingesting a tainted piece of either mushroom or pork. When he died, his body was cremated, as was customary in India. The cremated relics of the Buddha were divided into several portions were distributed among groups of his followers and placed in relic caskets that were interred within large hemispherical mounds known as stupas, a number of which became important pilgrimage sites. Such stupas constitute the central monument of Buddhist monastic complexes. They attract pilgrims from far and wide who come to experience the unseen presence of the Buddha. Stupas are enclosed by a railing that provides a path for ritual circumambulation. The sacred area is entered through gateways at the four cardinal points.
Originally The Buddha’s ashes were to go only to the Shakya clan, to which Buddha belonged; however, six clans and a king, demanded the body relics. To avoid fighting, a Brahmin Drona divided the relics into ten portions, eight from the body relics, one from the ashes of Buddha’s cremation pyre and one from the pot used to divide the relics, which he kept for himself. After The Buddha’s Parinibbana ( nirvana-after-death,”, his relics were enshrined and worshipped in stupas by the royals of eight countries: 1) to Ajatasattu, king of Magadha; 2) to the Licchavis of Vaishali; 3) to the Sakyas of Kapilavastu; 4) to the Bulis of Allakappa; 5) to the Koliyas of Ramagrama; 6) to the brahmin of Vethadipa; 7) to the Mallas of Pava; and 8) to the Mallas of Kushinagar
The relics were later dug up by Ashoka — the Maurya Dynasty emperor, who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent from c. 268 to 232 B.C. He distributed the relics and had stupas built over them throughout the region he ruled. Many of the remains ended up in places that are other countries today. According to The Ashokavadana, Ashoka had Buddha’s relics placed in 84,000 stupas built by Yakshas (usually benevolent nature-spirits).
In the A.D. 5th and 7th centuries, the Chinese pilgrims Faxian and Xuanzang visited India and reported most of ancient sites were in ruins. The Lokapannatti (11th/12th century) tells the story of King Ajatashatru of Magadha who gathered the Buddha’s relics and hid them in an underground stupa. According to the story Buddha’s relics were protected by spirit-powered mechanical robots (bhuta vahana yanta). The Mahaparinirvana sutra says that of the Buddha’s four eye teeth (canines), one was worshipped in Indra’s Heaven, the second in the city of Ghandara, the third in Kalinga, and the fourth in Ramagrama by the king of the Nagas.
Annually in Sri Lanka and China, tooth relics would be paraded through the streets. In the past relics have had the legal right to own property; and the destruction of stupas containing relics was a capital crime viewed as murder of a living person. A southeast Asian tradition says that after his parinirvana the gods distributed the Buddha’s 800,000 body and 900,000 head hairs throughout the universe. In Theravada according to the 5th century Buddhaghosa possessing relics was one of the criteria in Theravada for what constituted a proper monastery. The adventures of many relics are said to have been foretold by Buddha, as they spread the dharma and gave legitimacy to rulers.