In the island park of Nirvana Nagar,
a giant statue of the Blessed
with its head in the clouds —
against a golden orb, nimbused
by an ethereal radiance.

‘The Buddha is Smiling’ was the codeword for the first underground nuclear tests conducted by India at the army range of Pokhran in the Thar desert. The ‘Smiling Buddha’ was a high explosive implosion system weighing 1400 kg with a reported yield of 20 kilotons. The date was May 18, 1974: Buddha Purnima, the day when Siddhartha Gautama was born 2530 years ago.

On the forehead, dew drops
condense into diamonds
sparkling in the cool dawn air.
The pool below the feet
is enameled with lotus leaves,
bejeweled with lustrous petals
blossoming on touchstone water.

Before Purnima, the night of the full moon, a polonium-beryllium neutron initiator codenamed ‘Flower’ is transported to the arid wasteland and detonated in a shaft 107 meters underground. And the first test fission explosion propels India into the exclusive, privileged club of nuclear nations.

A flower of fire, white and red with heat
blooms in the bowels of sand and rock.
His glowing face,
with two sightless eyes
carved in stone’s serenity —
gazing down samsara’s tunnel
(its bricks built with heavens and hells
its walls frescoed with aeons of rebirths)

a tunnel
which has only darkness
at its end.

May 11, 1998: Another full moon night, recalling Shakyamuni’s birthday. The Buddha smiles again, in Pokhran II. The Republic’s prestige, glory and pride are reaffirmed, confirming that her military might is still intact: a strong geopolitical deterrent to China’s Red Star. Pakistan, the ‘land of the pure’, retaliates with its own nuclear tests later in the month.