A delegation of 147 monks and Vietnamese Buddhist disciples had left Hanoi early Wednesday on a swift return trip to India to pick up the precious relics, the Buddhist Church of Vietnam said in a statement.

The state-controlled Church said it was an event of "important spiritual significance for the Vietnamese Buddhist monks and the faithful".

"It is the pride of Vietnamese Buddhism," said nun Thich Thi Loan, from the province of Ninh Binh, south of Hanoi, where the relics were to be taken.

Buddhism is the main religion in Vietnam and at least 70 percent of the population are followers.

The Buddha, originally named Prince Siddhartha, died at the age of 80, and his relics became a matter of fierce dispute.

Agence France Presse - March 3, 2010