Buddhist connectivity: an eternally binding Indo-Lankan link

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TStrategic political relations between countries can experience ups and downs when pursuing policies of national interest. However, the spiritual bonds between peoples can withstand any political storm and remain steadfast even under the most hostile of circumstances.

Buddhist, Hindu and Christian pilgrimages constitute an important segment of the interpersonal connectivity between India and Sri Lanka. While the travels of Hindus and Sri Lankan Christians to the kovils and churches in southern India are quite high, the vast majority of Sri Lankan pilgrims to India are Buddhist devotees visiting the places the Buddha trod. 2,500 years ago.

Buddhist connectivity will be enhanced next week when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi opens Kushinagar International Airport on Vap Poya Day (October 20). Kushinagar (Kusinara) is one of the four most sacred Buddhist places of worship in India. Kushinagar International Airport will be open that day when the first two flights carrying a large delegation of over 100 Buddhist monks, including the Mahanayakes of four chapters – Siyam, Malwathu, Ramanna and Amarapura, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of New Delhi arrives at the new airport.

The Sri Lankan flight will also be the first international flight to land at Kushinagar, which is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site that welcomes large numbers of foreign tourists every year, including pilgrims from Sri Lanka and other Buddhist countries. Ambassadors from many foreign countries based in New Delhi will also be in Kushinagar on this day, especially countries with Buddhist populations.

The invitation to send the first international flight to Kushinagar International Airport was extended in August 2020 when Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay called on Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to deliver a congratulatory message from Prime Minister Modi to the SLPP for his victory on August 8. General elections.

Parinibbana stupa in Kushinagar

Baglay confirmed that the Indian government recently declared Kushinagar Airport in India, the site of Mahaparinibbana of Lord Buddha, as an international airport with a 3.2 km runway, to allow Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world to visit the site. revered associated with the Buddha. with ease.

Later, when the High Commissioner called Agga Maha Panditha Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammawasa Thera, Mahanayake of Amarapura Nikaya, he mentioned that given the preeminence of Buddhist ties between India and Sri Lanka, the two countries have agreed that the first maiden flight to this airport originated in Sri Lanka.

The new international airport will facilitate the arrival of Buddhist pilgrims and tourists to Kushinagar, the place where Gautama Buddha reached Mahaparinibbana. Archaeological excavations by surveyor CL Carlleyle uncovered the main stupa at Kushinagar and a 6.10 meter long statue of the Reclining Buddha in 1876. Subsequently, the stupa was renovated preserving its archaeological splendor and significance religious.

Venerable Chandra Swami, a Burmese monk (Myanmar) made Mahaparinibbana temple a living shrine in 1903. Today, several Buddhist temples have been built by Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Japan in the region. The Sri Lanka Buddhist Temple is a joint venture between the World Association of Buddhist Culture AIK, Japan and the Sri Lanka Buddhist Center and its principal holder is Ven. Gonulle Assaji Théra.

Uttar Pradesh (UP) Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath told Kushinagar that Prime Minister Modi will address a public meeting after the inauguration of the new Kushinagar International Airport.

Indian Minister of Civil Aviation Jyotiraditya Scindia said INR 255 crores (LKR 2,550 million) had been spent to build Kushinagar International Airport. He said flights are expected to start from Kushinagar International Airport this month. The airport covers 600 acres of land. In June 2020, Kushinagar Airport was granted international status and in February 2021, the airport obtained all the necessary authorizations from the General Directorate of Civil Aviation to be recognized as an international airport.

Promoting India as one of the world’s great reservoirs of history, cultures, philosophies and religions, a Buddhist tour was introduced to attract global interest to visit and experience the assets that place India among the most popular destinations for tourists and pilgrims.

The Buddhist Circuit is an itinerary that follows in the footsteps of Lumbini Buddha in Nepal where he was born, passing through Bihar in India where he attained enlightenment at Buddha Gaya, then to Sarnath where the first sermon (Dhammachakkapavaththana Sutta) was given and Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh in India, where the Buddha died on reaching Mahaparinibbana.

This iconic route only includes places where the Buddha actually spent time, and these sites – all of which are over 2,500 years old – are some of the most important and revered for all Buddhists around the world. The Buddhist Circuit is an important pilgrimage destination for the 450 million practicing Buddhists as well as for travelers interested in history, culture or religion. Incidentally, neighboring Nepal is also planning to open the new Gautama Buddha International Airport in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha.

On the same theme, the Cultural Center of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) organized a seminar on “Buddhist cultural paths: travel through time and space, merchants, monks and pilgrims” at the BMICH in August 2017. It was the first seminar on “Cultural Trails of South Asia” which aimed to strengthen cultural ties in the region through a walk through the common past of our ancestors.

In this endeavor, the different perspectives of the sociocultural, tangible and intangible connectivity established through the popularity and diffusion of Buddhism throughout history through several centuries have been explored. Officially appointed participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka presented papers at the seminar.

The recently announced “road map” by High Commissioner Milinda Moragoda also highlighted the need to improve Buddhist pilgrimages as well as Sri Lankan Catholic pilgrims on the “Velankanni Trail” in Tamil Nadu. He speaks in particular of the handing over of a sacred stone from the Sita Amman temple in Sri Lanka for the Ram temple planned in Ayodhya.

He also offered to improve connectivity, including taking over passenger ferry services and improving air connectivity and new destinations for Sri Lankan flights. The ‘air travel bubble’ that only started in April was suspended after a few weeks due to the increase in COVID cases in both countries.

The ferry service between Talaimannar in Sri Lanka and Rameswaram in South India was interrupted in the 1980s due to the conflict with Tamil militants. Now is the time for a ferry / boat service and the two countries are considering proposals for a ferry service either from Cochin to Colombo or a service from the Tamil Nadu (TN) coast to the Jaffa Peninsula.

Professor Lalithasiri Gunaruwan of the University of Colombo said that Sri Lanka’s geographic positioning has long been recognized as an opportunity that requires strategic exploitation in pursuit of the country’s development goals. “Improving connectivity between India and Sri Lanka is seen as a primary way to harness this advantage. The re-establishment of the Indo-Lanka ferry operations, which were interrupted 25 years ago due to security concerns, is a necessary first step in this direction, ”he said.

He explained the viability of the ferry operating business from a Sri Lankan perspective and its comparative economy involved in transporting long-distance passengers by ferry between India and Sri Lanka. His research revealed possible demand scenarios based on the preference for shifted modes expressed by air passengers. Viability is assessed based on the selected service delivery capacity options, tariff levels and associated risks. Policies and strategies to improve the operational viability of the business for a Sri Lankan investor were also discussed in his research paper.

It is evident that Sri Lanka’s prospects for greater connectivity with South and Southeast Asia remain firmly anchored in the pursuit of closer economic integration with India and other neighbors.

SriLankan will be the first foreign carrier to serve Kushinagar
Kushinagar International Airport


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