NEW DELHI: Making its move in the great game to claim the legacy of Buddhism, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be heading to the Buddhist majority country of Sri Lanka next week to celebrate the ‘Vesak Day’ (Buddha Jayanti) that commemorates birth, enlighten and death of Buddha.
Modi will be in Sri Lanka on May 11 to attend the biggest Buddhist festival. A slew of festivities are planned in Colombo from May 12 to 14, along with an international Buddhist conference that will see participation of over 400 delegates from 100 countries.
“Prime Minister Modi’s participation in Vesak celebration in the Buddhist majority country serves two purposes – it highlights India’s strong Buddhist roots and at the same time assuage the sensitivities of the majority Buddhist community of the country,” said a government official.
Modi is expected to visit Buddhist temples in the country during his two-day visit. The Prime Minister will be visiting Kandy that has the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic that is said to be brought to Sri Lanka after the war in Kalinga. The Sri Lankan newspapers are also abuzz with Prime Minister Modi reaching out to the Buddhist country.
Last year China, taking advantage of strained relation between New Delhi and Kathmandu, had replaced India as a partner of Nepal to celebrate the Vesak celebrations in Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha. It was termed as ‘Chinese Lumbini Coup’ and it assumed significance as earlier China had pulled out of Bihar’s Nalanda University Project. Instead, China developed a rival at Lumbini University under a $3 billion project. Conscious of its international image, China has been aggressively seeking to boost its cultural influence and staking claim to the legacy of Buddhism is part of its strategy.
The Buddhist link of India and Sri Lanka dates back to 2nd century BC when Buddhism was the official religion of India during the reign of Emperor Ashoka. His daughter Sanghamitta is believed to have landed in Anuradhapura with a branch of original Bodh tree (under which and planted it there. While Buddhism got wiped out from India, Theravada Buddhism is practiced by a majority of people in Sri Lanka.
India, perceiving China’s promotion of Gandhara trail of Buddhism in Pakistan, has been actively engaging with the countries in the South East Asian countries like Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos to promote ‘Buddhist circuits’ to showcase its heritage.