Inaugural flight to Kushinagar cements eternally binding Indo-Lankan Buddhist bond – Eurasia Review


By Sugeeswara Senadhira

An inaugural flight from Colombo to India’s newest international airport, Kushinagar, landed on October 20 to mark the official opening of the airport by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The flight carried 150 dignitaries, including the most senior Buddhist monks of the four nikayas (sects) and the son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Cabinet Minister Namal Rajapaksa, cementing eternal Indo-Lankan Buddhist ties.

As the Sri Lankan Airlines flight landed, Mr. Modi declared open the newly constructed airport at the site of the Buddha’s ‘Mahaparinirvana’ (death), hailing it as a symbol of his government’s effort to develop a Buddhist circuit of pilgrimage and tourism around the world, particularly in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath joined Prime Minister Modi at the inauguration ceremony. In his opening speech, Mr. Modi said he fulfilled a commitment with the opening of the international airport. “We attach particular importance to connecting Buddhist destinations, improving reception facilities and comfort for tourists. This airport will serve not only Indian tourists, but also Buddhists from all over the world, including Sri Lanka, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Cambodia and other countries, ”he said.

Every year, tens of thousands of Sri Lankan Buddhists visit India on pilgrimage to visit the places the Buddha walked 2,500 years ago. This Buddhist connectivity will be strengthened with the opening of Kushinagar Airport, as the Buddha’s birthplace, Lumbini, is just across the Nepalese border, and it is also close to other pilgrimage sites. Buddhists such as Bodhgaya, Nalanda, Sarnath and Sravasti.

On the full moon day of Vap, a religious holiday in Sri Lanka, the national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines became the first international flight to land at the new Kushinagar airport. The flight from Colombo carried a large delegation of over 100 Buddhist monks, including the Mahanayakes from four Buddhist chapters of Siam, Malwathu, Ramanna and Amarapura nikayas.

India invited Sri Lanka to send the inaugural flight to Kushinagar, and Mr. Rajapaksa offered two Buddhist paintings to display at Kushinagar International Airport. These paintings feature two murals painted by prominent Sri Lankan painter Solias Mendis (1897-1975) on the walls of the historic Kelaniya Rajamaha Vihara (temple), which was built on the site that would be the site of the third visit. . of the Buddha in Sri Lanka. The greatest emperor of India, Ashoka, sent his son and daughter to Sri Lanka as emissaries to present and disseminate the teachings of the Buddha.

The first fresco represents Arahat Bhikkhu Mahinda, son of Emperor Ashoka delivering the Buddha’s message to King Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka upon his arrival on the island. The second fresco depicts the arrival in Sri Lanka of Theri Bhikkhuni Sanghamitta, the Emperor’s daughter, carrying the right branch of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree under which Gautama Siddhartha attained enlightenment in Bodhgaya.

The sapling, which was planted in the ancient capital of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka in 249 BCE, has survived for over two millennia. The tree carries the distinction of being the oldest historically recorded living tree in the world and is revered by Buddhists around the world. These two historical events that occurred in the 3rd century BCE marked the beginning of Buddhist civilization in Sri Lanka and embody the strong and unbreakable civilizational ties that exist between Sri Lanka and India.

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 message of congratulations to Prime Minister Modi on the victory. of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) in the general elections.

Later, when the High Commissioner called Agga Maha Pandita the 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 agreed that the inaugural international flight to Kushinagar airport would originate from Sri Lanka.

The new international airport will facilitate the arrival of Buddhist pilgrims and tourists to Kushinagar, the place where archaeological excavations by surveyor CL Carlleyle uncovered the main stupa and a 6.1-meter-long statue of the reclining Buddha in 1876. Subsequently, the stupa was renovated preserving its archaeological splendor and religious significance. Venerable Chandra Swami, a Burmese monk made the Mahaparinirvana temple a living shrine in 1903. Today, several Buddhist temples have been built in Kushinagar by Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Japan.

According to Indian Minister of Civil Aviation Jyotiraditya Scindia, India has spent 2.55 billion rupees ($ 34 million) to build Kushinagar International Airport. He said international flights are expected to start from Kushinagar this month.

Promoting India as one of the world’s great reservoirs of history, cultures, philosophies and religions, the 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 achieved enlightenment in Bodhgaya, then to Sarnath where the first sermon was delivered and Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh where the Buddha died on reaching the “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. The Buddhist Tour is an important pilgrimage destination for the 450 million practicing Buddhists around the world as well as for travelers interested in the history and culture of the religion.

Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India, Milinda Moragoda, recently announced a “road map” also highlighting the need to improve Buddhist pilgrimages. He proposed improving connectivity, including taking over passenger ferry services and increasing air connectivity and new destinations for Sri Lankan Airlines flights. The ‘air travel bubble’ that only started in April was suspended after a few weeks due to the increase in COVID cases.

The ferry service between Thalaimannar in Sri Lanka and Rameshwaram in South India was interrupted in the 1980s due to the conflict with Tamil militants. Now the two countries are considering proposals for a ferry service either from Cochin in South India to Colombo or a service from the Tamil Nadu coast to the Jaffa Peninsula.

Professor Lathasiri Gunaruwan of the University of Colombo argues 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 the main way to harness this advantage,” he says.

Further development of the Buddhist tourist circuit with India could improve Sri Lanka’s prospects of developing greater connectivity with South and Southeast Asia, which are expected to be areas of economic growth of the future.