Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will renew his links with Buddhism when he visits Sri Lanka as Chief Guest at the United Nations Vesak Festival to be held in the island from May 12 to 14. The UN Vesak celebrations will be held in capital Colombo and the Central Hills of Kandy.
The Sri Lankan Minister of Justice and Buddha Sasana, Wijayadasa Rajapakshe, confirmed Wednesday that the Indian PMuse will be attending the festival. Several other heads of government and state are also expected to take part in the landmark event recognized by the UN. Rajapakse said the government had invited delegations from more than 85 countries and that 72 countries had already confirmed their participation. Nepali President Bidhya Devi Bhandari is to attend the closing ceremony which is scheduled to be held at the Sri DaladaMaligawa premises in Kandy.
Vesak Day marks the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha and is recognized as an international festival by the United Nations. The visit of Modi as a key invitee for the country’s most venerated Buddhist festival, celebrated by over 70% of Lanka’s majority Sinhala Buddhist population, is expected to strengthen India-Sri Lanka relations which at times hits snags pertaining especially to the Tamil Nadu pressure on the country’s Tamil ethnic question.
It is noted that Modi has a strong bond with Buddhism as evidenced by his decision to make Gujarat a part of the Buddhist pilgrimage trail in India when he was Chief Minister of that state. He has also hailed the fact that his home town, Vadnagar, was a significant Buddhist center of learning in ancient times and that the port of Baruch had played a critical role in the spread of Buddhism overseas.
In 2016 Pakistan played a key role in Sri Lanka’s Vesak festival by arranging for the holy relics of Lord Buddha to be brought down from Pakistan’s ancient Gandhara region in the Northwest area of the country so that they could be exhibited throughout Sri Lanka. Pakistan also facilitated a visit of Buddhist monks, scholars and Lankan government ministers to Taxila, Takht-i-Bhai, Islamabad and Karachi to visit the Buddhist sites and take part in a Buddhist festival organized in Pakistan.