Colombo, February 17 (The New Indian Express): Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be renewing his links with Buddhism when he visits Sri Lanka as one of the chief guests at the United Nations Vesak Festival to be held here from May 11 to 13.
The Sri Lankan Minister of Justice and Buddha Sasana, Wijayadasa Rajapakshe, told Xinhua on Friday that several heads of government and state have been invited for the landmark event recognized by the UN, and that Modi has confirmed his participation.
“We are going to celebrate the thrice blessed day on a grand scale,” Rajapakshe said.
Vesak Day marks the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha. It is recognized as an international festival by the United Nations.
Modi has a strong bond with Buddhism and had made Gujarat a part of the Buddhist pilgrimage trail in India when he was Chief Minister of that state.
In fact, he has often proudly stated that his home town, Vadnagar, was an established Buddhist center of learning in ancient times and Baruch, as a port, had played a critical role in the spread of Buddhism overseas.
Modi got the Gujarat Archeology Department to dig up and preserve buildings associated with Buddhism in ancient times.
Speaking at the International Seminar on Buddhist Heritage in Gujarat in 2010, in which the Dalai Lama was a participant, Modi said: “ The link between Buddha and Gujarat is as old as Buddha himself. The trade and commerce of Gujarat played a role in bringing Buddhism to western India. The reason why Gujarat and particularly the port of Bharukaccha (modern Baruch), is frequently mentioned in the oldest Buddhist literature is obvious. Traders coming from Buddhist centers like Benaras and Vaisali brought Buddhism to Gujarat during its early days along with their merchandise.”
“The Ashokan rock edict in Jungadh bears witness to the spread of Buddhism in Gujarat during his time. During the time of Greeks, Partho-Scythians, Satvahanas, the Bodhi dynasty, Ksatrapas and Saka rulers, several rock-cut Buddhist structures came up in Gujarat, many of which have not been excavated yet.”
“During the time of the Maitraka kings, there were more than 13,000 monks in Gujarat. We also had one of the greatest Buddhist universities, the Vallabhi Buddhist University in Vallabhipur in Gujarat, during that period.”
“Gujarat is also the land of Shantideva, who gave the marvelous Bodhcaryavatara – one of the landmark texts in Buddhism in Sanskrit, which is known to us as the way of the Bodhisattva.”
“Prosperous Gujarat, whose warehouses were full, and whose merchants carried out extensive commercial activity according to Hieun Tsang, supported intellectual giants of Buddhism like Dharmagupta, Shrimathi and Gunamathi.”
“Chinese traveler Hieun Tsang travelled extensively to places like Bharuch, Kutch, Vallbhipur, Saurasthra, including Vadnagar, and noted that both Hinayana and Mahayana were practiced in Gujarat.”
(The featured picture at the top shows Narendra Modi gifting a Buddha icon to the Dalai Lama)