Sri Lanka established diplomatic ties with many
countries after obtaining independence in 1948, but its
religious and cultural ties with most Asian nations are
centuries old. Apart from India and Nepal, where Buddhism
originated, Sri Lanka has had deep religious links with China,
Thailand, Myanmar, Japan, Vietnam Laos and Cambodia.
The Nikini Poya which falls today assumes added significance
considering the fact that Buddhist and diplomatic delegations
from three of these countries - China, Thailand, and Myanmar -
are now visiting Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka shares a rich Buddhist
heritage with all three countries.
Diplomatically, China is one of Sri Lanka's staunchest
allies. It has never hesitated to help Sri Lanka, which has a
firm one-China policy, whenever its assistance was sought.
The BMICH and the Supreme Court complex will stand sentinel
to the everlasting friendship between the two countries. Sri
Lankan leaders have always made it a point to visit China to
reaffirm these bonds of solidarity and friendship.
Even among such visits, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's visit
to China earlier this year stands apart as it was a major
turning point in the ever-strengthening Sino-Lanka relationship.
One of the main highlights was China's pledge to fund the
Norochcholai coal power project and several other high-profile
It was also a success vis-a-vis Buddhist ties, as the Lankan
delegation paid homage to several Buddhist places of worship in
China and formed bonds with leading Buddhist priests from the
China Buddhist Association and other bodies. Now they have
reciprocated the visit. This will hopefully see a new chapter in
religious ties between the two countries.
The Theravada system of Buddhism is practised in both
Thailand and Myanmar. Several erudite Bhikkus from Sri Lanka
have received the Agga Maha Panditha title from Myanmar. Bhikkus
from both countries reside in temples and Aranyas in Sri Lanka,
learning more about Buddhism and indeed, about the country and
its people. Thai temples regularly assist temples in Sri Lanka
and Lankan Bhikkus regularly visit both countries.
The gift of two tuskers to the Sri Dalada Maligawa by Myanmar
symbolises the close religious ties between the two nations.
However, diplomatic and religious ties cannot grow in a
vacuum, without people to people contact. Sri Lanka must more
aggressively promote its Buddhist places of worship and
festivals, including the Sri Dalada Maligawa and its annual
Perahera, the Atamasthana in Anuradhapura, Mihintale, Dambulla
rock cave temple, Polonnaruwa and Kataragama.
Most Buddhists around the world have little or no knowledge
of these sacred sites. Our tourism promotion authorities must
take the initiative to publicise these places of worship and
sacred sites especially in Buddhist countries and countries with
a substantial Buddhist population.
The worldwide pilgrimage market is growing and Sri Lanka is
in an ideal position to take advantage of this trend. Similarly,
Sri Lankans would like to know more about the Buddhist places of
worship in other countries including China, Thailand and
In this context, the authorities on both sides need to
establish cheaper, direct flights to facilitate the pilgrimages.
Such an offer, combined with an effective awareness campaign,
could garner more pilgrim tourists.
The documentaries now being filmed by the television crew
accompanying the Chinese delegation will no doubt generate a
very positive response among the Chinese population, which is
increasingly becoming more affluent.
With China granting Preferred Destination status to Sri
Lanka, there is an added impetus to come here.
Buddhism has flourished in Sri Lanka for nearly 2,500 years.
With the active cooperation of other Buddhist countries, Sri
Lanka has become a voice for Buddhism in the modern world and a
centre of Buddhist learning. The visits currently underway by
delegations from China, Thailand and Myanmar will strengthen