With the launch of an international airport in Kushinagar, people to people bond between India and other countries will get strengthened

On the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the International Airport at Kushinagar, the place where Lord Buddha attained ‘Mahaparinirvana’, the first plane with a delegation comprising ministers, monks and officials to arrive in this city in eastern Uttar Pradesh was from Sri Lanka, senior MEA officials told India News Network on Wednesday.

They said a delegation, led by Cabinet Minister Namal Rajapaksa, son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, currently serving as the Minister of Youth and Sports arrived in Kushinagar from Colombo on this occasion. The Sri Lankan delegation also comprised around 100 senior Buddhist monks, four State Ministers and other senior officials.

These Ministers included State Minister of Aviation and Export Zones Development, DV Chanaka, State Minister of Estate Housing and Community Infrastructure, Jeewan Thondaman, State Minister of Indigenous Medicine Promotion, Rural and Ayurvedic Hospitals Development and Community Health, Sisira Jayakody and State Minister of Dhamma Schools, Pirivenas and Bhikkhu Education Vijitha Berugoda.

Buddhist monks belonging to different sects and prominent temples and representing more than 22 districts of Sri Lanka, also formed the Sri Lankan delegation which arrived on the day marking the inauguration of the international airport at Kushinagar.

Buddhism is considered to be an important bridge that connects the people of India and Sri Lanka. The advent of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC is linked with the arrival of Prince Mahendra (also known as Arahant Mahinda Thera) and later of Princess Sanghamitra (Arahant Sanghamitta Theri), the children of Emperor Ashoka, during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa in Sri Lanka.

Buddhism is also central to the civilizational connect between the people of India and Sri Lanka. Underscoring these bonds, Prime Minister Modi had announced USD 15 million for the promotion of bilateral Buddhist ties during the virtual summit with Sri Lankan PM Rajapaksa in September last year.

Kushinagar enjoys a pre-eminent position on the global map due to its rich heritage. The Buddha breathed his last and attained Mahaparinirvana in this holy city. Other sites of Buddhist significance such as Sravasti, Kapilvastu and Lumbini are also not located very far off.

All these factors attracted devotees from several countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Myanmar to Kushinagar and they used to offer daily prayers at the Mahaparinirvana Temple before COVID-19. Therefore, there has been a long-standing demand for an international airport in Kushinagar.

The inaugural international flight from Sri Lanka would pave the way for increased traffic and greater number of visitors to Kushinagar particularly from Buddhist countries, including Sri Lanka.

It needs to be emphasized here that abiding people linkages between the two nations are manifested in the scale of tourists flowing from India too. In fact, almost two-thirds of incoming arrivals in Sri Lanka last month were from India.