India accepts President's proposal to jointly develop Buddhagaya and Anuradhapura

by Upali Rupasinghe, Lanka Daily News, Nov 8, 2004

Buddha Gaya, India -- India's President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has accepted a proposal made by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to implement a joint programme to develop Buddhagaya in India and Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.

President Kumaratunga when she met Dr. Kalam at the Rastrapathi Bhavan on Saturday has told the latter about her interest in developing Buddhagaya and Anuradhapura, two ancient cities connected with the Sinhala Buddhist culture.

President Dr. Kalam suggested starting preliminary discussions at ministerial level and President Chandrika Kumaratunga agreed to send Minister of Buddha Sasana Affairs Ratnasiri Wickremanayake to India to do the groundwork.

In return India will send a Minister to Colombo to visit Anuradhapura and to make a report about the areas that need development.

The chief of the media group accompanying the President Newton Samarasinghe said official level discussions would start within a few weeks.

Buddhagaya, where Prince Siddharta attained enlightenment is very closer to Sri Lankan culture and it was from the Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddhagaya a sapling was taken to Anuradhapura by Meheni Sanghamitta.

Plans to declare Anuradhapura as a sacred city was launched during the time of late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike when he was the Minister for Health and Local Government in the D.S. Senanayake Government.

Earlier, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in a brief speech at the Buddhagaya Maha Bodhi Centre expressed her happiness in getting an opportunity to visit the Buddhagaya Sri Maha Bodhi Vihara where Prince Siddharta attained enlightenment.

"It was after many many years that I have been able to return here and I am happy and grateful to the Venerable monks who have taken me around the temple. I extend my gratitude to them," President Kumaratunga said.

She also thanked Ven. Palwatte Seevali Thera, Bhikkhu-in-charge of the Buddhagaya Centre of the Maha Bodhi Society of India for making elaborate arrangement for her visit.Meanwhile,President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga after paying homage to the Buddha by offering flowers and lighting lamps at the Sri Maha Bodhi Temple at Buddha Gaya received blessings from the Ven. Theras.

She also paid respect to the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree and the Vajrasana.

The President arrived at Buddha Gaya from New Delhi. Ven. Palwatte Seevali Thera received her at the Gaya airport, Bhikkhu-in-charge of the Buddhagaya Centre of the Maha Bodhi Society of India.She was accompanied by High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in India, Mangala Moonasinghe, Ministers Lakshman Kadirgamar, Susil Premajayantha and Douglas Devananda and Mrs. Gnana Moonasinghe.

President Kumaratunga was received at the main entrance to the Sri Maha Bodhi Temple by officials and members of the Buddha Gaya Temple Management Committee, Ven. Bodhipala Thera, Bhikkhu-in-charge of the Sri Maha Bodhi Temple Ven. Palwatte Seevali Thera, Bhikkhu-in-charge of the Maha Bodhi Centre and officials of the Gaya administration.

At the inner chamber of the Sri Maha Bodhi Temple, she was blessed by the Maha Sangha by chanting Mangala Sutra.She was then taken to the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree and Vajrasana Complex. Here too she was blessed by the Maha Sangha headed by Palwatte Seevali Thera.

A group of Ven. Lamas from Tibet played trumpets according to Tibetan tradition to welcome the President.

President Kumaratunga also visited the seven places where the Buddha spent seven weeks after attaining enlightenment in the Maha Bodhi Temple Complex and to the newly constructed meditation park adjacent to the Sri Maha Bodhi Temple Complex.

The President was taken to the Maha Bodhi Society Complex in a procession. She also inquired about the position of the Temple. From the temple, she visited the Maha Bodhi Centre of the Maha Bodhi Society of India founded by Anagarika Dharmapala.

At the Maha Bodhi Complex, she placed flowers at the Anagarika Dharmapala statue. She later attended the World Buddhist Sangha Youth Conference attended by over 300 young monks from over 21 countries. The entire Buddha Gaya area was decorated with hundreds of Buddhist flags.