‘Trinity’ that binds India, Nepal, Sri Lanka: Envoy Bagley cites Buddha, Lord Rama

Colombo: Describing the Buddha, Lord Rama and Lord Shiva as a “trinity” that culturally binds India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Gopal Baglay on Friday urged all tourism stakeholders to do more to promote people-to-people ties in the region.

In his address, on the second day of the Indian Travel Congress here, he also said that the “spontaneity” in Indo-Lankan ties is something which is “rare” in an international relationship.

He cited how in the March-May period in 2021, at the height of COVID-19 wave in India, spontaneous prayers were conducted in temples and Buddhist viharas, for the well-being of people.

“Similarly, last year, when Sri Lanka was going through a difficult phase, from which it is now coming out, not only many Indians came forward, apart from what the government of India could do, and what it did, but Indians came forward to send support,” Bagley said.

In his address, he also urged all stakeholders to work together to build “more bridges of friendship” between India and Sri Lanka.

The envoy said the Indian government was also working on providing more air connectivity, and on resumption of ferry services between the two countries which have not been taking place for decades.

“We are in discussion with the government of Sri Lanka,” he said.

He cited the example of ties between India and Nepal, and how religious tourism is boosting people-to-people relationships between the two countries.

“We have a border which is called an open border or a porous border, because Indians and Nepalis don’t need visas to travel to each other’s countries… About 15 years ago, I saw people from areas in down south India, such as Chennai, Madurai, Mysore, Guruvayoor and other places in Kerala, parts of Maharashtra, and Gujarat, ‘busloads of tourists would come in the peak of winter’ to Kathmandu,” the Indian envoy said.

They came not to do treks in the Himalayas, or for the casinos, but to visit the holy Pashupatinath Temple, he said.

It was so much religious fervour and faith that gave them the energy to travel in chartered buses, and that flow not only continues but has increased, he said, adding that in order to facilitate the stay of tourists, the Indian government decided to fund the construction of a dharamshala.

“Why I am mentioning it, is because if you really look at India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and since it’s a vast subject, people-to-people relationship, actually every aspect of relationship between two nations. And, nations are nothing but communities of people defined by geopolitical borders,” Bagley said.

The ambassador said he will take only religion or faith, out of this dimension, to illustrate the point.

“If you see, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, there is this trinity, which in some way is common or shared by all three countries. This trinity is Buddha, Lord Rama and Sita, and Lord Shiva,” Bagley said.

He also cited the traditional wedding procession (‘barat’) that is taken out from Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama to Janakpur, the birthplace of Goddess Sita, in today’s Nepal.

And, how members of this ‘barat’ are welcomed, feted, and honoured like baratis, in Nepal, he added.

“This is not just a relationship between the governments, but a relationship between people,” Bagley said.

Putting the Sri Lankan connection in context, he mentioned Lanka’s link with the epic Ramayana which describes how Goddess Sita was abducted by Ravana, and kept at mythical Ashok Vatika.

Even in a short video on Sri Lanka tourism played at the opening ceremony of the Convention, the common Ramayana epic link between the countries was highlighted.

Ramayana trail in India is well documented and used for tourism purposes also. And, then you come to Sri Lanka, most famous of course, being Ashok Vatika, Sita Eliya. But, there are other places, the Indian envoy said.

Bagley said when he was posted to Sri Lanka at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a friend told him about Ravana’s Cave, “which I had never heard about earlier”.

Two months ago, a group came from Delhi to contribute towards the construction of something at the Sita Eliya temple complex in the plantation area, even, they didn’t know about other Ramayan trails in the island nation, he said.

Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Kushinagar are well-known in Sri Lanka, but there are so many other Buddhist heritage sites, in India, in the West and the East. And, we all know about Emperor Ashoka, sending his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra to stop Lanka to propagate Buddhism, the ambassador said in his address.

“Mythology, religion and faith, whatever you call it, gives us a basis to connect people. What we need, perhaps, is a dissemination of more information, a more structured approach towards popularising these places, and getting more and more people to visit,” he said.

President Ranil Wikremesinghe, in his address on Thursday at the opening ceremony of the 67th Convention of the TAAI (Travel Agents Association of India), mentioned a few places, Thrikoneshwaram temple in Trincomalee, temples in Nallur and Katargama, the envoy said.

Wikremesinghe had asked Indian delegates to visit famous shrines in Sri Lanka. In religious tourism, in tourism related to places associated with religion, faith. There is enough (to explore) not only between India and Nepal, but as a whole in this region, the envoy said.

Bagley in his address urged the stakeholders from the tourism and aviation industries who have gathered in Colombo to do more to promote tourism both ways.

“May you come to know of Sri Lanka more closely, and see this country and also promote India as a tourism destination here, and ultimately may all of us build more bridges of friendship between India and Sri Lanka,” he said.

Bagley also mentioned the use of modern tools, augmented reality, virtual reality, and said thematic museums are being created in India.

“We can share this expertise, we are ready as a government to share such expertise, with our other neighbours where cultural sites, historical sites, religious sites, which are of interest to people, and we can create this kind of experiences, which will attract more tourists and help conserve and preserve the heritage,” he said.

Stressing on civilisational ties between India and Sri Lanka, the Indian envoy said, “Our ancestors had been interacting”, going across the Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar, carrying trade goods, religion, and culture with them.

On Thursday, in his address at the opening ceremony, he had described the two countries as “civilisational twins”.

“This shared heritage, values, familiarity, affectionate nature of two peoples which gives governments like us to work more forcefully, powerfully, and gives us also strength and encouragement, to create more enablers,” he said.

“What we do is to build stronger bonds. People should work together to build bridges of prosperity. Tourism is an element that promotes people-to-people interactions, which in my view is the essence, very core of the relationship between any two countries,” Bagley said.