By Harshmeet Singh
Prime Minister Modi concluded his three nation tour after making a slew of agreements and announcements in Sri Lanka. While moves such as handing over more than 27,000 homes to the war affected people in Jaffna and an assistance of $318 million gathered much attention, his announcement regarding Indian Government’s plans to establish a Ramayana trail in Sri Lanka went away unnoticed.
The establishment of a Ramayana trail is aimed at developing all the Ramayana related mythological spots in the country. Though the PM fell short of announcing any budget or a deadline for the same, he did mention that his Government would soon be sending a team of experts to Sri Lanka to visit all such places that can be included under this plan.
The government plans to develop a number of modern facilities around these spots to ensure a constant tourists’ influx which, in turn, would take India’s heritage to different parts of the world. The PM also said that his Government would be happy to assist Sri Lanka in developing a similar Buddha trail in India.
Common history of India & Sri Lanka
The extremely rich Buddhist culture of Sri Lanka derives its roots from ancient India. According to ancient texts of Sri Lanka, it was Indian Emperor Ashoka’s son, Mahinda, who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Impressed by the message of Buddhism carried by Mahinda, the Monarch propagated Buddhist values to the entire Sinhalese population of the island. The historic Nalanda University also had a number of Sri Lankan Buddhist monks on roll before it was brought to the ground by Mohammed Kilji. Notably, around 70% Sri Lankans still follow Theravada Buddhism.
The Indian epic Ramayana gives a detailed description of the island nation. According to Ramayana, the island was built by Vishwakarma as a gift for Kubera, the Wealth Lord. Kubera was later overthrown by his stepbrother, Ravana. The story of Sita’s abduction at the hands of Ravana is one of the best known folklores around the world. The ‘Ram Setu’ or the ‘Adam’s bridge’, believed to be built by Lord Rama to take his army to Lanka to fight Ravana still remains one of the most significant common heritage points between India and Sri Lanka.
Historically, the Indian railway network extended up to Dhanushkodi (south of Chennai) from where frequent ferry rides took the passengers to the Mannar Island in Sri Lanka. The ferry used to travel over the submerged Adam’s Bridge. A devastating cyclone in 1964 destroyed the railway facilities at Dhanushkodi which were never resurrected after that. This put an end to the ferry rides between Dhanushkodi and Mannar Island.
The shallow water over the Adam’s bridge doesn’t allow large cargo chips to pass through it. Hence, the large ships coming either from Arabian Sea or Bay of Bengal are needed to travel around Sri Lanka to reach the other side. The construction of a canal through the ‘Ram Setu’ to ease out the marine traffic has been proposed multiple times, with the most recent project being ‘Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project’. Quite understandably, these plans didn’t go well with a number of religious groups who, presenting evidence from NASA’s satellite images, claim that this bridge was built by Lord Rama and has a high religious significance attached to it. Notably, the efforts to build this canal have also received thumbs down from a number of environmental experts who doubt the feasibility of such plans and claim that this could destroy the corals.
Growing bonhomie through tourism?
A number of experts have lauded Modi’s methods of warming up to the neighbouring nations by giving references to our common heritage. As seen with many nations, tourism and common heritage can help the nations come together and solve a number of grave issues. Let’s hope the story between India and Sri Lanka goes the same way.