The Buddhist pilgrimage circuit in India added its newest international airport in Kushinagar on Wednesday, with dignitaries from 12 countries joining the celebration. The day chosen for the inauguration is celebrated by Theravada Buddhists as Abhidhamma Day, also known Vap Poya Day in Sri Lanka, commemorating the story of the Buddha descending from tavatimsa heaven after teaching his mother the Abhidhamma texts.
Abhidhamma Day also marks the end of the rains retreat (vassa), when monks conclude a period of relative seclusion to begin traveling again. The day is celebrated with processions and gifts from laity to monastic communities.
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, was among the politicians celebrating the holiday and the new airport at Mahaparinirvana Temple, where the Buddha is said to have given his last sermon before attaining parinirvana. As part of his visit, Modi made offerings to the reclining Buddha statue at the temple and planted a bodhi tree sapling.
The inaugural flight to the airport came from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo, with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son, Namal Rajapaksa, and a delegation of 100 Buddhist monks and other officials. Rajapaksa said: “It gives me great pleasure and honor to be on the inaugural international flight to Kushinagar on the auspicious day of Vap Poya Day. I recall it was Indian PM Modi who suggested to the Sri Lankan prime minister during the Virtual Bilateral Summit with Sri Lanka in September 2020, that 100 members of Buddhist clergy must join for the inaugural flight to Kushinagar operated by Sri Lankan airlines. It’s an honor we will cherish for years to come.” (India Times)
Among the Buddhist leaders were the heads of all four orders of Buddhism recognized in Sri Lanka: Asgiriya, Amarapura, Ramana, and Malwatta. During their stay, the Sri Lankan delegation will also visit Varanasi, the major city just minutes by car from Sarnath where the Buddha gave his first sermon.
Also on the flight was a team carrying the Kapilavastu Buddha relics (sariras), which were discovered in Bihar in 1898 and have been loaned by India to Sri Lanka in recent years for exhibition. Heading the team is the current custodian of the relics, Ven. Waskaduwe Mahindawamsa Maha Nayaka Thero, the abbot of Radjaguru Sri Subuthi Maha Viharaya and the head of several Buddhist educational institutions in Sri Lanka.
Other Buddhist leaders in attendance came from Bhutan, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal, South Korea, and Thailand, as well as diplomatic officials from several countries.
Kushinagar is one of the four major pilgrimage sites for Buddhists. While it attracts devotees from around the world, its relative isolation has kept visitor numbers low. The new airport is expected to give the city and surrounding community a major boost in tourism revenue. Tourism to Kushinagar is expected to increase by 15 to 20 per cent in coming years. It is part of a longstanding plan by the Indian government to boost tourism to key Buddhist sites, strengthening both tourism and diplomatic ties with Buddhists around the world.
“Considered to be a focal point of the Buddhist Circuit in India, the new international airport in Kushinagar is likely to strengthen people-to-people interactions between India and Sri Lanka substantially,” India’s High Commission in Colombo stated during the opening ceremony.“The inaugural flight not only underscores the deep people-to-people linkages but also millennia-old civilizational ties between the two neighboring countries. Buddhism is central to the abiding cultural, spiritual, and linguistic bonds in this bilateral relationship.” (Lokmat Times)
Longest Runway To World-Class Facilities: Take A Look At Newly Inaugurated Kushinagar Airport (India Times)
SL delegation of over 100 joins inaugural int’l flight to Kushinagar (Lokmat Times)
PM Modi to visit UP to inaugurate Kushinagar International airport today (ANI News)
Ceremonial departure of sacred Kapilavastu relics to Sri Lanka for exposition (High Commission of Sri Lanka to India)
Abhidhamma day celebrations (Daily Pioneer)
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