The Indian Council for Cultural Relations, an autonomous organization under the government of India, has presented a bronze Buddha statue to representatives from Tongdo Temple in the South Korean city of Yangsan. The gift is intended as a gesture to reinforce connections between the Buddhist communities of the two countries.
The handover ceremony took place at Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre at India’s embassy in Seoul on 30 April, with Sripriya Ranganathan, the Indian ambassador to Korea, and Yeo Han-gu, secretary to Korea’s president Moon Jae-in, attending, alongside monks from Tongdo Temple in South Gyeongsang Province, and other guests.
In her remarks, Ranganathan expressed gratitude to the venerable monks, who had traveled from Yangsan to Seoul to take part in the sacred ceremony. “I look forward to doing a great deal with the Tongdosa Temple authorities and the people of Yangsan. May will be a special month for us, as we will go to Tongdo-sa, carrying forward this process that we have begun today; and looking forward to further drawing together the people of India and Korea through this beautiful medium of Buddhism,” Ranganathan said. (The Korea Times)
Ven. Hyunmoon, head monk at Tongdo Temple, spoke of the connection between the temple and India. According to tradition, Tongdo Temple has a special connection with India as it was built by monks who traveled to India and became disciples of the Buddha. Its location in Korea is also noteworthy, as the nearby Mount Yeongchuk is said to resemble the mountains around Rajagriha (modern Rajgir in the state of Bihar).
When Ranganathan visited the temple in October 2020 with Lee Jae-yeong, chairman of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s Yangsan district chapter, she set in motion last week’s Buddha statue offering.
As Ven. Hyunmoon noted at the event: “We asked the ambassador to bring a statue of the Buddha from India, the birthplace of Buddhism, and the Indian government willingly accepted our request, thanks to the efforts of the ambassador. I sincerely hope that this Buddhist event can boost exchanges between India and Korea when the world is facing hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” (The Korea Times)
Yeo Han-gu, secretary to president Moon Jae-in, was also present for the occasion, and spoke on the importance of the India-Korea relationship.
Yeo stated: “India is part of Korea’s New Southern Policy, a key diplomatic policy of the Moon Jae-in administration. President Moon and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have called each other brother and friend during their talks. Historically, Queen Heo Hwang-ok of the Gaya Kingdom (43–532 CE) is from India, and Buddhism is a major religion of Korea. I am excited to welcome the Buddha statue from India offered to the Tongdo Temple.” (The Korea Times)
After the handover ceremony, the statue was transferred to the temple. Officials at the temple have planned a ceremony on 16 May to formally install the statue. On 19 May, the day celebrated as the Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea, the statue will be unveiled to the public.
The public will also be able to see the Buddha statue and other art and artifacts tracing the history of India-Korean Buddhist ties online in an exhibition titled Bodhicitta: Interweaving Buddhist Art Traditions from India across Asia. The exhibition has been curated by the National Museum of India and will be launched at the same time as the statue’s installation ceremony at Tongdo Temple on 16 May.
India offers Buddha statue to Yangsan’s Tongdo Temple as gift (The Korea Times)
ICCR in Republic of Korea (Facebook)