India will host member nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on 14–15 March for the international conference “Shared Buddhist Heritage.” The forum, billed as the first of its kind, will focus on India’s civilizational connections with the Buddhist world. Participants will come to New Delhi from Central, East, and South Asia, and the Middle East for the two-day program, which has been organized by India’s Ministry of Culture, Ministry of External Affairs, and the International Buddhist Confederation.
Held at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan conference center, the gathering will feature scholars and politician discussing and celebrating past, present, and future connections through the Buddhist religion. Featured speakers include: Shri G. Kishan Reddy, Union Minister for Culture, Tourism, and Development of the Northeastern Region of India; Shri Arjun Ram Meghwal, Minister of State for Culture and Parliamentary Affairs; and Shrimati Meenakashi Lekhi, Minister of State for Culture and External Affairs.
The conference is aimed at reaffirming India’s central role in the spread of Buddhism throughout neighboring countries and beyond. he organizers hope to reestablish transcultural links that have been forged through Buddhist travel and trade in the region, including discussions of art, philosophy, archaeology, and culture.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is an economic, political, security, and defense body spanning from Turkey and Egypt in the West to China and Russia in the East and India, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka as its most southern participants. The organization has eight full members: China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia participate as observers, while Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Turkey hold the status of dialogue partners.
Central to the founding of the SCO was the “safeguarding of the five [now eight] countries’ national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and social stability.” (Brookings)
Following the Indian Buddhist heritage conference, India will host SCO countries’ tourism ministers at a meeting on 17–18 March in Varanasi, which has been designated as the first cultural capital of the SCO. Participants in that meeting include experts from China’s Dunhuang Research Academy, Russia’s State Museum of the History of Religion, and Myanmar’s International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University.
The conferences highlight India’s use of Buddhist “soft power” in an effort to create greater connections with its neighbors, in particular those with living Buddhist populations, but also those with Buddhist archaeological history such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
India’s move to modernize many remote areas of Buddhist cultural interest have notably included the introduction of a Buddhist railway circuit, first proposed in 2021.
“India has a rich, ancient Buddhist Heritage, with several important sites associated with the life of the Lord Buddha. . . . Indian Buddhist heritage is of great interest to the followers of Buddhism the world over,” explained Ministry of Tourism deputy director general Shri Arun Srivastava in 2021.*
*India Promotes Post-pandemic Train Travel to Buddhist Heritage Sites (BDG)
India to host mega Buddhism meet this week for SCO nations (The Economic Times)
Int’l conference on shared Buddhist heritage opens on Tuesday (The Statesman)
Shanghai Five: An Attempt to Counter U.S. Influence in Asia? (Brookings)
SCO Buddhist heritage meet starts today (Indian Express)
Related news reports from BDG
Buddhist Heritage: Replica of the East Gate from India’s Famed Sanchi Great Stupa Erected in Berlin
Indian PM Modi to Visit Lumbini to Discuss Shared Buddhist Heritage and Future Tourism
From Bamiyan Buddhas to Museums, Taliban Seeks Legitimacy of Stewardship over Afghanistan’s Buddhist Heritage
At UN Assembly, Sri Lanka Urges Environmental Efforts and Protection of Afghan Buddhist Heritage
Bhutan Foundation Documents 20 Buddhist Heritage Sites in Bumthang District
First Online Exhibition of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on Shared Buddhist Heritage Opens