India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, plans to visit Nepal this month, touting historical ties through shared Buddhist heritage and the growing potential for international Buddhist tourism in the two countries. The trip is planned for 16 May, the day that Vesak, commemorating the birth, awakening, and death of the Buddha, is celebrated in India. Modi plans to first visit Lumbini, the birthplace of the historical Buddha. Once there, he will join Nepal’s prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, to lay a foundation stone for a Buddhist monastery being built with assistance from India.
The visit highlights recent efforts led by India to create a “Buddhist circuit” for global tourists to easily visit key Buddhist sites. Along the way, investments in infrastructure have been made in the hope of growing and developing the region’s tourism industry.
The four key Buddhist circuit sites are Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, and Kushinagar in India, and Lumbini in Nepal. Further sites expanding the circuit include New Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, Sravasti, and Rajgir, home of the ancient Nalanda University as well as Vulture’s Peak, a key location for a number of the Buddha’s teachings.
Modi’s trip to Lumbini will be via helicopter from Kushinagar, in a symbolic effort to link the two sites. Nepal’s Deuba will meet Modi after inaugurating Nepal’s second international airport, Gautam Buddha Airport, at Bhairahawa near Lumbini. The trip will mark Modi’s first visit to Nepal since his May 2019 re-election.
In a visit to Kushinagar in October 2015, Modi said: “The convergence of Buddhism and democracy provides us a path to build an Asia of peace and cooperation, harmony and equality.” (Hindustan Times)
“The path of righteousness is based on the freedom of mind, liberty of thought, liberty of action, and liberty of speech,” he said. “These are the foundations of democracy. It is defined by the recognition of interdependence, acceptance of diversity, and belief in co-existence. So if we follow the Right Path of the Master, it will also be natural to walk on the path of democratic values.” (Hindustan Times)
In October 2021, Modi inaugurated Kushinagar International Airport, reviving hopes for a boom in tourism in the region as much of the world began emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Buddhist circuit plan was unveiled in 2016.
According to a paper by the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Geostrategy Platform, India holds a special role in the Buddhist religion despite being home to a relatively small population of Buddhists. As the place where the Buddha attained awakening and lived the majority of his life, Buddhists from around the world wish to visit India to come into spiritual contact with the Buddha through visiting places he lived and taught. India also has the distinction of hosting a vibrant Tibetan Buddhist community, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
As Buddhism entered its modern phase after World War II, many once-divergent traditions and schools began to communicate more openly with one another based on their shared heritage. Once-firm divisions, such as linguistic and national, have broken down as global Buddhist communities have formed to offer mutual understanding and support. Regular conferences, both academic and religious in nature, have further brought Buddhists from divergent backgrounds closer together.
Modi has endeavored to propagate this message of shared Buddhist heritage in his visits to a number of countries, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, and China.
Modi to build on India-Nepal shared heritage on Lumbini trip (Hindustan Times)
From Kushinagar, PM Modi cemented India’s Buddhist legacy, ties with democratic Asia (Hindustan Times)
PM Modi to visit Lumbini in Nepal on Buddha Purnima (The Economic Times)
PM Modi’s Lumbini trip to underscore centuries-old Buddhism links with Nepal (The Print)
Bhairahawa airport to open on May 16, but Modi won’t land there (The Kathmandu Post)
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