Indo-Lanka brotherhood; People to people bonds

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As India celebrates its 75th year of independence, there is a great leap forward in people to people relationship between the two countries. While on one hand supposedly heated exchanges are taking place over foreign interests in Sri Lanka and its possible repercussions in India, the two countries forge ahead with new bonds of friendship and people to people ties on the other.

After introduction of the Ramayana Trail, which attracted Hindu devotees as well as tourists to places associated with Ravana the (mythical?) powerful Lankan king who abducted Sita and fought a major battle with Rama,last week another tourism promotion along similar lines was launched to promote ‘Murugan Trail’ to attract devotees from India to Kataragama Esala Festival.

The Esala Perahera of Kandy, which is the most colourful religious procession associated with Dalada Maligawa, where the sacred Buddha tooth relic is enshrined for worship is internationally famous. The Kataragama Esala Perahera also attracts Hindu devotees from India and the new promotion of ‘Murugan Trail’ to places associated with (mythical) God Kataragama or Skanda, will undoubtedly be a right step forward in religious tourism.

A familiarisation programme for South Indian media groups to promote the ‘Murugan Trail’ in Sri Lanka, has been organised by the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commission in Chennai in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), from 3-11 August 2022.

Thiyagarajan Ramakrishnan of The Hindu, who was in the group of media persons from South India, said religious tourism will be very good for enhancing people to people ties between the two countries.It will also promote understanding and reducing mistrust created by disinformation campaigners.

“Northern Governor Jeevan Thiagarajah told us that there are many new methods of promoting friendship and cooperation between India and Sri Lanka,” Ramakrishnan said.The Governor has outlined several joint programmes in education sector that are being planned for implementation in collaboration with India.

Media persons from South India were fascinated by the two Esala Peraheras–Kandy and Kataragama. The Kandy festival was much grander than the Kataragama procession, but the religious fervour of Murugan Temple was vibrant, compared to serene devotion at the Dalada Maligawa, a South Indian mediaperson said. The Kataragama Esala Festival is held annually in July/August at the Kataragama ancient temple to pay homage to Lord Murugan.The Kataragama Esala Perahera takes place during the nights of the festive season with traditional dancers, drummers, fire walkers, elephants, and other rituals. It is known as one of the most elegant and spectacular historical-cultural pageants in Sri Lanka.

The South Indian media team was confident that the Murugan Trail would be popular, as a large number of South Indian Hindus worship Murugan.“No South Indian religious cult will be complete without an exposition of the Murugan cult, as no deity in Tamil Nadu claims so many votaries as Murugan,” the journalist said.

A prominent group in South India worship Nagas (the serpent tribe), which must have later coalesced with that of Murugan, for the appearance of a serpent is even today considered by the common folk as betokening the presence of Murugan. This belief is common in some parts of Sri Lanka too.

The oldest Tamil hymns refer to Murugan as the deity of the hilly regions, the God of the tribes of hunters–Velan, one who carries a vel or spear.He was believed to induce violent passions of love in the minds of girls, and was propitiated by magic rites.His shrines adorned the villages on the banks of rivers and on hill slopes.The great town of Kaveripattinam, near the mouth of the Kaveri, witnessed numerous festivals in honour of Murugan, when women danced to the accompaniment of the flute, harp, and drum.

Meanwhile, the Ramayana Trail is also being promoted. Cricket legend Sanath Jayasuriya,who is now a Tourism Brand Ambassador, said Sri Lanka will concentrate on promoting the Ramayana Trail to Indian tourists. The Ramayana is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and an important text of Hinduism. There are 52 sites on the Ramayana Trail in Sri Lanka.

“Sri Lanka’s newly-appointed Tourism Brand Ambassador, cricket legend @Sanath07 met High Commissioner today. The meeting focused on strengthening ties between the people of India and Sri Lanka and promoting tourism as an instrument for economic recovery,” the Indian High Commission tweeted after Jayasuriya called on the High Commissioner. Jayasuriya thanked High Commissioner Gopal Baglay for agreeing to meet him with a tweet, “We will concentrate on promoting the Ramayana Trail to the Indian tourists.”

Last week, another significant event of cultural bond between the people of India and Sri Lanka took place in Colombo. At the Indian High Commission, representatives of religious cult, the Brahmakumaris tied the sacred Rakhi (thread to denote protection of a sister by the brother)on the wrist of Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay. Raksha Bandhan is that time of the year when brothers and sisters come together to celebrate their special bond.As per rituals, sisters tie a sacred thread on brothers’ wrists and in return brothers shower them with presents.

“Brahmakumaris tied #Rakhi to High Commissioner and other officials of the High Commission, signifying the eternal bond between #India and #SriLanka,” the High Commission of India in Colombo tweeted.

On the occasion of Raksha Bandhan or Rakhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi extended greetings.”Greetings to everyone on the special occasion of Raksha Bandhan,” PM Modi tweeted. According to Indian and Pakistani media, another interesting display of sisterly bond was from PM Modi’s Pakistani ‘Rakhi sister’ Qamar Mohsin Shaikh. She had sent the sacred Rakhi thread and wished him for the 2024 General Election.

Another aspect of Indian people to people ties was food, medicine, and other essential items sent by the people of Tamil Nadu to people of Sri Lanka. India, under its ‘Neighbourhood First Policy,’ has always come forward to help Sri Lanka and extended 8 Lines of Credit to Sri Lanka amounting to USD 1,850.64 million in the past 10 years. These were for sectors such as railways, infrastructure, defence, renewable energy, petroleum, and fertiliser.

Both India and Sri Lanka are earnestly working on enhancing shared cultural and religious values, thus giving a serenity and calmness to the relationship, which is mostly clouded by hotly debated geopolitical confrontations.

By Sugeeswara Senadhira