India woos Sri Lanka with Buddha's bones

February 16, 2011

NEW DELHI (RNS) India plans to lend rare fragments of the Buddha's bones
to Sri Lanka for the 2600th anniversary of Buddha's Enlightenment in
May, and some see it as part of India's strategy to gain a regional edge
over neighboring China.

Indranil Banerjie, head of New Delhi-based think tank Security and
Political Risk Analysis, said India's move to enhance its "existential
bond" with a Sri Lanka's Buddhist heritage could have a powerful

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa "personally requested" the
favor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan when he visited New Delhi last
June, the Indian mission in Colombo said in a statement.

India will also organize an international conference on Buddhism in
Sri Lanka's Central Province in March, and install a 16-foot tall statue
of the Buddha there, it added.

New Delhi's Buddhist overtures are significant given China's growing
influence in Sri Lanka, strategically located off India's southern coast
and a key naval link between western Asia and southeast Asia.

However, a "crude attempt" to leverage the Buddhist connection would
not work, said Banerjie. "The message needs to be conveyed at a profound
level," Banerjie said. "And that would be a challenge."

According to Buddhist traditions, the Buddha attained enlightenment
around 500 B.C. in Bodh Gaya in eastern India. It is believed that
Indian emperor Ashoka's son Mahinda introduced Buddhism in neighboring
Sri Lanka, now one of the few remaining Buddhist countries in South
Asia, in the second century.