The Kushinagar International Airport will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi today, 20 October, which is an endeavour to connect Buddhist pilgrimage sites around the world.
The inauguration will also see a 130-strong delegation led by Sri Lankan cabinet minister Namal Rajapaksa land at the new airport.
The delegation will comprise Buddhist monks and dignitaries from Sri Lanka.
The travelling delegation of Buddhist monks will also include the 12-member Holy Relic entourage bringing the Holy Buddha Relics for exposition.
As per sources within the Prime Minister's office, the delegation will also comprise Anunayakas (deputy heads) of all four Nikatas (orders) of Buddhism in Sri Lanka — Asgiriya, Amarapura, Ramanya, Malwatta.
So, what exactly is the significance of Kushinagar to Buddhism?
Kushinagar, located at a distance of 54 km from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, is considered an important Buddhist pilgrimage site.
Buddhists believe Gautama Buddha attained Parinirvana after his death. For the unversed, in Buddishism, parinirvana is used to refer to nirvana-after-death, which occurs upon the death of someone who has attained nirvana during his or her lifetime.
It is reported that Buddha was cremated here and archaeological evidence supports the same claim that Buddha died close to Kushinagar.
The Ramabhar Stupa, resembling a large dome-shaped cluster of red bricks, in Kushinagar is the cremation place of Buddha. This site is 1.5 km east of the main Nirvana Temple on the Kushinagar-Deoria road.
Kushinagar also houses the reclining Nirvana statue of Buddha inside the Parinirvana Stupa. The statue is 6.10 metres long and is made of monolith red sandstone. It represents the "Dying Buddha" reclining on his right side with his face towards the west. It is placed on a large brick pedestal with stone posts at the corners.
Besides these two locations, Kushinagar is important to Buddhists as it also is the spot where Buddha gave his final sermon — Matha Kuar Shrine. The shrine houses a 10-foot-tall Buddha statue carved out of a blue stone, which is said to have been erected in the 10th century AD.
How Abhidhamma Day is related?
In a press release, the Prime Minister's Office also stated that Modi would visit the Mahaparinirvana Temple to participate in an event marking Abhidhamma Day.
Greetings to all on ABHIDHAMMA DAY. On the auspicious day, hon’ble PM @narendramodi Ji will inaugurate KUSHINAGAR International Airport. The sacred Buddha Relic is being taken to Kushinagar from Waskaduwa Sri Subuddhi Rajvihara Temple, Sri Lanka by the Mahanayake of the Temple. pic.twitter.com/cgNVKh7qZ1
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) October 20, 2021
Abhidhamma Day symbolises the end of a three-month rainy retreat called “Varshavaas or Vassa”. This rainy retreat is observed by Buddhist monks. During this period, monks stay at one place in vihara and monastery for offering prayer.
The day is celebrated where Buddhism is practised by the majority of the people. According to legend, Abhidhamma Day is when Lord Buddha descended to earth from heaven.
Filip to Buddhist tourism
The Ministry of Tourism, in the recent past, has been aggressively promoting Buddhist tourism across the nation.
To achieve this aim, the ministry flagged off the Buddhist Circuit Train FAM Tour in early October. The ministry in association with the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) organised the Buddhist Circuit Train FAM Tour as part of the Union government’s "Dekho Apna Desh" initiative.
The Buddhist Circuit Tourist Train covers the destinations of Gaya-Bodhgaya, Rajgir-Nalanda in Bihar as well as Sarnath-Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
Speaking at the beginning of the train journey, Union Minister of State for Tourism Ajay Bhatt had said: "We have great heritage and monuments in our country. We have many Buddhist tourist places where people from several foreign countries like Japan and China come to visit. So, we should first explore our rich heritage."
With inputs from agencies