Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba during a bilateral meeting, at Lumbini in Nepal. (PTI Photo)
New Delhi: Declaring that even Lord Ram was "incomplete without Nepal", Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Lumbini in the neighbouring Himalayan nation on Monday on the occasion of Buddha Jayanti (birth anniversary of the Buddha) and offered prayers at the famous Mayadevi Temple. After bilateral talks in the afternoon between Mr Modi and his host, Nepal PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, at Lumbini to strengthen bilateral ties in areas like culture, economy, trade, connectivity, energy and development partnership, the two nations signed six pacts including the establishment of the Dr Ambedkar Chair for Buddhist Studies at the Lumbini Buddhist University with support from the Indian Council of Cultural Relations and another on hydropower generation for the "Arun 4" project on the river Arun in eastern Nepal.
The Nepalese PM invited Indian companies to help develop the West Seti hydropower project in Nepal while Mr Modi "assured India’s support in the development of Nepal’s hydropower sector and in encouraging interested Indian developers to expeditiously explore new projects in this regard". The two leaders also "expressed satisfaction at the progress made in bilateral power sector cooperation in recent months, that covers development of generation projects, power transmission infrastructure and power trade".
Lumbini is the birthplace of the Buddha, who was born there over 2,500 years ago. According to the epic Ramayan, Lord Ram’s wife Sita was also born in the Janakpur region of modern Nepal. Mr Modi’s brief visit to Lumbini on Monday, his fifth visit to Nepal in eight years, to emphasise millennia-old civilisational and cultural ties between the two neighbours is being seen as an important move to counter Chinese influence that has grown by leaps and bounds in the Himalayan nation in recent years.
With the two nations also agreeing in principle to establish sister city ties between Lumbini (Nepal) and Kushinagar (India) that are among the holiest Buddhist sites, Mr Modi also said India’s ties with Nepal were "as high and resolute as the Himalayas", as he praised Nepal as the land of temples, mountain peaks and monasteries which Indians always held in high esteem. He also took part in the "shilanyas" (ground-breaking) ceremony for the construction of a centre for Buddhist culture and heritage in a plot belonging to the New Delhi-based International Buddhist Confederation within the Lumbini Monastic Zone.
Addressing nearly 2,500 attendees, which included monks, Buddhist scholars and international participants, at the 2,566th Buddha Jayanti celebrations at the International Convention Centre and Meditation Hall in the afternoon at Lumbini, Mr Modi spoke in Hindi, interspersed with sentences in Nepali much to the audience’s delight, as he spoke about the noble teachings of the Buddha and the message of peace, also referring to plans to develop the Buddhist circuit with Nepal’s cooperation.
Mr Deuba said there were plans to connect Lumbini in Nepal with Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar in India as part of the Buddhist circuit to link places associated with the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and teachings.
On his arrival at Lumbini on Monday morning, Mr Modi was warmly received by Mr Deuba and his wife Arzu Rana Deuba, as well as several Nepalese ministers. Mr Modi and Mr Deuba together later paid their respects at the "marker stone inside the (Mayadevi) temple premises, which pinpoints the exact birth spot of Lord Buddha", and also attended the worship ceremony done as per Buddhist rituals. "The two PMs also lit lamps near the Ashoka Pillar adjacent to the temple. The pillar, which was erected by Emperor Ashoka in 249 BC, bears the first epigraphic evidence of Lumbini being the birthplace of Lord Buddha.
Thereafter, the two PMs watered the Bodhi tree sapling from Bodh Gaya which was gifted by Mr Modi to Lumbini in 2014 and also signed the temple's visitors’ book," the Indian government said in a statement.
Later, Mr Modi and Mr Deuba performed the shilanyas ceremony for the India International Centre for Buddhist Culture and Heritage in Lumbini Monastic Zone. After the shilanyas ceremony, performed by monks of three major Buddhist traditions -- Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana -- the two PMs also unveiled a model of the centre. "Once completed, the centre will be a world-class facility welcoming pilgrims and tourists from all over the world to enjoy the essence of spiritual aspects of Buddhism. It will be a modern building, NetZero compliant in terms of energy, water and waste handling, and will house prayer halls, meditation centres, library, exhibition hall, cafeteria, offices and other amenities," the statement said.
The six agreements signed on Monday by the two nations included a memorandum of understanding between ICCR and Lumbini Buddhist University on the establishment of the Dr Ambedkar Chair for Buddhist Studies, an MoU between ICCR and CNAS, Tribhuvan University, on the establishment of the ICCR Chair of Indian Studies, an MoU between ICCR and Kathmandu University on the establishment of the ICCR Chair of Indian Studies, an MoU between the Kathmandu University and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, a Letter of Agreement between Kathmandu University and IIT Madras for a joint degree programme at the master’s level, and an agreement between SJVN Ltd and Nepal Electricity Authority for the Development and implementation of the "Arun 4" project.