The bond between India and Sri Lanka has been growing strongly throughout the years. India, being our oldest friend, has supported us politically, religiously, and culturally and it is without a doubt a kinship that goes back to prehistoric times in Sri Lanka.
Although there is evidence that advanced trade methods existed between Sri Lanka and India even in the pre-Buddhist era, the earliest evidence of a clear Indian connection in Sri Lanka dates back to the first visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka. Chronicles testify that the first visit by the Buddha was to preach to the Yaksha tribes of Mahiyangana, then the second visit was to settle a dispute between Chulodara and Mahodara Naga brothers in Nagadeepa. The third visit to Sri Lanka was to the invitation of the Naga King Maniakkhitha Naga the Buddha visited Kelaniya, Mount Sri Pada and many other important places. Therefore, even before the “Vijayawatarana”, the arrival of King Vijaya, the strong bond between India and Sri Lanka was nurtured through Buddhism.
However, the most significant link between India and Sri Lanka, as well as the most precious legacy we received from India for the first time, was marked during the reign of King Pathissa the second. King Tissa, the King of Lanka, was pen friend of King Ashoka, the acclaimed Emperor of India, and as a symbol of that friendship, King Tissa was honored with the title of ‘King Devanapiyatissa’, along with the fifth royal amulet in the Abyssinian system. With the blessings of such a strong friendship, Emperor Ashoka chose his son, the Most Venerable Arahant Mahinda Thero for Sri Lanka on a mission, and with Arahant Mahinda Thero’s visit, Sri Lanka won the biggest and the most valuable gift ever received from India. That is the greatest opportunity of being devoted to the Buddha following his teachings.
Since then, Arahant Mahinda Thero, who we call the Anubudu (the second Buddha), has fostered the civilization of the country and followed by Mahinda thero, the emperor’s daughter Ven Sangamitta Theri who brought us the precious gift, a sampling of the Maha Bodhi-Tree in a golden bowl from Bodhgaya, India. This is another significant cultural milestone for Sri Lankans for their path of becoming devoted followers of the Buddha. Also, with this “Dumindagamana”, many skilled craftsmen of many fields were gifted to Sri Lanka from India and we still inherit rich traditions of art as well as literature filled with great knowledge owing to India.
Although the armies of certain South Indian regions invaded Sri Lanka several times creating various war situations in ancient times, the Lankan monarchy has maintained many great connections especially with Mid and Northern parts of India and as another notable outcome, Sri Lankan received the Buddha’s holy Tooth Relic, the symbol of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, in the name of the mutual friendship between the two countries.
It is evident that Sri Lanka had renaissance due to inspiration from India on architecture, art and sculpture, astrology, ayurvedic medicine, trade and even agriculture and later irrigation technology. From “Avukana Buddha Statue”, “Isurumuniya to “Ranmasu Uyana” were all inspired by statues and art of great institutes such as Gupta, Amaravati and Pallawa in India.
India is a giant state that was historically strong for a long period of time and remained closely associated with Sri Lanka even during the colonial era. Many Sri Lankan leaders were strengthened by Indian support in Sri Lanka’s freedom movement as well as for the educational, academic, and political revival in the country.
From Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Non-Violence, to many other prominent rulers of the new Bharatiya regime, have sided with Sri Lanka in the face of numerous obstacles in terms of various geo political agreements. Former Prime Minister of India Shri Rajiv Gandhi, a stalwart national leader, was brutally assassinated on May 21, 1919 in late 1987 for signing the Indo – Agreement to end the Civil War in Sri Lanka. The establishment of the ‘Indo-Lanka Peace Accord’ in Sri Lanka in 1987 paved the way for India to play a pivotal role in bringing peace to our country. The Provincial Councils were created as a result of this accord.
When we look back on the great sacrifice made by the Government Indian at the time of arrival of the Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka at a cost of Rs. 25 billion and the loss of thousands of valuable lives of Indian soldiers during the war in Sri Lanka, words cannot measure up to the support that was shown to us in our darkest days. Even today, as we pass the entrance of the “Ape Gama” cultural village adjacent to the Parliament of Sri Lanka, we are reminded of the painful memories of that tragic loss. The monuments of the heroic soldiers of India who sacrificed their lives for the sovereignty and freedom of our motherland will forever be alive in our mind.
The Kachchativu Island, which had been in India’s possession until June 1974, was legally returned to Sri Lanka by the Government of India despite strong opposition from the state of Tamil Nadu. Since the end of the civil war between the two communities, financial assistance from India had exeeded US $ 25 million, including the resettlement of people displaced by the war, the rehabilitation of terrorists who were arrested, the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the disused state. Incomparable support came from India to Sri Lanka in repairing roads and railways, providing new infrastructure and housing, providing livelihood assistance, etc. which we couldn’t have done alone as a country if it weren’t for the immense support given to us by our oldest friend.
During the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka on March 13, 2015, he also addressed the Parliament of Sri Lanka and symbolically handed over a housing complex built for the low-income groups. He returned to Sri Lanka in May 2017 as the Chief Guest for the International Vesak Day celebrations centered in Colombo. On those occasions he did not forget to constantly recall the strong historical, political, cultural, and economical as well as spiritual ties between India and Sri Lanka.
The visit of the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi to Sri Lanka on June 2, 2019, to inquiring into the well-being of the people affected by the barbaric terrorist bomb attack on St. Anthony’s Church and several other locations in Colombo was a special occasion. Not only did this give the world a strong signal how India stands with Sri Lanka even in hardest times but also how important the security situation in Sri Lanka for India.
Even in the time of this devastating pandemic, Covid 19 which we are still facing up to date, the first stock of vaccines was donated to Sri Lankans from our true ralative India. We cannot forget the way the Government of India generously assisting us above all other countries in health as well as many other aspects during this difficult time. Even in these toughest times, the friendship between the two countries is at great strength. The great “Rathana Sutta” chantings were organized in our temples all over the country on the days when tens and thousands of people in India were dying and suffering in order to send blessings to India.
Therefore, as Sri Lankans, we strongly believe that the bond of brotherhood between the two countries will continue for centuries to come.
May a prosperous, victorious and a healthy future dawn for India!
Dr. Damenda Porage