Indian government and tourism officials hope to see a large number of visitors
The Indian government recently invited delegations of Buddhist monks and teachers, tour operators, and media from dozens of countries around the world help promote the “Land of Buddha.”
Mizzima’s reporter Hong Sar conducted an interview in Bodh Gaya, India with Ms Meenakshi Sharma, Additional Director General of the Indian Ministry of Tourism, in which she discussed the growing interest in the Buddhist sites and festivals in India.
Why is India promoting Buddhism now?
India is the land of Buddha so promoting Buddhism is one of the original mandates We have a duty to bring all the Buddhist pilgrims who aspire to be here, thinking it is one of their life’s aspirations to come to visit the places Buddha walked, Buddha attained his inspiration, he gave his sermons and he got his liberation. So coming from the Ministry of Tourism, in collaboration with all the state governments, we are trying to create right environment and infrastructure so that the Buddhist pilgrims can come here, they can spend some time and be in the company where they get their philosophy. That is the reason and that is why we have invited Buddhist spiritual gurus, tour operators, the media, the opinion-makers, all together to this country.
So how active is the Buddhist community itself in India at the moment?
Buddhists as a community is not a major community, I can’t tell you the percentage. But Buddhist philosophy has become a part of Indian philosophy. Even people who don’t call themselves Buddhists look to Buddhism as one of their inspirations. All of the Mahatma Bud (Buddha) and his teachings are revered as the words of God (in India). So even if in numbers you may say the number (of Buddhists) is not as large as in some other countries, the philosophy of Buddha is part of the India mindset.
What are the main Buddhist sites being promoted?
We are promoting all Buddhist sites. In Uttah Pradesh, at a presentation, we tried showing that we have more than 17 states (in India) have Buddhist sites. Uttah Pradesh and Bihar are the traditional Buddhist sites where Buddha walked, taught and got liberated. But after that, when Buddhism flourished, we have Madhyar Pradesh, we have Orissa, and other sites, and then the newer sites that came up in 1959, when Tibetan Buddhism entered India (after the Dalai Lama and 100,000 Tibetans fled Tibet). So we have Himachal Pradesh, Dharamsala, we have Leh in Ladakh, we have Rumtek sanctuary, sites in Karnataka. So we have a very large number of sites. You will be surprised. We have more than 100 sites worth visiting in India.
Can you tell us about theforeign and Myanmar temples there are in India?
Yes, if you visit Sarnath and Bodh Gaya you will find the monasteries created by Thailand, Japan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, by Vietnam, by Laos, by everybody. So anybody who believes in Buddhism is welcome here in this environment.
A lot of Myanmar Buddhist pilgrims are coming. Who is promoting this? The government or travel companies?
We (as the government) create the infrastructure, the connectivity, we create the roads, but the tour operators have the responsibility of bringing them. It’s a collaboration.
How important is it for Buddhists to visit the Buddhist sites?
I think it is a dream of everyone, every Buddhist especially, and a lot of people who would like to understand the meaning of life, understand what makes life go around, I think it is a ‘must’ visit. So I would say, please come to the Land of Buddha.