SAARC International Conference on ‘Archeology of Buddhism: Recent Discoveries in South Asia’, Concludes Successfully.


SAARC Cultural Centre is pleased to announce the successful conclusion of the SAARC International Conference on ‘Archeology of Buddhism: Recent Discoveries in South Asia’ and all its associated activities. The Conference, which included the Paper Reading and Poster Sessions, was held from 22 to 24 August 2012 at the Buddhist Cultural Centre, in the heart of Colombo. Over 200 participants representing Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, France and the USA attended the Conference.

The Conference focused on Buddhist sites and remains that have been worked up during the last six decades or so. It included both kinds of papers – straightforward ones that just reported archaeological finds; and also papers that interrogate the methodological/ theoretical frameworks within which archaeological work is carried out. Some of the questions that the Conference sought to address were: how does one define a Buddhist site? How can one show the relationship between a religious centre and the lay community through archaeological work? and Is it possible to meaningfully interpret a multi-religious and multi-ethnic landscape through archaeological means?

The Conference was inaugurated by Hon. Prof. G. L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs, Government of Sri Lanka. The Welcome address was delivered by Mr. G.L.W. Samarasinghe, Director, SAARC Cultural Centre, while Dr. Roland De Silva, Former Commissioner of Archaeology, Government of Sri Lanka, Director General, Central Cultural Fund, President, ICOMOS, and currently Chancellor, Moratuwa University, delivered the Keynote Address on ‘Let the Sites of Buddhism be Living Icons of a Liberated People.’ Dr. Sanjay Garg, Deputy Director (Research) and the Convener of the Conference, proposed a Vote of Thanks.

Academic Sessions
A total of fifty-five research papers were presented in fourteen academic sessions spread over three days (22-24 August, 2012). These sessions were devoted to the following themes:
1.    Country Reports on Recent Discoveries (6 Sessions)
2.    Buddhist Archaeology and the Society (2 Sessions)
3.    Buddhist Archaeology, Art and Architecture (2 Sessions)
4.    Cultural Geography of the Buddhist Archaeological Sites (2 Sessions)
5.    Archaeology of Buddhist Monasteries(1 Session)
6.    Revisiting Stupa: (1 Session)

Poster Session
Along with the Academic Sessions a Poster Session was also organized at the Conference to provide a platform to young researchers to showcase their research/ fieldwork as well as to institutions to display their activities. An array of colourful posters by seven young researchers and four organizations, namely the Central Cultural Fund, Department of Archaeology, Department of National Museum, and Post Graduate Institute of Archaeological Research (PGIAR), University of Kelaniya were displayed at the Poster Session which was held parallel to the Academic Sessions and was open for the general public.

Round Table
A Round Table on ‘Mapping Buddhist Archaeological Sites’ was held on 23 August 2012 and was chaired by Dr Sanjay Garg. Two demo-lectures were delivered as part of the Round Table: first on ‘Mapping the contours of a Buddhist world: an online database of georeferenced Buddhist monasteries, 200 – 1200 CE’ by Prof. T. Matthew Ciolek (Visiting Fellow, School of Culture, History & Language, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia) who is also co-founder of and second on ‘Cultural Cartography: Prospects and Perils’ by Mr. Pratapanand Jha (Director, Cultural Informatics, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi).

The Plenary Session
On the conclusion of the Academic Sessions, a Plenary Session was held on 24 August 2012 in which all Chairpersons of the Academic Sessions were invited. The Plenary Session was Jointly Chaired by Prof. Vidula Jayaswal (India) and Dr. Fazal Dad Kakar (Pakistan).  With a view to enlisting the contributions of other Experts/ Non-SAARC participants, delegates from Bhutan, India and Singapore were invited by the Plenary Committee to join the Session as a Special Invitees. The Plenary Committee perused all the Feedback forms received from the participants of the Conference. While commending the initiative taken by the SAARC Cultural Centre for providing a platform to the experts and other stakeholders from the South Asian region to share information on recent discoveries on the archaeology of Buddhism, all members of the Plenary Committee unanimously felt that this initiative needs to be institutionalized and its scope needs to be expanded so as to provide a permanent platform to the experts and other stakeholders on Buddhist art and archaeology not only from the SAARC region but also from other regions/ countries, which are rich in Buddhist art and archaeological heritage. The Recommendation of the Plenary Committee would be forwarded to the Member States of the SAARC.

A full day Post-Conference tour was organized on 25 August 2012 to Anuradhapura in which over 100 participants took part.

Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, famous for its well-preserved ruins of ancient Lankan civilization. It lies in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, 205 km north of the current capital Colombo. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka. Participants were able to visit Sri Maha Bodhiya, Lovamahapaya, Ruvenveliseya, Twin Ponds, Samaddhi Buddha Statue and Abhayagiriya. Lunch was hosted by the Mayor of Anuradhapura.

The transport for the post-conference tour was facilitated by the Travel Partner of the conference: Aitken Spence Travels (Pvt.) Ltd.

Apart from the Conference a series of associated activities were organised as a prelude and parallel to the main event. These included:

Screening of Documentary Films
A series of 12 documentary Films on ‘The Story of Buddhism: Its Birth and Development’ in India by the noted photographer and film-maker Mr. Benoy K. Behl was screened from 15 to 20 August 2012 at the Buddhist Cultural Centre, as a run-up to the Conference. The screening of this film series was inaugurated by Hon’ble Dr. Jagath Balasuriya, Minister for National Heritage, Government of Sri Lanka in a glittering ceremony on 15 August 2012, in which Mr. Behl too shared his views. The screening of this film series was supported by the High Commission of India in Sri Lanka, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), and the Indian Cultural Centre, Colombo.

‘Lens & Brush’ – Twin Exhibition
The SAARC Cultural Centre organized a Twin Exhibition entitled ‘Lens & Brush’ as part of the SAARC International Conference on Archaeology of Buddhism Recent Discoveries in South Asia (Colombo, Sri Lanka, 22-24 August 2012). The exhibition had two components: a Photo Exhibition and an Exhibition of Paintings by Contemporary Artists. The Twin exhibitions were inaugurated by Hon. Chamal Rajapaksa, Speaker of Parliament of Sri Lanka, on 21 August 2012 at JDA Perera Gallery, Colombo.

Photographic Exhibition
This Exhibition displayed Photographs on ‘Buddhist Sites and Art Heritage of South Asia’  by the noted photographer Mr. Benoy K. Behl, and also those from the SAARC Cultural Centre’s Visual Archives and contributions from Department of Heritage, Government of Maldives and Pakistan High Commission in Sri Lanka. This exhibition was supported by the India-Sri Lanka Foundation and the High Commission of Sri Lanka in India.

Paintings Exhibition
This exhibition of paintings entitled, ‘The Lord Buddha through Contemporary Eyes’, showcased the 58 creative works of forty-six contemporary artists residing in Sri Lanka. It encompassed a wide spectrum of paintings depicting Lord Buddha in animate as well as in symbolic forms as perceived by contemporary artists. These artists ranged from an amateur and novice of 4-years of age to trained and well-established artists of national and international repute. This exhibition was supported by the Bank of Ceylon. A Catalogue of all paintings was also released on this occasion.

Book Exhibition
A Book Exhibition related to the broad theme of the Conference was organised at the Conference venue, where leading academic and institutional publishers from the region were invited to display their publications. In addition, the participants of the Conference were also requested to bring their publications for display at the Book Exhibition which remained open for general public for the duration of the Conference. The Book Exhibition, together with the Poster Session of the Conference, was inaugurated by Hon’ble T.B. Ekanayake, Minister for Culture and the Arts, Government of Sri Lanka on 22 August 2012.