SAARC Research Seminar on Buddhist Cultural Trails: Journey Through Time and Space, of Merchants, Monks and Pilgrims

The two-day Research Seminar organized by the SAARC Cultural Centre on “Buddhist Cultural Trails: Journey through Time and Space, of Merchants, Monks and Pilgrims” was held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) from 26th to 27th August 2017.  The Seminar was the first Seminar on “South Asian Cultural Trails” which aims to strengthen cultural ties in the region through a walk into the shared past of our ancestors.  In this endeavour, the various perspectives of the socio-cultural, tangible and intangible connectivity established through the popularity and the dissemination of Buddhism during history across several centuries were explored.  Officially nominated participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka presented 38 papers at the research seminar.

The inauguration was held at the BMICH amidst a distinguished gathering including Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic Religious representatives of Sri Lanka.  Mrs. Rajashree Behera, Director of the Indian Cultural Centre on behalf of the H.E. the High Commissioner of India, Mr. Intisar Ahmed Sulhery on behalf of the H.E. the High Commissioner of Pakistan, Mr. M.A.K. Girihagama, Director General of South Asia and SAARC Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka represented the Member States.  Mr. Dwatmaji Hanomanresi, Counsellor for Socio and Cultural Affairs represented H.E. the Ambassador of Indonesia at this august gathering.  Academics from University of Colombo, University of Sri Jayawardenapura, University of Peradeniya, Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka and other scholars were also present.

Mr. J, Dadallage, Consultant Public Relations to the Hon. Prime Minister of Sri Lanka ably represented our Chief Guest Mr. E.M.S.B. Ekanayake, Secretary to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka who was unable to join us due to his responsibilities.  Mr. Dadallage emphasised the importance of multi-disciplinary research seminars and promotion of tourism through the “South Asian Cultural Trails”.

The Welcome address was delivered by Mr. Wasanthe Kotuwella, Director, SAARC Cultural Centre and the Keynote Speaker was introduced by Ms. Bindu Urugodawatte, Deputy Director Research of the SAARC Cultural Centre.  Professor Nimal De Silva, Emeritus Professor of Architecture, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, delivered the Keynote Address on “Kalpawruksha The Celestial Tree in Asian Art and Architecture”.  The keynote provided a wonderful beginning to Research Seminar by discussing the shared heritage of South Asia.  Prof. Nimal De Silva through his keynote was able to intellectually stimulate the audience by combining tangible heritage and intangible heritage using a multi-disciplinary approach.  The inauguration was concluded with Dr. Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai giving the Vote of Thanks.

Academic Sessions
Seven multi-disciplinary academic sessions covering a vast range of subjects from Archaeology, Geoarchaeology, Art History, History, Tangible Heritage, Intangible Heritage, Museum Objects, Photo Documentation and new research on Buddhist Cultural Trails was presented and followed by very lively academic discussions.  The Sessions were as follows:
1.    The Paths of the Buddha – Chair: Prof. Nimal De Silva

  • Buddhism and Megalithism by Prof. Prathapachandran S. Panicker.
  • Ancient Buddhist Cultural Trails in Bangladesh by Mr. Md. Altaf Hossain.
  • Monks, Monuments and Mobility: The Buddhist Monastic Sites as Place Across Time in Central India by Dr. L. Lamminthang Simte.
  • Kanheri: The Spartan Caves with the Reflections of Cultural and Economic Trails in Western India by Prof. Avkash Jadhav.
  • Monks, Merchants and Pilgrims: Their Message for Asian Century by Dr. Susantha Goonatilake.

2.    Relics of the Buddha – Chair: Dr. Shivakant Bajpai

  • Relic Worship: Ruwanweli Stupa as the most Sacred Place of Worship for the Buddhists in the World by Mr. Prasanna B. Ratnayake.
  • An Overview of Buddhist Tangible Heritage Sites (Archaeological & Historical): A Study on Bangladesh Perspectives by Prof. Biman Chandra Barua.
  • Archaeological Sites of the Greater Lumbini Area in Relation to Buddhist Circuit by Ms. Mandakini Shrestha and Ms. Sabita Neupane.
  • Geoarchaeological Study of Stone Structures in the Temple of Tooth Relic Premises in Kandy Sri Lanka by Mr. Dilan Chathuranga Ranaweera.

3.    Buddhist Art & Architecture – Chair: Mr. Prasanna B. Ratnayake

  • Aurangabad Caves: A Lesser Known Buddhist Cave Temples in Maharashtra by Dr. Shivakant Bajpai.
  • Mahastangarh: A Buddhist Cultural Trail for Religious Tourism by Ms. Surayya Akhtar Jahan.
  • Mes Aynak: Recent Archaeological Excavations Along the Silk Route by Mr. Noor Agha Noori.
  • A Distribution of Anuradhapura Period Buddhist Monasteries in Mullaitivu and Mannar Districts in Northern Sri Lanka: A Study Using Geo Informatic Tools by Ms. Vasana Premachandra, Mr. M.V.G. Kalpa Asanga and Ms. P.M.R. Priyadarshani.
  • Buddhist Sites in Telangana State by Dr. Narsinga Rao Deekonda.
  • Early Buddhist Stone Meditation Furniture in Sri Lanka: Stone Beds and Brick Seats from Meditation Monasteries by Dr. Ayesha Abdur-Rahman.

4.    Merchants, Monks and Pilgrims – Chair: Prof. Biman Chandra Barua

  • Re-Reading Fa Xian: A Review of the Account on Ceylon with Reference to Contemporary Data by Mr. Dhammika Priyantha Chandrasekara.
  • Pilgrim Route from Sri Lanka’s North-Eastern Seaboard to Samanta Kuta (the Sacred Foot Print): Potential Outstanding Universal Value for UNESCO World Heritage Listing by Dr. Nilan Cooray.
  • An Identification of the Itinerary of the Ibn Battuta’s Pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak or Sri Pada Mountain in Sri Lanka by Prof. Anura Manatunga.
  • An Exploration of Facts of Buddhist Cultural Bond Between Sri Lanka and Myanmar During the Medieval Period by Dr. S.M. Haldhar.
  • Nibbana Scene: Depicted in Stone Sculptures of Madhya Desa and Myanmar (2nd century CE to 12th century CE) by Prof. Vinay Kumar Rao.
  • Assessment of Cultural Heritage in Mantota Rajamaha Viharaya, Mannar using an Intelligent System by Mr. D.S. Kalana Mendis.

5.    Nuns and Artefacts – Chair: Dr. Nilan Cooray

  • In the Footsteps of Their Sanghamitta: A Gendered Survey of Buddhist Sites in India and Sri Lanka by Dr. Garima Kaushik.
  • Sri Lankan Women Travellers as Buddhist Trailblazers by Dr. Hema Goonatilake.
  • Masterpieces of Buddha Sculptures in Meditation in the Bangladesh National Museum by Mr. Shawkat Nabi.
  • Buddhist Artefacts in the Collection of the Colombo National Museum by Mr. Ranjith Hewage.
  • Some Glimpse of Buddhist Stone and Bronze Sculptures in the Collection of National Museum in Nepal by Ms. Mandakini Shrestha.
  • A New Approach to Documenting Ancient Paintings by Ms. K. Sumedha Kumari, Mr. Arjuna Samaraweera, Ms. R. Nishanthi Ranasinghe, Mr. Palitha Herath, Mr. I.P.S. Nishantha, Mr. Mahesh Gurumetiya and Mr. Lasantha Athukorala.

6.    Heritage Management & Tourism – Chair: Ms. Mandakini Shrestha

  • Trail of Guru to Central Bhutan by Ms. Tshering Choki.
  • Amaravathi Buddhist Heritage Town: Rehabilitation under the HRISAY and PRASAD Schemes of the Government of India by Prof. Amareswar Galla.
  • Heritage Tourism: ‘Packaging’ History and Places in the Central Indian Buddhist Pilgrimage Circuit by Dr. Prerana Srimaal.
  • A Proposal for the Promotion of Cultural Tourism in Sri Lanka: Ancient Buddhist Monastic Site at Telulla by Ms. Wasana Sirimalwatte.
  • Whether the Brahmi Script was brought to Sri Lanka with Buddhism? by Mr. Prasad Fonseka.
  • Fragmentary Dharani Scriptures: An Untold Story about Buddhism in Sri Lanka by Mr. Bertram G. Liyanage.

7.    Tangible and Intangible Heritage – Chair: Mr. Noor Agha Noori

  • Buddhist Monastic Hospitals in South Asia in the Historic Period with Special Reference to Sri Lanka by Ven. Wetara Mahinda.
  • Traditional Healing System of Lepcha Community of North Sikkim with Special Reference to Dzongu Reserve Area by Mr. Worrel Kumar Bain.
  • Reconstructing Aromatic and Medicinal Practices Along the Silk Road: As Recounted and Evidenced from the Dunhuang Manuscripts by Dr. Jyoti Marwah.
  • Yantra and Mantra in Sri Lankan Theravada Buddhism by Dr. Wimal Hewamanage.
  • Buddhist System of Education and its Relevance in Remodelling the Present-Day Ailing Education System by Dr. Neelima Dahiya.

Cultural Tour
On 28th August, the participants joined a Cultural Tour to the Arankele Meditation Monastery and Dambulla World Heritage Monastery.  The Cultural Tour provided an opportunity for participants to discuss the different ideas on tangible and intangible heritage as well as practical heritage management issues.  During the Cultural Tour, the lively and stimulating discussions which commenced during the Seminar continued in a much more relaxed atmosphere.  The two Buddhist Monasteries and discussions at the sites highlighted the shared cultural heritage and the slight differences within the region exemplifying the “Unity within Diversity” theme of the SAARC Cultural Centre.

The discussions were not all academic nor limited to Buddhist Cultural Trails but expanded to environment, food, habits, conservation, heritage management and even clothes and fashion.  The relaxed atmosphere helped to create closer links and understanding among the participants and possible future collaborations were also discussed.

The discussions and ideas shared and acknowledge during the Seminar and the contacts established among scholars and academics will carry the torch of Buddhist Cultural Trails to the future.