Welcome Address by Mr Esala Weerakoon, the then High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to India:

“Your Excellency Shri S.C Jamir, Governor of Odisha, The Guest of Honour; the Hon’ble Shri Debi Prasad Mishra, Minister of Industries; the Hon’ble Ashok Chandra Panda, Minister of Tourism; Hon’ble Shri Baijayant Panda, Member of the Lok Sabha; Shri Gokul Chandra Pati, Chief Secretary Government of Odisha, Smt. Namrata Kumar, Deputy Director General, Indian Council of Cultural Relations; distinguished academics and panellists from Sri Lanka and India, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is an honour and a privilege to attend the international seminar organised by Kalinga-Lanka Foundation on Kalinga-Lanka: Reviving Old Linkages and Exploring New Opportunities. I bring greetings and felicitations from the government and the people of Sri Lanka on this important occasion. At the outset, I wish to express my deep and sincere appreciation to the organizers of this important initiative, namely, Ambassador Lalit Mansingh, Former Foreign Secretary of India and President of the Kalinga-Lanka Foundation, Professor A.K Das, Vice-Chancellor of the Utkal University, Shri D.P Bagchi, Former Chief Secretary of Odisha, and member of the governing board of Kalinga-Lanka Foundation. I also wish to recognize the role of my predecessors Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam, and Professor Sudarshan Seneviratne in the founding and establishment of the Kalinga-Lanka Foundation. I will be remising my duty if I fail to acknowledge the indefatigable Secretary of Kalinga-Lanka Foundation Mr. Sameer Das.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is very propitious and timely that the international seminar on Kalinga-Lanka is taking place this year that is November 2015. This has been a momentous year for Sri-Lanka India relations as was very ably and articulately explained to you by the past distinguished speakers. There were many high level visits from Sri Lanka to India and from India to Sri Lanka this year. In February 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena made a State visit to India. In March of 2015, Prime Minister Hon’ble Narendra Modi made an official visit to Sri Lanka and in September 2015, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe from Sri Lanka made an official visit to India.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the early Kalinga-Lanka relations show a different kind of relationship between a powerful continental power and a neighbouring island kingdom. The historical relationship was based on values such as righteousness, truth, restraint, duty, ethics and reverence for life. I will not go to deep into the historical links because I want to recognize distinguished academics who have also travelled all the way from Sri Lanka to participate in this important occasion. I recognize Professor Nanda Deva, Professor Aruna Manatunga, Professor Sandogami Cooperahewa, and Professor Anoma Abhayaratne. Sadly this morning Professor Asanga Tilakaratne, could not be with us but I am sure he will be joining us in the academic sessions tomorrow.

The Kalinga-Lanka Foundation is an idea whose time has come. As one writer recently suggested in book titled “To Uphold the World: A Call for a New Global Ethic from Ancient India”. The author is Bruce Rich as you may know. And to quote him, he said, “We live in a couth Indian world, but more than ever we need an Ashokan ethic”. Kalinga-Lanka relations constitute a narrative of timeless relevance. These are the conduits between the Ashokan Empire at its heights of splendour and a neighbouring island nation. The idea of today’s discussion is reviving old linkages exploring new opportunities. In it, we can identify two propositions. One, the old linkages need revival. There lies opportunities that call to be assist, identify, and exploited. The mission of Arahant Mahinda of Sri Lanka was the first diplomatic encounter between India and Sri Lanka and the mission of Thirani Sanghamitra who carried the sapling of the Jayashree Mahabodhi is the first recorded bilateral technology transfer between the two nations. The advent of Buddhism, the planting of south sapling of the Jayashree Mahabodhi, the transfer of the custody of the sacred tooth relic are the most inviolate moments of the Lankan history. The stories of Arahant Mahinda, Thirani Sanghamitra, Prince Danta, and Princess Hema Mala evoke sentiments from the deepest recesses of the Sri Lankan subconscious. In other words, it constitutes the living history of bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka. What of the future? The eastern littoral of India and Sri Lanka offer great opportunities in the Bay of Bengal economic zone. History offers enough evidence to support this hypothesis. The flourishing ports on the Indian eastern shore line were Tamralipti, Palur, Kalingapatnam, Dharanikota, Arikamedu, and Poompuhar. From these ports, ships sailed to the northern coast of Sri Lanka and the principality of Gokanna which is presently at Trincomalee. The Sri Lankan ports of Trincomalee and Lankapatna were used from 2nd century AD in international trade in the Bay of Bengal. The modern day Bay of Bengal was once known as the Kalinga Sea. Today the Bay of Bengal has emerged as a pivotal area of economic activity in the Indo-Pacific area. It is also a part of the Indian Ocean that connects India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka. It offers access to one of the world’s vital trading routes. The challenge and promise of the Kalinga-Lanka Foundation is to reignite the spirit.

To conclude, I mentioned the high level visits that have taken place between the leaders of Sri Lanka and India. One of the important factors we are working on at the moment is to sign as early as possible the India-Sri Lanka Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement. The two Prime Ministers agreed during the official visit of my Prime Minister to India in September, that the first draft of the India-Sri Lanka Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement will be submitted to the government of India by the end of this year. We don’t have much time but I can assure you and all the distinguished members here that Sri Lanka is working very hard to make this timeline and once the draft is approved by the government of India, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka will invite the Prime Minister of India to visit Sri Lanka in 2016 either in the month of April or May to sign this agreement. On connectivity, once again I wish to reiterate how timely it is that we are having this important international seminar to discuss rebuilding and as the Hon’ble Member of Parliament said revitalizing the linkages between Sri Lanka and India. Some thoughts for the future and I will conclude, as the Hon’ble Minister also mentioned in his statement, perhaps some of the things that we could deliberate at the seminar and take forward is that an international seminar of this magnitude should be held in Sri Lanka next time. We have to establish air connectivity between Bhubaneswar and Colombo. As many of you are aware, Sri Lankan Airlines has daily flights from Colombo to Delhi and Air India has a daily flight from Colombo to Delhi. We also have another airline which is called Mihin Lanka, which flies to various destinations in India and also flies to Dhaka, Bangladesh. So we have to seriously work and think of how we get Sri Lankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka to fly to Bhubaneswar as well. If it has not happened already since we have distinguished academics from Sri Lanka, University of Colombo, from the University of Kelaniya. We have to think of a MoU between Utkal University and a similar university of high standing in Sri Lanka because that could lead to academic mobility and student exchanges between the two institutions and the two countries. I will not take much time as there is a long program and seminar to be attended but once again it is my honour and privilege to be here. I wish the seminar all success. And once again my grateful thanks to the Kalinga-Lanka Foundation and the Utkal University for hosting this international seminar. Thank you very much!”