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

“Dignitaries on the dais, ladies and gentlemen. Let me thank Kalinga-Lanka Foundation for extending this invitation to inaugurate the Odisha chapter of the Kalinga-Lanka Foundation today. I take this opportunity to share a few thoughts with the distinguished audience present here. The seminar held in the backdrop of Hon’ble Prime Minister’s stress on forging a new partnership with one of our most important neighbours which has great significance. Again the recent state visit by Hon’ble President of Sri Lanka to India promises a strong foundation for consolidating and strengthening the bilateral partnership by harnessing the innermost potentials.

First let me appreciate the efforts of Kalinga-Lanka Foundation in organizing this seminar as part of their endeavour to reset the close relationship that existed between Kalinga, the present day Odisha and Lanka, present day Sri Lanka. The Foundation was established by some likeminded intellectuals of Odisha with active support from the High Commissioner of Sri Lanka aims at reinvigorating the relations by exploring new means of linkages in a number of key sectors like education, art and culture, tourism and investments. Sri Lanka’s relations with Kalinga are immersed in the history. The ancient chronicles of Lanka and Kalinga and the archaeological evidences tells us how the ancient people of these two regions enjoyed a strong sense of connectivity. The two regions also enjoyed common Buddhist heritage and it was another key means of strong connectivity. In a widen influence of Kalinga’s emperor Ashoka led to the spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura, where Buddhism came from Emperor Ashoka’s son Mahinda saw the development of monasteries, which developed into prime seats of learning and were visited by scholars and pilgrims from many parts of Asia. The transfer of Lord Buddha’s tooth relic to Lanka, by Kalingan King Guhaseeva, through his daughter Hemamala and son-in-law Dantha, still venerated by the Buddhists in Sri Lanka is a manifestation of this strong bond. The tooth relic is considered as the national symbol of Sri Lanka. Apart from the common Buddhist heritage, history says that the founder of Sinhala race was Kalinga’s prince Vijaya. The trace of Buddhism in Odisha takes one to the ancient period when two merchant brothers Tapusa and Bhalluka from Utkal, now Odisha became Lord Buddha’s first disciples. Buddhism became a world religion only after the Kalinga war. For the first time in world history, a conqueror embraced non-violence. Buddhist emperor Ashoka became the patron of the tenets of Buddhism across the world. It is here, where the foundation of great religion and culture was laid. This is the major contribution of Odisha which shaped the social, cultural map of several countries in Southeast Asia, Far East and also in Sri Lanka. In spreading Buddhism throughout the world, Odisha held a torch of peace and non-violence. I think this message of tolerance has a great relevance today as we see the dirty results of intolerance, hatred leading to large-scale violence, destruction and great loss of human lives. This message of peace, non-violence and tolerance is often equally important. In the present world, it is our duty to spread this message further and deeper, both in the region and the larger world. When the world faces the threats of the climate change due to polluted environment, the Buddhist code of environmental protection prescribe both followers and monks should promote symbiotic relationship between the humans and the environment. I expect Kalinga-Lanka Foundation to put a special thrust in this regard.

Buddhism had a great impact in Odisha’s history and geography. It has greatly impacted Odisha’s life and culture. The flourishing era of Buddhism could be felt and experienced with all walks through the vistas of Buddhism in Odisha which included a number of Buddhist centres of learning, art and establishment of several places. Ratnagiri is believed to be a source of destination for learning Buddhism. This process of Buddhism has been a great source of attraction to outside visitors including the famous Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang. In fact the diamond triangle of Lalitgiri, Udaygiri and Ratnagiri continues to fascinate visitors and scholars with archaeological findings. These three have produced various masterpieces of Buddhist art which are said to have influenced contemporary schools of Buddhist art in Southeast Asia. Like Buddhism, Kalinga’s contribution to maritime trade and commerce is highly significant. Ancient Kalinga due to its proximity with Bay of Bengal had a very long coastline. Kalinga’s importance for trans-Asian maritime trade seems to happen to strengthened by its location. It was not just a zest for commerce that the traditional merchants of Kalinga go far off islands. It had its impact on art, culture and tradition as well. Even the folklores of Odisha spread all these regions and the island nation of Sri Lanka is no exception to it. It is heartening to find that what they have built several centuries ago is still prevailing. However, it is an irony of the history that the great maritime tradition has been dwindled and it is high time to revive the traditions for the upliftment of the two regions.

Today, with new horizons of hope rising in Sri Lanka and the rise of India at the world stage offering immense possibilities. We have a historical opportunity to once again renew our historical links and restore our age old ties. Both regions, island nation and Odisha have vast natural resources and human capital. Both are strategically located in the Indian Ocean with easy access to the expanding market of Southeast Asia and East Asia. Promoting joint ventures and facilitating tourism, religious pilgrimage has rich potential benefits for both regions. The future lies in the past which has to be intertwined and the two regions should march in tandem with clear objectives of promoting peace and prosperity. It is time to rediscover and reinvigorate the rich historic connect by way of multifaceted initiative for promotion of modern day people-too-people contact, re-establishment of links, art and culture, education, skill development, science and technology, tourism and business. With Odisha, Sri Lanka should encourage to go for joint ventures.

I hope the foundation will encourage investments to exploit human and mineral resources of the two regions. Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multicultural nation, just like India. Island nation was known for many things including precious stones, ivory and spices. Sri Lanka’s social indicators are among the best in Asia. It enjoys near universally gender ratio with a very narrow gender gap. Cooperation will be very vital for improving social indicators. When Odisha is emerging as an education hub in the entire India, networking with leading educational institutions will give students a great exposure. I am told that the foundation would promote studies of Kalinga-Lanka shared history and culture as well as academic cooperation between the institutions of the two regions. It would also promote research, social, cultural and academic ties and give institutional support for scholars and artists. It is heartening that the foundation will be promoting and facilitating the connectivity between Sri Lanka and Odisha. We have a university especially for cultural subjects and linking the university with institutions of island nation will promote studies as well as research to explore new information. I will confine my words to very few thoughts especially the value of ancient linkages and Buddhist heritage as it is the tip of the iceberg. I leave the rest to participants, academicians, and scholars of this seminar. I urge you to focus in your dedication, deliberation not only on sharing your knowledge among yourself but to seek ways and means to protect historical, cultural and intellectual values. More importantly, you can seek ways and means on how historical relations could be used as a tool for creating prosperity in both the regions. With these words I would like to wish the seminar and the initiative by Kalinga-Lanka Foundation all success. Thank you!”