Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, who is on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka, announced that India’s flag carrier Air India will operate direct flights between Colombo and Varanasi, from August this year.
Modi made the announcement of the beginning of the flights, during his address at the inauguration of the International Vesak Day, which is considered as the biggest festival of Buddhists. The PM while addressing a large crowd at the opening ceremony said, the flights will allow “my Tamil brothers and sisters” to visit Varanasi, the land of Kashi Viswanath.
The direct flights will help pilgrims from Sri Lanka, a Buddhist-majority country, to visit Sarnath. At a distance of 10 kilometres from Varanasi, lies Sarnath, one of the most revered Buddhist pilgrimage centres. It is believed that after achieving the enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, it was in Sarnath that Lord Buddha preached his first sermon, sanctified as Maha Dharm Chakra Parivartan.
Moreover, Varanasi is the Prime Minister’s Lok Sabha constituency. In a similar 2014 visit to Japan, Modi had signed a partnership agreement between Varanasi and Kyoto, both historically significant cities, making them sister cities.
After the International Vesak Day celebrations in the island country, Modi will inaugurate the 150-bed multi-specialty Dickoya Hospital which has been built with Indian assistance. Upon his arrival in Sri Lanka yesterday, PM Modi met President Maithripala Sirisena and PM Ranil Wickremesinghe, who had earlier visited India in April. In an unscheduled meeting, Modi reportedly also held talks with former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
This is Modi’s second visit to Sri Lanka in two years and his visit is aimed at reinforcing the traditional connect between India and Sri Lanka.