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Ramayana serves as common cultural narrative for India, Sri Lanka: SL Minister Jeevan Thondaman

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New Delhi, Mar 1 (PTI) Ramayana serves as a common cultural narrative for both Sri Lanka and India, contributing to their cultural consciousness and strengthening their ties, the island nation’s minister Jeevan Thondaman said on Friday and asserted that the relationship between the countries has reached “a position of irreversible excellence.” Thondaman was addressing a gathering at the inauguration of ‘Chitrakavyam Ramayanam,’ a two-month-long exhibition mounted at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Delhi.

Thondaman, a Minister of Water Supply and Estate Infrastructure Development in Sri Lanka, said, “People-to-people connect remains the fulcrum of our interactions, and further strengthens the civilisational and cultural links.” The exhibition, featuring traditional miniature art to modern digital installation, themed on the timeless epic, opened a month after the Pran Pratishtha at the grand Ram temple in Ayodhya, and also “commemorates the historic consecration ceremony.” “Standing at the National Gallery here, we are fortunate to witness the manner in which arts acts as a dynamic and influential force in preserving cultural heritage.

“Through these exceptional exhibits one can see how the Ramayana serves as a common cultural narrative for both Sri Lanka and India, and also contribute to shared cultural consciousness, facilitates in understanding and strengthening ties,” Thondaman said.

In the address which he gave on the sprawling laws of the NGMA, the minister, in a light-hearted manner, also touched upon the image of King Ravana in India.

“However, in our version, King Ravana was always mentioned as an able administrator and even in Saint Valmiki’s version of Ramayana… it was in the battlefield after Ravana had fallen, Lord Rama sat with him and gained knowledge on the art of statesmanship and administration,” he said.

“So, we had never looked at Lord Ravana as a villain per se, despite the abduction (Sita),” he added.

The exhibition was jointly inaugurated by the Sri Lankan minister and Union Minister of State for Culture and External Affairs Meenakashi Lekhi.

The exhibition showcases an eclectic array of artistic masterpieces by eminent Indian modern, contemporary, and traditional artists with a wide range of paintings, textiles, sculptures, shadow and wooden puppets, theatrical masks, prints (oleographs, chromolithographs, lithographs), installations, and a hologram-based art on life Lord Hanuman.

Thondaman also quoted the External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, saying that in 2022, the Indian minister “had highlighted ‘soft power as being beyond economics, beyond politics, beyond orthodox conventional parameters of strength and influence’.” “Not only the Ramayana trail which entwines with the recently sanctified Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, but also the Buddhist pilgrimage circuits between the two countries,” the Sri Lankan minister said to bolster his point of spiritual history the two countries share.

In this regard alone, there is a “tremendous potential” to increase tourism between the two countries, with India being the largest source market at 20 per cent, he said.

The expansion of air and shipping and establishing land connectivity will “undoubtedly boost the tourism and financial sectors of Sri Lanka, especially in these troubled times,” he added.

Thondaman said his country has accorded a free visa regime to India, among other countries, until March 31, 2024 as a pilot programme.

“On our bilateral relationship, today the relationship between India and Sri Lanka has reached a position of irreversible excellence. If I may, India was the first country to come forward when we had faced an unprecedented economic crisis,” he said.

“I think it definitely resonated, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Neighbourhood First policy, or as he would like to call it Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” he said.

Lekhi in her address said the Indian epic which is “history for us,” is a “poetry of humanity, poetry of righteous conduct and poetry of good over evil.” In her speech, she also referred to the construction of the grand Ram temple in Ayodhya.

“After 550 years, Sanatanis got their temple back. But for 550 years, they kept going to the same place, that is the astonishing part. And how strong in their commitment these people would be, who kept going to the same place, and said — ‘Lord Ram was born here’. And, every Ram Navmi, generations after generations, years after years, decades after decades, centuries after centuries, (they said) this is the place,” she said.

“So, the battle was not just in the minds, in the hearts, but a battle which even in Independent India, went to the courts,” the Indian minister added.

The Supreme Court delivered a historic verdict in 2019, settling the temple-mosque dispute that dated back over a century, and paved the way for construction of the grand temple.

The consecration ceremony at the temple in Ayodhya was held on January 22, 2022. PTI KND VN VN

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