- On 19 May, 2022
Sri Lanka's role in getting due recognition for Vesak Day highlighted at celebrations in Kathmandu
Addressing the Vesak day celebration at the Embassy in Kathmandu on 18th May, Ambassador Himalee Arunatilaka highlighted the contribution made by Sri Lanka in making Vesak a public holiday in Nepal, as well as getting international recognition for Vesak Day within the UN system. She further recalled that the decision to celebrate Vesak marking the Birth, Enlightenment and Passing of Gauthama Buddha, as is done today, was formalized at the First Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists held in Sri Lanka in 1950, on an initiative by Sri Lankan scholar and diplomat G.P. Malalasekera.
The Vesak celebration was held with the participation of Buddhist monks representing main Theravada Monasteries in Kathmandu, Sri Lankan community and Nepali well-wishers. Religious observances and Buddha pooja were followed by Dhamma sermons delivered in Sinhala and Nepali languages by Ven. Pannasara Thero of Sri Sumangal Vihar and Sri Ashta Saddarmayathan Vihar in Patan, and Ven. Dilibhadra Thero of Anand Kuti Vihar in Kathmandu, respectively.
Ambassador Arunatilaka also used the opportunity to express gratitude to the All-Nepal Bhikku Association for coming forward to help the people of Sri Lanka with a donation of medicines, for which arrangements are being made to purchase and dispatch at the earliest possible. The event concluded with chanting of seth pirith, invoking the blessings of the triple gem.
On the day of Vesak in Nepal, on 16th May, the Embassy participated at religious observances at the Anand Kuti Vihar in Kathmandu. This historic Monastery has a long association with Sri Lanka and is the first Theravada Monastery in modern Nepal. Sacred Relics of the Buddha enshrined in the stupa of Anand Kuti Vihar are brought out for public exposition every Vesak Day after special religious observances. The Sacred Relics are a gift from Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Ambassador is granted the special privilege of carrying the casket containing the sacred relics for veneration by the public, in a special procession, amidst the chanting of pirith by the resident monks. This is an annual event held every Vesak day and demonstrates the longstanding and special links Sri Lanka has with Ananda Kuti Vihar. The ceremony was followed by the offering of morning alms to the resident monks by the Ambassador and Embassy staff.
Ambassador Arunatilaka was the Chief Guest at the Vesak celebration at the United Nations Office in Nepal, organized by Buddha Anniversary Celebration Committee of Nepal in association with the UN Office. Addressing the gathering Ambassador Arunatilaka highlighted Sri Lanka's role in achieving international recognition for Vesak Day, when in 1999, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister at the time, late Lakshman Kadirgamar tabled the proposal supported by ten countries at the UN General Assembly to acknowledge the contribution made by Buddhism to human spirituality.
Ambassador Arunatilaka was a special guest at the Vesak Day Celebration at Bouddhanath Stupa, a prominent Tibetan Monastery in Kathmandu, and a UNESCO world heritage site. Vice President of Nepal Nanda Bahadur Pun was the Chief Guest at this event, hosted by Supreme Head of Bouddha and Melamchi Gyang Guthi, Dharma Guru Rinpoche Chiniya Lama Bhupati Bazra Lama.
The Ambassador also joined the Minister of Communications and Information Technology Gyanendra Bahadur Karki and other local dignitaries at a public Buddhist meeting held that afternoon, in line with the Vesak Day Celebration at Anand Kuti Vihar.
The Embassy was decorated with Buddhist flags and Vesak lanterns made by the Embassy staff.
Sri Lanka Embassy Kathmandu 19.05.2022
Remarks by Ambassador Himalee Arunatilaka at Vesak celebration at the Embassy: 18 May 2022
Venerable members of the Maha Sangha
I am happy that the Embassy of Sri Lanka has been able to organize a Vesak celebration at the Chancery this year, particularly as we were not able to do so for the past two years due to the COVID pandemic.
Vesak is the most significant event in the Buddhist calendar. It marks the Birth, the Enlightenment and the Parinirvana of Lord Buddha. Gauthama Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gauthama in Lumbini, and therefore, it is particularly significant to observe Vesak in this land of birth of the Buddha.
Buddhist links between Sri Lanka and Nepal are as old as Buddhism itself and provides a strong foundation for the friendship and understanding between our peoples. These ancient links have been invigorated and further strengthened in more contemporary times, particularly through exchanges and interactions between Buddhist monks of Sri Lanka and Nepal. The revival of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal was supported and made possible to a great extent through the intervention of a goodwill mission from Sri Lanka led by Ven Narada Maha Thero in 1943. The Ven Narada Thero was also instrumental in requesting the then Prime Minster of Nepal to declare a holiday on the day of Vesak. This was initially granted to the civil servants and later extended to all people of Nepal as a public holiday.
Sri Lanka has a long association with spreading Buddhist teachings and practices to the world. While celebration of Buddhist festivals is a centuries-old tradition, the decision to celebrate Vesak as we do today, marking the Birth, Enlightenment and Passing of the Buddha was formalized at the First Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, which was held in Sri Lanka in 1950, on an initiative by Sri Lankan scholar and diplomat G.P. Malalasekera.
The resolution adopted at the Conference in this regard also makes reference to the public holiday granted on Vesak Day in Nepal, and reads as follows: "This Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, while recording its appreciation of the gracious act of His Majesty, the Maharaja of Nepal in making the full-moon day of Vesak a Public Holiday in Nepal, earnestly requests the Heads of Governments of all countries in which large or small number of Buddhists are to be found, to take steps to make the full-moon day in the month of May a Public Holiday in honour of the Buddha, who is universally acclaimed as one of the greatest benefactors of Humanity."
The friendship between Sri Lanka and Nepal has thrived and prospered through the years on the foundation of these Buddhist ties. Even today, many Nepali monks travel to Sri Lanka for Buddhist education and higher studies. I have been privileged to meet so many Bhantes, many of whom are present here today, who have lived and studied in Sri Lanka and who continue to spread the Dhamma here in Nepal.
Sri Lanka has also been at the forefront in achieving international recognition to the Day of Vesak within the United Nations as well. The idea of gaining international recognition for Vesak Day was mooted at the International Buddhist Conference held in Sri Lanka in 1998 to which there was unanimous agreement by all participating countries. Accordingly, in 1999, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister at the time, late Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar tabled the proposal on behalf of 10 countries - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand - at the United Nations General Assembly.
In December 1999, the UNGA adopted the Resolution giving International recognition to the Day of Vesak, "in acknowledgement of the contribution that Buddhism, one of the oldest religions in the world, has made for over two and a half millennia and continues to make to the spirituality of humanity".
Thereafter, starting from the year 2000 Vesak is celebrated at the United Nations; and I was privileged to participate in the celebration at the UN in Nepal on Vesak Day last Monday.
This year, as you all know, we celebrate Vesak at a particularly difficult time for Sri Lanka which is experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis in the country. In this background, I would like to make this an opportunity to convey my heartfelt gratitude to the All Nepal Bhikku Association, many of whose members are present here, for coming forward to help the people of Sri Lanka at this hour of need by donating much needed medicines.
Sri Lanka's Ministry of Health has appealed to overseas Sri Lankans and well wishers to help obtain medicines and other medical supplies that are urgently needed. It has also made known a list of drugs that are in dangerously short supply in the hospitals. At the Embassy's request the Health Ministry has identified from this list, four medicines which are produced here in Nepal. The Embassy is working with the All Nepal Bhikku Association to purchase and send these drugs to Sri Lanka at the earliest possible.
I am also thankful to all friends from Nepal who have expressed their concern and offered their friendship to Sri Lanka at this time. Their kind sentiments and blessings are most appreciated and valued. Let me end with the wish that with the blessings of the triple gem the Sri Lankan people will be able to overcome these challenging times with resilience and fortitude, like we have overcome many other challenges.
May the blessing of the triple gem be with you all!