India will host member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on March 14-15 for the international conference “Shared Buddhist Heritage”. The forum, billed as the first of its kind, will focus on India's civilizational links with the Buddhist world. Participants will come to New Delhi from Central, East and South Asia, and the Middle East for the two-day program, which has been organized by India's Ministry of Culture, Ministry of External Affairs and the International Buddhist Confederation.
Held at the Vigyan Bhawan Conference Center in New Delhi, the gathering will feature scholars and politicians discussing and celebrating past, present and future connections across the Buddhist religion. Guest speakers include: Shri G. Kishan Reddy, Union Minister for Culture, Tourism and Development of the North East Region of India; Shri Arjun Ram Meghwal, Minister of State for Culture and Parliamentary Affairs; and Shrimati Meenakashi Lekhi, Minister of State for Culture and External Affairs.
The conference aims to reaffirm India's central role in spreading Buddhism to neighboring countries and beyond. The organizers hope to re-establish the cross-cultural bonds that have been forged by Buddhist travel and trade in the region, including discussions of art, philosophy, archeology and culture.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is an economic, political, security and defense body that stretches from Turkey and Egypt in the west to China and Russia in the east and east. India, Cambodia and Sri Lanka as its southernmost participants. The organization has eight full members: China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia participate as observers, while Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Egypt, Nepal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Turkey have the status of dialogue partners.
At the heart of the founding of the SCO was the "safeguarding of national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and social stability of the five (now eight) countries". (Brookings)
Following the Indian Buddhist heritage conference, India will host tourism ministers from SCO countries at a meeting on March 17-18 in Varanasi, which has been designated as the first cultural capital of the SCO . Participants in this meeting include experts from the Dunhuang Research Academy in China, the Russian State Museum of Religious History and the Theravada International Buddhist Missionary University of Myanmar.
The lectures highlight India's use of Buddhist 'soft power' in an effort to create closer ties with its neighbors, particularly those with living Buddhist populations, but also those with a Buddhist archaeological history. such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
India's move to upgrade many remote areas of Buddhist cultural significance has notably included the introduction of a Buddhist Railway Tour, first offered in 2021.
“India has a rich and ancient Buddhist heritage, with several important sites associated with the life of Lord Buddha. . . . India's Buddhist heritage is of great interest to followers of Buddhism all over the world,” Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Tourism, Shri Arun Srivastava explained in 2021.*
* India promotes post-pandemic rail travel to Buddhist heritage sites (BDG)