At the time of the Hindu epic Ramayana, Sri Lanka ruled by Ravana was much more prosperous than India, says Dr Karan Singh, Chairman of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).
Delivering the first Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture here on Thursday, he said: "In the Ramayana - although its author was Mahrishi Valmiki, an Indian - it seems clear that Sri Lanka was much more prosperous than India."
"It was referred to as Swarnamayi Lanka (the golden Lanka) and contains graphic descriptions of the beautiful palaces and buildings that existed there several millennia ago."
Although Lord Rama and Ravana were sworn enemies, and the latter met his death at Rama's hands, the people of India respected Ravana as a great Sanskrit scholar and a devotee of Shiva, Dr Singh said.
"A glorious Sankskrit poem by Ravana addressed to Shiva as Nataraja, Lord of the Cosmic Dance, is still recited in thousands of homes in India, and surely in Sri Lanka also."
"This clearly shows that our culture does not allow even the severest differences to cloud the intellectual and spiritual stature or our deadly opponents, what to say of our friends."
"In a world that is under continuous threat of becoming more rigid, inflexible and unyielding, we as Indians, believe not in the Clash but in the Confluence of civilisations," Dr Singh said.
Noting that Sri Lanka, like India, was a multi-religious country, he called for the setting up of an Institute for the Comparative Study of Religions in the island.
Dr Singh said that if there were no awareness of the commonalities between religions, intolerance and fanaticism would gain the upper hand and tear the social fabric apart.
On the Sri Lankan ethnic question, the Indian scholar-politician said that there was no place for terrorism anywhere in the world, even as he stressed the need to find a solution to the problem through the acceptance of pluralism and democracy.
As Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was gunned down by a terrorist, Dr Singh came out very strongly against terrorism.
He said that no political thesis or claim of "root causes" could be an adequate justification of terrorist actions.
"Our opposition to terrorism has to be firm and unwavering, resisting any temptation to compromise for tactical or political ends," he said.
Terrorism would seek to exploit the space offered by democratic societies, equating accommodation and tolerance with weakness.
Tolerance of terrorism, Dr, Singh warned, would undermine South Asia's ancient and civilisational values, foremost among them was "the celebration of diversity and the acceptance of pluralism as an existential necessity."