Its origin and history are fairly blurred. But the unveiling of a renovated Buddhist stupa said to be commissioned by king Ashoka 2000 years ago in China’s Qinghai province could well contribute to strengthening cultural links between the two countries.
The renovated stupa is located in the Nangchen area of the northwestern province close to the border with the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). A replica of the Ashoka pillar and golden statue of Buddha were added to the structure.
The restoration process started in 2007 under the joint supervision of Chinese authorities and Gyalwang Drukpa, the head of the Drukpa Buddhism lineage, which follows the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.
The sect runs more than 1,000 monasteries across the Himalayas and is based in Ladakh, where the lineage has 267 monastic centres.
The sect, quoting Buddhist scriptures, say the restored stupa in Nangchen is one of the 80,000 stupas built to enshrine and carry forward the legacy of Buddha since the time of Ashoka.
Apparently, 19 of those stupas were once built across China and three more, according to the sect, were discovered in cities of Xian, Nanjing and near Ayuwang in Zhejiang province.
“The stupa at Nangchen fell to ruin over the last few centuries. The discovery of a pillar inscribed with the history of the stupa at the site revived interest and brought awareness of its significance,” the organisation said in a statement.
“The restoration and commissioning of the Ashoka stupa in Nangchen, China will go a long way in enshrining the principles of borderless humanism and spread the light of Buddha’s message globally,” Gyalwang Drukpa said.
He added: “For India and China, this represents a new area of informal engagement after the initiatives indicated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the positive response he has received from the Chinese leadership.”
Both Modi and President Xi Jinping have in the last one year tried to strengthen cultural and informal bonds between the two countries; cultural exchanges have gone up, joint production of movies are being carried out and there is also increased focus on tourism.
With the unresolved border problem and the increasing deficit for India in trade with China among issues plaguing bilateral relations, informal exchanges like these could well let off some steam.