Focussing on ancient Buddhist links is a customary part of India-China cultural diplomacy during high-level visits even if bilateral ties have generally been less-than sacred in modern times.
President Pranab Mukherjee will carry forward that tradition when he will visit the Hualin temple in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province on Wednesday afternoon.
Legends claim that a Buddhist monk from India came to the region in the 6th century and spread the ideas and philosophy of Buddhism.
The monk, Bodhidharma, is also said to be responsible for starting the physical training of the Shaolin monastery monks, leading to the creation of the martial art, Kung Fu.
It is said the temple had a pagoda named after King Ashoka. But it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution decade of 1966-76. But the repeatedly rebuilt temple remains an example of religious links between the two countries.
To reinforce the link, Mukherjee will officially install a made-in-India bronze statue of Buddha, weighing some 40 kg and four feet in length in the temple.
The statue was specially made months in advance for Mukherjee to install it in the Hualin temple.
Mukherjee’s temple visit is part of a long tradition of Indian leaders visiting Buddhist shrines in China.
The last Indian President to visit China was Pratibha Patil in May, 2010, and she too had her Sino-India Buddhist moment.
When HT visited the temple in Luoyang on Sunday, hundreds of domestic Chinese tourists were thronging the sprawling and efficiently maintained stupa built on the lines of the Sanchi stupa in Madhya Pradesh.
The Guangdong provincial government will gift Mukherjee a delicately crafted ceramic statue of the Chinese traditional god of longevity, Shou Xing, who is painted or sculpted holding a peach, considered symbol of immortality.
The gift is meant to symbolise longevity not only for Mukherjee but also for India-China relations.