Gautama Buddha may have been born in Nepal, and achieved enlightenment in India, but the only South Asian country where Buddhism flourishes today is Sri Lanka. On the 2315th anniversary of Buddhism's arrival on the island, Sri Lanka's first 24 hour television channel on Buddhism (and possibly the first in the world), The Buddhist, was inaugurated here on Friday by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
"The coming into existence of this channel is symbolic of the inalienable and irreversible ties between Sri Lanka and India," Lalith Weeratunga, the President’s Secretary, told the Hindustan Times.
It was Prince Mahinda, son of Emperor Ashoka, who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Known locally as an Arahant (one whose spiritual status is second only to Buddha) Prince Mahinda had a tremendous impact on Sri Lanka. His sister Sangamitra too is equally revered. The country is a bastion of the Theravada school of Buddhism.
"The relations between Sri Lanka and India may have had ups and downs, but these have only been conflicts between parties or governments. The people of the two countries have had no problems with each other. The bedrock of the relationship has been religious and cultural and this is inalienable and irreversible," Weeratunga said.
The Buddhist will begin its broadcasts in Sinhala, Tamil and English, but will soon have services in Tamil, French and other international languages too.
Politically, the channel will help reinforce Rajapaksa's standing among the Sinhala Buddhists, who are more than 75 per cent of Sri Lanka's population, and who have been his main political constituency, political observers said. Rajapaksa came to power playing the Buddhist card, and has to be seen as being a guardian of the faith if he is to remain in power.
But ironically the financier of this private channel is a Tamil Hindu, Muhundan Canagey, though the prime movers are a Colombo-based Buddhist NGO and some Sinhala entrepreneurs. The satellite is arranged by Dialog, a joint venture with a Malaysian telecom giant.