About Us India – Sri Lanka Cultural Relations

Brief on India - Sri Lanka Cultural Relations

Cultural relations:

India and Sri Lanka have a shared legacy of historical, cultural, religious, spiritual and linguistic ties that is more than 2,500 years old. In contemporary times, the Cultural Cooperation Agreement signed by the Government of India and the Government of Sri Lanka on 29 November, 1977 at New Delhi forms the basis for periodic Cultural Exchange Programmes between the two countries.

People-to-people ties

Buddhism is one of the strongest pillars connecting the two nations and civilizations from the time when the Great Indian Emperor Ashoka sent his children Arhat Mahinda and Theri Sangamitta to spread the teachings of Lord Buddha at the request of King Devanampiya Tissa of Sri Lanka.

Underlining the deep people-to-people connect and shared Buddhist heritage between India and Sri Lanka, the venerated relics of Lord Buddha from Kapilawasthu discovered in 1970 in India have been exhibited two times in Sri Lanka. The first time was in 1978 when they were brought to Sri Lanka and drew crowds of nearly 10 million people. In 2012, at the request of the then Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaska, the relics once again travelled from India to Sri Lanka to commemorate the 2600th anniversary of the Enlightenment of the Buddha. The venerated relics from the Waskaduwe Vihara have also been exhibited in India in October 2015 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Dr Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, embracing Buddhism along with 500,00 followers, where over 8 million people came to see the relics and paid homage.

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi during the Virtual Bilateral Summit held between India and Sri Lanka on 26 September, 2020, announced a USD 15 million grant assistance for protection and promotion of Buddhist ties between India and Sri Lanka. This is a first of its kind grant announcement by India which may be utilised for construction/renovation of Buddhist monasteries, education of young monks, strengthening engagement of Buddhist scholars and clergy, development of Buddhist heritage museums, cultural exchanges, archaeological cooperation, and reciprocal exposition of The Buddha’s relics.

In July, 2020, the Government of India declared the Kushinagar Airport in India, the place of Lord Buddha's Mahaparinibbana, as an international airport, to allow Buddhist pilgrims from around the world to visit the revered site associated with Lord Buddha with ease. Given the pre-eminence of India Sri Lanka Buddhist ties, both countries have agreed that the first inaugural flight to this airport will be from Sri Lanka. The decision to declare Kushinagar airport as an International airport, will provide Buddhist pilgrims, historians and cultural enthusiasts the opportunity to comfortably explore not only Kushinagar, but also other historically significant locations such as Lumbini, Kapilavastu and Sravasti, which are in close proximity.

To further strengthen people-to-people ties, the first ever pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya for Sri Lankan Armed Forces personnel and their families was organized from 24-26 June 2018. A special Indian Air Force C-17 aircraft was deployed to Colombo to transport 160 Armed Forces personnel and their families to Bodh Gaya and back. The second pilgrimage visit to Bodh Gaya was organized by India on June 2019 for Sri Lankan Armed forces and their families and for the first time Indian contingent arrived in Sri Lanka to visit Sri Lankan sites. A 55 member delegation from Mahabodhi Society of India visited prominent Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka during the last week of June 2018. During Prime Minister’s visit to Colombo on 12 May 2017, he announced that Air India will operate direct flights between Varanasi and Colombo and inaugural flight was flagged off on 4 August 2017. On 17 October 2019, Jaffna International Airport (JIA) was inaugurated by former President Maithripala Sirisena and the inaugural flight from Chennai operated by Alliance Air landed in JIA to mark the occasion. On 11 November 2019 Alliance Air started regular service between Jaffna and Chennai.

Special prayers across Sri Lanka for the well-being of people of India in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic

In May-June, 2021, a series of special prayers and ceremonies were held by people of different faiths across Sri Lanka for the well-being of people of India in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. The extent of diversity in these solidarity ceremonies was a true manifestation of camaraderie and connect between the peoples of India and Sri Lanka.

A multi-religious, country-wide ‘Vishwa Ashirwada Horawa’ was organized by Ministry of Buddhasasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs, headed by Prime Minister H.E Mahinda Rajapaksa. The sacred Rathna Sutra and Jwara Pirith were recited on the occasions.

Mahamritunjaya maha yagya was held simultaneously at the five Easwarams in Sri Lanka. Out of these, it may be recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Naguleewsawaram Temple during his visit to Sri Lanka in March 2015 and as a mark of his symbolic participation at the event, his photographs from the visit were displayed at the site of the ceremony.

Catholic churches in Jaffna dedicated a one-hour prayer service to the people of Sri Lanka, India and beyond. Parallel prayers were held at private houses as well during the same time.

Chanting of ‘Rathna Sutra’ was held on several occasions in various Temples. This includes the Kapilavastu Buddha Relics Chamber of Waskaduwa Rajaguru Sri Subhuthi Maha Viharaya under the auspices of Most Ven. Dr Waskaduwe Mahindawansa Mahanayake Thero on 29 April 2021; Bharatha Ashirvada Puja led by Most Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobhitha Nayake Thero at the Chamber of holy Buddha Relics at Sri Bodhiraja Monastery in Embilipitiya on 1 May 2021; at different places including the Agra Sravaka Viharaya, Maligakanda under the auspices of the Mahabodhi society on the same day; at Thiriyaya Raja Maha Viharaya in Trincomalee organized by Anuradha Yahampath, Governor of Eastern Province on 2 May 2021; Bharatha Ashirvada Puja at Gangaramaya Temple on 3 May 2021; at Sri Naga Vihara in Jaffna on 5 May 2021 etc. Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and Ministry of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs are jointly organizing a 7-day recital from 6 May 2021.

Hindu Religious Forum organized a special prayer at Kandarmadam Nataraj Temple in Jaffna on 30 April 2021. Ved Paarayan and Thirumurai recitals were also held as a part of these special prayers. Another prayer was organized by the Shirdi Sai Center in Colombo on 2 May 2021. Another special Puja dedicated to Goddess Dhanvantari for the health of people of India shall be conducted at Mayurpathy Temple in Colombo on 7 May 2021. In addition, Mahamritunjaya Yagya shall be held at all five Eshwarams in Sri Lanka on 8 May 2021.

Prayers were held for India during the Sunday service at the Anglican Church on 2 May 2021. Sri Lankan nationals from various walks of life who received their education in India came together to express their solidarity with India on 27 April 2021. Hashtags, such as ‘thinkingofindia’, ‘PrayForIndia’, are trending on social media in Sri Lanka. There are also public calls for various other unique solidarity gestures by several organizations and business enterprises.

Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre (SVCC)

The Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre (SVCC), the cultural arm of the High Commission of India, Colombo, has been playing a key role in strengthening these ties and promoting people-to-people contacts between India and Sri Lanka since its inception in 1998. SVCC has earned a reputation for excellence through its wide-ranging out-reach and in-house activities, such as dance and music performances, exhibitions, seminars, workshops, lectures, and cultural festivals, engaging artists, university professors, school and college teachers, writers, religious and spiritual gurus, and scholars from Sri Lanka as well as India. SVCC actively promotes awareness of Indian culture by offering classes in Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Hindustani and Carnatic vocal, Violin, Sitar, Tabla, Hindi and Yoga. SVCC also coordinates with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), New Delhi, Kendriya Hindi Sansthan, Agra, and a host of other organizations to select talented Sri Lankan students for scholarships to study in India in the field of Dance, Music, Fine Arts and Hindi.

Special outreach programs have been also initiated to reach out to Buddhist Educational institutions, such as Pirivenas and universities, as well as the Clergy and scholars. ‘India Corner’ was opened at the Nagananda International Institute for Buddhist Studies in collaboration with the High Commission of India. Hindi and Yoga classes were also launched at Param Dhamma Chetiya Pirivena in Ratmalana. Every month to commemorate Poya Days, SVCC also undertakes various activities, such as Dhamma Yatras to villages and temples, Dhamma Discourses in Sinhala and English, webinars between Buddhist scholars from Sri Lanka and India, workshop for children, and art exhibition by Sri Lankan artists on the walls of the High Commission of India premises.

SVCC has been also organizing major cultural events in Sri Lanka strengthening cultural ties between the countries. A musical evening was organized on 26th January, 2020, in which performances were given by Grammy winner Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Grammy nominated Pandit Subhen Chatterjee with participation of honourable Mahinda Rajapaksa Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, and Mrs. Shiranthi Rajapaksa. The same evening at BMICH, honourable Mahinda Rajapaksa also inaugurated an exhibition titled “Traditional Arts of India” showcasing the unity in diversity through traditional arts, particularly the folk arts, from different States of India. The paintings in the exhibition were made by the artists of Sri Lanka and India together, thereby representing the true spirit of India – Sri Lanka ties.

In another event, on 11th December, 2020, High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, Shri Gopal Baglay, and honourable Prof. G.L Peiris, Minister of Education, Government of Sri Lanka, launched Greeting Cards based on paintings made by children from care homes all over Sri Lanka. The competition received 4375 Paintings from 369 Orphanages all over Sri Lanka.

Since 2015, every year, the High Commission of India celebrates the International Day of Yoga (IDY) in Sri Lanka with great fervour, with the participation of the Sri Lankan leadership and public. The High Commission of India and the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre, Colombo joined hands with the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to celebrate the 7th ‘International Yoga Day’ on 21st June, 2021 at a special Yoga session, organized in the virtual mode. The Secretary of Defence of Sri Lanka, General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne was the Chief Guest at event, which was also attended by the Chief of Defence Staff & Commander of Army, General Shavendra Silva and around 500 defence personnel from about 150 defence establishments across Sri Lanka, including the Kotelawala Defence University, Training schools, defence academies, ships etc. In the run up to the IDY, a number of free online Yoga sessions were organized by SVCC, in May-June 2021. These sessions focused on wellness and therapeutic Yoga, in line with the theme for this year’s IDY. On June 20, 2021, a special Yoga session was organized at the Param Dhamma Chetiya Pirivena in Ratmalana, at which a special message from the High Commissioner, in Sinhala language, was shared with the participants. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, close to around 7000 participants attended various online events that were organized this year for the 7th International Day of Yoga.

As a part of Commencement of 150th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi in Sri Lanka, following events were organized on 2nd October, 2018:

  • A special Video created by Mission “Vaishnav Jana To”, bhajan sung by popular Sri Lankan artists – Bathia, Santhush and Umaria was launched by President of Sri Lanka.
  • Release of Special commemorative postal stamps on Gandhiji by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.
  • Launch by former Speaker of Sri Lanka Parliament Karu Jayasuriya of a well-researched book in Sinhala on Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to Sri Lanka, written by veteran journalist Mr. Sampath Bandara.
  • A special musical performance “Symphony One” by the Violin Maestro Dr. L. Subramaniam and the National Leipaja Latvian Philharmonic Orchestra.
  • Iconic Colombo Municipal Town Hall was lit with special LED lights to showcase Gandhiji’s images.

On 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi following events were organized in 2019-

  • On 1 October a special floral tribute programme was held at Presidential Secretariat where former President Maithripala Sirisena and High Commissioner graced the occasion.
  • On 2 October former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and High Commissioner unveiled a bronze bust of Gandhiji at Temple Trees (official residence of Sri Lankan Prime Minister). During the occasion two commemorative postal stamps on Mahatma Gandhi issued by Sri Lankan Post were also released by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and High Commissioner.
  • A Mahatma Gandhi Oration titled “Relevance of Mahatma Gandhi in Contemporary Times” by Sri Lanka Supreme Court Justice S Thurairaja was held at BCIS, Colombo with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya as the chief guest.

550th Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev was celebrated on 9 November 2019 at Swami Vivekananda Cultural Center. During the event there was a document screening and a Kirtan by Gyanji from Guru Nanak Darbar Guruduwara, Colombo.

Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, in 2020, 551st Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev was celebrated via virtual mode. A Kirtan by Gyanji from Guru Nanak Darbar Guruduwara, Colombo, was organized and webcast live on the social media site of SVCC.

India-Sri Lanka Foundation

The India-Sri Lanka Foundation, set up in December 1998 as an intergovernmental initiative, also aims towards enhancement of scientific, technical, educational and cultural cooperation through civil society exchanges and enhancing contact between the younger generations of the two countries.


Tourism also forms an important link between India and Sri Lanka. Government of India formally launched the e-Tourist Visa (eTV) scheme for Sri Lankan tourists on 14 April 2015. Subsequently, in a goodwill gesture, the visa fee for eTV was sharply reduced. In 2019, out of the total 1.91 million tourists, 355,000 tourists arrived from India. Sri Lankan tourists too are among the top ten sources for the Indian tourism market. The tourism sector of Sri Lanka which was severely hit by Easter Sunday attacks received a boost by the arrival of Indian tourists. On 24 July 2019 Sri Lanka included India in the free visa on arrival scheme and commenced the scheme on 1 August 2019.

July 1,2021