PM Narendra Modi was the chief guest for the Vesak Day celebrations in Colombo.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today announced that India's national flag carrier Air India would begin direct flights between Colombo and the city of Varanasi from August. Mr Modi, who is on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka, made the announcement of the beginning of the flights during his address at the inauguration of the International Vesak Day, the biggest festival of Buddhists.
He said the flights will allow "my Tamil brothers and sisters" to visit Varanasi, the land of Kashi Viswanath. At a distance of 10 kilometres from Varanasi, lies Sarnath, one of the most revered Buddhist pilgrimage centres.
It is believed that after attaining the enlightenment at Bodh Gaya in Bihar, it was in Sarnath that Lord Buddha preached his first sermon, sanctified as Maha Dharm Chakra Parivartan.
The direct flights will aid pilgrims from Sri Lanka, Buddhist-majority country, to visit Sarnath. Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh is the parliamentary constituency of the prime minister, from where he contested the 2014 Lok Sabha election.
Uttar Pradesh's Varanasi, interestingly, is also the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Mr Modi also stated, in his address, that while Buddhism started in India, Emperor Ashoka's sons - Mahinda and Sanghamitra - who made their journey to Sri Lanka to spread the message and ideals of Lord Buddha.
This is Mr Modi's second visit to Sri Lanka in two years. He arrived yesterday primarily to attend the International Vesak Day celebrations and his visit is aimed at reinforcing the traditional connect between India and Sri Lanka.