The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lanka PM on rare visit to mutt

Chennai, Aug. 23: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe today made history of sorts by visiting the Sankara Mutt at Kancheepuram and meeting Sankaracharya Sri Jayendra Saraswati.

Wickremesinghe arrived from Colombo today, accompanied by his wife, on a three-day personal visit to India. Later, they drove down to the temple town and spent nearly 45 minutes with Jayendra Saraswati and junior acharya Sankara Vijayendra Saraswati.

Kancheepuram is an ancient centre of Buddhist and Hindu learning. Coming as it does from a Prime Minister with a Sinhala-Buddhist background, Wickremesinghe’s gesture is being seen as one loaded with pro-Hindu sentiments.

With the Sri Lankan government having initiated a peace process with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the visit assumes significance, particularly in the backdrop of the Sri Lankan premier being keen to enlist India’s support for peace talks.

Wickremesinghe, who was welcomed with the traditional “Poornakumbha” by mutt officials, was a picture of serenity as he posed for a rare photograph with both the Sankaracharyas.

The visiting premier and his wife also went round the samadhi of the late seer, Chandrasekharendra Saraswati.

In a brief chat with reporters at the mutt premises, Wickremesinghe said he had wanted to meet the Sanakracharya for a long time, but the moment came only today, on his way to the famous hill shrine of Tirupati.

The Prime Minister felt the Sankaracharyas’ blessings for the peace process as being a big morale booster.

Open to gather support for the on-going peace initiative from any quarter, including the US, Wickremesinghe said the Island government was taking all efforts to get back Tamil refugees from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka. He said though dates for talks with the LTTE planned in Thailand in September were yet to be firmed up, the “time for talks has come”.

More than these remarks what seemed significant, according to reports reaching here this evening, was the Kanchi acharya being fully convinced of Wickremesinghe’s respect for Hinduism and the latter’s commitment to protect Hindu temples in Sri Lanka. The acharya had reportedly said that Tamils should be given equal prominence along with Sinhalese in that country.

Later, on way to the temple of Lord Venkateshwara in the Tirumala Hills, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister along with his family members offered prayers at a temple dedicated to Hanuman at Nallatur near Tiruttani.

After an overnight stay at Tirumala-Tirupati, Wickremesinghe will fly to Hyderabad tomorrow, where he is scheduled to meet Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu. He would then proceed to Bangalore to attend the wedding of the daughter of Gopal Gandhi, the former Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, on Sunday.

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