The decision to build an Indian-style Buddhist temple in Henan Province, a move recently agreed by the governments of China and India, has been warmly welcomed locally.
Ma Jinyong, director of the Religious Affairs Bureau of Luoyang, in Henan, said on Thursday the two countries have a long history of Buddhist cultural exchanges. And construction of the temple is an important symbol of enhanced Buddhist cultural exchanges in a new historical age.
"We welcome the temple very much," said Ma.
During Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's recent visit to India, the two governments signed a Memorandum on Construction of an Indian Style Buddhist Temple to the west of the famed White Horse Temple in Luoyang.
The agreement was included in the joint statement of the two countries, signed by Wen and his counterpart, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The White Horse Temple, or Baimasi in Chinese, is an important witness to Sino-Indian friendship and Sino-Indian Buddhist cultural exchanges, which have been further enhanced since the 1990s, said Ma.
The White Horse Temple was the starting point of the spread of Buddhism in China from India almost 2,000 years ago, abbot of the temple, Shi Yinle, said.
Welcoming the announcement of the new temple, Shi said it was a happy event and a sacrament for both China and India.
Under the agreement the Indian side will provide the main architectural design of the temple project, its blueprint, materials to be used and the landscaping.
Once the temple is completed, India will also provide Buddhist icons.
For its part China will provide 2,667 square meters of land and offer support and advice on the actual construction.
The Indian Government will fund the work and officials from the two governments will shortly begin discussing specifics, said an official with the Indian Embassy in Beijing.
The official, however, denied news reports that the Indian Government had already appropriated 50 million Indian rupees (US$1.1 million) for the temple's construction.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said construction costs could not be estimated at this time since neither the final design of the temple, nor the construction materials to be used had been decided.
The idea of building an Indian temple within the White Horse Temple complex was initiated by former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who visited Luoyang in June 2003.
He proposed building a Buddhist temple close to the White Horse Temple to celebrate the friendship between the Chinese and Indian peoples.
The almost 2,000-year-old White Horse Temple was the first Buddhist temple built in China.
Its first incumbents were two prominent Indian Buddhist monks, Kasyapa Matanga and Dharmaranya.
One night in AD 64, Liu Zhuang, an emperor of the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220) which had Luoyang as its capital, had a dream about a golden man.
The figure was interpreted by the emperor's courtiers as Buddha. This inspired the emperor to dispatch two officials westwards in search of Buddhist scriptures.
The pair encountered two Indian Buddhist monks in what is today's Afghanistan. The officials persuaded them to return to China and help spread the teaching of Buddha.
Three years later the four returned to Luoyang with Buddhist sutras and a portrait of Buddha, which were carried by a white horse.
The following year, the emperor ordered the construction of a temple for the two Indian monks, and named it the White Horse Temple.
(China Daily April 18, 2005)