The ancient port town of Mamallapuram is in the final stages of a makeover ahead of the scheduled visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a two-day India-China informal summit from October 11.
Mamallapuram near Chennai, which was a crucial town connecting India with Southeast Asia including China from the Pallava period, is under a security blanket, with armed security personnel present at all three monuments that the two world leaders will visit.
A team of ASI officials and workers have been laying natural grass panels and preparing a green cover around the pathways where Modi and Xi will take a brief walk.
Stone panels are being laid on a pathway surrounding Five Rathas, another monument where the two leaders are expected to have photo sessions.
“Four spots have been identified for their visit, including Arjuna Penance, Krishna’s Butter Ball, Five Rathas and Shore Temple. The PM may receive Xi near Arjuna Penance. The main photo session may be at the south-west corner of Five Rathas. Then they will move to the Shore Temple, where a cultural event is being organised on an open stage,” said a top ASI official.
On Wednesday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami inspected preparations at Mamallapuram.
While India-China experts see the summit as a crucial one, historians also see it as an important event in the history of Mamallapuram.
Joe Thomas Karackattu, who teaches China studies in IIT Madras, said the summit would take place in the wake of the recent India-US bonhomie and growing China-Pakistan partnership. “Amid the recent moves in Jammu and Kashmir, it may be ambiguous for many to expect the topic to come up. For both countries, especially India, it is important to exchange assurances about a friendship between India and China when there is a perception that India is moving closer to the US. Besides, the growing footprint of China in South Asia is not only in trade but also seemingly in politics in the region and this context also makes this summit significant,” he said.
T Satyamurthi, former superintending archaeologist of ASI, said there was evidence indicating possible travel of Buddhism to China from India via the ancient port.
“Mamallapuram has this greater importance. For India, it is like China’s Great Wall,” he said.
S Swaminathan, retired IIT professor and an authority on the history of Mamallapuram, who was authored a book on the architectural and sculptural achievements of the Pallavas, said Mamallapuram was the crucial port that established the first cultural relations of India with Southeast Asia and China.
“After Pallavas came to Tamil Nadu in 4th century AD, they made Kancheepuram the capital. When they switched their official language from Sanskrit to Tamil, they had to find a new script, Pallava Grantha, as writing Sanskrit in Tamil was impossible. Later, Grantha would emerge as the mother script of all Southeast Asian countries except Chinese, Korean and Japanese languages. Even though Grantha had no influence on Chinese scripts, architecture of Pallavas influenced everyone including Chinese, Pallavas also had trade relations with the Chinese. An India-China summit in Mamallapuram has greater significance,” Swaminathan said.
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