Sumatra Hopes Pagoda Will Lift Harmony And Tourism

by Aidi Yursal, Antara News, November 1, 2010

Medan, Sumatra (Indonesia) -- A replica of Burma’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda was officially opened in North Sumatra on Sunday in a ceremony attended by hundreds of Buddhist monks from across Asia.

Construction of the pagoda, which shares the same name as the original in Burma, began three years ago on three hectares of land at Lumbini Park in Tonggo village, Karo subdistirct, near the Brastagi tourism development region, some 50 kilometers south of Medan.

“The Shwedagon replica is hoped to bring prosperity to the people of Karo, as well as to promote religious harmony in North Sumatra,” Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said at the opening ceremony.

Aside from being a religious site, the Buddhist pagoda is also expected to attract more tourists to the province.

Although the majority of Indonesians are Muslim, the country officially recognizes six different faiths of its diverse population and guaranteed freedom of religion for these in its Constitution, the minister said.

“It is important that we remember to always seek a balance between promoting the interests of our different religious groups and our national interest,” Suryadharma said.

Indonesia has seen a spate of religious clashes in the past few years, with several minority groups airing complaints about discrimination and the government’s slow reaction to attacks against them.

The Religious Affairs Ministry itself controversially backed a decree that prohibits followers of the Ahmadiyah Muslim sect from publicly practicing their faith or proselytizing following pressure from hard-line Islamic groups.

Tongariodjo Angkasa, head of the organizing committee for the opening ceremony, said two days of prayers would be held at the site along with other religious ceremonies by Buddhists from across the country.

“Today’s event is to help promote religious harmony here and abroad, as well as to promote the Shwedagon replica in Karo as a destination for religious tourism,” he said.

The two-story pagoda, with its 47 meter high main tower, was built with donations from various Buddhist groups. While the pagoda is now open to the public, construction continues to improve the road leading to the site.