New Delhi: The four-day Buddhist meet to be attended by the Dalai Lama started on Sunday, with his aide making it clear that it was a "purely religious" event with no political overtones, against the backdrop of China objecting to the presence of the Tibetan spiritual leader.
   
India's refusal to accede to Beijing's demand to call off the global Buddhist convention, had led to a last-minute indefinite postponement of the crucial Sino-India border talks which were to be held on Monday.
   
While China treats the Tibetan spiritual leader as persona non grata, New Delhi has maintained that he is respectable religious leader and in a democratic country there is no restriction on freedom of speech.
   
When asked to comment on the controversy, the Dalai Lama's representative in New Delhi, Tempa Tshering, said: "This is a purely religious conference. It should not be used by any nation or individual for a political purpose. There is no motivation (for the Dalai Lama) except meeting religious leaders and representatives".
   
He confirmed that the Dalai Lama will continue his programme as scheduled at the conference. He will lead an all faith prayer meet at Gandhi Smriti and attend a gathering of eminent Buddhist leaders on Wednesday.
   
Rajya Sabha MP and ICCR Chairman Dr Karan Singh, who inaugurated the four-day event, sought to play down the issue.
   
"What is new in this? The Dalai Lama has been addressing gatherings for the past 50 years," he said when asked to comment on the controversy.
   
In a written message on the opening day, the Dalai Lama lauded the meet for laying out an opportunity for a confluence of Buddhist thoughts and traditions but chose not to make any mention of the diplomatic row. Earlier, Singh batted for the development of a tourist cum pilgrimage circuit encompassing places like Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Tawang in India and Lumbini in Nepal to bring together places that are of historic significance to Buddhist history.
   
"India should assist Nepal in developing Lumbini. This when brought together with Gaya, Sarnath and other places will attract thousands of people," he said.
   
He also hoped the ancient centre of learning of Nalanda, that is being redeveloped with cooperation between India and other countries will again become a great centre of learning.
   
Besides monks, scholars and leaders of all Budhdist schools and traditions from several countries, the conclave is attended by a number of government representatives from South and South East Asia, including ministers from Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Taiwan and Malaysia.
   
Victor Lee, Chairman of Tourism of Malaysia, expressed optimism that the development of a Buddhist circuit in India and Nepal will help make the experience of pilgrimage smooth. Sources among the organisers of the congregation said that the Asoka Mission had earlier approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil with an invitation but they did not get a positive response from them.
   
As many as 900 eminent scholars and activists from 46 countries, including the supreme patriarchs and top Buddhist religious leaders belonging to all Buddhist traditions are participating in the congregation.
   
Lama Lobzang, President of the Asoka Mission that has organised the event said: "This is the first time where Buddhist leaders, practitioners, scholars from all over the world have gathered together in the land of the Buddha dharma".

Agencies