Varanasi: Marking a new chapter in centuries-old ties between India and Japan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe will visit this ancient temple town on Saturday.
The visit assumes significance as it comes against the backdrop of Partner City Agreement between Kyoto and Varanasi, Modi's Lok Sabha constituency, signed by the two leaders during the Prime Minister's visit to Japan in August last year.
In this photograph taken on August 30, 2014, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) is embraced by his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe upon his arrival at the State Guest House in Kyoto. Pic/PTI
Abe, who is on a three-day day visit to India from today, along with Modi will attend the 'Ganga Arti', a beautifully choreographed ritual worship of the holy river performed daily at the fabled Dashashwamedh Ghat.
A gigantic make-shift stage has been erected on the river bed with the help of pontoons and a music system is being installed with special permission from the Allahabad High Court.
Army and Navy personnel would be guarding the make-shift stage from where the Premiers will enjoy a panoramic view of the event.
The ancient temple town, situated less than 15 kms from Sarnath where Buddha delivered his first sermon upon attaining enlightenment, boasts of a special place in the religious and cultural consciousness of Japan as well as most of the South East Asian countries with sizeable Buddhist populations.
Modi and Abe share a good chemistry and their personal camaraderie is often visible in their Twitter messages. The Prime Minister today described Abe as a great friend of India and a phenomenal leader.
"India is all set to welcome its great friend & a phenomenal leader, PM @AbeShinzo. His visit will further deepen India-Japan relations," Modi said in his tweets. He also praised Abe's views on India-Japan ties and "the rich potential & cultural bond".
The two leaders are also expected to interact with dignitaries of the city over dinner before boarding their return flight to the national capital.
Officials of the Japanese Embassy have been camping in the city for the past few days to take stock of preparations and security arrangements for the visit of Abe, whom Modi is likely to present with artefacts prepared by artisans of Varanasi.
Modi, who represents Varanasi in the Lok Sabha, has visited the city many times since becoming the Prime Minister in May, 2014 though this is going to be the first occasion when he would be accompanied by a foreign counterpart with plans for a better future for residents of the city.
As part of the Agreement, colloquially called the 'Kashi-Kyoto pact', the ancient temple town will receive assistance from the former capital of Japan in overcoming its problems of traffic congestion, poor sanitation and crumbling infrastructure while preserving its heritage.
During his Japan visit, Modi had an overnight stay in the historic city of Kyoto where he visited two ancient Buddhist temples with Abe accompanying him in a significant gesture.
Like the ancient temple town of Kashi, Kyoto is believed to be more than a thousand years old and is home to thousands of Buddhist shrines, even though it is much cleaner and better-managed than Varanasi, which appears to be bursting at the seams and in crying need for modernization.
Work has already begun in this direction and since the signing of Kashi-Kyoto pact, several officials including Kyoto Deputy Mayor Kenichi Ogaswara, have visited Varanasi to get a first-hand account of the challenges faced by the city.
Besides, the Union Urban Development Ministry has set up an 11-member Steering Committee comprising senior bureaucrats at the Centre and in UP with a view to "facilitating actions pertaining to modernisation of Varanasi, including upgradation of water management and sewage facilities, waste management, urban development etc., drawing upon Japan's expertise and technologies".
According to an official release, the Steering Committee will also facilitate "application of Japanese practices, techniques and management for conservation of the rich heritage of Varanasi" and "exchanges between Kyoto University and Benares Hindu University as well as religious organizations".