In heeding to a long-standing request of Georgia, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Friday handed over to the country the holy relics of 17th century Georgian Queen St. Ketevan nearly 16 years after they were found in Goa.
Mr Jaishankar is on a two-day visit to Georgia , a strategically important country situated at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.
"Warmly welcomed in Tbilisi by FM @DZalkaliani. Blessed to hand over the holy relics of St. Queen Ketevan to the people of Georgia. An emotional moment...," the external affairs minister tweeted.
Mr Jaishankar handed over the relics of St. Queen Ketevan to the government and the people of Georgia at a ceremony in Tbilisi in the presence of Beatitude Ilia II, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
St. Queen Ketevan was a 17th century Georgian Queen. Her relics were found in 2005 at the St. Augustine Convent in Old Goa, on the basis of medieval Portuguese records, people aware of the matter said.
The relics are believed to have been brought to Goa in 1627 and interred in St. Augustine Complex.
At the instance of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, carried out DNA analysis that confirmed its authenticity, the people cited above said.
In 2017, at the request of the Georgian government, India sent the relics to Georgia for an exhibition for six months.
The relics were personally welcomed by His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia along with many Georgians on September 23, 2017.
This loan of relics was extended for another six months and was returned to India on September 30, 2018. The relics spent the year travelling to different Churches of Georgia, said the people.
Considering the persistent request from the Georgian side for the permanent transfer of the relics and also taking into account the historical, religious and spiritual sentiments attached to the St. Queen Ketevan by the Georgian people, India decided to gift one part of the relics to Georgia, the people cited above said.
"This will strengthen the bonds of friendship and understanding between India and Georgia," said one of the people.
Mr Jaishankar is visiting Georgia at the invitation of the Vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Georgia David Zalkaliani.
During the visit, Mr Jaishankar will have a bilateral meeting with his counterpart covering various aspects of bilateral relations as well as exchange views on issues of regional and global interest, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday.
He is also scheduled to unveil the newly-installed statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Tbilisi.
The visit would further strengthen the close and cordial relations between India and Georgia, the MEA said.
Mr Jaishankar reached Georgia on Friday after concluding a three-day visit to Russia.