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Buddhisms Revival in India in the 20th Century Vinay Lal The disappearance of Buddhism from the land of its

birth, a gradual process that extended from the latter part of the 1 st millennium AD until about 1200 1!00 AD, is a phenomenon that has been commented upon "uite often# $%ee the related article on this &eb site#' Another part of this story is surely the re(i(al of Buddhism, a rea&a)ening &ith &hich the name of B# *# Ambed)ar is indelibly lin)ed# +ndeed, the story of modern day +ndian Buddhism generally commences &ith Ambed)ar,s con(ersion to Buddhism in 1-./, a mere couple of months before his death# By the early 1--0s, there &ere an estimated 0 10 million Buddhists in +ndia, the bul) of them in the &estern state of 1aharashtra# 2o&e(er, the narrati(e of Buddhism,s re(i(al in +ndia can more accurately be traced bac) to the 1-th century, and a more complex account of it &ould ha(e to ta)e stoc) of (arious Dra(idian, anti Brahminical, and self respect mo(ements that, in (arious &ays, impinged on the fortunes of Buddhism in +ndia from the late nineteenth century on&ards# The names of reformers such as 3otiba 4hule 5162/ 16-07 and much later 8# V# *amas&ami 94eriyar, 5160- 1-0!7 are, of course, &ell )no&n, but one can also point to other tendencies# 1ahima Dharma, or the :religion; founded by 1ahima <osain $pre(iously )no&n as 1u)unda Das' in =rissa in 16/2, stood for the re>ection of caste and idol &orship, and <osain embraced such Buddhist practices as begging for coo)ed food# <osain,s teachings &ere spread through many follo&ers, none as famous as the blind adi(asi poet, Bhima Bhoi, &hose bha>ans populari?ed 1ahima <osain,s teachings# Ambed)ar,s closest forerunner may &ell ha(e been 4andit +yothee Thaas, a Tamil %iddha physician 516@. 1-1@7 &ho not only urged the Antouchables 5as they &ere then )no&n7 to (ie& themsel(es as non 2indus, as casteless Dra(idians, but also set another example for them by ta)ing diksha at the hands of a Buddhist mon) in %ri Lan)a# Thaas &ent on to found the %a)ya Buddhist %ociety in 1adras# Various other tra>ectories fed into Buddhism,s re(i(al, among them the arri(al in +ndia in 16-1 of Da(id 2e&a(itarne, more &ell )no&n as Angari)a Dharmapala# The restoration of Bodh <aya, the site of the Buddha,s enlightenment, &as underta)en at his behest, and Dharmapala also founded the 1aha Bodhi %ociety# Before Ambed)ar,s con(ersion in 1-./ and the ad(ent of &hat &e might call Dalit Buddhism, the 1aha Bodhi %ociety, &hich also &rested control of Bodh <aya from the hands of its 2indu managers, &ould become the custodian of Buddhism,s fortunes# Dharmapala,s (isit to +ndia coincided &ith a spurt of scholarly interest in Buddhism among +ndologists, including such famous ones as the %ans)ritist *# <# Bhandar)ar, and something of &hat might be called an anti"uarian and spiritual interest in Buddhism among intellectuals and truth see)ers in the Best# +n 1661, the 4ali Text %ociety had been founded, and authoritati(e (ersions of Buddhist texts soon came to be published and disseminated under its auspices# =ne con(ert to Buddhism in +ndia &ho &as to ac"uire considerable fame in later years &as Dharmanand Cosambi, &ho &as born in <oa in 160/ and &as ordained as a Buddhist mon) in 1-02# Though his fame has been eclipsed by that of his son, D# D# Cosambi, the most eminent +ndian 1arxist historian of his generation, Dharmanand Cosambi authored

one of the most popular biographies of Buddha, Bhagwan Buddha 51-@0, and still in print from Bharatiya Vidya Bha(an7# Altimately, ho&e(er, Buddhism,s re(i(al o&es the most to Ambed)ar,s alienation from 2induism and his embrace of Buddhism, &hich by no means seemed ine(itable to him e(en &hen he had emphatically denounced 2induism, in =ctober 1-./# That story has been ta)en up in great detail by Ambed)ar,s biographers and is no& part of Dalit loreD and conse"uently it &ill not be rehearsed no& at any length# +t is &orth recalling that as late as 1-2-, &hen a group of Dalits threatened to con(ert to +slam or Ehristianity, Ambed)ar did not really see Buddhism as a (iable alternati(e for lo& caste 2indus# As he then &rote, :Fo particular effect &ill be felt on the bullying of the so called upper castes by becoming Buddhist or Arya %ama>ist, so &e see no meaning in follo&ing this path# To successfully confront the domination of 2indus, &e should become Ehristians or 1uslims and &in the support of a po&erful community and &ith this erase the mar) of Antouchability#; Ambed)ar &as fully con(ersant &ith the problem that in +ndia the tendency to (ie& Buddhism as an off shoot of 2induism meant that con(erts to Buddhism &ould be treated &ith something li)e indifference, and that they &ould not be able to escape the liabilities of lo& caste 2induism# Apper caste 2indus &ere not li)ely to percei(e con(ersion to Buddhism as anything of a threat# By the mid 1-!0s, ho&e(er, Ambed)ar had certainly come around to the (ie& that he could not remain &ithin the fold of 2induism# As he &as to declare on 1! =ctober 1-!., :Anfortunately, + &as born a 2indu# +t &as beyond my po&er to pre(ent that, but + solemnly assure you that + &ill not die a 2indu#; 2e only too) the final plunge in =ctober 1-./# 4erhaps not coincidentally, or not &ithout its o&n symbolic politics, Ambed)ar,s con(ersion, accompanied by the con(ersion of thousands of his follo&ers, too) place at a large field in the city of Fagpur, a place associated &ith the rise of 2indu nationalist sentiments# The field &here Ambed)ar con(erted &ould be sanctified as :Di)sha Bhoomi;, the field or earth of (o& ta)ing# Though Buddhism has gained adherents o(er the last fi(e decades, +ndian Buddhists are still relati(ely miniscule in numbers# Buddhism,s presence in +ndia is, of course, another matter, &ith the landscape in many parts of the country still dotted &ith remains of Buddhist monasteries, Buddhist sculptural art, and other reminders of the supreme presence that Buddhism once occupied in +ndian life# The hill regions of north east +ndia, Attaraanchal, and 2imachal 4radesh, as &ell as Lada)h in 3ammu G Cashmir are other areas &here si?able Buddhist communities are found# 3apanese tourists arri(ing in +ndia to ta)e the Buddhist pilgrimage route are &riting yet another chapter of the history of +ndian Buddhism, as are, in more profound &ays, Tibetan Buddhists# There is a si?able population of Tibetan Buddhists, o(er 1.0,000 people, in +ndiaD and the Dalai Lama heads the Tibetan go(ernment in exile at the hill station of Dharmashala# +n the 12 th and 1!th centuries, as Buddhism &as pushed further east and north, it e(entually made its &ay to Tibet and found refuge in the mountainous retreats of that country# +t is, thus, perfectly apposite that Buddhism should no& ha(e come bac) to +ndia from Tibet to nourish the soil on &hich it once gre&# 4ostedH 2@ Iebruary 200/