Ambedkar and Buddhism

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AMBEDKAR’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE REVIVAL OF BUDDHISM
Dr. Ruchi Singh,
ruchianoop@yahoo.co.in

Bhimrao Ramjee Ambedkar (14th April 1891 to December 7, 1956), was a great jurist, lawyer, and political leader of modern India. Dr. B.R.Ambedkar was the Chairman of the Drafting Committee, that was constituted by the constituent Assembly to draft the constitution of Independent India. He was the first Law Minister of India.

Ambedkar was born in the Mahar caste, an ‘untouchable’ community of Maharashtra, and had experienced first hand the humiliation and oppression faced by such outcastes. He was therefore vehemently critical of the hypocracies of Brahmanism.

Dr. B.R.Ambedkar declared his firm resolve to change his religion in 1935 at Nasik district in Maharashtra “I was born a Hindu and I had no choice about that. But I will not die a Hindu”.

THE NAGPUR DHAMMA DIKSHA :

Ambedkar had been attracted towards Buddhism since his student days. On further study, he was convinced that the ‘untouchables’ could attain social equality and psychological liberation only through the teachings of Buddha. He undertook a detailed study of the religion and met numerous Buddhist scholars. He was greatly influenced by the writings of P.L.Narasu and other Tamil Buddhists, and also of Mahatma Jotiba Phule, a nineteenth century radical social reformer of Maharashtra. Ambedkar claimed that he had three gurus the Buddha, Kabir and Jotiba Phule. He travelled to Ceylon and Burma to see Buddhism being practised in these countries.

In the World Buddhist Brotherhood held at Rangoon (Burma) in 1954, Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar delivered a historic speech and gave a clarion call: it would be a grave error to suppose that Buddhism disappeared from India without leaving its influence on Indian people and their culture. Dr.Ambedkar had made a meticulous study of all the contemporary world religions for nearly twenty years, after which he came to the conclusion that if the world must have a religion, then it can only be the religion of the Buddha.

The year 1956 marks the beginning of a new era for the revival of Buddhism in the land of its origin. It was the year of the 2500th Buddha Jayanti and was celebrated all over the Buddhist world. Pandit Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, described this event as the “homecoming of Buddhism”.

Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar embraced Buddhism along with more than five lakh followers on the auspicious day of Ashoka Vijaya Dashmi (Dasera) on 14th October 1956. The oldest bhikkhu then in India, Mahasthavira Chandramani of Burma, came to Nagpur for the conversion ceremony, and initiated Ambedkar into Buddhism. The world witnessed this great event as an unprecedented phenomenon of mass conversion. This historical event acknowledges Dr.Ambedkar as the greatest revivalist of Buddhism in modern times and enhances the importance of his thoughts and interpretation of Buddhism.

Another huge ceremony was held in Bombay ten days after Ambedkar’s death in which Andhra Kausalyayana, a Pali scholar and Hindi speaking Punjabi Brahmana monk, initiated thousands to Buddhism. But these massive conversions mainly affected only low castes, particularly the Mahars of Maharashtra, the community of Ambedkar, who had been involved for decades in a battle for political, social and religious rights. Their conversion, however, made the authority of ‘Babasaheb’ Ambedkar unquestioned for them. A few even refer to him as a ‘Second Buddha’ and describe the Nagapur Diksha as a new Dharma Chakra Pravartana.

THE ‘BIBLE’ OF AMBEDKAR MOVEMENT :

The chief vehicle for transmitting and interpreting the new faith of Ambedkar is his book The Buddha and his Dhamma. (Ambedkar, B.R. The Buddha and his Dhamma, Bombay 1974). It was written in English at the end of his life, published posthumously, and subsequently translated into Hindi and Marathi. It is a rationalized...
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