By Raja Sekhar Vundru
19 October, 2006
Even the Buddha would not have
thought that his preaching would disappear from the land of its origin,
which happened after the 11th century. He would not have foreseen that
the path of life preached by him, would be revived by an untouchable,
2,500 years after his mahaparinibban (death).
In 1956, B R Ambedkar, one
of the tallest leaders of India and an untouchable, revived Buddhism
in India. On this day (October 14), 50 years ago, he embraced the lost
religion of India, along with 15 lakh of his followers arguably the
single largest religious conversion in
Interestingly, the Buddha
seemed to be the only God who took birth as an untouchable. The Buddhist
text, Jataka, is replete with tales of previous births of Buddha where
he is an untouchable. In Matanga Jataka, Lord Buddha takes birth as
a Chandala¹s son, Matanga. One day, Matanga goes to Benaras, and
Dittha-Mangalika, daughter of a Benaras merchant, upon seeing him cries
hoarse that a Chandala has entered Benaras. The people around beat Matanga
till he becomes senseless.
After he regains consciousness,
Matanga realises that people beat him up for no reason because of the
act of the Dittha-Mangalika, and resolves that he will not budge till
he gets her. He lay at the door of her father¹s house for seven
days, his resolve immutable. On the seventh day, the merchant brings
out the girl and hands her over to Matanga.
Matanga goes to the forest and in seven days he develops eight attainments
and five supernatural faculties. He returns to the city of Benaras,
fills the kingdom of Kashi with light, breaks through the moon, is worshipped
by a great crowd and turns towards the Chandala village. So goes the
In another Jataka, Chitta Sambhuta Jataka, the great being, born as
an untouchable named Chitta goes with his cousin Sambutha to Takshashila,
by camouflaging their caste to learn. But in an incident, the two men
by mistake start speaking in a dialect of untouchables. The Brahmins
get to know about this and beat both of them. They both turn into ascetics.
This being the relationship
between untouchability and Buddhism, Ambedkar took to Buddhism, after
announcing in 1935 that ³I was born a Hindu, but I will not die
as a Hindu². To mark the golden jubilee of the mass religious conversion
of Ambedkarites, there was a grand congregation this year at Deeksha
Bhoomi, Nagpur. This event is an annual feature, observed on Asoka Vijaya
Dashami Day (Dussehra for Hindus), which fell on October 2. On that
day, Nagpur bowed to an estimated 20 lakh Dalit Buddhists who came to
Deeksha Bhoomi and the stupa to have a glimpse of the casket where Ambedkar¹s
ashes are placed. They were joined by western and South East Asian scholars,
monks and Dalit diaspora. The Western Buddhist Order, Birmingham, UK,
celebrated the event in September in London as 50 years of Dhamma Revolution.
Sadly enough, Indian television, which scours for stories to pack each
minute of air time, lost the golden opportunity to bring this unique
event into the public domain. It did not report a minute of it. Is it
a case of marked indifference?
Buddhism in India has a predominantly Dalit following, as a result of
the revival by Ambedkar. For this reason, it appears that our society
prefers to treat Buddha as an untouchable. In 2005, this event, which
attracted an estimated 10 lakh people to Nagpur, escaped the national
Dalai Lama¹s meeting with the first lady of California, US, would
make news, but a 20 lakh Dalit congregation to celebrate Buddhism, would
not. TV viewers were reminded daily of the significance of the 10-day
Durga Puja, attended by Oxbridge graduates who seem oblivious to happenings
October 2, 2006 was also the day of Gandhigiri for urban filmgoers.
For the hordes of illiterate, but empowered Dalits in Nagpur, Gandhigiri
would not have made any difference, because the Mahatma chose the path
of change of heart of Indian society to address the sufferings of untouchables.
Dalits are still waiting for that Ohriday parivartan¹ to happen.
(The writer is an IAS officer.
Views expressed are personal. This article was first published in Times
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