For many centuries, Buddhism was in a state of hibernation in India. Its heritage was buried so deep under dust and debris that even the name or the Buddha had been' forgotten by the people. The rediscovery of Buddhism in India began in 1891 with the arrival of Anagarika Dharmapala, and reached its climax in 1956 when Dr. B.R. A Ambedkar gave a clarion call to his followers to seek refuge in the Buddha-Dhamma. This book presents for the first time, short biographies of 30 Pioneer Budhists (21 Indian and 9 foreign), from Anagarika to Ambedkar, who devoted their lives to the cause of Budhism, and made it once again a living religion in the land of its birth. Thoough the 'selection of Pioneers is confined to the period prior to 1956, the biographies are, however, uptodate. As such, the story of the Buddhist revival movement covers nearly 100 years from 1891 owward. The role played by the pioneer archaeologists and some friends of Buddhism has also been highlighted,
Sh.D.C.Ahir, author of the present book is reputed scholar on Buddhism, and he contributes regularly to various journals in India & abrod.
The rediscovery of Buddhism in India began in 1891 with the founding of the Maha Bodhi Society of India by Anagarika Dharmapala, and reached its climax in 1956 when Dr. Ambedkar gave a clarion call to his followers to seek refuge in the Buddha- Dhamma. Presented here are short biographies of 30 Pioneer Buddhists, from Anagarika to Ambedkar, who devoted their lives to the cause of Buddhism, and made it once again a living religion in India.
Having been associated with the Buddhist movement since 1952, I had the good fortune of personally knowing as many as 12 out of 30 Pioneers, whose biographies are included in this book. They being: Devapriya Valisinha, Venerable N. Jinaratana, Ven U. Dhammaratana, Ven. M. Sangharatana, Ven. Dharmarakshita, Ven, L. Ariyawansa (all of the Maha Bodhi Society of which I am a Life Member), Mahapandit Rahul Sanki'ityayan, Bhadant Anand Kausalyayan, Ven. Jagdish Kashyap, Ven. Kushak Bakula, Dr. R.L. Soni and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Therefore, much of what I write here is based on my personal knowledge and observation. Care has, however, been taken to consult all the sources that are available today in order to present an authentic and accurate account of the contribution of each pioneer in the revival movement. I record my thanks to all the listed sources which enabled me to present this treatise, the first of its kind, on the lives of the Pioneers of Buddhist Revival in India.
Buddhism dominated the Indian scene for about 1000 years from BC 3rd century to AD 7th century. Then it began to decline for the reasons ~hich were external as well as internal. By the end of the 12th century AD, Buddhism in India had been completely engulfed by the dark clouds. And in the following centuries, thousands of Buddhist shrines were either destroyed, plundered or usurped by its opponents. When the monks were no more; mona- steries had been destroyed or deserted; the Buddhist scriptures and other literature also perished; leaving nc trace whatsoever of the great religion of the Buddha.
After a long spell of darkness, light dawned on Buddhism in India when the British Civil Servants started bringing to light its treasures hidden under dust and debris. Asokan PIllars standing in the open were the first to be noticed by the curious foreigners. The romantic story of the archaeological discoveries began in 1750 with the discovery of some fragments of an Asokan inscription on the Delhi-Meerut Pillar which now stands on the Ridge, Delhi. In the same year, .the Allahabad-Kosam (Kausambi) Pillar at Allahabad was discovered. This was followed by the discovery of the Lauriya-Araraj (Radhia) Pillar in 1784 and the Barabara Hill Cave inscription in 1785. In 1785 again, the Delhi-Topra Pillar at Ferozshah Kotla, Delhi was discovered by Captain Polier. He presented some drawings of its inscription to Sir William Jones who had founded in Calcutta in 1784 the Asiatic Society of Bengal to collect, decipher and interpret the archaeological and other specimens discovered by its members.
By 1836, a number of Rock and Pillar inscriptions had been discovered in various parts of India. But nobody knew either their contents or the name of their creator. No Indian scholar was com- petent enough to decipher the most ancient inscriptions of India which were found not only on the rocks and pillars but on the coins as well. In 1837, James Prinsep; a high official of the Indian Mint and Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, succeeded, after several years of assiduous study and hard work, in deciphering the inscriptions which were written in Prakrit. In July 1837, he published fascimiles, phonetic transcriptions and English translation of the seven pillar Edicts, the opening words of which were: 'Thus spake the beloved of g ods, King Piyadasi.' Who was King Piyadasi still remained a mystery. Luckily, in the same year, George Tumour translated and published in English the Mahavamsa, a Pali chronicle of Sri Lanka. lhe occurrence of the w ord 'Piyadasi' in the Mabavamsa helped Prinsep in identifying King Piyadasi as the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka. In 1838, James Prinsep deciphered and published translation of the Girnar Reck inscription in Gujarat (discovered in 1822) and the Dhauli Rock inscription in Orissa (discovered in 1837). Thus, James Prinsep, working almost single- handed, made available just within a period of ten months, a major portion of the Asokan inscriptions.
The deciphering of the Asokan lipi and the identification of Asoka was an epoch-making event. It enriched the history of India and of Buddhism to such an extent that all history books had to be re-written.
The advent of Alexander Cunningham (1814-1893) accelerated the discovery and restoration of the archaeological sites in India. He was undoubtedly the greatest archaeologist and hero of the Buddhist renaissance period. Cunningham was born in England on 23 January 1814. After completing his education, he arrived in India in 1833 and joined the Bengal Engineers as 2nd Lieutenant. Between 1836-40, he served as A.D.C. to the Governor General of India, Lord Auckland. In 1837, he excavated Sarnath at his own expense and made drawings of the objects discovered by him. In 1851, while employed as an engineer in Gwalior State, Cunningham of en ed the mighty stupas of Sanchi and discovered the sacred relics of the two chief disciples of Lord Buddha, namely, Sariputta and Mogga/lana from inside the Stupa 3. A detailed account of his findings at Sanchi and other Buddhist sites around Sancbi was published by him in 1854 in a book titled "The Bhilsa Topes or Buddhist Monuments of Central India". For two years (1856-58) Cunningham was Chief Engineer in Burma. By 1861, Cunningham had risen to the rank of Major General. In that year, he was appointed as the first Archaeological Surveyor of India in the newly created archaeological department of northern India. In 1871 Cunningham became the first Director General of Archaeological Survey of India.
Cunningham's zeal and interest in the archaeological matters opened a new vista in the study of ancient monuments. As luck would have it, a French scholar, M. Stan isla Julien, had in the meanwhile published a translation of the travel accounts of Hiuen Tsang, the famous Chinese pilgrim, who was in India from AD 629-644. Following the footsteps of Hiuen Tsang, Cunningham went round; visited all the sites described by the Chinese pilgrim; and with the greatest preservering labour and enterprise succeeded in identifying most of the Buddhist shrines. In his monumental work 'Ancient Geography of India, Part T, the Buddhist Period, 'Cunningham recapitulated the glorious history of the Buddhist remains and monuments scattered all over the country, In 1870, he excavated the vicinity of the Maha Bodhi Temple, and discovered Vajrasana, the most sacred place sitting where the Buddha had attained Supreme Enlightenment. Later, he published his conclusions in the volume titled "Maha Bodhi or : the Great Buddhist Temple at Buddha Gaya." In 1873-74, Cunningham excavated the Stupa of Bharhut and rescued the finest Buddhist art from further oblivion. His publication 'Stupa of Bharhut' which came out in 1879, throws a flood of light on this most ancient Buddhist shrine in Central India. The Asokan inscriptions also received Cunningham's proper attention as it was he who in 1877 published all the then known inscriptions in one volume, During the period he worked as Director General of Archaeological Survey (1871-1885), Cunningham also published 24 volumes as 'Reports of the Archaeological Survey of India', Of these, half the reports were written by Cunningham himself, and the rest by his assistants, J.D. Beglar and A.C.L. Carlleyle, under his supervision and guidance. All his writings have the stamp of scholarship and are replete with facts and figures based on actual research on site.
Sir Alexander Cunningham retired from service in September 1885 and returned to London, after fifty years in India. During his retirement in London, until his death on 28 November 1893, he worked on the mass of material he had collected and wrote several books on Buddhiem. Cunningham was a remarkable man in all respects, and India was fortunate in having attracted him. Buddhists in particular owe him a special debt.
Cunningham was succeeded by James Burgess as Director General of Archaeological Survey of India. Burgess, who had been working since 1874 as Archaeological Surveyor of western and southern India, made a comprehensive survey of the Buddhist caves and published his findings in 1883 in his well-known book "Buddhist Cave Temples and their Inscriptions".
Dr. Bhagwanlal Indraji was the first Indian archaeologist He discovered in 1882 fragments of an Asokan Rock Edict as well as a Stupa at Sopara near Bombay. The most remarkable discovery by him at Sopara was that of the five relic-caskets from the Stupa datable to about AD J 60
A further fillip to the renaissance of Buddhism was given by the literary activities of the Western scholars. The pioneer Indian scholar was Rajendra Lal Mitra (1824-1891). His works, particularly, 'Buddha Gaya'. The Hermitage of the Sakya Sage' (1877), Scnskrit Buddhist Literature of Nepal (l882) and Lalitavistara (1887) aroused considerable interest in Buddhist studies.
The researches of all these explorers, archaeologists and scholars were helpful in creating a new awakening amongst the people but nobody had as yet thought seriously of the Buddhist revival in India. This happened only in 1891 with the arrival of Anagarika Dharmapala, a young Sinhala Buddhist.
The year 1891 is the most memorable year in the history of Indian Buddhism. It was in 1891 that Anagarika Dharmpala initiated the Buddhist revival movement in India. It was in 1891 again that Or. B R. Ambedkar, who was to change later the course of the history of Buddhism, was born. Equally memorable is the year 1956; the year of the 2,500th Buddha Jayanti Celebrations. It was in 1956 that the revival movement reached its climax when Dr. Ambedkar, and his half a million followers, embraced Buddhism at a historic conversion ceremony at Nagpur on 14 October. Hence, this study is confined to' those pioneers who either flourished or adopted the Buddhist way of life during the period from 1!s91 to 1956, and marched ahead of others carrying aloft the banner of Dhamma.
At the head of the convoy of the Pioneers of Buddhist Revival in India is Anagarika Dharmapala, a great son of Sri Lanka, who was the first to hoist the flag of Buddhism in modern India. Inspired by his missionary zeal, many more sons of Sri Lanka also devoted their lives to the cause of Buddhism in India. Of them, six prominent ones are included here. Two missionary monks from Burma and Japan also made significant contribution to the revival movement.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend