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Revival and Development of Buddhism in India
Shib Deb Singh
Geeral Secretary, Chandigarh Buddhist Association, Chandigarh

1891 is the year in which the Maha Bodhi Society was established by late Venerable Angarika Dharmapala, the illustrious son of Sri Lanka and the greatest Buddhist Missionary who pioneered the Buddhist Revival Movement in India at enormous personal sacrifice.

Before the formation of Maha Bodhi Society, the Buddhism in India was in a chaotic condition. Holy places connected with the life of the Buddha were in a dilapidated condition. The neglected Buddhist shrines were considered as show pieces and were under the control of non-Buddhists. Venerable.Dharmapala's heart broke when he saw the lamentable condition of Boddhagaya Temple. It was then in the possession of Hindu Mahant. He made a firm resolution to recover Buddhagaya Temple and other places of Buddhism and spread Buddha Dharma in the land of its birth and with this determination he founded Maha Bodhi Society.

After the World Parliament of Religions of Chicago in 1893 Venerable Dharmapala became an International figure and the activities of Maha Bodhi Society were no longer limited to India and Sri Lanka. He made several trips round the world, preaching the Message of the Buddha and establishing Buddhism in many countries of Asia, Europe and America. Buddhism would not have been so effulgent but for the contribution and missionary zeal of Dharmapala. He was practically responsible for the revival of the lost glory of Buddhism which suffered a set back for centuries.

The movement of Buddhist revival initiated by Venerable Dharmapala spread in many parts of India and the branches of the society were established in Samath, Buddhagaya, Calcutta, Madras and Sanchi. He influenced many scholars, among them, were Maha Pandit Rahula Sanskrityana, Bhadant Kaushalayan, Jagdish Kasyap and Venerable Dharmarakshita, all trained in Sri Lanka and who propagated Buddhism in India by translating Buddhist Religious Books which were lost in India for centuries.

Ven. Dharmapala established Upasana Centres, Libraries, Schools, Colleges, Orphanges & Hospitals etc. in India and Sri Lanka for the general public. He was a great patriot and inflinching Advocate of independence both in India and Sri Lanka. He helped India to rediscover Buddha and took pride in Buddhism and Buddhist Culture. The present flourishing condition of Buddhagaya, Samath, Kushingar & Sanchi and many other sacred places of Buddhism in India are the direct result of Dharmapala's untiring and selfless efforts.

He died on 29th April, 1933 at Samath. His last words were: "Let me die soon. Let me be reborn. I can no longer prolong my agony, I would like to be born again 25 times to spread Lord Buddhadhamma."

The greatest stimulation for the revival of Buddhism in India came from the establishment of Maha Bodhi Society in Colombo in May, 1891 by Venerable Dharmpala. In June, 1891 the society sent a mission to Boddhagaya. In October, 189 1 there held an International Buddhist Conference in which delegates from China, Japan, Ceylon, Chittagong Hill Tracts participated. The object of this conference was to draw the attention of the Buddhist World to the state of affairs at Boddhagaya.

In May, 1892, the society launched its organ The Maha Bodhi which was to be used as an Instrument for the propagation of Dharma not only In India but also in all the countries of the World.

In, 1897, when severe famine broke out in Bengal, the Maha Bodhi Society opened a Relief Fund and sent an appeal to all the Buddhist Countries of Asia for help.

In 1900, three branches of society were opened in Madras, Kusinagar & Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka) which are working for the spread of Buddhism.

In 19 15, the Maha Bodhi Society became a registered Body Sir Ashutosh Mukerjee as its first President.

Dharmarajika Chaitya Vihara was built in Calcutta between 1915-1920. Society was presented in 1920 with a casket containing the relics of Bones of Lord Buddha which were to be enshrined in the Vihara.

In 1949, Govt. of Bihar passed the Buddha Gaya Temple Act. Under this Act a Committee called the Buddha Gaya Temple Management Committee consisting of 4 Buddhists and 4 Hindus was constituted for the management and control of the temple.

Mulagandha Kuti-Vihara was built in Sarnath in 1931 with the subsequent establishment of Maha Bodhi Vidyalaya, the V1hara Library, the Maha Bodhi Free Dispensary, the Maha Bodhi Primary School and the Teachers Training College, and Samath once again became a centre of Buddhism now.

In 1947, the relics of Venerable Sariputta and Maudgalyana, Chief disciple of the Buddha, which for nearly a century had lie In Victoria and Albert Museum, London were, at the instance of Maha Bodhi Society, restored to India and reenshrined in newly built V1hara at Sanchi.

The Maha Bodhi Society also took up in right earnest the task of publishing translation of Buddhist scriptures in Indian languages.

The 2500th anniversary of Lord Buddha parinirvana was celebrated on nation wide scale in 1956 and Buddha Jayanti park was built in Delhi In the sacred memory of Lord Buddha.

Most decisive and far reaching event of modem time occured when late Baba Sahib Dr. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism on 14 October 1956 at Nagpur with lacs of his followers. His movement has been so great that a very large number of Buddhist centres have sprung up in almost all parts of India. Buddhist population increased 18 times from 1956 to 1961.

Dr. Ambedkar established Sidhartha College at Bombay and Milinda College Aurangabad (Maharashtra) which are being run by the People's Education Society.

Late Venerable Bhadanta Anand Kaushalyan, a staunch admirer of Baba Sahib, built a training centre for Bhikkhus at Nagpur in 1970 and has educated young men, some of whom have been ordained as Bhikkhus. The new Buddhists have full faith in Theravada type of Buddhism and celebrate four great observations:

(1) Dana Dikhsha Day in October.

(2) Buddha Jayanti.

(3) Dr. Ambedkar Death Anniversary.

(4) Dr. Ambedkar Jayanti.

Resurgence of Buddhism in modem India was concomitant with the revival of Pall studies as the Religious Teaching of the Buddha were primarily available in Pall language.

The following Universities have made provision for the teaching of Pali language (1) Banaras Hindu University, (2) Poona University, (3) Baroda University, (4) Nagpur University, (5) Bombay University, (6) Lucknow University, (7) Kurukshetra University, (8) Delhi University, (9) Visva Bharti University, (10) Punjabi University, Patiala, (11) Nava Nalanda Maha Vihara, (12) Magadh University, (13) Nalanda Pali Institute, Rajgir.


[Originally published in Maha Bodhi Society Centenary Celebrations, Buddhagaya Centre, 1891-1991, Souvenir, Sambodhi No. 2, vol. 2 (1991), pp. 46-48]


Sincere thanks to Phramaha Somnuek Saksree for retyping this article.


Updated: 3-5-2000

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