India's Buddhist Heritage: The Way Forward
THE WEEK|September 26, 2021
After reading his own obituary in a newspaper, Mark Twain said, “The news of my death is grossly exaggerated.”
Shakti Sinha

Similarly, having been told about the disappearance of Buddhism in the land of its birth, I now realise that this misunderstanding, too, is guilty of gross exaggeration. Recent archaeological evidence from Krimila in Bihar show that new Buddhist monasteries were being established as late as the end of the 11th century CE, centuries after the alleged demise of Buddhism in India.

Buddhist communities continued to exist in some villages of Patachitra painters from Odisha, and there was the Shakya of Uttar Pradesh, the Baruah Buddhists of Bengal and the Himalayan communities stretching from Ladakh to eastern Arunachal Pradesh. Buddhist communities in Tripura link up with those in Bangladesh and onto Myanmar, forming a large Theravada branch that continues into the larger southeast Asia.

India’s Buddhist heritage has been deeply entrenched in our traditions, so much so that it is well-nigh impossible to separate diverse strands based on theological origin. Therefore, any talk about the revival of Buddhism in India is to misread history. What is definitely required, and is happening with government support, is to bring focused attention on this heritage and the presentation of its multifaceted manifestations. But we have not been able to project the Buddhist component on India’s heritage in adequate measure, affecting a double loss to both Buddhism and to India.

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