Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, considered by many as the Father of the Indian Constitution, remains a much-revered figure of modern India.
One of the highlights of his life was the decision to embrace Buddhism, two months before his unfortunate demise, along with lakhs of his followers in a simple, traditional ceremony at Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur, on October 14, 1956. It is a seminal moment in Dalit history.
On November 30, Bhante Galgedar Pragyanand, the only surviving Buddhist monk among the seven who performed the formal ceremony initiating Ambedkar into Buddhism, passed away at the age of 90 in Lucknow after suffering a cardio-respiratory failure.
As per the Times of India, Pragyanand was also the senior most priest at Buddh Vihar Mandir located near Risaldar Park in Lucknow.
Pragyanand came to Lucknow at the age of 13 from Sri Lanka. During his time in Buddh Vihar Mandir, Ambedkar had come to visit twice. Speaking to ToI, Pragyanand said, “It was perhaps here that the seeds of embracing Buddhism were sown in Ambedkar’s mind.”
In an earlier interaction with the Press Trust of India, Pragyanand recalled the moment when Ambedkar and his wife, backed by nearly five lakh people from the Dalit community, embraced Buddhism in Nagpur.
“The atmosphere was euphoric, nearly five lakh people had gathered to witness the spiritual makeover of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar at Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur on October 14, 1956,” he said. “I assisted Bhadant Chandramani Mahathero who formally inducted Babasaheb Ambedkar into Buddhism.”
During the monumental event in Nagpur, Ambedkar and his followers took the following pledge, originally in Marathi.
Translated into English, it reads:
“I will not practice untouchability and will regard all human beings as equal.
I will now observe in my daily life [the] Panchsheel of non-killing, non-stealing, non-indulgence in wrongful sexual behaviour, abstinence from drink, and from falsehood.
I believe Buddhism is the only true religion as it rests on the three cardinal principles of knowledge, compassion and duty and therefore I am today taking a new birth by discarding Hinduism and embracing Buddhism.”