Buddhist Monk Who Conducted “Babasaheb” Ambedkar’s Refuge Ceremony to be Cremated on 17 December
The body of Buddhist monk Bhadanta Galgedar Pragyanand, the youngest of seven monastics who conducted the Buddhist refuge ceremony for renowned Indian social activist and reformer Dr. B. R. Ambedkar in 1956, will be cremated on 17 December.
Ven. Bhadanta passed away at King George Medical University (KGMU) in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on 30 November, just days before his 89th birthday.* The Mahabodhi Society of India has urged the state government of Uttar Pradesh to allocate five acres of land for a memorial stupa dedicated to to the monk.
“Bhante Pragyanand has done a lot for propagating Buddhism in India, besides working for education. He is a role model to many and a memorial after him will inspire future generations,” said Ven. Pragyasar one of Ven. Bhadanta’s disciples. “We have urged the state government to allocate land for a stupa in his memory.”
Originally from Sri Lanka, Ven. Bhadanta, who came to India at the age of 13, was the most senior monk at Buddh Vihar, a temple in Lucknow, where he was cared for by his disciples. Dr. Ambedkar is reported to have visited twice Buddh Vihar during his lifetime—in 1948 and 1951. Ven. Bhadanta was only 20 when the two first met him.
Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891–1956), a celebrated scholar, activist, and social reformer popularly known as “Babasaheb,” was a vociferous campaigner against social discrimination who inspired the modern Buddhist movement in India. Having studied Buddhism for much of his life, Dr. Ambedkar accepted the Three Jewels and Five Precepts by formally converting to Buddhism shortly before his death. After completing his own conversion, along with his wife, Dr. Ambedkar then proceeded to convert some 500,000 of his Dalit supporters who had gathered there that day.
Of the group of seven Buddhist monks who presided over the historic ceremony that would become a landmark in Indian Buddhist history, Venerable Bhadanta, born on 18 December 1928, was the last surviving member. The seven monks who participated in ceremony also included Bhadant Chandramani Mahathero, Bhante Pragya Tiss, M. Sangh Ratan Mahathera, Bhikshi Dhamm Rakshit, H. Saddha Tiss, and H. Thamma Nand Mahathera.
“The atmosphere was euphoric,” Ven. Bhadanta said earlier this year, recalling the historic occasion on 14 October 1956 that he attended as a young monk. “Nearly [500,000] people had gathered to witness the spiritual conversion of ‘Babasaheb’ Bhimrao Ambedkar at Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur in October 1956. By this time, he had already retired from politics.” (The Tribune)
As well as inspiring the modern Buddhist movement in India, Dr. Ambedkar campaigned against social discrimination towards women and India’s “untouchable” Dalit caste. He was the principal architect of India’s first constitution and in 1955 founded the Buddhist Society of India. Three days before his death on 6 December 1956, Dr. Ambedkar completed the transcript for his final book, The Buddha and His Dhamma, an English-language treatise on Buddhism and the Buddha’s life, which was published posthumously.
Of India’s population of more than 1.3 billion people, Buddhists account for some 0.7 per cent, according to data from the 2011 Census of India, of whom more than 73 per cent live in the western state of Maharashtra.
* Last of Seven Buddhist Monks Who Conducted “Babasaheb” Ambedkar’s Refuge Ceremony Dies Aged 88 (Buddhistdoor Global)
Pragyanand to be cremated on December 17 (The Times of India)
The monk who witnessed ‘spiritual makeover’ of BR Ambedkar (The Tribune)
Mahabodhi Society of India
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