Douglas OberJun 16, 2023
Dust on the Throne
The Search for Buddhism in Modern India
Stanford University Press 2023
Received wisdom has it that Buddhism disappeared from India, the land of its birth, between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, long forgotten until British colonial scholars re-discovered it in the early 1800s. Its full-fledged revival, so the story goes, only occurred in 1956, when the Indian civil rights pioneer Dr. B. R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism along with half a million of his Dalit (formerly "untouchable") followers.
This, however, is only part of the story. Dust on the Throne: The Search for Buddhism in Modern India (Stanford UP, 2023) reframes discussions about the place of Buddhism in the subcontinent from the early nineteenth century onwards, uncovering the integral, yet unacknowledged, role that Indians played in the making of modern global Buddhism in the century prior to Ambedkar's conversion, and the numerous ways that Buddhism gave powerful shape to modern Indian history. Through an extensive examination of disparate materials held at archives and temples across South Asia, Douglas Ober explores Buddhist religious dynamics in an age of expanding colonial empires, intra-Asian connectivity, and the histories of Buddhism produced by nineteenth and twentieth-century Indian thinkers. While Buddhism in contemporary India is often disparaged as being little more than tattered manuscripts and crumbling ruins, this book opens new avenues for understanding its substantial socio-political impact and intellectual legacy.
You can find the Navayana Publishing edition with its amazing cover art here.
You can find readable articles and references on more recent research on Bengali-speaking Buddhists and their contribution to modern Indian Buddhism by Sanjoy Chowdhury here.
Douglas Ober is Visiting Assistant Professor, History Department, Fort Lewis College, and Honorary Research Associate, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia.
Jessica Zu is an intellectual historian and a scholar of Buddhist studies. She is an assistant professor of religion at the University of Southern California.