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    Published On : Sat, Oct 4th, 2014

    Fifty eight years ago, on this day, cries of “Budhamm Sharanam Gatchami!”

    “Dhammam Sharanam Gatchami” Rent the air as Dr. Ambedkar renounced Hinduism and embraced Budhism at a large ground in Nagpur, which later came to be called Deekshabhumi for this reason.
    He then administered the oath to six lakh of his followers who had gathered here in Nagpur for this unprecedented, historic “Conversion ceremony”.

    Babasaheb was born and educated in Mumbai, then called Bombay. He spent much of his life in Bombay and Poona. Then why did he chose Nagpur for this significant and many think, the most important step of his life?

    Some opined that he did it to spite the RSS which was born in Nagpur and consisted then of mostly high cast Hindus. But this is far from the truth. “This reason did not even cross my mind” Dr. Ambedkar was to clarify in the last interview he gave before his death just two months later.

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    The reason for choosing this city is different. Those who read Buddhist history will come to know that in India, if anyone spread Buddhism, it was the Nag people. The Nag people were fearful enemies of the Aryans. A Fierce and fighting war went on between the Aryans and non-Aryans. Examples of the harassment of the Nags by the Aryan people are found in the Puranas. Agasti Muni helped only one Nag man to escape from that. We spring from that man. Those Nag people who endured so much suffering wanted some great man to raise them up. They met that great man in Gautam Buddha. The Nag people spread the teaching of Buagwan Buddha all over India. Thus we are like Nag people.It seems that the Nag people lived chiefly in Nagpur and the surrounding country. So they call this city Nagpur, meaning city of Nags. About 27 miles from here the Nag Nadi river flows. Of course the name of the river comes from the people living here. In the middle of the Nag habitation runs the Nag Nadi. This is the main reason for choosing this place. Nagpur was chosen because of this. In this matter, there is no question of a lie to provoke someone. This is not such a mental twist. The reason of the R.S.S. did not even come into my mind, and no one should take that explanation as true.

    This decision was not taken in a hurry. In 1935 itself Dr. Ambedkar had declared to his followers that ” I may have beenn born a Hindu but I shall not die one. Someone has to put an end to our thousand years’ of suffering. This religion that does not consider us human; that denies us the buffalo’s milk but makes us carry its dead carcass on our heads; the religion that says we should happily embrace our poverty as our lot – is not for me and my people.”

    He carefully considered all other religions and then decided upon Budhism for many reasons but mostly because he found it the most rationalism and humanism in it. Its basic three tenets are Prajna ( understanding as against superstition) Karuna (love) and Samata (equality).

    Even today, in Nagpur when at least a lakh people still congregate at the Deekshabhumi in Nagpur to renew their vows and thus pay homage to their great leader, you feel the presence of this most popular and compassionate man among them. Such a large gathering of people but there is no unruliness, no chaos and no anti rowdy or anti social behaviour. They walk in files of two in a straight line by the side of the road, they chant praises of their leader, they carry blue and multi colored flags but there is no loud music, no gaudy lights and costly decorations and no fire crackers that mark the celebration of Hindu festivals that fall just before Dasera.The only bit of lighting are the attractive lights that show case the grand stupa that was built here some years ago.

    Earlier it was just people from all over Maharashtra who came here, then people from all other states like Bihar and UP began coming, now Budhists from all over the world swarm for this day’s functions in Nagpur. There is joy and gaiety in the air and the atmosphere of a mela. People wish each other, mingle and just celebrate their ‘liberation’ and their ‘rebirth’ as it truly was. You look at them – people from all walks of life, many quite educated, rich and prosperous now but still do not think it is ‘below their status’ to come here with their families and you realize how much one man has achieved for a multitude.

    Just two months after Babasaheb took this momentous step in Nagpur, he passed away.

    Sunita Mudaliar

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