Thursday, April 12, 2018 at 12:00pm to 1:30pm
640 Stewart Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA
"Adi Bauddha: The Self-Imagination of Bengali Speaking Buddhists in the British Colonial Chittagong-Arakan Region"
Mitra Barua, Annette and Hugh Gragg Postdoctoral Fellow in Transnational Asian Studies, Rice University
The Chittagong-born Arakanese monk Sangharaj Saramedha (1801-1882) reformed Buddhism in the British colonial Chittagong-Arakan region in the mid 19th century. The honor bestowed upon him by the Chakmas, British and Burmese rulers of the time highlight the significance of the Buddhist reformation across local, colonial and anti-colonial power. Within these political dimensions of the reformation, the Bengali speaking Buddhists—the receivers of the reformation—emerged as a distinct religious community as “Adi Bauddha” or early Buddhists descended from medieval Indian Buddhists. This claim distinctively enabled them to engage in the revival of Buddhism in colonial India by embodying the narrative of medieval Indian Buddhist past, promoting Pali studies and translating Buddhist texts into the Bengali language. These projects were substantially assisted by non-Bengali speaking Buddhists like the Arakanese, Burmese and Sinhalese. They nevertheless formed and expressed a Bengali speaking Buddhist identity that simultaneously distinguished Bengali speaking Buddhists from other Buddhists and non-Buddhists operative in colonial wider Bengal and beyond like Arakan and Rangoon. Mitra argues that the Bengali language was the catalyst that formed the Bengali speaking Buddhist identity.
Co-sponsored by the Cornell South Asia Program