The mere mention of B R Ambedkar induces enough strength and enthusiasm in 90-year-old Bhadant Pragyanand, a Buddhist monk at Baudh Vihar in Lucknow’s Risaldar Park, to speak about the chief architect of India’s Constitution.
Pragyanand is the only surviving Buddhist monk among the seven monks who witnessed Ambedkar embracing Buddhism at Nagpur’s historic Deekshabhoomi on October 14, 1956. Recalling the historic moment, which he witnessed as a 22-year-old, Pragyanand said, “The atmosphere was euphoric, nearly five lakh people had gathered to witness the spiritual makeover of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar at Deekshabhoomi in Nagpur in October 1956. By this time, he had already retired from politics.”
“I assisted Bhadant Chandramani Mahathero who formally inducted Babasaheb Ambedkar into Buddhism. Ambedkar’s wife Savita was also present,” Pragyanand told PTI on the occasion of 126th birth anniversary of Ambedkar.
Babasaheb, as Ambedkar was popularly called, was totally engrossed in the ceremony and it seemed he had lost all connection with the outside world, the Buddhist monk said. The Buddhist monks who participated in various ceremonies when Ambedkar embraced Buddhism at Nagpur’s Deekshabhoomi were Bhadant Chandramani Mahathero, Bhante Pragya Tiss, M Sangh Ratan Mahathera, Bhikshi Dhamm Rakshit, H Saddha Tiss, H Thamma Nand Mahathera and Bhikshu Galgedar Pragyanand.
Hailing originally from Sri Lanka, Pragyanand is the senior-most priest at Buddh Vihar in Lucknow’s Risaldar Park, which was visited by Ambedkar twice during his lifetime. According to Bhikshu Pragyasar, a Buddhist monk (at Baudh Vihar), “It was after his Lucknow visits in 1948 and 1951 that Ambedkar’s desire to embrace Buddhism grew stronger.”
Pragyanand is looked after by his disciples. “For most of the time, he is confined to his bed, and communicates using sign language and pens his thoughts. But, the mere mention of Babasaheb and Nagpur’s Deekshabhoomi gives him strength to speak his mind,” said another Bhikshu, Suman Ratan.
“Babasaheb was in touch with Bhadant Bodhanand, the mentor of Pragyanand. Initially, it was Bodhanand who was to assist Babasaheb in embracing Buddhism. But Bodhanand’s untimely death in 1952 paved way for Pragyanand to fill the void,” Bhikshu Pragayasar said.
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