By Sraman Mukherjee. This paper is part of a larger project that seeks to map the diverse routes and desires of a number of India-born political-religious reformers/ thinkers in the processes of their self-fashioning as Buddhists across decolonization, while traveling beyond borders of (post-)colonial nation states in South and Southeast Asia. In course of their travels, and through material and ideological exchanges, they crossed a range of political, cultural, and geographical spaces and ideological trajectories. Focusing on one of them, the polyglot “Buddhist-Marxist” scholar and activist Rahul Sankrityayan, and on one of his writings – in Hindi – published in 1949, Ghumakkar Shastra [‘Treatise on Vagabondage and Nomadism’(translation mine)], the paper specifically explores the experience and image of travel, roaming, wandering, and belonging in the fashioning of a modern Buddhist self. Rahul Sankrityayan is known widely as a scholar and collector of Tibetan Buddhist texts, for bringing ‘back’ to India manuscripts and cultural relics from monasteries in Tibet, and for his involvement in anti-colonial nationalist movements in India.
This paper will however focus on an image of Buddhist ‘homeland’ and ‘Greater India’ forged by Sankrityayan during his formation as Buddhist in Burma and Ceylon, and during his travels and collecting in Tibet. The choice of Hindi as the new supra-regional language of Rahul Sankrityayan’s writings across different literary genres created new routes and locations for modern Southern Asian Buddhism(s). The paper explores Sankrityayan’s earlier training in monastic establishments across South and Southeast Asia and maps the contacts he was able to forge there with diverse Buddhist and other reformist figures and associations, scholars and pilgrims coming from different parts of Asia and Europe. Following Sanskrityayan in his ‘wandering’, we see associations and networks that shaped a unique location for Buddhism, reflecting an uneasy co-habitation of religious trans-nationalism and political internationalism. that remains largely untraced in the usual narrative of Southern Asian “Buddhist modernism”.
Sraman Mukherjee (PhD, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta and the University of Calcutta) is Assistant Professor in the School of Historical Studies at Nalanda University (Rajgir, India). His current research project at the KITLV, under the broader rubric of the research cluster ‘Mobility and Belonging’, is tentatively titled ‘Tracing Traces: Actors, Vectors, and Spaces of Buddhism across Southern Asia’. The study looks at transnational geographies of pilgrimage during the late nineteenth and early and middle decades of the twentieth century.
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