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Dr. B R Ambedkar and Mahaparinirvan Diwas

By : Dr. B R Ambedkar and Mahaparinirvan Diwas

December 06, 2021

Signed Letter from B R Ambedkar to the Home Member dated 24th February 1944
Source: National Archives of India

Dr. B R Ambedkar, the Father of the Indian Constitution, was born on 14 April 1891. Being a great leader, he was the one who inspired the Modern Buddhist Movement in the country. He advocated for the rights of Dalits, women and labour, and fought against the evil of social discrimination done unto them in the society. Due to ill-health, Babasaheb Ambedkar was bed ridden for few months in the year 1954. Thereafter, his health deteriorated. It was three days before he breathed his last in Delhi, i.e. on 6 December 1956, that he completed the manuscript for his work 'The Buddha and His Dhamma'.

Every year, the death anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar is commemorated as the Mahaparinirvan Diwas across the country. People congregate to pay tributes to his person, and many throng to the 'Chaitya Bhoomi' in Dadar while chanting the slogan 'Jai Bhim'. As per the Buddhist texts, the death of Lord Buddha is considered to be Mahaparinirvan – the Sanskrit term which means 'nirvana after death'. Parinirvan is considered as liberation from Samara, karma and the cycle of death and birth. It is the most sacrosanct day in the Buddhist calendar. Few mourners realize that there is no reason for sorrow as Buddha attained liberation on this day.

In this letter, written by Babaseheb Ambedkar to Sir Reginald Maxwell (the Home Member, the then Government of India; originally signed by his person with his signatures that can be seen at the bottom right towards the end of the letter) he is seen raising a case for declaring "the Birthday of Buddha… a general holiday in India". He further wrote:

"…I would venture to suggest that the number of people is not a necessary or adequate criterion for determining holidays, nor can it be said that population has been the criterion adopted by the Government of India… Buddha's birthday is the greatest event in the history of India. His religion continued to be the dominant religion of India from 434 B.C. up to…about 1200 A.D. A religion which dominated the life of the people of India for 1700 years could not but leave a profound mark on things in India. There is no department of Hindu life which the teachings of Budha has not profoundly affected… For so great was his hold upon the people of this country that the Hindus accept him as an avatar of Vishnu. It is not that a holiday on Budha's birthday will be welcomed only by the Budhists and the Hindus, I am sure, it will be appreciated all over the world, for Budha is recognised universally as the first and foremost prophet of peace on earth and good-will to man… The religion of Buddha still continues to be the dominant religion of Asia, China, Burma, Indo-China, and practically the whole of the Malaya Archipelago still follow his religion. The declaration of his birthday as a public holiday in India will, I am sure, have a great international significance."

To Babasaheb Ambedkar, the social reformer, Buddha lay very close in terms of his ideology and thoughts. Babasaheb was regarded as a Buddhist guru because of his great influence in India to eradicating the social scourge of untouchability. Ambedkar's admirers and followers believe he was as influential as Lord Buddha, which is why his death anniversary is celebrated as Mahaparinirvan Divas.

Dr. B R Ambedkar was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna by the Government of India in the year 1990.

Special Thanks to the Staff, National Archives of India (NAI). From Dr. Divya Sethi.

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