Buddhism in Lucknow: History and Culture from Alternative Perspective
The history of Buddhism in India is mainly brought back to its glory by the colonial periods's excavations, where many statues, and other buddhist symbols were found by archeologists. Besides, the bhikkhus who came to India from Srilanka during the last and the first quarter of 20th and 21st century contributed immensely in the revival of buddhist history and culture in northern part of the country, for instance, bhikkhu Dhammapal, Bodhanand and Pragyanand. The Buddhists in Lucknow quickly name these bhikkhus in the history of Buddha-Dhamma in Lucknow. Among Barau Buddhists bhikkhu Kripasaran is very much credited to spread Buddha-Dhamma here. The role of Dr. Ambedkar is due credited by both- Ambedkar-Buddhists as well as Barau-Buddhists.
(a) Ancient History of Lucknow in Buddhists Folklores
Gautam Buddha spent 24 monsoons, a major part of his life, in Uttar Pradesh. Generally people know that Buddha had spent some time of his life in Shravasti, Sarnath and Kushinagar etc., but the Buddhists in Lucknow strongly believe and argue that he might have visited many more places as well and modern Lucknow might be one among those. The modern Lucknow, according to hindu version, is said to be established by Lakshman, a mythical character in the epic, Ramayana. But there is another version of this nomenclature which says that Lucknow was earlier known as Nucklow (नखलऊ) (still used by aged people) and the history behind this is that the nails (नख) of Buddha were brought here and placed in a stupa. Thus placing of Buddha's nails (नख) at this place gave it the name which later on changed from Nucklow (नखलऊ) to Lucknow (लखनऊ). Another story talks about Buddheshwar Chowraha where once was a buddhist shrine which was captured by hindus and later converted it into Lord Shiva temple. There is one more folklore among Buddhists in Lucknow that there was a Baudh vihar called as Amavasi Baudh Vihar where Buddhists used to gather on the day of new moon(Amavasa). The contemporary airport named as 'Amousi airport' stands there now and the name Amousi came from that vihar. Thus, it is a strong belief among buddhists that the history of Lucknow is very much rich with Buddhist culture and invites sincere attention of archeologists and excavation.
(b) Demography of the Buddhists in Lucknow:
According to 1951 census the number of Buddhists in Lucknow district was 73, which reached to 216, 322, 347, 2816, 4327 in 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001 census respectively. The 73 Buddhists in 1951 census, before Dr. Ambedkar's fully fledged campaign for Buddhism for ex-untouchables, are mainly the Bengali Barua Buddhist families who came here from Chittagong after the partition of Bengal in 1905. These Bengali Buddhists worked for the Britishers as their servants and cooks and also looked after their horses and stables. Now, the number of these Buddhists has been reached 300-400 people.
The biggest jump in the numbers of Buddhist population is observed in the census of 1991 and 2001. As per my observation, one of the most viable reasons seems to be the advent of the plethora of literature on Ambedkar, Asoka and Buddha written largely by the government employees after 1990 and their active involvement in the dhamma activities. The census office in India for the first time in its history also revealed that almost 70% of the Buddhist population in Uttar Pradesh is from the scheduled castes background and 30% from others. It signifies that it in 'others' there might be the Buddhists from non-SCs. The case is further strengthened by some of my interviews and observations in Lucknow. Upon enquiry, many buddhist activists and all the interviewees also accepted that backward castes are also getting inclined towards Buddhism. As a whole Buddhists in Lucknow are mainly from a diverse social backgrounds (barau bengalis, scheduled castes and backward castes).
Visual 20th & 21st Century Architecture and their Related Figures
The foundation of twentieth century Buddhism in Lucknow was laid by the Bengali Barua Buddhists much before Dr. Ambedkar took deeksha. The Bodhisattva Vihar at Latus Road, Lucknow is built by Bhikkhu Kripasaran Mahasthavir (1865-1926) in 1907, affiliated to the Bengal Buddhist Association. By keeping intimate relationship with the then Education Secretary in government of India, who later on was appointed as governor of Agra and Oudh, Hercourt Butler (1869-1938), Kripasaran could manage the land where the existing vihara is situated.
The second oldest Buddha Vihar at Risaldar Park, Lucknow affilited to Mahabodhi Society of India was built by Bhikkhu Bodhanand, as he came back from Srilanka to revive Buddhism in India, closely became associated with Bhikkhu Kripasaran & Bodhisattva Vihar. His disciple, bhikkhu Pragyanand (1928------), who is currently the head of the vihara is one of the bhikhus (lead by bhikhu Chandramani) who gave deeksha to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in 1956. This Vihara is an important meeting place for dalit, bahujan and buddhist activities.. Dr. Ambedkar also stayed here twice, once in 1932 and later in 1948.
A park called as Gautam Buddha park which is situated near Rumi gate is also one of the significant development as far as buddhism in lucknow is concerned. This park is built in around 10 acres by LDA in the year 1980 with a huge buddha statue in sitting position. This is one of the biggest buddha statues we came across in Lucknow. Many people assemble here on various occasions which are significant in buddhist traditions and calendars.
In the last decade of 20th century and first decade of 21st century, the Bahujan Samaj Party, on coming into power in UP, constructed roads, chowks, hostels, parks etc. in the name of Buddha. One of the most significant projects is the construction of Baudh Vihar Shanti Upvan on VIP road which is 1.2 km long and is spread in 32.5 acres consisting of 18 feet tall four-sided marble statue of Gautam Buddha at the main entrance. On both sides of the statues there are two fountains (each 28 feet tall and 24 feet diameter). Almost 10-12 bhikkhus reside in this vihara and there is a dining hall which can accommodate approx. 60 people. This premises also includes a library and a meditation hall and dormitories for bhikkhus and guest scholars.
Another important place which attracts buddhists in Lucknow is Parivartan Chowk (Change Square) where a four-sided Buddha statue in sitting position is installed. This statue is placed under a tower made out of black granite and above this tower a white marble sphere is placed. This tower is surrounded by the statues of Dr. Ambedkar, Shahuji Maharaj, Mahatma Jyotirao Phule and Narayan guru at four corners. The place historically seems to be very important as it is surrounded by Lakshman park, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee park, Subhash park, Tagore park and Begam Hazarat Mahal park, etc. As this modern structure symbolizes 'change' usually various rallies, processions and demonstrations for social justice and Buddhist activities start from here.
Besides the above buddhist monuments, in the contemporary era, as the number of buddhists are increasing, many vihars at individual or community levels are also being constructed at various places in Lucknow such as Mahendra Baudh vihar at LDA colony on Kanpur road, built by Mr. D. P. Varun (IAS Retd.), Mahamaya Buddh vihar at Teli bagh by Kallu Baudh etc.
To conclude, my submission is that the Buddhism in Lucknow has deep historical and cultural connections which is found in many folklores. The socio-cultural composition of Buddhists in Lucknow consists of Bengali Barua Buddhists as well as from SCs and OBCs. In modern times, many bhikkhus, and baudh vihars, parks, chowk etc. are important catalysts to Buddhism.