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From Buddha Bones to Bo Trees: Nehruvian India, Buddhism, and the poetics of power, 1947–1956

  • DOUGLAS F. OBER (a1)
Abstract

In the first decade after Indian independence in 1947, the secular Indian state projected a vision of itself as being guided by universal ethics rooted in the nation's ancient Buddhist past. From the circulation of Buddhist relics in distant lands to the reinvention and incorporation of Buddhist symbols in contemporary state regalia, the government sponsored a wide variety of programmes in the name of world peace, Pan-Asian unity, and enlightened democratic values that promoted Buddhism both within India and across Asia. This more than decades-long effort was entirely the outcome of the political and social visions of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and key members of his cabinet. In its most concise formulation, this Nehruvian-style Buddhism consisted of a two-pronged approach, one concerning the uses of Buddhism in the domestic sphere—that is, for domestic consumption by citizens of the new nation—and one concerning the uses of Buddhism as an instrument of foreign policy. At the heart of these projects was the dual effort to integrate a diverse South Asian populace into a wider national consciousness and yield influence among the post-colonial order in Asia. This article details the strategies and ideologies that Nehru and his cabinet employed vis-à-vis Buddhism from the mid-1940s to late 1950s when their Buddhist statecraft began to unravel due to geopolitical crises and the mass conversions of Ambedkarite Dalits. After tracing these developments, the article briefly considers the continued relevance of the Nehruvian engagement with Buddhism as it relates to twenty-first century Indian affairs.

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Research for this article could not have been conducted without the generous support of a Fulbright-Nehru Student Fellowship, administered by the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF). I would also like to thank the staff at all the archives and libraries I consulted in India, especially the National Archives of India and Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi, and the Mulagandha Kuti Library in Sarnath. Early drafts of this article were presented at the South and Central Asia Fulbright Conference in Hyderabad in 2015 and at the South Asian Conference of the Pacific Northwest (SACPAN) at the University of Oregon in 2016. I am very grateful for all the feedback I received on those occasions, as well as from the reviewers of Modern Asian Studies. Any remaining errors are my own.

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1 Constituent Assembly Debates, Official Reports Vol. 4, 22 July 1947 (New Delhi: Manager of Publications, 1947–1950).

2 ‘Untouchability’, The Maha Bodhi Vol. 56/12 (1948), p. 413.

3 This second century ce Buddha statue had been brought to Government House (present-day Rashtrapati Bhavan or ‘President's House’) shortly after Independence as part of the ‘Masterpieces of Indian Art’ exhibition. It remains in the house to this day. I am thankful to an anonymous reviewer for alerting me to the historical origins of the image and its modern-day transfer to New Delhi. For a discussion of the exhibition, see Guha-Thakurta, Tapati, Monuments, Objects, Histories: Institutions of Art in Colonial and Post-colonial India (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), pp. 175204.

4 Work at these sites was conducted by a number of different organizations, such as the Archaeological Survey of India and the Public Works Department. Most projects were conducted in preparation for the annual Buddha Jayanti celebrations and included everything from adding medical and travellers’ facilities, the construction and/or repair of rest houses, the building and/or maintenance of roads, as well as minor repairs to existing monuments. For instance, to prepare for the 1956 Buddha Jayanti at Bodh Gaya, a number of ‘improvements’ were made within the Maha Bodhi temple complex, ‘including the excavation of a large lotus tank just south of the Temple, the construction of a new pradakṣina (circumambulation) path, the repair of several small shrines within the compound, the establishment of an Aśokan pillar near the Lotus Tank, the electrification of the entire compound, and a major face-lift given to the Temple itself’: Tara Doyle, ‘Bodh Gayā: Journeys to the Diamond Throne and the Feet of Gayāsur’, PhD thesis, Harvard University, 1997, p. 201. For lists of repairs and construction works conducted at other ancient spaces, see the following documents, all available at the National Archives of India in New Delhi (hereafter NAI): Ministry of State, File no. 6(8)–AE (1952) [on Sanchi]; Ministry of External Affairs, File no. 13(13)–NEF II (1956), and File no. 40(1)–BC(B), Secret (1956) [on Lumbini, Shravasti, Bodh Gaya]; Ministry of Education, A1 Branch, File no. 30-61 (1953) [on Nalanda].

5 This massive project was headed by Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap, who edited the majority of the series. The first volume was published in 1956, to coincide with the 2,500th anniversary of Buddha Jayanti, and was completed in 1961. The same government initiative also sponsored the publication of a 25-volume Buddhist Sanskrit series (Bauddhagranthavālī), 17 volumes of which were edited by P. L. Vaidya, the director of the Mithila Institute in Darbhanga. The remainder of the series was edited by S. Bagchi and completed in the 1970s.

6 Quoted in Bakker, Freek, The Challenge of the Silver Screen: An Analysis of the Cinematic Portraits of Jesus, Rama, Buddha and Muhammad (Leiden: Brill, 2009), p. 161.

7 Ahir, D. C., Buddha Gaya through the Ages (Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1994), p. 137.

8 In recent decades these kinds of nationalist claims have become a source of friction with Nepalese officials, who argue that on account of Gautama Buddha's birthplace being located in Lumbini, Nepal, the Buddha was in fact Nepalese and not Indian.

9 Bechert, Heinz, ‘Buddhist Revival in East and West’, in The World of Buddhism, (eds) Bechert, Heinz and Gombrich, Richard (London: Thames and Hudson, 1984), p. 275.

10 Nehru, Jawaharlal, The Discovery of India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985 [1946]), pp. 120, 129. The stark contrast between the unfettered purity of Buddha and his teachings as opposed to the layered orthodoxy and dogma of Buddhism as religion is a defining part of Nehru's understanding. Shortly after this passage, he writes: ‘When I visited countries where Buddhism is still a living and dominant faith. . .there was much I did not like. The rational, ethical doctrine had become overlaid with so much verbiage, so much ceremonial, canon law’ (ibid., pp. 130–31). Italics mine.

11 Nehru, Jawaharlal, ‘Buddhism Only Path to Escape from Disaster’, The Maha Bodhi Vol. 61/1–2 (1953), p. 5. This same point was made with dramatic force only two years later on 10 December 1955 when Nehru inaugurated the construction of the Nagarjunasgar dam—a project that permanently flooded one of the largest Buddhist archaeological sites in India—by describing the hydro project as one of the great temples of modern India. See Singh, Upinder, ‘Buddhism, Archaeology and the Nation: Nagarjunakonda (1926–2006)’, in Buddhism in Asia: Revival and Reinvention, (eds) Lahiri, Nayanjot and Singh, Upinder (New Delhi: Manohar, 2016), pp. 81114.

12 Constituent Assembly Debates, Official Reports Vol. 4, 22 July 1947.

13 Brown, Judith, Nehru: A Political Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).

14 Roy, Srirupa, ‘A Symbol of Freedom: The Indian Flag and the Transformations of Nationalism, 1906–2002’, Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 65/3 (2006), pp. 511–12.

15 The phrase comes from Geertz, Clifford, Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth Century Bali (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), p. 123.

16 Ibid., p. 15.

17 Ibid., p. 13.

18 ‘Speeches’, in The Maha Bodhi Centenary Volume, 1891–1991 (Calcutta: Maha Bodhi Society of India, 1991), p. 188.

19 Ibid., p. 187.

20 Ibid., p. 186.

21 Brekke, Torkel, ‘Bones of Contention: Buddhist Relics, Nationalism and the Politics of Archaeology’, Numen Vol. 54/3 (2007), p. 296.

22 A letter from Rajendra Prasad to R. R. Diwakar, the governor of Bihar, in which the former tells the latter to go on All-India Radio and celebrate the Buddha Jayanti in order to spread Gandhi's teachings on non-violence, is suggestive of the new milieu. See Letter from Prasad to Diwakar, 20 February 1949, in Prasad, Rajendra, Dr. Rajendra Prasad: Correspondence and Select Documents, Vol. 11, (ed.) Choudhary, Valmiki (New Delhi and Ahmedabad: Allied Publishers, 1984), pp. 3839.

23 Jaffrelot, Christophe, Religion, Caste and Politics in India (New Delhi: Primus Books, 2010), p. 12. See also Brown, Rebecca, ‘Reviving the Past: Post-Independence Architecture and Politics in India's Long 1950s’, Interventions Vol. 11/3 (2009), pp. 293315.

24 Dewey, John, A Common Faith, second edition, with an introduction by Alexander, Thomas (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013 [1934]), p. 80.

25 ‘India needs Buddhist morality: Bengal governor's speech’, Hindustan Times, 4 May 1950, p. 3.

26 Nehru, ‘Buddhism Only Path to Escape from Disaster’, p. 3.

27 Nehru, Jawaharlal, Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vol. 5, (ed.) Gopal, S. (New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, 1982–1987), p. 535. Italics mine.

28 Letter from R. R. Saksena, Ambassador, Rangoon Embassy, 21 February 1956, in Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, Burma Branch, File no. 40/3 (1956), NAI.

29 ‘Annual Reports on Ceylon’, Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, R&I Branch, File no. 3/8 (1957), NAI.

30 Prasad's efforts and motives in the Maha Bodhi Temple case are detailed in Trevithick, Alan, The Revival of Buddhist Pilgrimage at Bodh Gaya (1811–1949): Anagarika Dharmapala and the Maha Bodhi Temple (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2007).

31 Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli, The Dhammapada (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999 [1952]), p. 39.

32 Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli, ‘Foreword’, in 2500 Years of Buddhism, (ed.) Bapat, P. V. (Delhi: Government of India, 1956), p. ix.

33 According to Keith Meadowcroft, Mukherjee was ‘militantly communal and a staunch defender of the privileges of the Bengali bhadralok’. See K. Meadowcroft, ‘The Emergence, Crystallization and Shattering of a Right-wing Alternative to Congress Nationalism—The All-India Hindu MahāSabhā, 1937–52’, PhD thesis, Concordia University, 2003, p. 105.

34 Although Ambedkar's formal public conversion to Buddhism did not occur until October 1956, he had been openly declaring himself to be a Buddhist since at least the early 1950s.

35 See ‘Letter 168’ from Ambedkar to Nehru, dated 14 September 1956, and ‘Letter 169’ from Nehru to Ambedkar, dated 15 September 1956, in Ambedkar, Bhimrao, Letters of Ambedkar, (ed.) Ajnat, Surendra (Jalandhar: Bheem Patrika Publications, 1993), pp. 191–92. What is even more remarkable, however, is that the lack of collaboration between Ambedkar and Nehru at Buddhist events predated the collapse of the Hindu Code Bill: I have not found any evidence of a single Buddhist event where both men shared the dais.

36 For a broad overview of the intellectual discourses central to ‘Buddhist modernity’, see McMahan, David, The Making of Buddhist Modernism (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

37 India's central role in the making of modern Buddhism is the subject of a number of recent and forthcoming studies. See Douglas Ober, ‘Reinventing Buddhism: Conversations and Encounters in Modern India, 1839–1956’, PhD thesis, University of British Columbia, 2016; Huber, Toni, The Holy Land Reborn: Pilgrimage and the Tibetan Reinvention of Buddhist India (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); Gitanjali Surendran, ‘“The Indian Discovery of Buddhism”: Buddhist Revival in India, c. 1890–1956’, PhD thesis, Harvard University, 2013; Kemper, Steven, Rescued from the Nation: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Buddhist World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); and Geary, David, Bodh Gaya: Buddhism and the Making of a World Heritage Site (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017).

38 Arnold, Edwin, The Light of Asia (London, 1879). On Sankrityayan and Kosambi, see Ober, Douglas, ‘“Like Embers Hidden in Ashes or Jewels Encrusted in Stone”: Rahul Sankrityayan, Dharmanand Kosambi and Buddhist Activity in Colonial India’, Contemporary Buddhism Vol. 14/1 (2013), pp. 134–48. On the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Anglophone fascination for Buddhism as witnessed in Britain and the United States, see, respectively, Almond, Philip, The British Discovery of Buddhism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); and Tweed, Thomas, The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844–1912: Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

39 Here I follow Khilnani, Sunil, ‘Nehru's Faith’, in The Crisis of Secularism in India, (eds) Dingwaney Needham, Anuradha and Sunder Rajan, Rajeswari (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), pp. 89103.

40 Ibid., p. 101.

41 Nehru, Discovery of India, p. 26.

42 Nehru, Jawaharlal, Toward Freedom: The Autobiography of Jawaharlal Nehru (New York: John Day, 1941), p. 197. Italics mine.

43 Ibid., p. 27. On his experiences with the Theosophists and his later reservations about the group, see ibid., pp. 26–28. Notably, it was through the Theosophical Society, at that time still under the heavy influence of the American Buddhist Henry Olcott, that he read the Dhammapada (in English translation).

44 Nehru, Discovery of India, p. 130.

45 Ibid.

46 A list of individuals along with the countries and organizations represented at the inauguration is available in Appendix 1 of Dr Siri Sumedha Thero, K. (ed.), History of the Mulagandha Kuty Vihara Sacred Relics and Wall Paintings at Isipatana—the First Preaching Place of the Buddha (Sarnath: Mulagandha Kuty Vihara, 2010).

47 ‘Pandit Nehru's Letter and Gift to the MahaBodhi Society’, The Maha Bodhi Vol. 40/1 (1932), no page number. Italics mine. The flag and letter are held at the Dharmapala Museum in Sarnath.

48 He and his daughter Indira (who later became prime minister) regularly attended the Mulagandha Kuti Vihara celebrations in Sarnath throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In 1937, he inaugurated the centre for Buddhist and Sino-Indian studies (‘Cheena Bhavan’) at Shantiniketan. See ‘The Visvabharti Chinese Hall’, Indian Social Reformer Vol. 49/32 (1937), p. 507.

49 ‘Meeting place for all races’ is from ‘A World Buddhist Movement’, The Maha Bodhi Vol. 37/7 (1929), p. 357.

50 Sen, Tansen, ‘Taixu's Goodwill Mission to India: Reviving the Buddhist Links between China and India’, in Buddhism in Asia: Revival and Reinvention, (eds) Lahiri, Nayanjot and Singh, Upinder (New Delhi: Manohar, 2016), p. 313.

51 Nehru, Discovery of India, pp. v, 165.

52 Nehru, Toward Freedom, p. 198.

53 Pryor, Robert, ‘Bodh Gaya in the 1950s: Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahant Giri and Anagarika Munindra’, in Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on a Contested Buddhist Site: Bodh Gaya Jataka, (eds) Geary, David, Sayers, Matthew R. and Singh Amar, Abishek (London: Routledge, 2012), pp. 112–13. In fact, apart from a lamp, it is the only object on the bedside table.

54 The phrase comes from Tambiah, Stanley, World Conqueror and World Renouncer: A Study of Buddhism and Polity in Thailand against a Historical Background (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978).

55 Vajpeyi, Ananya, Righteous Republic: The Political Foundations of Modern India (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), pp. 168207.

56 Nehru, Selected Works, Vol. 9, p. 63. Nehru was, in fact, so impressed by Aśoka that, according to the Hindi poet, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, he actually named his daughter after Aśoka: Indira Gandhi's full name was Priyadarshini Indira. Priyadassi was the name that Aśoka was known by after his renunciation. See Bachchan, H. R., In the Afternoon of Time: An Autobiography, abridged and translated from the Hindi into English by Snell, Rupert (New Delhi: Penguin, 1998), p. 466.

57 Nehru, Discovery of India, p. 134.

58 On Aśoka and the pillar edicts in the ancient context, see Lahiri, Nayanjot, Ashoka in Ancient India (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015). On Aśoka in modern memory, see Oliveville, Patrick, Leoshko, Janice and Prabha Ray, Himanshu (eds), Reimagining Aśoka: Memory and History (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012).

59 Vajpeyi, Righteous Republic, p. 98.

60 The last two are in present-day Pakistan. Prabha Ray, Himanshu, The Return of the Buddha: Ancient Symbols for a New Nation (New Delhi: Routledge, 2014), pp. 98133.

61 Ibid., pp. 101–05. There are a number of excellent independent studies concerning each of these relic cases. See, for instance, Mathur, Saloni, India by Design: Colonial History and Cultural Display (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), pp. 133–64 [on Sanchi]. Upinder Singh, ‘Buddhism, Archaeology and the Nation: Nagarjunakonda (1926–2006)’ [on Nagarjunakonda] and Mukherjee, Sraman, ‘Relics, Ruins and Temple-Building: Archaeological Heritage and the Construction of the Dharmarajika Vihara, Calcutta’, both in Buddhism in Asia: Revival and Reinvention, (eds) Lahiri, Nayanjot and Singh, Upinder (New Delhi: Manohar, 2015), pp. 147–90.

62 Ray, Return of the Buddha, p. 99.

63 For instance, at Calcutta in 1949, Sanchi in 1952, Bodh Gaya throughout the 1950s, and in New Delhi in 1956.

64 Sri Guha Khasnabis, S. C., ‘The Sacred Relics of Sariputta and Mogallana Arahans in Assam’, The Maha Bodhi Vol. 58/6–7 (1950), pp. 243–47.

65 Ibid., p. 247.

66 Tsering Shakspo, Nawang, ‘The Revival of Buddhism in Modern Ladakh’, in Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 4th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, (eds) Uebach, Helga and Panglung, Jampa L. (Munich: Schloss Hokenkammer, 1988), pp. 442–43.

67 See Aggarwal, Ravina, Beyond Lines of Control: Performance and Politics on the Disputed Borders of Ladakh, India (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).

68 ‘Report of carriage of Buddhist relics’, Government of India, Ministry of States, Kashmir Branch, File no. 10/17 (1950), NAI.

69 Soft, Dr R. M., ‘Exposition of the Sacred Relics in Ladak [sic]: A Diary Record’, The Maha Bodhi Vol. 58/12 (1950), pp. 428–35.

70 File report from ‘carriage of some Buddhist relics’, in Government of India, Ministry of States, Kashmir Branch, File no. 10/17 (1950), NAI. Although the Maha Bodhi Society, which organized the relic tour on behalf of the government, exceeded the allotted budget, government officials felt that ‘considering the importance attached to this Mission. . .it would be impolite to raise objections to the payment of certain misc. items’.

71 Huber, The Holy Land Reborn, p. 341.

72 Namely, Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Kurseong, Ghoom, and Tindharia. See Soft, R. M. Dr, ‘My Journey to Tibet and Sikkim with the Sacred Relics of Lord Buddha and his Two Chief Disciples’, The Maha Bodhi Vol. 59/7 (1951), pp. 261–64.

73 Ibid., p. 264.

74 Later the number was increased to 12,000. See Letter from T. N. Kaul, Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs to P. M. Lad, Secretary of IGB Ministry, 3 September 1955, in Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, NEF Section, File no. 37/7 (1955), NAI.

75 Ibid. The final product was published by Gergan Dorje Tharchin, the Tibetan Christian and editor of the popular Tibetan-language newspaper, Melong (The Tibet Mirror).

76 These monks were from the ‘Hill Tract Buddhist Mission’ which was directly supported by Prime Minister U Nu. See Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, NEF Branch—Secret (1949), File no. 147 (19 July 1949), NAI.

77 Roy, ‘A Symbol of Freedom’, p. 512, fn. 21.

78 Nehru, Discovery of India, pp. 49–50.

79 Nehru, Selected Works, Vol. 2, p. 507.

80 ‘All Asia Buddhist Convention at New Delhi’, The Maha Bodhi Vol. 55/5–6 (1947), p. 149. Bandaranaike, then a minister of local administration, was elected prime minister in a landslide election in 1956 before his term came to a tragic end when a Buddhist monk assassinated him three years later. Other foreign leaders in attendance included then education minister in Ceylon, Dr C. W. W. Kannanagara; Justice U Kyaw of the Mint of Burma; Vira Dhammawara [Dharmavira] of Cambodia; Daynananda Priyardasi, president of the United Lanka Congress; and Khenchen Losang Wangyal, the Dalai Lama's representative to Delhi.

81 A portion of these papers is to be found in the Rajendra Prasad Private Papers collection, File No. 1-R/38, Collection No. 2, Sub: Buddha Gaya Temple, NAI.

82 Nehru, Selected Works, Vol. 9, p. 110.

83 Ibid., p. 110. While Nehru recognized the goodwill that could be acquired by transferring control to the Buddhists, the transfer of the temple out of the Śaiva mahant's hands also served as part of his Land Reforms Act to demolish zamindari. The mahant was the largest landowner (zamindar) in all of Bihar, a region with one of the highest rates of property ownership inequality, and Nehru's government was insistent on demolishing that very system. See Geary, David, ‘The Decline of the Bodh Gaya Math and the Afterlife of Zamindari’, South Asia History and Culture Vol. 4/3 (2014), pp. 366–83.

84 Nehru was by no means the first major Indian figure to support Buddhist management at the site. The many twists and turns of the Maha Bodhi Temple case has been discussed at length by numerous scholars. Two excellent studies include Trevithick, The Revival of Buddhist Pilgrimage at Bodh Gaya; and Kemper, Rescued from the Nation.

85 Prasad, Correspondence, Vol. 9, p. 167 and Vol. 10, pp. 332–34.

86 In 1975, Dharmavira moved to the United States and the Aśoka Mission was reorganized under its new president, Ven. Lama Lobzang from Ladakh. Since the early 2000s, the Aśoka Mission has emerged as a major organizer of international Buddhist events in India, including holding one of the largest Buddhist conferences in modern history in New Delhi in 2011.

87 Kisala, Robert, Prophets of Peace: Cultural Identity in Japan's New Religions (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1999), p. 52.

88 It is notable that this event occurred in conjunction with the second session of the World Conference of Pacifists, the first session having been held the year before at Gandhi's former ashram in Wardha.

89 Daulton, Jack, ‘Sariputta and Moggallana in the Golden Land: The Relics of the Buddha's Chief Disciples at the Kaba Aye Pagoda’, Journal of Burma Studies Vol. 4 (1999), pp. 101–28.

90 Ibid., p. 120.

91 Marston, John, ‘The Cambodian Hospital for Monks’, in Buddhism, Power and Political Order, (ed.) Harris, Ian (London: Routledge, 2007), p. 107.

92 See Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, SEA Branch, File no. Z/8141/10 (1953) and File no. 1051 (1951), NAI.

93 ‘Buddhist relics from Taxila presented to the Thai Goodwill Mission in India’, in Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, External Branch, File no. 723—Secret (1940), NAI.

94 Ibid.

95 Letter from Thai Government to Ministry of External Affairs, 11 February 1940, in Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, External Branch, File no. 723—Secret (1940), NAI.

96 Request from Thai-Bharat Cultural Lodge, Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, IANZ Branch, File no. 1051 (1951), NAI.

97 Letter from Raghunath Sharma, Director of Thai–Bharat Cultural Lodge to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, 8 March 1953, Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, SEA Branch, File no. Z/81841/10 (1953), NAI.

98 Ibid.

99 Maha Bodhi Centenary Volume, p. 189.

100 Constituent Assembly Debates, Official Reports Vol. 4, 22 July 1947.

101 Duara, Prasenjit, ‘The Discourse of Civilization and Pan-Asianism’, Journal of World History Vol. 12/1 (2001), pp. 99130.

102 Maha Bodhi Centenary Volume, p. 186.

103 Nehru, Jawaharlal, Jawaharlal Nehru: Letters to Chief Ministers: 1947–1964, Vol. 1, (ed.) Parthasarathi, G. (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 267. Italics mine.

104 There was an ‘Indian friendship mission’ in October 1951, an Indian ‘good-will delegation’ in 1954, an Indian ‘cultural delegation’ in 1955 led by Raghu Vira, another ‘friendship mission’ in 1956 led by P. V. Bapat and Jagdish Kashyap, and a ‘cultural delegation’ led by Rahul Sankrityayan in 1958.

105 Welch, Holmes, Buddhism under Mao (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), p. 173.

106 Report of Indian Cultural Delegation to China under Leadership of Shri A. K. Chanda, Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, FEA Branch, File no. 1/55 (Secret), NAI.

107 Ibid. The latter was a prolific fourth-century ce Indian translator of Buddhist texts into Chinese. They also visited several other Buddhist sites, like the Lama Temple in Beijing.

108 According to Arpi, Claude, Born in Sin: The Panchsheel Agreement, the Sacrifice of Tibet (New Delhi: Mittal Publications, 2004), p. 114, the use of the term was actually introduced by President Sukarno of Indonesia when he gave the name Pantaja Sila to Indonesia's ‘Five Principles’ of national policy in 1945.

109 Welch, Buddhism under Mao, pp. 176–77. For a more recent critique of this ‘false narrative of Chinese-Indian friendship’, see Tansen Sen, ‘The Bhai-Bhai Lie’, Foreign Affairs, 11 July 2014, available at: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/review-essay/bhai-bhai-lie, [accessed 7 November 2018].

110 Huber, The Holy Land Reborn, p. 343.

111 Shakya, Tsering, Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet since 1947 (London: Pimlico, 1999), p. 151.

112 Ibid., pp. 151–52.

113 Vajpeyi, Righteous Republic, p. 207.

114 Tambiah, World Conqueror and World Renouncer.

115 Quoted in Gopal, S., Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography: 1956–1964, Vol. III (London: Jonathan Cape, 1984), p. 32.

116 On Ambedkar's Buddhism, see Zelliot, Eleanor, Ambedkar's World: The Making of Babasaheb and the Dalit Movement (New Delhi: Navayana, 2013).

117 See ibid., pp. 198–203.

118 According to Nye, soft power refers to the ability of governments to coerce other governments into doing what they want without force or violence. Put simply, soft power means ‘getting others to want what you want’. See Nye, Joseph, ‘Soft Power’, Foreign Policy No. 80 (1990), pp. 153–71.

119 ‘Nu meeting K’, Guardian, 29 February 1960, in Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs, Burma Branch, File no. 4/3 (1960), NAI.

120 Geary, David, ‘Rebuilding the Navel of the Earth: Buddhist Pilgrimage and Transnational Religious Networks’, Modern Asian Studies Vol. 48/3 (2014), pp. 645–92.

121 Marion Pinkney, Andrea, ‘Looking West to India: Asian Education, Intra-Asian Renaissance, and the Nalanda Revival,’ Modern Asian Studies Vol. 49/1 (2015), pp. 111–49.

122 Narendra Modi, Twitter post, 15 September 2014, https://twitter.com/narendramodi.

123 Shinzo Abe, Twitter post, 30 August 2014, https://twitter.com/abeshinzo.

Research for this article could not have been conducted without the generous support of a Fulbright-Nehru Student Fellowship, administered by the United States-India Educational Foundation (USIEF). I would also like to thank the staff at all the archives and libraries I consulted in India, especially the National Archives of India and Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi, and the Mulagandha Kuti Library in Sarnath. Early drafts of this article were presented at the South and Central Asia Fulbright Conference in Hyderabad in 2015 and at the South Asian Conference of the Pacific Northwest (SACPAN) at the University of Oregon in 2016. I am very grateful for all the feedback I received on those occasions, as well as from the reviewers of Modern Asian Studies. Any remaining errors are my own.

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