The Buddha could not just stand and stare. He had to intervene. Thus, when Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie was ‘banned’ by a hyper-sensitive Rajasthan government at the Jaipur Lit Fest last week, he ‘appeared’ and the participants discussed how the religion that goes by his name was above all such bans and boycotts.
Even Islam was highlighted as a religion that forbids such actions as ban over freedom of speech. Someone said the Satanic Verses was not an atom bomb that the extremists had to be scared of. It was just a harmless book with a different point of view.
One of these sessions had Buddhism as its highlight. Speakers had divergent views on the session’s topic, ‘India’s discovery of Buddhist Heritage’. But the speaker who stole the show was John Keay, renowned British author and journalist. He felt it was the political correctness of Buddhism and the role played by the ASI in the early 19th century that helped the revival process of Buddhism. The discovery of the Mahabodhi site by General Alexander Cunningham, the first head of the ASI, was the point that signaled the revival of Buddhism. Till then no one could connect the name of the Buddha to religion. The discovery of Buddhist sites in Taxila, Gwalior, Khajuraho and Mahabodhi gave Buddhism a big boost.
These discoveries of Cunningham brought in changes in the people’s view. Cunningham helped the people realise the importance and the relevance of the Buddha and they started worshipping him. Till then he was a mere historical figure. This also gave impetus to the development of culture and civilisation of the country by restoring India’s historical identity, chiefly Buddhist Stupas and monasteries.
The Buddha owes to Cunningham because he was instrumental in excavation and protection of the India’s heritage. And then, it was Jawaharlal Nehru who took interest in Buddhist symbols and heritage. Buddhism thus got accidental as well as planned fillip.