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On October 14, 1956, Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar renounced Hinduism and converted to Buddhism along with nearly 4, 00,000 of his followers in a public ceremony at Deekshabhoomi in Maharashtra’s Nagpur district. The day is celebrated as Dhammachakra Pravartan Din or the liberation day by the followers of Buddhism and Dr Ambedkar across the country. This picture is from New Delhi where a sculpture of Dr Ambedkar is moved to the stage ahead of a mass conversion ceremony on November 4, 2001. Photo: AFP.
While the word Dhamma means the teachings and doctrines of Gautam Buddha, the word chakra (wheel) or dhammachakra means the wheel of transformation or the wheel of law. In Buddhism, Dhammachekkapravartan means setting the wheel of law in motion, symbolising a revolutionary change. On the day in 1956, Dr Ambedkar, between 9 am to 11 am, took the oath of three jewels, five percepts and the 22 vows of Buddhism along with Dr Savita Ambedkar, his wife. After his conversion, he remarked, “I am overjoyed, I am exalted. I feel I have been liberated from the hell.” In this picture, Buddhist monks offer prayers to mark the 64th anniversary since Dr BR Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, in Bangalore on October 14, 2020. Photo: AFP.
The site where Dr Ambedkar’s conversion ceremony was held came to be called as Deekshabhoomi. The city of Nagpur was chosen for the location because of the history of the Nag people, who were considered to be those who fought the oppression of the Aryans and spread Gautam Buddha’s teachings all over India. It is noted that the Nag people and their descendants lived majorly in Nagpur, meaning the land of the Nags. This picture is of Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur. Photo: iStock.
Dr Ambedkar had decided to renounce Hinduism two decades before he converted to Buddhism. Taking into account the oppression and injustice meted out to the people belonging to the depressed classes of the same Hindu community at the Yeola conference of October 13, 1935, Dr Ambedkar pledged that though he was “unfortunately” born as a Hindu, “he will not die as a Hindu”. In this picture, a vendor sells pictures of Buddha and Dr Ambedkar on his 50th death anniversary in Mumbai on December 6, 2006. Photo: AFP.
At the Yeola conference, he also declared, “Now we come to the conclusion that there is no change in attitude of the touchables and they are not ready to behave with us, with affection despite our continuous struggle. As such we have decided to remain separate from Hindus, to live with self-help and struggle to attain self-elevation.” This picture is from Allahabad where people from the Dalit communities protested against dilution of the SC, ST atrocities act in 2018. Photo: AFP.
Every year, lakhs of followers of Dr Ambedkar visit Deekshabhoomi to mark the moment of liberation from Hinduism. Many of the followers convert to Buddhism during the rituals. Due to the pandemic, the heritage site at Nagpur has not seen grand celebrations since 2020. This year too, the site authorities have decided to limit the crowd to 50 people in compliance with Covid-19 guidelines. In this picture, followers of Dr Ambedkar have gathered during celebrations marking the 64th anniversary since he renounced Hinduism, in Bangalore on October 14, 2020. Photo: AFP.