Our first day out after arriving at Nagaloka began with a visit to the nearby Dikshaboomi Stupa. The stupa, a traditional Buddhist structure built in remembrance of an important figure and usually containing relics from that figure, was built to honor Dr. Ambedkar. The reason it was built at this particular site is that it was the exact spot where he held the mass conversion ceremony in which he and a vast number of other Dalits left Hinduism behind and converted to Buddhism.
The stupa towers over every other structure in the city. It’s one of the biggest stupas ever built. At each of four directions, an elaborate gate (I believe they are called toranis) beckons you into the building.
When you go into the lower section, at the very center is a cordoned-off shrine and a clear glass representation of the larger stupa, within which is held Dr. Ambedkar’s relics. Luckily, our group was given access to the area that was roped off, and we held a short puja inside to honor him. Also in this area is a series of photographs and short descriptions to go with them that give a brief history of the life and achievements of Ambedkar.
Up above, which we were also very lucky to access, there is a vast (and I mean absolutely VAST) chamber, which must be a hundred feet across and at least as high, painted in pure white, with polished marble floors. It is stunning, to say the least. Easily one of my favorite spots so far. You just go totally silent stepping inside, to see the grandeur of it. The sounds from outside echo softly over and over inside, like voices from the heaven realm, and if you walk out to the very center of the floor you can hear even your own slightest whisper echoed back to you. I was in awe.
Outside the building, you can still see the stage where the conversion ceremony took place, preserved exactly as it was on that evening. Beneath a shady tree, Manidhamma led us through a reading of the section of Sangharakshita’s book “Ambedkar and Buddhism” in which he recounts in vivid detail the events of that night. It really brought energy and depth to the place. When we finished, a family of Dalits, who had traveled 300 miles just to visit, came over with excitement to talk to us and to have their pictures taken with us – this was like the ultimate for them, and they were very sweet.
After Dikshaboomi we made a short visit to the Dr. Ambedkar Museum in Chicholi. The museum is very small by our standards and has some odd things inside that had belonged to Ambedkar. Things like his moth-eaten socks, and his dentures. Just about everything you could think of was put on display. One of our group kidded that his wife would probably be horrified to see the state of his socks. But there were some very interesting items there as well, including the two typewriters that he had written his great books and the Indian Constitution on, some of his personal artwork, and a manuscript copy of “The Buddha and His Dhamma,” which is a central work for the Ambedkarite Buddhists – his attempt to make sense of the overwhelming complexity of Buddhist traditions and history and bring it down to a level that anyone could grasp, a Buddhist “bible,” so to speak.
Our final stop before ending for the day was really enjoyable. By this time it was nighttime, and Manidhamma took us to a park, the same park where Sangharakshita had been immediately following Dr. Ambedkar’s death. Manidhamma had hired a rickshaw from which to read another passage from “Ambedkar and Buddhism.” In this same spot, in front of thousands of mourning – newly Buddhist – ex-Untouchables who did not know what to do now that Ambedkar was gone, Sangharakshita had stood up on a nearby rickshaw and addressed the audience. He explained to these new Buddhists that Ambedkar was not gone, that he lived on in each of them, and that he wanted them to continue the work he had begun. After this event, Sangharakshita stayed on with the Dalits and taught the Dharma for many years, so that the new converts would understand how to practice and use it as a tool for self-transformation.
This was a really magical way to bring us right back into the place and time of the event, right back to the energy of the moment, alongside Bhante, and to the very birth of the Buddhist Revival.