Cover of Dust on the Throne by Douglas Ober
Dust on the Throne
The Search for Buddhism in Modern India
Douglas Ober


March 2023
394 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503635029
Paperback ISBN: 9781503635036
Ebook ISBN: 9781503635777

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Received wisdom has it that Buddhism disappeared from India, the land of its birth, between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, long forgotten until British colonial scholars re-discovered it in the early 1800s. Its full-fledged revival, so the story goes, only occurred in 1956, when the Indian civil rights pioneer Dr. B.R. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism along with half a million of his Dalit (formerly "untouchable") followers. This, however, is only part of the story. Dust on the Throne reframes discussions about the place of Buddhism in the subcontinent from the early nineteenth century onwards, uncovering the integral, yet unacknowledged, role that Indians played in the making of modern global Buddhism in the century prior to Ambedkar's conversion, and the numerous ways that Buddhism gave powerful shape to modern Indian history.

Through an extensive examination of disparate materials held at archives and temples across South Asia, Douglas Ober explores Buddhist religious dynamics in an age of expanding colonial empires, intra-Asian connectivity, and the histories of Buddhism produced by nineteenth and twentieth century Indian thinkers. While Buddhism in contemporary India is often disparaged as being little more than tattered manuscripts and crumbling ruins, this book opens new avenues for understanding its substantial socio-political impact and intellectual legacy.

About the author

Douglas Ober is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Fort Lewis College and an Honorary Research Associate in the Centre for India and South Asia Research at the University of British Columbia.

"This is the first comprehensive study in any language of the revival of interest in Buddhism in nineteenth and twentieth-century India. It transforms the way we view modern Indian religious and political life. Through careful archival investigation, Douglas Ober uncovers numerous sources and topics that have been ignored or dealt with in piecemeal fashion. He uses this array of materials to create a compelling argument for the vital of importance of Buddhism in modern Indian religious life, politics, intellectual history, and culture. By highlighting the contributions of Indian scholars, advocates, and practitioners to the revival of Buddhism in twentieth-century India, Ober gives us a much more accurate picture of modern global Buddhism. This is a major, foundational contribution to religious and Buddhist history."

—Richard Jaffe, author of Seeking Sakyamuni: South Asia in the Formation of Modern Japanese Buddhism

"This is a book I've been waiting for—a powerful account of the contestations and challenges that marked the return of Buddhism to the public sphere. It forces us to think of the role of human agency in shaping the present and future in India—perhaps even in the world."

—Uma Chakravarti, author of The Social Dimensions of Early Buddhism

"It is a fantastic read, almost like a detective novel in parts, and you turn the page wondering how Buddhism was discovered, how it fared in various contexts. Douglas Ober's mastery of sources, his adept linking of various geographies, ideas, and events are so effortlessly done that they belie the immense labor and reading and writing that have no doubt gone into the making of this book."

—V Geetha, author of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and the Question of Socialism in India