Ven. Dr.Dhammapiya, Dhamma Dipa School, Sabroom, Tripura, India
Tripura is one of the most ancient princely states of India. It is a tiny state belonging to the group of seven sister states (Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh) near Assam surrounded by Bangladesh. Tripura is not known to the people of the world; even many Indians have very little knowledge about the State.
Tripura is a beautiful hilly place with altitudes varying from 50 to 3,080 sq. ft. above sea level, though the major population of the state lives in the plains. Previously a princely state, and subsequently a Union Territory of Independent India, Tripura was elevated to the status of a state on January 21, 1972. Tripura is largely dominated by Bengali Community, in spite of the 19 Schedule Tribes, that form a major chunk of the population.
Buddhist Rulers & Archeological Buddhist Sites:
Though it is not clear who was the first Buddhist king who ruled Tripura, it is evident from Archeological findings of Pilak and Boxnagar (Buddhist sites) that the earliest rulers of Tripura were Buddhists dated back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. According to "Rajmala" the historical record of the royal lineage of Tripura, the Mog (Burmese origin) were the powerful Buddhist kings of Tripura. Buddhism flourished in Tripura from 2nd to 9th century A.D. Both Theravada and Mahayana forms of Buddhism were practiced, though Theravada Buddhism seemed to have had stronghold in many parts of Tripura for many centuries. A few months back, the Government of Tripura has excavated a cetiya (pagoda) resembling the Amravati Stupa which is now safe-guarded by the authority of Archeological Survey of India. This excavated pagoda is understood to belong to 2nd or 3rd century A.D. Many Buddha statues have also been excavated at the site. Pilak is another archeological Buddhist site situated in South Tripura District. Statues of Buddha, Avalokiteòvara and Târâ were found at Pilak site dated back to the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. Archeologists and research scholars opined that Mahayana and Theravada Buddhist traditions might have been dominant in this region extending to Pattikera and Mainamati in Bangladesh.
Disappearance of Buddhism from Tripura:
It is necessary to have a quick look at the decline of Buddhism in India before we talk about the disappearance of Buddhism from Tripura. As a result of untiring missionary endeavour of the emperor Ashoka the great, almost all parts of India have received Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha. Indians were blessed with the medicinal impact of Dhamma and large number of people accepted Buddhism (Dhamma) as their way of life. From 3rd century B.C. to almost 6th century A.D., Buddhism flourished extensively in India and two-third of the Indians were said to have become Buddhists during these years.
As everything is anicca (impermanent), Buddhism began to decline with the uprising of Adi Shankara Charya in the 6th century A.D. The Buddhists were attacked by orthodox Brahmins, countless Buddhist monasteries and pagodas were destroyed, thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns were massacred. The attack on Buddhists was patronized by Brahmin Hindu king Pushyamitra Sunga. The Muslim invaders also attacked Buddhists, and the famous Nalanda University was burnt to ashes. The Buddhists were attacked several times by Hindu and many times by Muslims and, at last, they had to submit meekly to the massacre of the attackers. By the 16th century A.D. Buddhism was completely driven out from India, it is said that even the name of the Buddha was not heard.
The Buddhists of Tripura also had to meet the same fate. The Buddhist king of Tripura was defeated by the Hindu king and Muslim invaders. The defeated Buddhist king along with his subjects had to flee and settle in different parts of Myanmar and Bangladesh. By the 11th century A.D., Buddhism totally disappeared from Tripura.
Revival & Re-entry of Buddhism to Tripura:
It is in the 17th century A.D. that the Mog (of Burmese origin) re-entered Tripura. With the re-entry of Mog there was revival of Buddhism in the state. After Mog, Chakam and Barua also have settled in Tripura adding to the strength of the total Buddhism population.
Present state of Buddhism in Tripura:
Mog (Burmese origin), Chakma, Barua and Uchai are the followers of Buddhism in Tripura. The total Buddhist population in Tripura is around 2,00,000 (0.2 million) of the total population 3.5 millions.
There are around 200 Buddhist monasteries and 250 Buddhist monks in the state. Almost all the monasteries are small, made of bamboo and straw. The Buddhists in Tripura are financially very weak and most of them live in villages. Almost all the Buddhists in Tripura are the followers of Theravada Buddhism. Their cultural background and customs resemble with that of Burmese and Thai Buddhist tradition.
The Mog Buddhists have close affinity with Burmese Buddhism in all socio-cultural and religious aspects. Though they live in Tripura, almost all Dhamma books (Tipiíaka, Aííhakathâ, Burmese [Myanmar] Translationss etc.) are brought from Myanmar and Dharma teaching is done in Burmese [Myanmar] script. The dialect that the Mog people speak is similar to that of Burmese [Myanmar]and Arakanese [Rakhine] language with little variation in pronunciation, but the script is the same (Burmese [Myanmar] script).
The Chakma and Barua are also followers of Theravada Buddhism. Their language and cultural background find close affinity with that of Bengali. The three major Buddhist communities of Tripura, viz. Mog, Chakma and Barua, have close relation with each other and observe vassa, Buddha Purima, Kaíhina Cîvara Dâna etc. in uniformity. The Buddhists of Tripura have been preserving Buddha Sasana in the State amidst fierce missionary wave of Christianity and majority Hindu culture. The Christian missionaries are very rampant in the State. They visit almost each and every village and try to convert people into Christianity by offering money, clothe, medicine etc. As most of the people in Tripura are poor, they get easily carried away by the tempting offers of Christian missionaries. Many Buddhist families have converted into Christianity and many more are opting the same route as they have been convinced that Jesus is the only saviour of poor people which the Christian missionaries have practically demonstrated. The Buddhists are the minority community in Tripura. They are merging slowly into majority Hindu culture, causing a threat to the survival of Buddha Sasana in Tripura.
There is no Buddhist educational institute in Tripura to impart monastic education to monks and train them on Dhamma. Most of the monks are not educated and as a result the monks have low profile and are not competent enough to safeguard Buddha Sasana from the influence of Christian Missionary and eclipsing majority Hindu Culture. Books on Buddhism are also not available in Tripura. Until recently there was no meditation center in the State. The Buddhists of Tripura have somehow been preserving Buddha Sasana in the State. They practice Buddhism mechanically as it is a part of their culture. There is an urgent need to set up a Buddhist educational institute with well-equipped infrastructure to impart Buddhist education to both monks and laypeople. A good Buddhist library and meditation center is also required to provide Pariyatti and Paíipatti base of Buddhism to the Buddhists of Tripura.
Dhamma Dipa Missionary Project:
In order to safeguard, preserve and promote Buddha Sasana in Tripura, we have undertaken Dhamma Dipa Missionary Project. Under this project, a Buddhist school for children, a Pali and monastic educational institute, a good Buddhist library and a Dhamma missionary training center are proposed. Out of those proposed projects, a Buddhist school has already come up in full swing and groundwork has been cleared for the remaining projects.
The Buddhist school is named as "Dhamma Dipa School." It is the only school with Buddhist background in Tripura established in 2002. The school has now 300 children from various socio-cultural background residing in the school complex. They are imparted Dhamma education along with secular education. They are being trained up in Buddhist ambience providing them with regular classes on Dhamma and meditation. Lecture series are also being organized for the benefit of lay Buddhists in the State. Dhamma Dipa Missionary Group has purchased 20 acres plot of land to start a Dhamma Dipa Institute of Buddhist Studies this year.
The most venerable Sitagu Sayadaw Ashin Nyanissara, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Alodawpyi Sayadaw Ashin Ariyavamsa and Phra Maha Sampong have visited Dhamma Dipa School on their Dhamma missionary tour. Since the Buddhists of Tripura are the minority and economically weak, they need a word of encouragement and a helping hand form World Buddhist Community in their struggle to preserve, promote and propagate Buddha Sasana in Tripura.
Ven. Dr. Dhammapiya
Dhamma Dipa School, Manu Bankul,
Sabroom, Tripura (S), INDIA
Dr. Dhammapiya's email: dr_dhammapiya AT yahoo.com