I'm writing this from Nagarjuna Institute in Nagpur - an amazingly serene setting after a day in Bombay. Its a series of welsolidly constructed buildings on the outskirts of town with gardens and statues of Dr Ambedkar, and currently buzzing with activity as teams of local men and women prepare the site for a huge influx.
A conference starts tonight on Dr Ambedkar and the modern Buddhist world, with 150 people from around the world - monks and nuns, Buddhist activists, western engaged Buddhists, scholars and people from the FWBO. I'm giving a paper tomorrow on engaged buddhism in America. The Thais are very concerned about the recent military coup and want to get back as soon as they can because they see this as a crucial time for the country. Then 300 more arrive for a workshop for Ambedkarite activists from around India, and then there's a retreat.
The main event will be the huge ralley at diksa bhumi - the conversion ground in the centre of Nagpur where each year 1 million people gather to mark the lunar anniversaty of Dr Ambedkar's conversion in 1956. In 2006 it's the 50th anniversary and on Monday maybe twice that number are expected. There will be some mass conversions as well- and the big development is that they are members of communities previously untouched Buddhism, especially the tribals.
There are all sorts of contradictory reports of what is happening and who is involved, and I will post more details as things get clearer. After 2nd the next date to watch is 14th, the solar anniversary (India uses two parrallel calendars), when many more conversions and celebrateions are scheduled to take place all around India. I haven't decided yet where I'll go then, but Hydrabad sounds promising.
Well, the jet lag still has me a little and the conference is about to start, so I'll leave it there. But I'm intending to keep this blog through this whole period, so stay tuned.