Book Review: Rise and fall of Buddhism in South Asia

The New Nation, June 27, 2008

The rise and fall of Bhddhism in South Asia
Author: M. Abdul Mu'min Chowdhury
Publisher: London Institute of South Asia
Pages 358, Price: Taka 500/- US$ 15

Dhakka, Bangladesh -- Before the rise of Brahmanism the subcontinent was overwhelmingly Buddhist. South Asian monks and merchants had introduced Buddhism to other countries. Although in those Asian countries it continues to prosper, in South Asia it survives only as a jumbled memory. The human agency, the Aryan-Brahmans, behind the unusual fate of Buddhism in the subcontinent also became its modern day historiographers.

The result is a slanted history in which Buddhism was not more than a seasonal weed in the Aryan garden, which has died out with the season, so writes Usman Khalid, director, London Institute of South Asia (Lisa) which published M. Abdul Mu'min Chowdhury's book.

Author, M. Abdul Mu'min Chowdhury, a former teacher of the University and Dhaka, the Agriculrural University, Mymensingh and the University College London has gone deep into the history of Buddhism in the sub-continent and has narrated how this great religion virtually disappeared from the land of its birth, although it continue to flourish in most countries of East Asia. The rise and fall of this religion in this area has been well-documented. The language is lucid and the arguments are well-articulated. Students of social history of Bangladesh and the rest of the subcontinent would get a lot of materials in their bids to paint a correct picture of the present, by tracing the ancient roots on which it is based.

A correct understanding of the present again would help make correct projections about the future. Viewed from this perspective this book is an invaluable document that can be of many uses.

As the publishers note, the book shows how Buddhism became a rallying creed for the pre-Aryan natives of the subcontinent they faced the Aryan-Brahman invaders. It brings to the forefront the methods used by the Aryan-Brahmans for uprooting Buddhism as part of their efforts to subjugate the peaceful and civilized pre-Aryan natives and the debilitating consequences these had for the South Asian economy and the society.

In the words of the author, "In gathering materials on the origin and progress of Buddhism in, and its disappearance from, the subcontinent and evaluating them, I was, to put it mildly, astonished by the extent and manner of such distortions.

It became obvious to me that if readers were to be given a chance to read a factual account of the subcontinent's history and truly consider its evidence and arguments on pure merit, then the distortions arising from the Aryan-centric perspectives and the high Hindu historians sanguinity to sustain it would have to be marked out and explained and not hedged. It is for this reason the bookh as also touched on the history of historiography."

M. Abdul Mu'min Chowdhury then tells readers, "In the light of the distorting tradition of South Asian historiography it is advisable that readers should weigh the evidence and rationale of a writer's judgment and accept or reject them on merit. I do not expect them to treat this book differently."

Such a bold statement would increase readers' interest in the book which is not only rich in content but also attractive in look. It can be collected from Mr. MA Taher, Phones: 01912146527, 01552311334.