Where do the Baruas stand in Buddhist religious universe? Could they be categorized as Bengali Buddhists? Such intriguing questions are addressed headlong here and answers are ferreted out of the troves of history. A large swathe of these frankly devout people is now found settled in and around Siliguri town, a gateway to the North-Eastern hinterland. But their antecedents are immensely spectacular, yet problematic. As settlers, how far their religious moorings carry them through the alienated environs of a majoritarian Hindu society? How proficient they are in border maintenance and syncretism?
This ethnographic study of Bengali Barua Buddhists gives the reader a critical insight into everyday sociological practices of these struggling survivors of an ancient religion.
Dr. Aparna Chatterjee is a gold medalist in M.A, Sociology and Social Anthropology, obtained from North Bengal University. She is the life member of Indian Sociological Society and International Sociological Association. Dr. Chatterjee teaches Sociology at North Bengal St. Xavier's College, West Bengal. In addition to her administrative responsibilities, she loves to observe and study a mélange of people belonging to diverse linguistic, cultural and religious groups. Her special forte obviously remains in adopting a meticulous care for arranging her study materials in a cogent order and telling a tale with intent interest.
The book would be an important addition to the available literature on sociology of religion and study of culture. The northern part of West Bengal has been predominantly viewed as a geographical space where Mahayana Buddhism is widely practised. This book brings to the fore the reality that Theravada Buddhism or Hinayana Buddhism is not altogether absent in this region and that its presence is strong enough to make it a subject of serious study. The followers of Theravada Buddhism, who has been studied here, clearly form a religious minority is going through a continuous process of getting distanced from their root and at the same time holding on to elements of religion and culture, which they consider dear. Buddhism is widely spread in Asia but not in India, it is still found in Chittagong where the Baruas of North Bengal, the people who are the subject of study of this book, have migrated. This book serves the important objective of producing knowledge about a group of people following Theravada Buddhism throughout their or their ancestors' life journeys from Chittagong to Bengal and evolving as a culture group forced into the process of assimilation with the wider Hindu community, but at the same time trying to maintain their own religious and cultural space. The book would be of immense interest to students and scholars of religion, sociology and history as it studies in depth the patterns of migration and settlement as well as the process of syncretism and boundary maintenance as is happening among the Theravadi Barua Buddhists. This study is of great relevance today as it shows how religious minorities are positioned in a situation of conflict and accommodation when religious majoritarianism is making its presence felt all over South Asia.
The journey from the centre to the margins, for a religious, ethnic or cultural group, remains accentuated with shifts in historical currency. And the verity of such phenomenon is deep-seated in the long stories of migration and relative minority status of Theravadi Buddhists as they had relocated themselves in North Bengal way back in the middle of the 20th century.
Economics and geography apart, the matrix of marginalisation, mark further the minority status of the Magh- Barua group while seen against the more palpable presence of Mahayani Buddhists, spread along the spine of the entire East and South-East Asia vis-a-vis the hegemonic superiority of majoritarian Hindu community and its chores.
My forays into this aspect of marginalisation would also be to explore the quantum of 'othering' as perceived by the power that is in relegating this community to the very minority status of 'Scheduled Tribe'. Even with these specificities, my efforts lie in showing how the existence of Bengali Buddhists remains underscored by abounding crises and estrangements.
Therefore, this book is a modest and curious attempt to understand the level of similarities or distinctiveness, diffusion or boundary maintenance of the community on the one hand and the notions of prescription or prohibition, tradition or modernity through community interface on the other.
Language & Literature (442)
Sacred Sites (102)
Tantric Buddhism (87)
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