On October 14, 1956, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar converted from Hinduism to Buddhism. It is believed that this date is associated with Emperor Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism. The day is also known as the Great Conversion or Mass Conversion or Dharma Deeksha. Approximately 3,80,000 people belonging to so-called ‘lower castes’ among Hindus embraced Buddhism on that day in Nagpur, Maharashtra. Notably, the city is associated with Buddhist folklore and history. The day is celebrated as Dhamma Chakra Pravartan Din.
On the next day, the latecomers to the event were also converted to Buddhism. The total number of people converted during the Great conversion stands somewhere around 6,00,000 to 8,00,000 based on different reports. Deekshabhoomi, a sacred monument, was constructed at the place where the event happened.
While converting to Buddhism, Dr Ambedkar took 22 vows. In these vows, he promised to have no faith in the Hindu belief system and vowed to disown any religions or religious practices linked to Tridev, Ram, Krishna, and other Hindu Gods and Goddesses. I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh nor shall I worship them. The vows read:
- I shall have no faith in Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, nor shall I worship them.
- I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna who are believed to be the incarnation of God nor shall I worship them.
- I shall have no faith in ‘Gauri’, Ganapati and other gods and goddesses of Hindus nor shall I worship them.
- I do not believe in the incarnation of God.
- I do not and shall not believe that Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu. I believe this to be sheer madness and false propaganda.
- I shall not perform ‘Shraddha’ nor shall I give ‘pind-dan’.
- I shall not act in a manner violating the principles and teachings of the Buddha.
- I shall not allow any ceremonies to be performed by Brahmins.
- I shall believe in the equality of man.
- I shall endeavour to establish equality.
- I shall follow the ‘noble eightfold path’ of the Buddha.
- I shall follow the ‘paramitas’ prescribed by the Buddha.
- I shall have compassion and loving-kindness for all living beings and protect them.
- I shall not steal.
- I shall not tell lies.
- I shall not commit carnal sins.
- I shall not take intoxicants like liquor, drugs etc.
- I shall endeavour to follow the noble eightfold path and practise compassion and loving-kindness in everyday life.
- I renounce Hinduism which is harmful to humanity and impedes the advancement and development of humanity because it is based on inequality, and adopt Buddhism as my religion.
- I firmly believe the Dhamma of the Buddha is the only true religion.
- I believe that I am having a re-birth.
- I solemnly declare and affirm that I shall hereafter lead my life according to the principles and teachings of the Buddha and his Dhamma.
On October 14, millions of people gathered in Nagpur to celebrate Dhamma Chakra Pravartan Din. According to the 2011 census, over 87% of Buddhists in India are Ambedkarites. On December 6, 1956, six weeks after Dharma Deeksha, Dr Ambedkar died in his sleep at his home in Delhi. He had been suffering from heart disease and diabetes since 1948.