Religion in Modern Asia Newsletter

Book Announcement


Bimal Chandra MOHAPATRA, Buddhism and Socio-Economic Life of Eastern India. Reconstructing Indian History & Culture, No. 9. D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd. (New Delhi, 1995). 212p, plus 21 B/W photographs, 4 maps, glossary, and bibliography. ISBN 81-246-0055-4

This work examines the status of Buddhism in Bengal, Orissa, and their surrounding regions in eastern India during the eighth to twelfth centuries. It was during this period, ironically, that Brahmanical Hinduism saw its revival, and Buddhism was withering in other parts of India.

Mohapatra's work is the first attempt to gauge the impact of Buddhism on the socio-economic life of the times, under dynastic families of zealous Buddhists, including the Palas in Bengal and the Bhaumakaras of Orissa. In this context, Dr. Mohapatra produces in-depth analytical perspectives on pre-medieval Indian religion, society and economy, drawing on a wide range of both primary and secondary sources.

According to Mohapatra's synopsis of his thesis, the period in question saw a "total transformation in social and economic relations," representing as it did the rise of feudalism in Bengal and Orissa, and the simultaneous transition from the ancient to medieval periods. In that context, Buddhism helped "the evolution of new patterns of social and economic behavior and attitudes." In addition, the period saw the transformation from Mahayanistic to Vajrayanistic Buddhism, and the Tantric branches of the religion influenced numerous foreigners, particularly Nepalese and Tibetan scholars who came to India to study Buddhism. In turn, "this cultural interaction paved the way for enhanced social and economic relations with foreign countries."

The original sources consulted in the work include "the epigraphic records of the dynasties of the period, the Purans and other religious texts, and literary accounts of foreign travelers to India."

Mohapatra notes that while previous researchers have done much work on the "religion, society and economic conditions of this period in Orissa and Bengal," the relation between "religion and socio-economic life" has not been adequately studied to date. He work's major purpose is thus the attempt to cover this neglected aspect of India's history.

Mohapatra's work is divided into an Introduction, Conclusion, and four intervening chapters, which are titled "Buddhism in Bengal and Orissa Prior to the Eighth Century A.D.," "Buddhism in Bengal and Orissa under the Palas of Bengal and the Bhaumakaras of Orissa," "Society in Bengal and Orissa," and "Economic Conditions of Bengal and Orissa." In his Conclusion, Mohapatra notes that during the period in question, the major religious beliefs, including Buddhism, Saivism, and Vaishnavism, appear to have tended toward a synthesis forming a "cosmopolitan" form of religion, in the event losing their separate identities, as they were engulfed by the cult of Sakti. In turn, Mohapatra states that it was primarily the impact of the Sakti cult that led to Buddhism's greatest transformation, that from Mayahana to Tantra.

Other findings include the phenomenal growth of Buddhist centers in the region, and the arising of regional languages in Bengal and Orissa, increases in cultivation resulting from extensive land grants from rulers, and increased urbanization. These trends led to increased volumes of trade and commerce, movements which were also facilitated by improved cultural contacts with foreign countries.

-- Jan 1, 1996, Norman HAVENS

Last updated: 2001/11/28 14:33:41

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