India is a Hindu majority country, but the recently opened Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, the capital, showcases statues of the Buddha.
There are no other religious symbols at the airport apart from the Buddha, although Buddhists form less than one percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people. In addition, the Indian parliament recently passed a bill to revive the ancient Nalanda University in eastern Bihar state, a renowned Buddhist center of learning from 427 to 1197 CE. The university will be portrayed as a global center for Buddhist studies. Highcaste Brahmins and Muslim invaders destroyed the university three times, the last being in the early seventh century. Its demolition was a key point in the waning of Buddhism in India.
Why this show of love for the Buddha centuries later? Perhaps, the fact that most Buddhist devotees from Western nations head to South-East Asia—although India is the seat of the Dalai Lama and it is here that the Buddha was raised and attained Nirvana—has invoked India’s jealousy. Moreover, Tibetan Buddhism is catching on in the West. It is estimated that several hundred thousand Westerners are interested in Mahayana Buddhism. Another reason could be that India has long been trying to engage with South-East Asia and the former’s commitment to promote Buddhism may strike a chord with some of the region’s Buddhist nations.
— By Vishal Arora, a freelance writer based in New Delhi