Dust on the Throne

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The Search for Buddhism in Modern India

Douglas Ober

  • Binding: Hardback
  • ISBN: 9788195539291
  • Number of Pages: 392
  • Size: 6.25 x 9.25"

Shortlisted for the Cundill History Prize 2023.

Received wisdom has it that Buddhism disappeared from the land of its origin between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, long forgotten until British colonial scholars rediscovered it in the early 1800s. Its full-fledged revival, the story goes, occurred in 1956, when the Indian constitutionalist and civil rights pioneer, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, converted to Buddhism along with half a million of his Dalit followers. Dust on the Throne provides a radically new perspective on what has long been called India’s modern Buddhist revival.

Through extensive examination of disparate materials held in archives and temples across South Asia, Douglas Ober explores Buddhist religious dynamics through the course of expanding colonial empires, intra-Asian connectivity, and the intellectual pursuits of nineteenth and twentieth century Indian thinkers. Dust on the Throne recovers the integral role of lesser-known anti-caste activists and Buddhist monastics in the making of modern global Buddhism. It also accounts for the powerful influence Buddhism exerted in shaping modern Indian history.


Douglas Ober is visiting assistant professor of history at Fort Lewis College and an honorary research associate in the Centre for India and South Asia Research at the University of British Columbia.


In the Media:

Dust on the Throne has been shortlisted for the Cundill History Prize 2023. Read the LitHub announcement of the event.

‘A vital book, full of heart and curiosity. Ober’s thoughtful, precise descriptions often invoke a past that feels close enough to touch’—Los Angeles Review of Books

Dust on the Throne is remarkable for its archival work. It re-historicizes a time that is generally dominated by the Orientalist view of inquiry into religion’—Asian Review of Books

‘Ober’s exhaustive survey effectively dismantles the idea of European discovery of Buddhism and his effort is elevated by engaging with the voices of the marginalized’—Tricycle

Dust on the Throne will become a foundational text for future studies of subcontinental Buddhism’—Journal of Religious History

‘Captures attention with its beautiful style and thorough analysis. This will be one of the major foundational works in studying Indian Buddhism for years to come’—Religious Studies Review

‘An exceptional work, an outstanding intervention’—Himal Southasian

‘Dust on the Throne is a timely book which challenges the increasing authoritarian actions throughout the world that suppress a sense of complexity in the past’—Asian Ethnology

An excerpt from the book was published on LitHub.

An except about the often violent, medieval and pre-colonial engagement with Buddhism in South Asia was published in The Print.

Listen to this conversation between author Douglas Ober and Buddhist Studies scholar Jessica Zu on the New Books Network.

An interview with V. Geetha was published in The Wire.

Uma Chakravarti in conversation with Douglas Ober, published in Scroll.in.

An announcement about the book was published in Scroll.in.

Navayana’s blog post announcing the book. Read all about how the book was published.


‘An engrossing and lively account … a must-read for all’Tony Joseph

‘Splendid book … essential reading to understand Buddhism today’—Evan Thompson

‘Dispels many notions about Buddhism’s decline and revival in India’—Upinder Singh

‘A major, foundational contribution to Buddhist history’—Richard Jaffe

‘Captivating … offers rare insights into a range of forgotten Indians’—Nayanjot Lahiri

‘A fantastic read, almost like a detective novel in parts’—V. Geetha

‘A powerful account of the return of Buddhism to the public sphere’—Uma Chakravarti