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At the turn of the nineteenth century, Madras became home to a movement that anticipated Ambedkar’s turn to Buddhism by nearly half a century. Founded in 1898, the Sakya Buddhist Society was led by Iyothee Thass (1845–1914) and became the first Dalit Buddhist revival of its kind in late colonial India. In this article, I explore the global dimensions of Sakya Buddhism through an intertextual reading of its journal, Oru Paica Tamilan, and the work of Asian Buddhists like Henry Olcott and Anagarika Dharmapala who were associated with the movement. I argue that Sakya Buddhism’s historical imaginaire of Dalits as indigenous Buddhists intersected with the political concerns that drove Asian Buddhist revivalist movements in important ways. I also show that the movement created a distinctly Tamil tradition of Buddhism for Dalits and attempted to reorient them towards the broader Buddhist world even as they had a notionally marginal presence within this landscape. In doing so, I propose the category of ‘pararegional’ as a way of thinking about seemingly uneven or unidirectional interactions between different spatial scales such as ‘global’ and ‘regional'.
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