During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Buddhism became deeply embedded in an array of social and political debates taking place across India. The unique history of Buddhism in India and of its spread across Asia offered a model of ideological and cultural emancipation that was used not only to challenge colonial rule but also to further numerous anti-caste movements against existing Brahmanical institutions and practices. While the history of anti-caste and Dalit engagements with Buddhism has largely been studied through a discussion of the Indian constitutionalist B. R. Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism along with some half million of his followers in 1956, this article addresses the ways in which Buddhism came to be simultaneously seen as a “Hindu sect” and central to Hindu nationalist projects. It does so through a detailed analysis of the planning and construction of several “Hindu-Buddhist” temples constructed in the 1930s by the Birla family that sought to construct a vision of India as a Hindu nation. A close examination of these sites reveals the wider dynamics underlining the transformation of modern Buddhism in India and, by extension, modern Hinduism.

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