A New Set of Writings by Lalai Singh Shows North India Had Many Anti-Caste Icons

Periyar Lalai Singh was born on September 1, 1911 into a Yadav family. His father, Choudhari Gajju Singh, was an Arya Samajist.

Singh studied up to 7th grade and took a job as a ranger in 1929. He later joined the Gwalior National Army as a Constable.

After retiring from service in 1950, he devoted himself to anti-caste activism. He first met Dr BR Ambedkar in 1951 and was very impressed with him. Gagan mentions in the first volume that after this encounter, Lalai Singh decided to work on spreading Ambedkar’s thoughts for the rest of his life.

Singh wanted to witness Ambedkar’s historic conversion to Buddhism on October 14, 1956 in Nagpur, Maharashtra, but had to cancel his trip due to sudden illness. While for the next decade he had already begun to live by Buddhist principles and was writing about Buddhism, he officially took the dhamma deeksha on July 21, 1967 from Mahasthavir Chandramani – the same monk who gave the deeksha to Ambedkar.

“At that time he said that the true Buddhist is the one who has no caste and got rid of titles such as Kunwar, Choudhari, Yadav from his name and started writing only Lalai Singh as his name” , said Gagan.

Lalai Singh was a materialist. He held the principles of brotherhood, compassion and equality in high esteem and stayed completely aloof from pujas, rituals and superstitions. He used to say that he who wanders through villages and towns to spread the message of Buddha is the true Buddhist.