The Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies, Banaras Hindu University is one of the pioneering departments in the field of Buddhism in India. Teaching of Pali in Banaras Hindu University was started in 1940 in the Department of Sanskrit with the effort of Bhikkhu Jagdish Kashyap, a pioneer of the revival of Buddhism in India. Bhikkhu Kashyap came in touch with Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya ji and S. Radhakrishnan through the good offices of Seth Yugal Kishore Birla, the well known philanthropist of India. Birla ji felt the disappearance of Buddhism from the land of its origin as a great loss of the national heritage. He took interest to support the teaching of Pali in the university and also took the financial responsibility. Bhikkhu Kashyap offered his free service to teach Pali in the Sanskrit Department of the university. For this commitment he used to come from Sarnath to the university campus (17 km.) daily one way by cycle rikshaw and one way on walk. Birla ji noted his painstaking journey and made a cottage for him in the university campus, which is known as Buddha Kutir, and it was earmarked only for the teacher of Pali in future.
Bhikkhu J. Kashyap worked for nine years here in the Department of Sanskrit and taught all the papers for the graduate course in the subject of Pali. He tried his best to introduce Pali and Buddhism for M.A. and Ph.D. Degree and offered to teach all the papers single handed, if the university failed to recruit an additional hand. Bhikkhu Kashyap wanted to revive the glory of ancient Nalanda Mahavihara. He decided to leave Varanasi in 1949.
In 1952, Acharya Narendra Dev became the Vice Chancellor of BHU. As he was a well-known scholar of Buddhism, he took a personal interest in developing the Buddhist studies in the university by adding a new post of Lecturer. Dr. P.S. Jaini was appointed for the first time as a permanent lecturer to teach Pali and emerged as a famous scholar of Buddhist studies. He was invited to join the school of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and finally he left the department.
Bhikkhu Anomdarshi Barua was appointed as a part time lecturer against the post of lecturer vacated by Dr. P. S. Jaini. Later on he was appointed as a permanent lecturer of Pali. The post-graduate teaching in Pali was also started in the Department of Sanskrit. In course of time some more posts of lecturer in Pali were added. Dr. N. H. Samtani, Sri S. Prasad, Dr. K. C. Jain, and Sri D. P. Guha were appointed as lecturers to strengthen the teaching of post- graduate courses and research in Pali. One post of Reader in Pali was added in 1978 and Dr. N.H. Samtani was appointed against that post in 1979. In the same year Dr. H.S. Shukla and Dr. Pradyumna Dubey were appointed as lecturers in Pali against the post vacated by Sri D. P. Guha and Dr. N. H. Samtani respectively.
On July 31, 1982, with the effort of Dr. N.H. Samtani, Pali was separated from the Department of Sanskrit and Pali and gained an independent status as Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies in the Faculty of Arts. Dr. N.H. Samtani became the first head of the Department.
Dr. Samtani edited the Buddhist Mss. of the Airthavini▀caya-S╦tra and its commentary Nibandhana, discovered in Tibet by Rahul Sankrityayan and G. Tucci. This work was published by the K. P. Jaiswal Research Institute, Patna in 1971. In 1975, Dr. Samtani was invited by the Royal Danish Academy of Science and Letters, Copenhegan, for Lectures on Buddhism and Collaboration in the Compilation of the Critical Pali Dictionary. He was a visiting professor in the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA in 1976. The Indian Council for Cultural Relation offered him the Visiting Professorship of Indian Studies in Chingmai, Thailand, where he was deputed by the BHU (1977-1979). He retired from his service in 1984. He undertook a Major Research Project on the Comparative Dictionary of Buddhist Technical Terms, sponsored by UGC. He served as Deputy Director of the Bhikkhu Jagadish Kashyap Institue of Buddhist and Asian Studies, Sarnath, Varanasi. In 1992, he was appointed as Honorary Editor at Vipassana Research Institute, Igatpuri. In 1994 he was invited to join as honorary Director, Centre for Mahayana Buddhist Studies, Nagarjuna University, Nagarjunanagar, Guntur (AP) for three years (till 1996). Again he was offered this post in 1999 and he worked there till 2001. He produced an English translation of the Arthavini▀caya S╦tra and its commentary Nibandhana, which was published by Dharma Publishing, Berkeley, U.S.A. in 2002 under the title Gathering the Meanings: Essential Teachings of the Buddha. He was awarded the Certificate of Honour by the President of India in 1999 and Bhasha Sammana (Sahitya Academy Award) in 2005 for his out standing contribution to classical Indian Language and literature through his works in Pali and Buddhist studies.
Shri Someshwar Prasad assisted in editing the Pali Tripitaka, which was published from Nalanda during 1956-61. He has been deeply interested in philosophical studies. He retired from the service in 1995. Dr. K. C. Jain engaged himself in comprehensive studies on the role of women in Buddhist and Jain literature and his work Bauddha Aura Jain Ëgamon Men Nňr? J?vana was published in1967. He retired from his service in 1996.
University Grants Commission sanctioned a post of Professor in Pali under X Plan, and Dr. Lalji was appointed the first Professor against this post.
Centre for Buddhist Studies
In the IX Plan, the University Grant Commission (UGC) provided grants to the Universities for the establishment of Centre for Studies on Buddha, Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar under the scheme of Epoch Making Social Thinkers of India. The Department was sanctioned a Centre for Buddhist Studies under this scheme w.e.f.1.4.2000 for the tenure of five years.