Buddhism in India

Birth of Buddhism in India :

The religion of Buddhism started in India only, with the life of Lord Buddha. Siddartha was born as a prince in the royal family of the Shakya Kingdom. But he left his home to find the real meaning of life by becoming an ascetic and performed meditation for many years. After 40 days, the Buddha was successful in attaining Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in Gaya, Bihar. By 3rd century BC, the Mauryan Empire spread Buddhism in India and in all over South Asia.

In the seventh century AD, Buddhist religion filtered into East Asia and Southeast Asia. Buddhism, India spread rapidly and kings donated generously for the construction of Buddhist monasteries and stupas, with the relics of Lord Buddha. Monuments had the influence of ancient Buddhism in India through its art, iconography and architecture. In Nalanda (Bihar), a Buddhist University itself was established, which encouraged learning of Buddhist philosophy and religion. Thousands of followers made a Buddhist tour to India to gain knowledge of the religion. After the 7th century AD, the Vajrayana form of Indian Buddhism developed and was followed by the Himalayan communities and Tibetan refugees in India.

Decline of the religion :

In the thirteenth century, with the Turkish invasion of India the remaining monasteries were all, reduced to ruins. Buddhism, as an organized religion almost faded out of India. The only few places where Buddhism still existed were the Himalayan kingdoms of Bhutan and Sikkim, tribes of the mountainous northeastern India and Sri Lanka.

Buddhism in the 20th Century :

In 1956, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar became the leader of the Untouchables or Harijans in India. He supported the religion of Buddhism in India to break away from the shackles of the Hindu caste system and encouraged his followers too. By 1991, approximately 6.4 million Buddhists resided in India thus making Buddhism, the fifth largest religious group in the country.

Up to the 20th century, the Himalayan kingdoms maintained a hierarchy with the Buddhist monks occupying the highest position in society. In other parts of India, Buddhists follow the Theravada Buddhism.