In India, Buddhism started with the life of Lord Buddha. He was born as prince Siddartha in the royal family of the Shakya Kingdom. However, he left his home in the search of the real meaning of life. After spending a number of years in asceticism and meditation, he finally attained enlightenment under the Bodice tree in Gaya, Bihar. By 3rd century BC, the religion spread all over South Asia, through the Mauryan Empire. Read on to know more about the history of Buddhism in India...
Seventh century AD saw the religion permeating entire East Asia and
Southeast Asia. The coming centuries witnessed rapid growth of Buddhism
in India. Kings as well as wealthy merchants supported the construction
of Buddhist monasteries and stupas, over the relics of Lord Buddha. Even
in those times, Indian architecture reflected the influence of Buddhism,
its art, iconography and architecture. An entire Buddhist university was
set up in Nalanda (Bihar), which served as the world center for Buddhist
philosophy and religion until the thirteenth century, when the Turkic
invaders came to India.
With the arrival of Turks in India, the remaining monasteries in plains
were also reduced to ruins. That time saw Buddhism, as an organized
religion, practically vanishing from India. Bhutan and Sikkim, the only
independent Himalayan kingdoms, tribal groups in the mountains of
northeast India and Sri Lanka were the only places where Buddhism still
thrived. Approximately thirty years later, around 1956, Buddhism again
surfaced in India. Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, leader of the Untouchables or
Harijans in India, adopted Buddhism to escape from the barriers created
by the Hindu caste system.
He also encouraged his followers to adopt Buddhism. By 1991, the number
of Buddhists in India rose to approximately 6.4 million, making Buddhism
the fifth largest religious group in the country. The Himalayan
communities and Tibetan refugees in India follow the Vajrayana Buddhism,
which develop after 7th century AD. Till 20th century, Himalayan
kingdoms maintained a hierarchy in which Buddhist monks occupied the
highest positions in society. Buddhists in other parts of India follow
the Theravada Buddhism.