Decline of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent

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The decline of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent has been attributed to various factors, especially the regionalisation of India after the end of the Gupta Empire (320–650 CE), which led to the loss of patronage and donations, and a competition with Hinduism and Jainism; and the conquest and subsequent persecutions by Huns, Turks and Persians.


  • There can be no doubt that the fall of Buddhism in India was due to the invasions of the Musalmans. Islam came out as the enemy of the 'But'. The word 'But' as everybody knows, is the Arabic word and means an idol. Thus the origin of the word indicates that in the Moslem mind idol worship had come to be identified with the Religion of the Buddha. To the Muslims, they were one and the same thing. The mission to break the idols thus became the mission to destroy Buddhism. Islam destroyed Buddhism not only in India but wherever it went. Before Islam came into being Buddhism was the religion of Bactria, Parthia, Afghanistan, Gandhar, and Chinese Turkestan, as it was of the whole of Asia. In all these countries Islam destroyed Buddhism.
    • B. R. Ambedkar, "The decline and fall of Buddhism," Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol. III, Government of Maharashtra. 1987, p. 229-30
  • The Mussalman invaders sacked the Buddhist universities of Nalanda, Vikramshila, Jagaddala, Odantapuri to name only a few. They razed to the ground Buddhist monasteries with which the country was studded. The monks fled away in thousands to Nepal, Tibet and other places outside India. A very large number were killed outright by the Muslim commanders. How the Buddhist priesthood perished by the sword of the Muslim invaders has been recorded by the Muslim historians themselves. Summarizing the evidence relating to the slaughter of the Buddhist Monks perpetrated by the Musalman General in the course of his invasion of Bihar in 1197 AD, Mr. Vincent Smith says, "The Musalman General, who had already made his name a terror by repeated plundering expeditions in Bihar, seized the capital by a daring stroke... Great quantities of plunder were obtained, and the slaughter of the 'shaven headed Brahmans', that is to say the Buddhist monks, was so thoroughly completed, that when the victor sought for someone capable of explaining the contents of the books in the libraries of the monasteries, not a living man could be found who was able to read them. 'It was discovered,' we are told, 'that the whole of that fortress and city was a college, and in the Hindi tongue they call a college Bihar.' "Such was the slaughter of the Buddhist priesthood perpetrated by the Islamic invaders. The axe was struck at the very root. For by killing the Buddhist priesthood, Islam killed Buddhism. This was the greatest disaster that befell the religion of the Buddha in India....
    • B. R. Ambedkar, "The decline and fall of Buddhism," Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol. III, Government of Maharashtra. 1987, p. 232-233 with quote from Vincent Smith
  • Religion like any other ideology can be attained only by propaganda. If propaganda fails, religion must disappear. The priestly class, however detestable it may be, is necessary to the sustenance of religion. For it is by its propaganda that religion is kept up. Without the priestly class religion must disappear. The sword of Islam fell heavily upon the priestly class. It perished or it fled outside India. Nobody remained to keep the flame of Buddhism burning. It may be said that the same thing must have happened to the Brahmanical priesthood. It is possible, though not to the same extent. But there is this difference between the constitution of the two religions and the difference is so great that it contains the whole reason why Brahmanism survived the attack of Islam and why Buddhism did not. This difference relates to the constitution of the clergy. The Brahmin priesthood has a most elaborate organization. Every Brahmin is a potential priest of Brahmanism and be drafted in service when the need be. There is nothing to stop the rake’s life and progress. This is not possible in Buddhism. A person must be ordained in accordance with established rites by priests already ordained, before he can act as a priest. After the massacre of the Buddhist priests, ordination became impossible so that the priesthood almost ceased to exist. Some attempt was made to fill the depleted ranks of the Buddhist priests. New recruits for the priesthood had to be drawn from all available sources. They certainly were not the best.
    • B. R. Ambedkar, "The decline and fall of Buddhism," Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, Vol. III, Government of Maharashtra. 1987, p. 233-235
  • “The iconoclastic fury of Islam must have [had] a terrible effect on the shrines of the Gaya region, and particularly on Buddhism, with the result that a time came when, there being no Buddhists to look after their own shrines and worship at Bodh Gaya, the Brahmins had to do their work even by going [outside] their jurisdiction.”
    • Dr. Abdul Qudoos Ansari: Archaeological Remains, p.26, 119. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2002). Ayodhya: The case against the temple.
  • “The Mohamadan invasions”, in the words of Searle Bates, “helped to extinguish the fading Budhism and were severe upon the Jains.”
    • Searle Bates, in Religious Liberty, Religious Liberty: an Inquiry by M. Searle Bates, 1947. Quoted from Madhya Pradesh (India), Goel, S. R., Niyogi, M. B. (1998). Vindicated by time: The Niyogi Committee report on Christian missionary activities. ISBN 9789385485121 PART III CHAPTER I. – RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN OTHER COUNTRIES
  • Between 1000 and 1200 Buddhism disappeared from India, through the combined effects of its own weaknesses, a revived Hinduism and Mohammedan persecution.
    • Edward Conze Conze, E. Buddhism: Its Essence and Development. New York, 1975. Conze, p. 117. in Ibn Warraq, Why I am not a muslim, 1995. p 224
  • That same popular preference for polytheism, miracles and myths which destroyed Buddha’s Buddhism finally destroyed, in India, the Buddhism of the Greater Vehicle itself. For—to speak with the hindsight wisdom of the historian—if Buddhism was to take over so much of Hinduism, so many of its legends, its rites and its gods, soon very little would remain to distinguish the two religions; and the one with the deeper roots, the more popular appeal, and the richer economic resources and political support would gradually absorb the other....
    The final blow came from without, and was in a sense invited by Buddhism itself. The prestige of the Sangha, or Buddhist Order, had, after Ashoka, drawn the best blood of Magadha into a celibate and pacific clergy; even in Buddha’s time some patriots had complained that “the monk Gautama causes fathers to beget no sons, and families to become extinct.” The growth of Buddhism and monasticism in the first year of our era sapped the manhood of India, and conspired with political division to leave India open to easy conquest. When the Arabs came, pledged to spread a simple and stoic monotheism, they looked with scorn upon the lazy, venal, miracle-mongering Buddhist monks; they smashed the monasteries, killed thousands of monks, and made monasticism unpopular with the cautious. The survivors were re-absorbed into the Hinduism that had begotten them; the ancient orthodoxy received the penitent heresy, and “Brahmanism killed Buddhism by a fraternal embrace.” Brahmanism had always been tolerant; in all the history of the rise and fall of Buddhism and a hundred other sects we find much disputation, but no instance of persecution. On the contrary Brahmanism eased the return of the prodigal by proclaiming Buddha a god (as an avatar of Vishnu), ending animal sacrifice, and accepting into orthodox practice the Buddhist doctrine of the sanctity of all animal life. Quietly and peacefully, after half a thousand years of gradual decay, Buddhism disappeared from India.
    • Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage : India and Her Neighbors.
  • When you consider that the establishment of Islam in the entire area from Iran to Ningxia and from Kazakhstan to Malaysia, including India, was followed by the complete disappearance of living Buddhism in each of these regions, you may wonder what Prof. Thapar’s definition of "dialogue" could be. Even Moghul Emperor Akbar, who invited representatives of many religions to his court for discussion, did not invite any Buddhist representative simply because Buddhism did not exist in India at that time.
    • Koenraad Elst (2002). Who is a Hindu?: Hindu revivalist views of Animism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and other offshoots of Hinduism.
  • The decline of Buddhism in India was not a singular event, witha singular cause; it was a centuries-long process that unfolded in a patchwork. seeds of Buddhism’s decline began in the mid-first millennium ce, when the sangha began withdrawing into their monasteries and divorcing them-selves from day-to-day interactions with the laity. Into this spiritual void stepped Hindu and Jain sects, who revamped their ritual practices and religious architecture to more closely resemble traditional Buddhist prac-tices. In the South and West of India, Hindu and Jain sects increasingly earned the support of the political and economic elite. In the Western Ghats, the last major Buddhist temples were constructed at Ellora in the seventh and eighth centuries CE. Across South India, the sangha aban-doned Buddhist sites, many of which were later reoccupied by Hindus and Jains. While some small Buddhist centers still persisted in South and West India in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, for the most part, both monastic and lay Buddhism had been eclipsed and replaced by Hinduism and Jainism by the end of the first millennium ce.
  • Buddhism suffered a great decline owing to the hostile activities of some philosophers of Brahminical thought and preachers of South India. [...] According to some scholars, the persecution of the buddhist by some Brahminic rulers was the most potent factor which contributed to bring the decline of Buddhism in India.
  • It is partly, no doubt, because of the furor islamicus that post-Gupta remains are surprisingly few in Bihar.
    • J. C. Harle p. 199. Harle, J. C. The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. London, 1986. in Ibn Warraq, Why I am not a muslim, 1995. p 224
  • [Buddhism in India] declined after Moslem conquest of Sindh, A.D. 712, and finally suppressed by Moslem persecution A.D. 1200.
    • Christmas Humphreys Humphreys, Christmas. A Popular Dictionary of Buddhism. London, 1984. Humphreys, C, p. 95. in Ibn Warraq, Why I am not a muslim, 1995. p 224
  • For a long time past scarce any trace of them (Buddhists) has existed in Hindustan.
  • The third time that the writer accompanied His Majesty to the delightful valley of Kashmir, he met with a few old men of this persuasion, but saw none among the learned.
  • Our citations have a lot to tell about how the votaries of Islam viewed the idols of Gods and Goddesses enshrined in the temples. Though the Arabic word used in the Qur’ãn for idols is Sanam, we find our historians using the word but which they had borrowed form the Persians. The Persian word was a corruption of the Sanskrit word “Buddha”, with which the Persians had been familiar for a long time because there were many Buddhist temples in Seistan, Khurasan and Transoxiana. The word “budd” has actually been used in some of the histories when referring to idols which were burnt or which the infidels were prevented from worshipping. Small wonder that the temples which enshrined statues of the Buddha became special targets for the Islamic iconoclasts. We shall deal with this subject in greater detail at a later stage in this series; for now, it is sufficient to say that the deathblow to Buddhism, a religion centred round temples and monasteries and monks, was delivered by the armies of Islam and not by the much-maligned “Brahmanical reaction” as our Marxist “historians” are never tired of telling the world.
    • S.R. Goel in Shourie, A., & Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • From 986 CE, the Muslim Turks started raiding northwest India from Afghanistan, plundering western India early in the eleventh century. Forced conversions to Islam were made, and Buddhist images smashed, due to the Islamic dislike of idolatry. Indeed in India, the Islamic term for an 'idol' became 'budd'.
    • Peter Harvey (2013). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-521-85942-4.
  • The tremendous complex at Sarnath which had grown up on the site of the first Buddhist sermon was wrecked beyond recovery, thus ending a continuous tradition of refuge and meeting-place for ascetics which went back to the centuries before Buddha.
    • D.D. Kosambi, The Culture and Civilization of Ancient India, New Delhi, 1984, quoted from Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. (Second Enlarged Edition) [1]
  • Khalji’s military exploits in the east also resulted in conversions to Islam. About the end of the twelfth or the beginning of the thirteenth century, he marched into Bihar and attacked the University centres of Nalanda, Vikramshila and Uddandapur, erecting a fortress at the site of Uddandapur or Odantapuri. The Buddhist monks in these places were massacred and the common people, deprived of their priests and teachers, turned some to Brahmanism and some to Islam. Buddhism did not die out immediately or completely in Bihar. But Bakhtiyar’s raid on Bihar did deliver a shattering blow to Buddhism and its lost followers were gained mainly by Islam.
    • Lal, K. S. (2012). Indian muslims: Who are they.
  • After winning the final battle, when the Muslims rushed violently, like a stormy wind, through Sindh, they went on beheading these Buddhists even more ruthlessly than they did the Vedic Hindus. For, the Vedic Hindus were fighting in groups or individually at every place and so they struck at least a little awe and terror in the minds of the Muslims. But as there was no armed opposition in Buddhist Vihars and Buddhist localities, the Muslims cut them down as easily as they would cut vegetable.
    • V.D. Savarkar: Six glorious Epochs, p.136. (-: Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History. Veer Savarkar Prakashan, Bombay 1985 (1963).)
  • But today the fashion is to ascribe the extinction of Buddhism to the persecution of Buddhists by Hindus, to the destruction of their temples by the Hindus. One point is that the Marxist historians who have been perpetrating this falsehood have not been able to produce even an iota of evidence to substantiate the concoction...
    And look at the finesse of these historians. They maintain that such facts and narratives must be swept under the carpet in the interest of national integration: recalling them will offend Muslims, they say, doing so will sow rancour against Muslims in the minds of Hindus, they say. Simultaneously, they insist on concocting the myth of Hindus destroying Buddhist temples. Will that concoction not distance Buddhists from Hindus? Will that narrative, specially when it does not have the slightest basis in fact, not embitter Hindus?
    • Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • As if this is not enough, there is a deliberate and organised design to convert Kargil's Buddhists to Islam. In the last four years, about 50 girls and married women with children were allured and converted from village Wakha alone. If this continues unchecked, we fear that Buddhists will be wiped out from Kargil in the next two decades or so. Anyone objecting to such allurement and conversions is harassed... Therefore, to protect the religious and cultural identity of the Ladakhi people, an anti-conversion law must be enacted for Kargil as is presently in force in states like Arunachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
    • Tundup Tsering and Tsewang Nurboo of the Ladakh Buddhist Association, quoted in: Koenraad Elst: Bharatiya Janata Party vis-à-vis Hindu resurgence, also quoted in K. Elst (2002). Who is a Hindu?: Hindu revivalist views of Animism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and other offshoots of Hinduism.
  • During the sixth and early seventh centuries AD the whole tract was controlled by Turkish rulers, but in the course of the seventh, with increasing strength of the T'ang Emperors, China gained control. Finally, however, under the onslaught of Islam, from the eighth century to the tenth, both Buddhist and Manichaean as well as the Nestorian Christian culture and monuments of the region were destroyed... In the north very little survives of the ancient edifices that were there prior to the Muslim conquest: only a few mutilated religious sites remain. It is clear from Indian literature that both temples and images must have existed in the second century BC and perhaps earlier. Very little architectural evidence remains, however, antedating the epoch of the Gupta dynasty (C. AD 320-650), for it was precisely in the Ganges Valley, the central and chief area of the Gupta empire, that the Muslim empire flourished a millennium later and most of the monuments above ground were destroyed by the sectarian zeal of Islam. The oldest stone ruins that have been found represent not the beginnings of a style, but fully developed forms... Since the earliest important body of Indian art surviving to us stems from the century of Asoka, it is predominantly Buddhist. During subsequent periods, however, Buddhist and Hindu (Brahmanical) themes alternate in rich profusion. The two traditions flourished side by side, even sharing colleges and monasteries, for nearly two millenniums, until about the height of the Muslim conquest (c. AD 1200), Buddhism disappeared from the land of its birth.
    • Heinrich Zimmer, Art of Indian Asia, Princeton, Paperback Edition, 1983, Vol. I. Also quoted in Sita Ram Goel, Hindu Temples - What Happened to them
  • For example, in the Indian media you regularly come across the contention that "the Hindus destroyed Nalanda Buddhist university". This is a plain lie: under several Hindu dynasties, Nalanda flourished and was the biggest university in the world for centuries; it was destroyed by the Muslim invader Bakhtiar Khilji in 1200. But if you repeat a lie often enough, it gains currency, and now many Indians have come to believe that Buddhism had been replaced by Hinduism as India's chief religion in a most violent manner. In reality, Buddhism had always been a minority religion in India, confined to nobles and traders; before its disappearance around 1200 AD, it had been partly reabsorbed by mainstream Hinduism; otherwise it co-existed peacefully with other Hindu sects, often sharing the same temple- complexes. The historical allegations of violent conflicts between mainstream Hinduism and Buddhism can be counted on one hand. It is not Brahminical onslaught but Islam that chased Buddhism from India. In Central Asia, Islam had wiped out Buddhism together with Nestorianism, Zoroastrianism, Manicheism, and whatever other religion it encountered. The Persian word for idol is but, from Buddha, because the Buddhists with their Buddha-status were considered as the idol-worshippers par excellence. The Buddhists drew the wrath of every Muslim but-shikan (idol-breaker), even where they had not offered resistance aganinst the Muslim armies because of their doctrine of non-violence. As a reminder of the Buddhist past of Central Asia, the city name Bukhara is nothing but a corruption of vihara, i.e. a Buddhist monastery; other Indian names include Samarkhand and Takshakhand, i.e. Tashkent. In India, Buddhism was a much easier target than other sects and traditions, because it was completely centralized around the monasteries. Once the monsteries destroyed and the monks killed, the Buddhist community had lost its backbone and was helpless before the pressure to convert to Islam (as happened on a large scale in East Bengal).
    • Elst, Koenraad. Negationism in India: concealing the record of Islam.
  • The all-embracing polytheism of the early Hindus afforded ample scope for different beliefs to exist side by side without trying to oust one another. Both Jainism and Budhism were deviations from some aspects of early Aryan faith. “Their rise and progress, the standardisation of Jainism as a minor sect of ascetic tendencies; the extension, the export, the decline of Budhism within a Society of Hinduism,……… all were essentially peaceful. The changes came by persuasion and by slow social pressures or movements, without clear conflict of group wills against other groups or against individuals”. (Religious Liberty : Bates, page 267.)
    • quoted in Madhya Pradesh (India), Goel, S. R., Niyogi, M. B. (1998). Vindicated by time: The Niyogi Committee report on Christian missionary activities
  • The ashes of the Buddhist sanctuaries at Sarnath near Benares still bear witness to the rage of the image-breakers. Many noble monuments of the ancient civilisation of India were irretrievably wrecked in the course of the early Muslim invasions. Those invasions were fatal to the existence of Buddhism as an organized religion in northern India, where its strength resided chiefly in Bihar and certain adjoining territories. The monks who escaped massacre fled, and were scattered over Nepal, Tibet, and the south.
    • Smith, pp. 235-36. Vincent Smith, Smith, V. A. The Oxford History of India. Delhi, 1985. , quoted in Ibn Warraq, Why I am not a muslim, 1995. p 224, quoted in Swarup, R. (2015). Hinduism and monotheistic religions.
  • The monasteries had been the nerve centres of Buddhism and with their collapse, communal life was unhinged and abruptly terminated. Their very concentration had made the monasteries easier targets of attack than the Hindu temples and sacred places, which must have provoked equal fur of the Moslems.
    • R.C. Mitra, in Hazra, K. L. (1998). The rise and decline of Buddhism in India. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.
  • The Mohammedans had no special animus against Buddhism. They were iconoclasts who saw merit in the destruction of images and the slaughter of idolaters. But whereas Hinduism was spread over the country, Buddhism was concentrated in the great monasteries and when these were destroyed there remained nothing outside them capable of withstanding either the violence of the Muslims or the ... influence of the Bhramanas.
    • C. Eliot, Hinduism and Buddhism: Volume II, p 116
  • The Muhammadan historian, indifferent to distinctions among idolators, states that the majority of the inhabitants were "clean shaven Brahmans," who were all put to the sword. He evidently means Buddhist monks, as he was informed that the whole city and fortress were considered to be a college, which the name Bihar signifies. A great library was scattered. When the victors desired to know what the books might be no man capable of explaining their contents had been left alive. No doubt everything was burnt. The multitude of images used in Medieval Buddhist worship always inflamed the fanaticism of Muslim warriors to such fury that no quarter was given to the idolators. The ashes of the Buddhist sanctuaries at Sarnath near Benares still bear witness to the rage of the image breakers. Many noble monuments of the ancient civilization of India were irre trievably wrecked in the course of the early Muhammadan invasions. Those invasions were fatal to the existence of Buddhism as an organized religion in northern India, where its strength resided chiefly in Bihar and certain adjoining territories. The monks who escaped massacre fled, and were scattered over Nepal, Tibet, and the south. After A.D. 1200 the traces of Buddhism in upper India are faint and obscure.231
    • Vincent Smith, The Oxford History of India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928), p. 221. also quoted in Bostom, A. G. M. D., & Bostom, A. G. (2010). The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus.
  • The Djarmasvamin said that "when they had reached the city of Vaisali, all the inhabitants had fled at dawn from fear of the Turushka [Muslim] soldiery." Vikramasili was still existing in the time of the Elder Dharmasvamin [1153-1261 CE] and the Kashmir [1145-1225 CE], but when the Dharmasvamin visited the country there were no traces left of it, the Turushka soldiery having raised it to the ground, and thrown the foundation stones into the Ganga [Ganges River]. At the time of Dharmasvamin's visit to Vajrsana, the place was deserted and only four monks were found staying (in the Vihara). One (of them) said, "It is not good! All have fled from fear of the Turushka soldiery." They blocked up the door in front of the Mahabodhi image with bricks and plastered it. Near it they placed another image as a substitute. They also plastered the outside door (of the temple). On its surface they drew the image of Mahesvara in order to protect it from non-Buddhists. The monks said, "We five do not dare to remain here and shall have to flee." As the day's stage was long and the heat great, said the Dharmasvamin, they felt tired, and as it became dark, they remained there and fell asleep. Had the Turushkas come, they would not have known it. At daybreak they fled towards the North following the rut of a cart, and for seventeen days the Dharmasvamin did not see the face of the image (i.e., the Mahabodhi image). At that time also a woman appeared, who brought the welcome news that the Turushka soldiery had gone far away.
    • George Roerich, trans., Biography of Dharmasvamin (Patna: K. P. Jayaswal Research Institute, 1959). Dharmasvamin was a highly educated Tibetan monk who traveled in northern India from 1234-1236 CE. Independent evidence confirming the veracity of his chronicle demonstrates that King Ramasimha of Tirhut and Buddhasena of Bodha- Gaya, whom Dharmasvamin met during his short sojourn in India, were actually ruling at that time. Moreover, in the introduction to the text [on p. xii] by A. S. Altekar, it is noted that, "He [Dharmasvamin] resists the temptation of exaggerating the destruction wrought by the Muslim conquerors." quoted in Bostom, A. G. M. D., & Bostom, A. G. (2010). The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims. Amherst: Prometheus.
  • (The Sufis) established their khanaqahs on the sites of Buddhist shrines, and (it) fitted well into the religious situation in Bengal.
    • Levtzion N (1979) in Conversion to Islam, p. 18 (in Iran, N. Levtzion ed., Conversion to Islam, Holmes and Meier Publishers Inc., New York,) in Khan, M. A. (2011). Islamic Jihad: A legacy of forced conversion, imperialism and slavery.Ch 4

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