Published On: Sat, Dec 19th, 2009

Reasons for decline of Buddhism in India

buddhatooth_creativesparkBy B. Shantanu

This article is primarily to refute a piece by Vir Sanghvi’s entitled “Ayodhya for dummies” which, according to him, was further to “younger readers’” having “annoyed by the refusal of journalists to tell them what Liberhan Report was all about.” In the very same article Mr Sanghvi states that “…Hindu kings destroyed Buddhist monasteries, more or less throwing Buddhism out of India.”

Before I begin, I may have to stress that I am neither a historian nor do I have any academic pretensions. My response to Sanghvi is therefore based on a diligent search of publicly available material – mostly over the internet.

Mr Sanghvi makes two distinct points: first that “Hindu kings destroyed Buddhist monasteries (as a consequence)” and second, “throwing Buddhism out of India.”

Let’s, first, examine the basis for asserting that “Hindu kings” destroyed Buddhist monasteries.

In his article, Sanghvi (somewhat predictably) has been careful not to mention any names of “Hindu kings” who were actually involved in destruction of monasteries. But what does history tell us?

From a Wikipedia entry, we learn that: “The Buddhism of Magadha was finally swept away by the Islamic invasion under Muhammad Bin Bakhtiar Khilji, during which many of the Viharas and the famed universities of Nalanda and Vikramshila were destroyed, and thousands of Buddhist monks were massacred in 12th century C.E.”

“History of Magadha” by L.L.S. Omalley; J.F.W. James (Veena Publication, Delhi, 2005, pp. 35) mentions that:  “The Buddhism of Magadha was finally swept away by the Muhammadan invasion under Bakhtiyar Khilji. In 1197 the capital, Bihar, was seized by a small party of two hundred horsemen, who rushed the postern gate, and sacked the town.” Further, the slaughter of the “shaven-headed Brahmans,” as the Muslim chronicler calls the Buddhist monks, “was so complete that when the victor searched for a competent person to explain the contents of the library not a soul was alive.”

A similar fate befell upon the other Buddhist institutions, against which the combined intolerance and rapacity of the invaders was directed. The monasteries were sacked and the monks were slain, many of the temples were ruthlessly destroyed or desecrated, and countless idols were broken and trodden under their foot. Those monks who escaped the sword fled to Tibet, Nepal and southern India; and Buddhism was finally destroyed and those areas then came under these Muslim rulers.

But what about the Hindu kings? Here is what Alexander Berzin states in his book “The Historical Interaction between the Buddhist and Islamic Cultures before the Mongol Empire“:  “Although the Mithila rulers were Shaivite Hindus, they continued the Pala patronage of Buddhism and offered strong resistance against the Ghurids. They stopped, for example, an attempted drive to take Tibet in 1206.” Further he also states that “The Sena king (a Hindu) installed defensive garrisons at Odantapuri and Vikramashila Monasteries, which were imposing walled citadels directly on the Ghurids’ line of advance.”

While Berzin believes that “Nalanda escaped the fate of Odantapuri and Vikramshila monasteries,” he notes that “When the Tibetan translator, Chag Lotsawa Dharmasvamin (Chag Lo-tsa-ba, 1197 – 1264), visited northern India in 1235, he found it (Nalanda) damaged, looted, and largely deserted, but still standing and functioning with seventy students.”

Invariable some questions are bound to arise: Who were those 70 students? How did they survive the massacre? Parshu Narayanan has some details. From “The last lesson at Nalanda”: “As I browsed, a terribly poignant account of the last lesson at Nalanda emerged. Incredibly, it was by Nalanda’s last student: A Tibetan monk called Dharmaswamin. He visited Nalanda in 1235, nearly forty years after its sack, and found a small class still conducted in the ruins by a ninety-year old monk, Rahul Sribhadra. Weak and old, the teacher was kept fed and alive by a local Brahmin, Jayadeva. Warned of a roving band of 300 Turks, the class dispersed, with Dharmaswamin carrying his nonagenarian teacher on his back into hiding. Only the two of them came back, and after the last lesson (it was Sanskrit grammar) Rahul Sribhadra told his Tibetan student that he had taught him all he knew and in spite of his entreaties asked him to go home. Packing a raggedy bundle of surviving manuscripts under his robe, Dharmaswamin left the old monk sitting calmly amidst the ruins. And both he and the Dharma of Sakyamuni made their exit from India.”

But what about those monks? Where did they disappear? Alexander Berzin has some answers:  “Despite the possibility of accepting protected subject status (under the Muslim rulers), many Buddhist monks fled Bihar and parts of northern Bengal, seeking asylum in monastic universities and centres in modern-day Orissa, southern Bangladesh, Arakan on the western coast of Burma, southern Burma, and northern Thailand. The majority, however, together with numerous Buddhist lay followers, went to the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, bringing with them many manuscripts from the vast monastic libraries that had been destroyed.”

Buddhism was in a strong position in Kathmandu at the time. The Hindu kings of the Thakuri Dynasties (750 – 1200) had supported the Buddhist monasteries, and there were several monastic universities. Since the end of the tenth century, numerous Tibetan translators had been visiting these centres on their way to India, and Nepalese masters from them had been instrumental in the revival of Buddhism in central and western Tibet. The early Hindu rulers of the Malla Period (1200 – 1768) continued the policies of their Thakuri predecessors.

As one digs deeper, more facts come to light. This is Dr B R Ambedkar writing about what happened to the monasteries: “The Musalman invaders sacked the Buddhist Universities of Nalanda, Vikramshila, Jagaddala, Odantapuri to name only a few. They raised (sic) 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, “….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


  • B Shantanu

    Unfortunately this article has been mistakenly truncated.

    Pl read in full on these two links:


  • N.S. Rajaram

    I am happy to see this article demolishing Vir Sanghvi’s uninformed and malicious canard that Hindu kings were responsible for the disappearance of Buddhism. If anything Hindu rulers and warriors tried to protect the Buddhists.

    Destruction of Buddhists by Islam was not limited to India. Much of Central Asia including Afghanistan were Buddhist 1200 years ago. They fell to Islam. In our own time, the Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan were destroyed by the Taliban who are certainly not Hindus! Not a word about it from Vir Sanghvi and his tribe.

  • Rajiv

    What else Vir Singhvi write other than such highly informative article. Actually he should be nominated for the highest decoration of the land.
    He is paying back what he was expected to pay.
    Let us enjoy his RESEARCH and await further INVENTIONS and DISCOVERIES.

  • Buddhistyoga

    The loss of Buddhism from India is the greatest tragedy from which India will never recover. When Indians celebrate Muslim movie stars while ignoring the Buddha, you know the country will never flourish again. It is the bastion of corruption while Buddhist nations like Japan and China are overtaking India in every way.

  • N.S. Rajaram

    A couple of more points. In the medieval Islamic literature any idol is called a Bud (for Buddha) and a temple is called Budkhana.

    As we denounce the violence against Buddhism we must recognize its weakness also– the absence of a Kshatra or military tradition. Monastaries and Viharas were always dependent on Hindu kings and warriors to defend them. It was essentially a monastic order that looked down upon the military profession.

    Something similar happened in the Eastern Roman or the Byzantine Empire. After Emperor Justinian (6th century AD), a Christian monastic order came to dominate the eastern part of the Empire, weakening its military strength. This combined with long Roman-Persian wars had made it weak to the Arab conquests just after the rise of Islam.

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