How can we explain the fall of Buddhism in India, which is the geographic origin of Buddhism?

Were there ever any direct conflicts between Hinduism and Buddhism?

From what I understand, the rise of Hinduism directly led to the decline of Buddhism. The White Hun invasion in the 6th century followed by a series of other military invasions and conflicts definitely hurt the influence of Buddhism but these events seem disjoint and regionally limited.

From wikipedia, what exactly does this mean? I am not satisfied with this explanation because Buddhism is strongly rooted in other Asian societies.

"By that time, Buddhism had become especially vulnerable to hostile rulers because it lacked strong roots in society as most of its adherents were ascetic communities."


  • I don't have a direct answer, but religion often had a dynamic of rise, fall and relocation influenced greatly by shifting powers. Ashoka the Great did much to export Buddhism beyond its zone of development, and as you've noted in its home base it was superseded with another creed. The spread of Christianity after the Roman Empire embraced it is an obvious example, as is the growth of Islam with the Arab conquests. Aside from whatever spiritual bite the various proselytising religions had, in my view it's impossible to discount the muscle that was behind them. Feb 1 '14 at 1:44

There were a multitude of complex factors that led to the decline of Buddhism around the 12th Century.

But first some caveats:

  1. Buddhism is/was not a monolithic entity- there are many "Buddhisms".
  2. No religion, culture, social custom has ever died out completely in India, right from the times of Mohenjodaro- they have lived on in new forms in new homes.
  3. All religions in India have borrowed from other religions.

Now the short answer:

  1. Buddhism became increasingly complex over the centuries as the philosophies got refined. (eg. Abhidharma, Sautrantika, Madhyamaka, Yogacara). This took it out of popular culture and understanding.

  2. Buddhism increasingly became a religion of renunciation and asceticism. So if you did not want to renounce worldly life and become a monk, you wouldn't probably take up Buddhism. Add to that the fact that the other sects/cults started mocking the monks' way of life as lazy and beggarly - merely an excuse to avoid the hardships of life.

  3. The ethos of non-violence was not compatible with the militaristic expansion policies of the kings. So they could not favor or promote Buddhism. Without royal patronage it would be difficult for any religion to prosper. This was especially true of the Rajputs.

  4. Many regional languages came into being, and along with that local deities, local heroes, texts and customs. For example Marathi came into existence, and Marathi devotional poems promoted local deities. Similarly Tamil devotional poems had profound impact through love/devotional "Shangam" poetry. Kannada had royal patronage, and became the language of the Lingayat movement. Local deities outside the Puranic tradition, such as Panduranga/Vitthala gained acceptance- they were semi-gods/heroes. This made the non-elite/non-Brahmin acceptable as god. Many such local heroes attracted local hymn writers such as Namdeva, Sena, Narahari and Janabai, who were people with ordinary professions in their day to day life. Janabai was a maid servant, Namadeva a tailor and Sena a barber. All these movements were thus converging towards a democratization and popularization of theology.

  5. Many of the local texts and hymns, such as of the Alvars and Nayanars blurred the distinction between monarchs and deities. This suited the monarchs and their political agenda. There are complex explanations of the equation of the state with the temple and the monarch with the deity. "The king is seen as the focus of loyalty and demands devotion from the intermediaries and the subjects, while the deity receives similar sentiments from the worshipers. This implicit overlap may have encouraged the rulers to patronize the devotional sects, underlining the notion of loyalty."

  6. Temples became political extensions and therefore powerful centres, attracting the masses. They served the dual purpose of extending monarchial supremacy and serving to use Puranic ideology to establish caste system in places where they did not exist. Note that this was politically expedient to provide a stable social structure for the efficiency of state building.

  7. The Bhakti movements simplified religion for the masses. The common man could now relate "personally" to God and did not need the intervention of the priest. The ability of an "individual" to search for liberation outside the orthodox rituals made these movements popular and acceptable. Therefore many flavors of Bhakti cults grew. By the end of this period Vaishnava, Shaiva and Shakta cults became more dominant. Kashmir Shaivaism/Tantra also came into prominence. Then there were the Kapalika, Kalamukha, Bhagavata and Pashupata cults to name a few. Far too many sects were prevalent in the various regions of the subcontinent. In this hectic competition, anyone could have "won" in the end. But what can be said with certainty is that Buddhism's dominant role as opposer of orthodox Vedic Brahmanism was usurped by the newer cults. Borrowing from Buddhist ideas, even the local deities became "compassionate" deities. This too, somewhat snatched from Buddhist "compassion" ideas and legitimised other sects as equally 'peaceful'/benevolent.

  8. Besides the Bhakti cults, Dwaita, Advaita, and other schools of thought came into existence. The effects of revivalism through thinkers such as Shankaracharya, Ramanuja and Madhava started paying dividends as the old order of Vedic Brahmanism was destroyed to form new theological doctrines. Interestingly, everyone borrowed freely from everyone else to be able to compete. Examples: Buddha became accepted as the last avatar of Vishnu. And Madhava's philosophy, that only the devoted would be salvaged seems to have been borrowed from the Malabar Christians. Tantras influenced Buddhism too- this became the Vajrayana Buddhism. But possibly, austere Buddhism borrowed less- and therefore the religion "stagnated".

  9. Puranas, Mahabharata and Ramayanas grew in popularity in local languages, leaving the Jataka tales of Buddhism behind. Possibly these were not translated from Pali. (eg Kamban's Ramayana, as opposed to Valmiki's, is quite sympathetic to Ravana- but the point is that local acceptance of non-Buddhist tales/mythology/fables had an impact on regional culture.)

  10. A few years later the arrival of Sufis from Persia, and more specifically their borrowing, intermingling and exchange of ideas with the Bhakti movements of Punjab and Bengal also infused new thinking. Arrival of Jews, Zorashtrians and Christians also added to the growing chaos.

  11. Last, and probably the last nail in the coffin- the routing of Buddhism by the Mohammedans from the west. This happened a while later, but cleared up the remaining influences of Buddhism from the North western provinces.


In his book Charles Allen argues that with the fall of Ashokan Empire, Buddhism, the then official religion of the king started to decline. Also the decline in Buddhism started the revival of Hinduism by Pusyamitra Sunga who was a Brahmin from Bhardwaj Gotra, one of the highest castes in Hinduism.I'd also like to add that from 6/7th Century onwards India witnessed the Bhakti and Sufi Movements which also helped in reconverting the converted Buddhists into Hinduism an Islam .


There is no exact proof that explains the decline of buddhism in India. But as you mentioned this started in late 12th Century. But we can find many theories on the disappearance of Buddhism in India.

  1. Influence of Brahmanism

    We all know that Hinduism is one of the most dominant and oldest religion in India. But after Great Emperor became devout Buddhist, he started flourishing Buddhism. But after the end of lineage of Ashoka's Dynasty, Brahmans who were devout Hinduism started neglecting Buddhism. There are many rumors that the first Shung King who were also devout Brahmanism, were hostile to Buddhist monks and also destroyed many monasteries, shrines, and Buddhist temples.

  2. Invasions of White Nu

    You probably know more about this.

  3. Destruction of Nalanda Monastery

    Nalanda Monastery was the symbol of Buddhism in that era, but it was destroyed in 1197 and that gave the momentum for the decline of Buddhism in India.

  1. Corruptions in Buddhist Sanghas:

    In course of time, the Buddhist ‘Sangha’ became corrupt. The monks and followers came to be drawn towards luxury and enjoyment. Receiving and saving valuable gifts like gold and silver made them greedy and materialistic. They came to lead a life of indiscipline. Their example and perverted life-style could not but bring popular hatred. No more the people were inclined towards Buddhism.

  2. Reform in Hinduism:

    Buddhism had dealt a heavy blow to Hinduism. Threatened with extinction, Hinduism started to re-organize itself. Attempts were now made to give up the complex system of rites and rituals and make Hinduism simple and attractive. This helped revive Hinduism and made it popular again. This took away the fragrance out of the flower of Buddhism. The decline of Buddhism became inevitable.

  3. Division among the Buddhists:

    Buddhism faced divisions from time to time. Division into various splinter groups like ‘Hinayana’, ‘Mahayana’, ‘Vajrayana’, ‘Tantrayana’ and ‘Sahajayana’ led Buddhism to lose its originality. Also the influence of tantricism made people hate it. The simplicity of Buddhism was lost and it was becoming complex. This was enough for the people to keep away from it. The decline of Buddhism became a matter of time.

  4. Use of Sanskrit Language:

    Pali and Prakrit, the spoken language of most people of India, was the medium for the spread of the message of Buddhism. But Sanskrit replaced these at the Fourth Buddhist Council during the reign period of Kaniska. Sanskrit was a complex language, hardly understood by common people. It was the unintelligible Sanskrit language that had accounted for the decline of Hinduism, earlier. Now, when Buddhism adopted that language, few people were able to understand it. People rejected what they could not understand.

  5. Role of Hindu Preachers:

    Harsavardhan drove away the Brahmins from the religious council held at Kanauj. These Brahmins, under Kumarila Bhatta, fled to the Deccan. Under Bhatta’s leadership, Brahmanism staged a come-back. Adi Sankaracharya also revived and strengthened Hinduism. He defeated Buddhist scholars in religious discourses which were held in many places in course of his tour of the whole of India.

    Thus, the superiority of Hinduism over Buddhism was established. This trend continued through the efforts of Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Ramananda etc. Hinduism regained its lost glory, position and popularity. It came to be at the expense of Buddhism.

  6. Rifts in Buddhist Order:

    The internal rifts and divisions in Buddhist order made the rise of any new apostle impossible. The earlier examples of Ananda, Sariputta and Maudgalayana became very rare. The spirit and missionary zeal of Buddhism was lost for ever. Thus, the decline of Buddhism came in the absence of dynamic preachers and reformers.

  7. Buddha Worship:

    Image worship was started in Buddhism by the Mahayana Buddhists. They started worshipping the image of the Buddha. This mode of worship was a violation of the Buddhist principles of opposing complex rites and rituals of Brahminical worship. This paradox led the people to believe that Buddhism is tending towards the fold of Hinduism. Buddhism’s importance decreased thereby.

  8. Loss of Royal Patronage:

    In course of time Buddhism came to lose royal patronage. No king, worthy of note, came forward to sponsor Buddhism after Asoka, Kaniska and Harsavardhan. Royal patronage works magically for the spread of any faith. Absence of any such patronage for Buddhism came to pave the way for its decline in the end.

  9. Huna Invasion:

    The ‘Huna’ invasion jolted Buddhism. Huna leaders like Toamana and Mihirakula opposed non-violence completely. They killed the Buddhists residing in the north-western part of India. This frightened the Buddhists of the region either to give up Buddhism or go into hiding. None dared to spread the message of the Buddha during those times. As a result, Buddhism became weak and depleted.

  10. Emergence of Rajputs:

    Emergence of the Rajputs became an important reason for the decline of Buddhism. Kings of such dynasties as Bundela, Chahamana, Chauhan, Rathore etc. were militant rulers and loved warfare. They could not tolerate the Buddhists for their message of non-violence. The Buddhists feared persecution from these Rajput rulers and fled from India. Buddhism became weaker and faced decline.

  11. Muslim Invasion:

    The Muslim invasion of India almost wiped out Buddhism. Their invasions of India became regular and repeated from 712 A.D. onwards. Such invasions forced the Buddhist monks to seek asylum and shelter in Nepal and Tibet. In the end, Buddhism died away in India, the land of its birth. 12th century Kashmir kings were said to have persecuted Buddhist.

  12. Bhakti movement:

    Along with Shankaracharya and other reformers, Alwars and Nayanars started portraying devotion from Tamil Nadu (from 6th century CE), which spread all over India slowly. With this Bhakti movement, Hinduism got influenced and other faiths like Jainism and Buddhism started declining.

Conclusion: both Hindu reformers and Muslim rulers played a vital role in the decline of Buddhism in India.

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