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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: December 2012

Chapter 7 - The Later History and Spread of Buddhism


India and Central Asia

During the Hindu Gupta dynasty (320–540), which ruled much of north India, Hinduism grew stronger. Buddhism generally continued to flourish, though, with the rulers patronizing both religions. During the century from around 450 ce, the White Huns, originally from Central Asia, devastated monasteries in Afghanistan, northern Pakistan and areas of western India. By the seventh century, a slow recovery was being made in the north-west, with the Buddhism of southern Pakistan remaining strong. In western and some southern regions of India, though, it was losing out to Hinduism and Jainism. From 750 ce, the mostly Buddhist Pāla dynasty ruled in the north-east, patronizing Buddhism and supporting five monastic universities, the major one being the internationally renowned Nālandā. In the eleventh century, Pāla rule weakened, and it was followed in 1118 by the Hindu Sen dynasty. From 986 ce, the Muslim Turks started raiding north-west 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’. By 1192, the Turks established rule over north India from Delhi. The north-eastern stronghold of Buddhism then fell, with the destruction of Nālandā university in 1198. In the north-east, east and Kashmir, Buddhism lingered on for another two centuries or so, with some royal patronage in the latter two areas. In Kashmir it was forcibly stamped out by the Muslims in the fifteenth century. Buddhist refugees fled to south India (where Hindu kings resisted Muslim power), South-east Asia, Nepal and Tibet. What is now known as the Theravāda school continued on the south-east coast, in Tamil Nadu, until at least the seventeenth century (Berkwitz, 2010: 142), before it withdrew from the war-torn region to the island of Ceylon. From the sixteenth century, however, it had been reintroduced from Burma to the north-eastern fringes of the Indian sub-continent.

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