The Indian sub-continent is the home of several major religions the most important being Buddhism. The Buddha himself was born and lived all his life in the Ganges valley, probably in the 4th century BC. After generous patronage given by King Asoka Buddhism spread to all the regions of India , Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan. From then until about the 7th to 8th century AD it remained the most influential religion in India, inspiring great works of art, literature and philosophy and profoundly influencing the character of the Indian people. During this period thousands of Indian monks travelled all over Asia spreading Indian culture while thousands of people came to India to study in its great monastic universities. From the 7th century AD it began its long period of decline dying out almost completely by the 13th century. Various reasons have been given for this tragic decline – internal corruption, Tantrayanist readiness to borrow too much from Hinduism until the two become almost indistinguishable, the congregation of monks into huge wealthy monasteries isolated from the lay community, etc. Certainly by the Muslim invasion in 1199 it was already on the verge of disappearing.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries several attempts were made by groups of liberal Hindus and social reformers to revive Buddhism but without success. In 1956 the great jurist, social reformer and leader of the untouchable community Dr Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, an event that has since led several millions to follow his example.