Buddhism in South Asia

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Buddha attaining Parinirvana (Final Nirvana, also passing away). Image excavated at the place where Buddha attained Parinirvana; at the Mahaparinirvana Temple in India

The only two majority-Buddhist nations in South Asia are Sri Lanka and Bhutan. Buddhists are also found in Nepal, India (especially in Ladakh and Sikkim) and Bangladesh in small minorities.

Bhutan has the highest Buddhist percentage among the countries of South Asia. Though the exact percentage is uncertain, it is over 75%.[1][2] Sri Lanka is 70% Buddhist, where it is the unofficial state religion.[3] Buddhism is also the most important minority religion in Nepal (11% of Nepal's population[4]). India has a Buddhist population of 0.8%, where has been growing rapidly in recent years, due to the conversion of Hindu dalits,[5] while Theravada Buddhism is the third largest religion in Bangladesh with about 0.7% of the total population being Buddhist.[6][7]

The cradle of the Indian civilization was in the area of the Indus River Valley and the Punjab. The earliest members of the Indus Valley civilization occupied a considerable area of the northwest sometime between 3000 and 1800 B.C. Not much is known about the religious ideas and practices of these people. The civilization was in decline when Indo-Aryan tribes invaded by crossing high mountain passes in the far northwest and settling in the regions nearby Punjab between 1800 and 1500 B.C. The religion of the Indo-Aryans was a regional variant of Indo-European practices, called either Vedism or Brahmanism. Unlike the peaceful agrarians of the Indus Valley, these people were rough cattle herders. As they acquired political and military power, their religion became classical Hinduism. While it is doubtful whether the office of priest (Brahmana) was hereditary among the early Indo-Aryans, by the time the Buddha taught, only members of the Brahmin caste (varna) could become priests. It was considered a personal honor to worship. Buddhism later branched off from that same stock, which grew and flourished on the religiously diverse plains of the Indus and Ganges.

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