Buddhism is the fifth-largest religion in India, with 0.7% of the population identifying themselves as Buddhists, which accounts for 8.44 million Buddhists in India as of 2011 National Census of India. Although unofficial estimates suggest up to 50 to 60 million Buddhists in India. Buddhism is an ancient Indian religion, which arose in and around the ancient Kingdom of Magadha (now in Bihar, India), and is based on the teachings of the Buddha who was deemed a “Buddha” (“Awakened One”). Buddhism spread outside of Magadha starting in the Buddha’s lifetime.
With the reign of the Buddhist Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, the Buddhist community split into two branches: the Mahāsāṃghika and the Sthaviravāda, each of which spread throughout India and split into numerous sub-sects. In modern times, two major branches of Buddhism exist: the Theravāda in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, and the Mahāyāna throughout the Himalayas and East Asia. The Buddhist tradition of Vajrayana is sometimes classified as a part of Mahāyāna Buddhism, but some scholars consider it to be a different branch altogether.
The practice of Buddhism as a distinct and organized religion lost influence after the Gupta reign (c.7th century CE), and declined from the land of its origin in around 13th century, but not without leaving a significant impact on other local religious traditions. Except for Himalayan region and south India, Buddhism almost became extinct in India after the arrival of Islam in late 12th century. Buddhism is still practiced in the Himalayan areas such as Sikkim, Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh, the Darjeeling hills in West Bengal, the Lahaul and Spiti areas of upper Himachal Pradesh, and Maharashtra. After B. R. Ambedkar’s Dalit Buddhist movement, the number of Buddhists in India has increased considerably. According to the 2011 census, Buddhists make up 0.7% of India’s population, or 8.4 million individuals. Traditional Buddhists are less than 13% and Navayana Buddhists (Converted, Ambedkarite or Neo-Buddhists) comprise more than 87% of Indian Buddhist community according to 2011 Census of India. According to the 2011 census, the largest concentration of Buddhism is in Maharashtra (6,530,000), where (77%) of the total Buddhists in India reside. West Bengal (280,000), Madhya Pradesh (216,000), and Uttar Pradesh (200,000) are other states having large Buddhist population. Ladakh (39.7%), Sikkim (27.4%), Arunachal Pradesh (11.8%), Mizoram (8.5%) and Maharashtra (5.8%) have emerged as top five states or union territories in terms of having maximum percentage of Buddhist population.