Buddhism was an important part of the classical Kashmiri culture, as is reflected in the Nilamata Purana and Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. Buddhism is generally believed to have become dominant in Kashmir in the time of Emperor Ashoka, although it was widespread there long before his time, enjoying the patronage not only of Buddhist rulers but of Hindu rulers too. From Kashmir, it spread to the neighbouring Ladakh, Tibet and China. Accounts of patronage of Buddhism by the rulers of Kashmir are found in the Rajatarangini and also in the accounts of three Chinese visitors to Kashmir during 630-760 AD.

The origin of Buddhism in Kashmir is obscure. Buddhist sources attribute the origin of Buddhism in Kashmir to a monk of Varanasi, Majjhantika, who was also a disciple of Ananda. According to the Ceylonese Chronicle, after the conclusion of the Third Buddhist Council, Ashoka sent missionaries across countries to spread Buddhism. Majjhantika was sent to Kashmir and Gandhara (modern-day Afghanistan). The story of Majjhantika is also told in several other Buddhist texts such as the Ashokavadana and Avadanakalpalata. However, the Buddhist text Divyavadana states that several monks from Kashmir were invited by Ashoka to Patliputra (present-day Patna, Bihar). However, Kalhana describes the establishment of some Vihāras during the reign of King Surendra, predecessor of Ashoka.

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