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To restore any certain respect of history either of a country or a religion, historical sources are very important. It is very difficult to image that history of any country or religion can be reconstructed exactly with lack of its historical sources.

Buddhism appeared in India over 2500 years ago, and though it has lasted  to the present day. How to restore the history of an ancient religion like Buddhism. Of course we can do nothing if its historical sources have not been found. Fortunately, Buddhism has maintained a lot of historical sources which can be divided into 2 :

- Buddhist literary sources

- Archaeological sources


This source plays an important role in the restoration of the history of Buddhism in ancient India.

1. Buddhist Canonical Source consists of Sutta, Vinaya, and Abhidhamma preserved in Pali and Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan..etc. It is important information about the origin and development of Buddhism.

For example, in the Sutta Pitaka, the Mahaparinibbana give us the information of the Buddha’s life, such as holy places Lumbini (where the Buddha was born); Bodhgaya (where the Buddha attained the Enlightenment); Sarnath (where the Buddha preached his first sermon) and Kusinagar (where the Buddha passed away). In the Mahavagga belonging to Vinaya pitaka, we can find the first stage of Sangha formation, the first sermon of the Buddha, his first disciples and…etc.

2. The Non-Canonical Source: consists of  the work as Milindapanha belonging to the Sourthern Buddhist tradition. Through the Milindapanha we have information of historical situation of Indian Buddhism in the middle of 2nd century BC.

3. The Records Of Indian Monks: as the Dotted Record by Upali is of this kind of historical source. Through which the date of the Buddha can be reconstructed.

4. The Foreign Literary Source: including Ceylonese and chinese literary source.

- Ceylonese literary source is the existence of works Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa in Buddhist literature. Those two works provide us with the important information relating to history of Buddhism.

- Chinese literary source is the writing of chinese pilgrims such as Hsuan-Tsang, Fa-hien, I-tsing…

5. The History Of Other Religions :  such as Jainism, also supplies many information regarding the development in this source.


Archaeological is  the most important source of evidence  for the study  ancient Indian history. Knowledge of  nature of the archaeological source is essential for any understanding about the history of Buddhism in ancient India. This archaeological source may be divided into four parts :

1.     Inscriptions:

These inscription engraved on rocks , stones cave , slabs , bricks , sculptures, tortoise shell, seals and copper…etc  have played an important role in the reconstruction of ancient Indian Buddhism history.

For example : the inscriptions of King Asoka provide us with the important information relating to Buddhism as well as the affection of this religion under reign of Asoka.

Some inscriptions written under the reign of king Kanishka also helps us to understand the situations of Buddhism in the 1st century AD.

2.     Numismatics:

The historians have used Numismatics to evidence for historical writing among the non-textual sources, inscriptions and coins  provided the most important information also for writing the history of ancient Indian Buddhism.

3.     Architecture, Sculpture  and painting

Architecture remains are the most important archacological source of an ancient Indian Buddhism history, the remains of various buildings including places, drains, wells, temples, stupas and monasteries…etc. are a great source for writing the history of ancient Indian Buddhism.

4.     Archacological  remains, Antiquities  and surface collections :

Beads , ornaments of various metals , glass objects…. help not only in determining the movements of materials and men from one place to another, but also in the location of trade routes and condition of the economy.

In brief, Buddhism in spite of quick transformation of human history, has maintained a lot of special historial source. Through which its true history can be restored completely. Some source mentioned above are a very small fragment of a large mass of Buddhist historical source which prove for the whole of the true history of Buddhism in India.

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