Most historians agree to the fact that Buddhism originated in the northern India in the 5th century BCE. Tracing it’s origin to Siddhartha Gautam, the Buddha. Hinduism was the prevalent religion prior to Buddhism; however, replete with rituals and traditions, it made it difficult for a common man to adhere to the same. This gave rise to a feeling of discomfort and angst against the religion and the Brahmins, the high caste. The advance of Buddhism is largely due to the contribution and benevolent success of Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty.
After the death of Gautam Buddha, the first Buddhist Council was convened at Rajgir under the patronage of Ajatsatru. Soon the Mauryan Empire founded by Chandragupta Maurya would witness a huge response to Buddhism. Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta was the convener of the third Buddhist Council in Pataliputra and played a pivotal role in the spread of Buddhism in and outside India. Various great monasteries came up, and some of these monasteries developed into centers of teaching and research. The great university at Nalanda in north-eastern India is one such example scholars were coming from as far away as China to study.
It is said that after winning most of the battles, the bloodiest of them all, Kalinga War in 262 BCE, Ashoka renounced violence and embraced Buddhism which was laid on the principle of non-violence. He then began to spread the religion throughout his kingdom. In order to spread the religion, he erected pillars and inscribed on rock edicts, various laws and principles that were based on Buddhism. The edicts and pillars were dotted all along the boundary of his empire and he left no stone unturned in order to spread the principles of the religion his people. These evidences make it amply clear of the fact that Buddhism greatly flourished during Ashokan times. According to sources, he also sent his envoys outside India to spread the teachings.
The extent of Buddhism was seen in southern part of India and Sri lanka as well. The latter, until this day, has a stronghold of the earliest form of Buddhism i.e. Thervada.
Thus, with Ashoka, Buddhism had become more of a state religion, receiving great patronage from the emperor himself. Buddhism did not die with the death of Ashoka. The next great patron of Buddhism would be Kanishka.