Top 9 most influential religions within India
Looking ahead, we can say that the main religion in the territory of India is Hinduism and this will not come as a surprise to anyone. Remarkably, but this name was invented not by the Hindus themselves, but by the British – in honor of the river Indus. The natives of the country themselves call their religion Sanatana Jahma, which literally means “eternal religion. And indeed: how much time has passed since the days of ancient India, and Hinduism to this day has about 1.2 billion adherents around the world.
For a better understanding of the distribution of religions in India, you can look at the table, which has been translated into a chart for clarity.
Religion in India: which faiths can be found in the country
Hinduism is the dominant religion in India – over 79.8% of the country’s population practices it today. The vast majority of believers choose such religious movements as Shivaism and Vishnuism. Otherwise, the percentage is as follows: 14.2% practice Islam and 2.3% practice Christianity. Other religions that originated in India also continue to exist. Among these are worth mentioning: Sikhism at 2%, Buddhism at 0.8%, and Jainism at 0.4%. And to the list of minor beliefs can be added adherents of Bahai – 0.15%, Zoroastrianism -0.014% and Judaism – 0.001%. We will return to each of these later.
India is one of the most religious countries in the world. According to official information from the last census, there are now virtually no atheists or agnostics. Less than 0.1% of those surveyed said they do not believe in God or doubt his existence. The rest honored religious traditions and laws.
The 9 Most Widespread Religions in India
The diversity of small and large nationalities ensures cultural diversity. Below we take a closer look at nine religions whose adherents can be found in the country.
Hinduism is the main religion of India, which is only natural. As already mentioned, there are about 1.2 billion Hindus in the world and more than 90% of that number live in India. It is one of the world’s oldest religions and has its roots in the second millennium B.C. The main religion of India is in essence a philosophical doctrine committing to a peculiar way of life. Rituals and religious practices vary depending on the particular current.
Indian religion is built on the belief in the immortality of the soul and reincarnation and, most importantly, karma. Believing in this, people adhere to strict moral rules and try to treat both themselves and others with great tolerance.
If you ask, “What religion is practiced in India besides Hinduism?” many people will answer without hesitation: Islam. There are some 172 million Muslims living in the country, which indirectly makes Islam the second major religion in India.
India has the third largest Muslim population, after Indonesia and Pakistan.
Islam has its religious origins in the seventh century. It originated in Western Arabia (Mecca), where paganism prevailed at the time. As for how religion is developing in India today, the number of Muslims in the country has increased markedly in recent decades. Religious scholars predict that if the trend continues, in approximately 30 years (by 2050) there will be more devotees of Allah in the country than Hindus.
The position of Islam is now stronger than ever. The beautiful Taj Mahal, the Haji Ali Mosque in Mumbai, and other fine Islamic architecture have been erected.
Although Christianity is the world’s largest religion, only 2.3% of the population in India adheres to it. According to ancient writings, the Christian faith only became available to Hindus with the arrival of the Apostle Thomas in 52.
The English conquest ended with Protestantism beginning to spread among the inhabitants of India.
Sikhism is a combination of religion and philosophical currents. Some religious scholars even hold the opinion that the principles of this religion were borrowed from Hinduism. The adherents themselves deny this.
It is a monotheism based on equality. A person who has lived a righteous life will earn the opportunity to be reunited with God, while a rule-breaker will be sent back to live anew in order to learn the unlearned karmic lessons.
Buddhism originated in India about 2,500 years ago and now has few followers across the country.
Why does a religion that originated in India have so few followers in its homeland? The reason is the Arab invasion. Today the main part of the followers of Buddha’s teaching lives in the Himalayas.
Siddhartha Gautama is recognized as the founder of Buddhism – he was the first person to achieve enlightenment. He later became known to the world as the Buddha. Now, despite the small number of followers of the Buddha’s teachings, there are several branches of Buddhism on the territory of the country, among which stands out Tibetan Buddhism, founded by religious outcasts.
Historians have done a lot of work looking for the origins of this religion and it turns out that it has existed since the times of the first civilizations in the Indus valley! This religion is based on the philosophy of non-violence: a person must go through life filled with love, kindness, care and compassion for all living things.
Adherents of Jainism do not believe in a higher power. They believe that everything living on the planet has a soul. Everything and everyone except man. To find it, a person must go through the path of reincarnations and when the rebirths stop and all karmic lessons are learned – eternal bliss will come.
Relatively new religious current that originated in Iran in the XIX century. Over time, the doctrine reached the Indians. Today Bahai religion is practiced by about 2.2 million people.
The founder of the belief is the Iranian religious leader Bahaullah. Followers of the religion to this day consider him to be a living manifestation of God.
The current began to spread throughout India with the arrival of Jamal Efendi. People who follow Bahá’u’lláh are of the opinion that it is impossible for mere mortals to know the true nature of God. And that all religions are nothing more than a single complex with their characteristic “regional” differences. Bahá’ís believe that the human body is only a temporary shell for the earthly existence of the soul. And the presence of the soul is the main difference between man and all other living beings.
One of the oldest and fewest religions. Today there are no more than 200 thousand Zoroastrians in the world, and they are distributed over the territory of Iran and India. The origin of this religion took place at the time (not defined by historians) when Zarathustra lived. He had his own vision of some supreme being Ahura Mazda and the world, where good and evil existed.
It was finally formed about four thousand years ago on the territory of Persia. When Islamists invaded the region, the Zoroastrians had to flee to India.
There are Jews in India as well, although there are about 7,000 of them. The first adherents of Judaism appeared on the territory of the country in the 8th century, when they were expelled by the Persians from the kingdom of Israel, as part of the ten lost tribes. And since Indians are a tolerant people of faith, the Jews were able to practice their faith peacefully on Indian territory.
What is remarkable is that, unlike other world countries where the Jewish population is united in communities, in India they are fragmented.
India: Faith, Holidays and Religion-why do people of different views get along happily in the country?
Despite this diversity of faiths in India, there is almost no religious strife in the country. Regardless of what gods they worship or what rituals they follow, all believers treat each other with respect, without imposing their world view.
All those who are not Hindu but live in India have their religious festivals more modestly. For example, you can find quiet group meditations at the statue of Buddha, but the noisy processions in honor of the festival Vesak Buddhists will not make.
The festivals attributed to the dominant religion of India are celebrated with great fanfare. The list of Hindu higher powers has thousands of gods and almost every god has his own personal holiday. Or, at the very least, this god is counted among several “common” religious holidays. Let’s note the most notable ones:
- International Kite Festival . The holiday is held on January 14. More than a thousand people gather annually in the city of Allahabad to fly their paper kite in a large flock. It is a bright and unforgettable spectacle.
- Holi is the most colorful celebration of spring. In 2021, its celebration falls on March 28. Participants in the celebration pelt each other with colored powder. According to the beliefs, the more colors on your clothes and body, the more happiness and positive experiences awaits you in the coming year.
- Ganesh birthday – the belief in India in this many-armed god with an elephant’s head is very common. Beginning on September 10, prayers begin to be offered in honor of Ganesha, and offerings of fruit, coconuts, flowers, and other sweets are brought to his figures. At the end of the celebration, his statue is immersed in water.
- Birthday Mahatma Gandhi – “father of the nation” was born on October 2. Religion Indians take them to the streets, which culminates in a procession. People bring flowers to the mausoleum of this great man. In educational institutions on this day, children are told about the role Mahatma Gandhi played for India.
- Diwali is a holiday dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, love, and fertility. The ritual aims at the victory of light over darkness, thousands of candles and lanterns are lit. And at night the festive sky is painted with bright fireworks. In 2021 the holiday will be held from November 4 to 8.
There is a belief that by getting married on this day, you can get a blessing from the Goddess for a long and happy marriage.
- The Maha Kumbha Mela Festival is another festival held in Allahabad. At this festival it is customary to bathe in the waters of the Ganges. Believers believe that ablution allows them to reconnect with the sacred spirit Brahman. About 70 million people attended this festival in 2013.
India is a colorful country with its own special, distinctive culture. Hindus, amazing people whose faith to this day surprises and resonates in the hearts of millions of Europeans. Despite the growing skepticism and cynicism in the world, Religions in India are still of great importance today.
India is home to one and a half billion people. It is the second most populous country in the world (China is first). With so many people, India is like a tapestry of different ancient cultures and beliefs. The official religion of India is Hinduism. But the Constitution of this country recognizes freedom of religion as a fundamental right. That is, citizens can follow any religion they choose. Let’s take a brief look at all that Hindus believe in.
Over a billion people around the world practice Hinduism- 95% of them live in India and neighboring Nepal. This religion originated 4,000 years ago. The philosophical foundations of Hinduism are described in the Vedas, the sacred scriptures. They gave Hindus an understanding of the origins of the world and the basic rules of human life. The Vedas contain mantras, commentaries on texts composed by the forefathers of the sages.
Origin of the World
The Vedas say that in the beginning of time there was chaos, like a large ocean with still waters. The water gave birth to fire, and from the heat came the golden egg, the cradle of the supreme god Brahma. The egg split in half – one part became the sky, the other became the earth. In order not to be alone, Brahma created sons and daughters, according to different sources from 10 to 20 of them. These gods became the fathers and mothers of thousands of other gods who are now worshipped by the Hindus:
- Vishnu — guardian of the universe;
- Shivu — must destroy the universe at the end of time;
- Indra, the warrior god, with thunder and lightning in his power, is considered the guardian of the East;
- Surya–the sun god, patron of the southeast;
- Yama, god of death and justice, guardian of the south;
- Agni, god of fire, patron of the southwest;
- Varuna, goddess of water; guardian of the west;
- Vayu – god of air and wind, guardian of the northwest;
- Kubera – god of wealth, guardian of the north;
- Soma (Chandra), god of the moon, guardian of the northeast.
These are not all the gods of the Hindu pantheon, but the main ones are those on which the life and death of the faithful depend.
Basic Concepts of Hinduism
It so happens that the basic concepts of Hinduism are known throughout the world. They might even be called fashionable.
- Nirvana (Moksha) is one of the important beliefs of Hinduism. Every living being on this planet has a soul, and they are all part of the higher soul, the “parmatma. The ultimate goal of life is reunification, or nirvana.
- Karma is the sum of the good and bad deeds a person has done in life. It determines who the soul will be born into in the next life.
- Reincarnation is the process of rebirth. Every soul after death comes back to this world, but in a different body;
- Sansara is an endless cycle of life and death. As long as the wheel of Sansara is turning, the world will exist.
Parents, teacher, and food are close to God, Hindus say. Parents give us birth, educate us, teach us values. Teachers give us the knowledge to survive in the world. Another equally famous Hindu wisdom says, “What we eat is what we are,” as Krishna said. Therefore, Hindus are very careful about food and eating traditions. For example, they only eat with their right hand-the left hand is considered unclean.
Modern Hinduism was formed over thousands of years. During its development, scientists distinguish several stages. The oldest of them is Vedic. Vedism has arisen in the middle of the II millennium BC during the settlement of the Indo-Aryan tribes on the Indian subcontinent. Vedic religion is characterized by the animation of the forces of nature. Like the Slavic pagans, the followers of Vedism believed that deities ruled the wind, sun and lightning. To placate them, the priests performed magic rituals, rites of sacrifice.
In ancient Vedic religion there were no such concepts as reincarnation, samsara or nirvana. But the cult of the ancestors prevailed: remembering the dead and feeding the dead. As Indian civilization mingled with Persians, Iranians, and other foreign peoples, the religious beliefs of the inhabitants of Hindustan became more complex and diverse.
After Vedism came Brahmanism, the second oldest form of future Hinduism. It is a religious doctrine about why the world works this way and not that way, and how one must live in order to attain eternal bliss. The focus of Brahmanism is the soul. Only the soul, according to the adherents, is real; everything else (the body and the circumstances in which it lives) is an illusion. The main goal of the soul is to attain unity with God. This is possible after a chain of rebirths and atonements for sins. The closest to God and salvation are the Brahmans – the high priests. They can only be born. This is another basis of Brahmanism – the principle of dividing society into castes. According to legend, the supreme god Brahma created people from parts of his body:
It is impossible to move from one caste to another during one’s lifetime. But if one behaves properly, the soul after rebirth can dwell in the body of a priest. The worldly and divine wisdoms are recorded in the ancient religious treatise Upanishad (literally translated from Sanskrit as “sitting at the feet of the teacher”). The authors of these texts purposely retired to the woods, fasted and meditated for long periods of time, and then described their conclusions in texts whose central message is that the soul is eternal and divine. The soul is God.
One of the most interesting practices for attaining oneness of the soul with God is yoga. Europeans perceive it as a set of health exercises, in fact the process, according to Brahmanism, is more like mocking one’s body. Yoga means yoke. It is a yoke, something that burdens life and causes suffering. The body is evil, and evil must be destroyed. Or at least reduce its impact on the soul by severely suppressing natural needs and desires. Yoga consists of 8 stages:
- Abstinence (yama) – the refusal of food, water and other physiological needs. Some yogis have been known to eat 1 grain of rice a day.
- Fulfillment (niyama) – doing no harm to any living thing.
- Body exercises (asana) – you have to make your body stay in uncomfortable poses for long periods of time.
- Discipline of the breath (pranayama) – refraining from breathing.
- Discipline of the senses (pratyahara) – striving to achieve a state in which the body feels neither cold nor heat, nor smells nor tastes of food.
- Discipline of mind (zen) is the ability not to think about what prevents one from reaching the state of Nirvana (which is almost everything in the world).
- The state of contemplation (tkhina) is the ability to see what the average person does not see.
- The trance state (samatha) is a state of complete liberation and dissolution in which the body loses its functions and falls into anabiosis. Bringing oneself to the trance state is the highest goal of many yogis. Medically speaking, this means maximum exhaustion of the body.
The Vedas not only explain the philosophical aspects of the national Indian religion, but also give clear recommendations for the construction of temples. A Hindu temple, or mandir, is a symbolic home, place and body of the deity for Hindus, a reconstruction of the universe and its laws. Hindu temples are also secular spaces. Their purpose is to unite spiritual life with social life. Therefore, some temples serve as venues for festivals, art festivals through dance and music.
The second most popular religion in India is Islam. It is practiced by 14% of the country’s population, which is 172 million people. India has the third largest number of Muslims in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. Scientists believe that Islam originated in Mecca (a city in today’s Saudi Arabia) in the 7th century. Unlike Hinduism, Islam is a monotheistic religion. That is, it has one god, Allah. His sacred word was revealed to Mohammed through the angel’s messenger. Islam came to India with the Arab merchants. With the merchants came missionaries who succeeded in converting various Indian communities to Islam. Next came the construction of mosques – Islam became another ingredient in the cauldron of religions in India.
Basic Concepts of Islam
There are no distinctive features in Islam. This religion is free from superstitions and irrational beliefs. The unity of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad and the concept of life after death are the main concepts of the faith. There is no hierarchy of priests, no contrived abstractions, no complicated rites and rituals. Everyone can refer directly to the Qur’an and put its precepts into practice. Islam does not neglect the individual or society; it establishes harmony and balance between them and gives each his due.
Christianity in India is practiced by 2.3% of the population. Christianity is a monotheistic religion, that is, believers honor one god. Although in Christianity he appears in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for the sins of men and rose again three days later. Christians believe in a second coming, that one day Jesus will return to earth. This is described in the Bible, a sacred Christian text. Christianity came to India in the first century A.D. when the apostle Thomas first visited the country. As one of the twelve apostles, he founded several congregations and converted many Jews and Hindus to Christianity.
Sikhism, the fifth most popular religion in the world, has only 1.7% of its followers among Hindus. Most Sikhs live in Punjab, a state in northern India. Sikhism emerged in the late 1400s. It is based on the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak. Like Hinduism, Sikhism is not so much a religion as it is a philosophy based on Vedic teachings. It is a monotheistic religion that preaches equality. Sikhs believe that if you lead a good life, you will be rewarded with union with God after death. If not, the soul will be reborn and forced to live again. It is interesting that in Sikhism there is not a single day of the week designated for worship. In Christianity, for example, such a day is Sunday.
Approximately 0.9% of the total population of India profess Judaism. It is believed that the first Jews settled along the coast of Malabar. They were part of the Ten Lost Tribes who were driven out of the Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century. In India they were free to practice their faith while adapting to the local culture. Today there are between 5,000 and 7,000 Jews in India.
Bahai is a relatively new religion founded in Iran in the mid-nineteenth century. It advocates the unity of all religions and people and preaches the abolition of prejudice. Bahá’u’lláh, an Iranian preacher, is considered to be the ancestor of Bahá’u’lláh. His devoted follower, Jamal Efendi, brought this belief to India. He came especially to the country to spread the sacred word. Today, 2.2 million people in India are Bahá’ís. One of the most famous temples is built in the shape of a lotus.
Buddhism was founded in India about 2,500 years ago, but is now much more popular in other Asian countries such as Cambodia and Thailand. In India, only 0.7% of the population practices Buddhism. Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama – the Buddha – in the 5th century BC. Buddha is not considered a god – in fact, Buddhists do not believe in any deity. Rather, they direct their energy toward achieving inner peace. Because of this, meditation is a common practice. Buddhism as a way of life preaches unselfishness and tolerance of others. It is constantly evolving and embraces the well-known teachings of reincarnation and karma.
The Buddhist school of Tibet is dominated by the ideas of Mahayana, a set of special teachings for those “walking on the path of the Bodhisattva. They are believed to help achieve “awakening for the benefit of all living beings. Buddhism preaches faith in the universe and teaches gratitude for what one has. Wise monks believe one should not take suffering personally, one should draw energy from nature, and everyone is obligated to dream and share kindness and love with the whole world.
There are six million Jain practitioners in the world. Approximately 4.5 of these six million live in India, which is 0.4% of the total population of the country. This religion is based on the principles of selflessness. Jainism preaches that the way to inner peace is through compassion and concern for others. Like Buddhists, Jains do not believe in a particular god. However, they do believe that all animals and plants have a soul. Therefore, Jains treat all living things with respect. They even cover their mouths with a cloth mask. This is not due to the coronavirus pandemic-it is the way Jain monks try not to harm the tiniest winged insects, which they may accidentally swallow while inhaling.
Jains also believe in reincarnation. To attain true liberation is to break out of the cycle of life and cause the soul to exist in a state of eternal bliss.
Zoroastrianism is considered one of the oldest religions in the world. According to recent estimates, no more than 200,000 Zoroastrians remain, most of whom live in Iran and India. Nevertheless, they make up only about 0.1% of the population of these countries. The religion is named after the prophet Zarathustra, although it is unclear exactly when he lived. Zarathustra had a vision of a supreme being whom he called Ahura Mazda. From then on, Zoroastrianism evolved into a religion centered around notions of good and evil. Scholars argue that Zoroastrianism influenced other religions, including Christianity and Islam.
Indians are a sociable people, so elements of their national religions spread quickly throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. In India, millions of people perform various rituals every day. This is the most important aspect of Indian history and modern life in the country.