Religions in India
Sunday 4 October 2009
All the versions of this article: [English] [français]
RELIGIONS IN INDIA
- Religions in India
- © source
India known as the land of spirituality and philosophy, was the birthplace of some religions, which even exist today in the world. The most dominant religion in India today is Hinduism. About 80% of Indians are Hindus. Hinduism is a colorful religion with a vast gallery of Gods and Goddesses. Hinduism is one of the ancient religions in the world. It is supposed to have developed about 5000 years ago. Later on in ancient period other religions developed in India.
Around 500 BC two other religions developed in India, namely, Buddhism and Jainism. Today only about 0.5% of Indians are Jains and about 0.7% are Buddhist. In ancient times Jainism and specially Buddhism were very popular in India. Indians who accepted Buddhist philosophy spread it not only within the Indian sub-continent but also to kingdoms east and south of India.
These three ancient religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, are seen as the molders of the India philosophy. In ’modern’ period new religions were also established in India.
One comparatively new religion in India is Sikhism and it was established in the 15th century. About 2% of Indians are Sikhs. There were other attempts to create new religions in India but they did not always succeed. For example, a Moghul emperor, Akbar, who reigned between 1556 - 1605, tried to establish a new religion, Din- E- Elahi, but it did not survive. There are other religious philosophies whose believers see themselves as a separate religion, but they do not always get this recognition. For example Lingayat of south India see themselves as a different religion, while others see them as a sect of Hinduism. There are also some tribal communities who demand to be recognized as separate religion from Hinduism. In the 19th century some Hindu reformers tried to remodel Hinduism to adjust it to modern period.
Along with the religions that developed in India, there are followers of non- Indian religions. The largest non-Indian religion is Islam. They are about 12% of India’s population. Christians are more then 2% of India’s population. There are also Zoroastrians who even though make less then 0.01% of India’s population, are known around India. There are also a few thousand Jews in India. Judaism and Christianity might have arrived in India before they arrived in Europe.
HINDUISM - about 82%
ISLAM - about 12%
CHRISTIANITY - about 2.5%
SIKHISM - about 2%
BUDDHISM - about 0.7%
JAINISM - about 0.5%
ZOROASTRIANISM - about 0.01%
JUDAISM - about 0.0005%
Hinduism is a religion with various gods and goddesses. According to Hinduism, three Lords rule the world. Brahma: the creator; Vishnu: the preserver and Shiva: the destroyer. Lord Vishnu did his job of preserving the world by incarnating himself in different forms at times of crisis.
The three Lords that rule the world have consorts and they are goddesses. Consort of Brahma is Sarasvati; goddess of learning. Vishnu’s consort is Lakshmi; goddess of wealth and prosperity. Shiva’s consort is Parvati who is worshipped as Kali or Durga.
Religion in India is a part of life. Though Hinduism is the dominant religion, Indians have learnt to co-exist with people of other faiths.
Whether it is the ancient shlokas of the Hindu prayers, the aazaans of the Muslim prayers, the gurvani of the Sikhs or the chanting of the Buddhist monks - all fill the sky simultaneously. The main religious communities in India are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis.
Muslims are India’s largest religious minority, accounting for nearly 10% of India’s population. The teachings of Islam, closely corressponds with the Old Testament of the Bible, also Moses and Jesus are both accepted by the Muslims, although they do not consider Jesus to be the son of God. The aim of every Muslim is to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime. The Jama Masjid in Delhi is the largest mosque in India.
The Muslims are about 12% of India’s population. But their influence on the Indian society was much stronger. The main reason was that there were many Muslims rulers in different parts of India. Most of the Muslim rulers of India were invaders from the west (see India in the past ).
About 2.5% of India’s population are Christians.
Christians in India are generally found in the western coast and Kerala. Christianity has existed in Kerala since very long. Historical evidence shows that the first Indian converts were made by St Thomas, the Apostle himself in 52 AD. St. Thomas preached the Gospel in many parts of India and is said to have been martyred in Madras (now Chennai).
Although Buddhists are a minority in India the religion is of great importance, as this religion originates here. Buddhism was founded in northern India, when prince Siddharta renounced the world and sought enlightenment.It is a religion of philosophy, which has a code of morality.
About 2% of India’s population are Sikhs. Even so, the Sikhs, because of their unique appearance sometimes stand for India. Traditionally the men keep their hair and do not shave their beard or moustache. They gather their head hair in a turban.
Sikhism is comparatively a new religion in India. This religion was established by Guru Nanak. Nanak was born into a Hindu family in 1469 in the Punjab region. Since childhood he loved to travel, learn and preach humanity. In those days people who taught and preached were titled Guru meaning teacher, his followers became to be known as Sikhs meaning learners. And so Guru Nanak developed a new religion and it also included beliefs from the two dominant religions in the Punjab region, Hinduism and Islam. Some claim that Guru Nanak tried to developed a new religion and included in it what he thought were the good beliefs of these two religions. Like in Islam the belief in the existence of one invisible God. Like in Hinduism the belief in Karma and reincarnation, meaning your actions in this life will decide your fate in the next incarnation. The Sikhs also cremate their dead ones as is done in Hinduism.
Sikhism was born out of the teachings of Guru Nanak, at the beginning of the 16th Century. This movement rejected the hemony and the socio-economic divisions of the brahmanical society. .
Like Buddha, Mahavir was the prince who founded the Jain religion. In fact the two were almost contemporaries.
Jainism was born in India about the same period as Buddhism. It was established by Mahavira in about 500 B. C. Mahavira like Buddha belonged to the warrior caste. Mahavira was called ‘Jina’ meaning the big winner and from this name was derived the name of the religion.
In many senses Jainism is similar to Buddhism. Jainism like Buddhism, developed as a dissention to the Brahmanic philosophy that was dominant during that period in north- east India. Mahavira just like Buddha isn’t the first prophet of his religion.
Founded in Persia by the prophet Zarathustra in the 6th or 7th Century BC, Zorastrianism is one of the oldest religions in the world. He was born in Mazar-i-Sharif, which is now in Afghanistan.
A small religious community, which exists mostly in Mumbai, is Zoroastrianism. The follower is called Parsi because the religion arrived in India from Persia. This religion was established by Zarathustra in 6th or 7th century BC. The followers of this religion exiled from Iran in the 7th century AD. because of religious persecutions by the Muslims. They arrived in Gujarat region of India.
The Jews of India aren’t one singular community. Among themselves they are divided into different communities. Each community has its own different culture, background and origin. Each community claims its arrival in India in different ways and it is not always clear how they really came to India. The three main Jewish communities of India are: Bene Israel, Cochini and Baghdadi. Besides there were Ashkenazi Jews and a community in east India which claim Israeli origin and call themselves Bne Menashe. The first three communities had some social religious connections with each other but most of the social religious connections of each community were within their own community and they regarded the other as ‘outsiders’.
Since at least the eighteenth century, India has been associated in the European imagination as preeminently a land of religion. By the late nineteenth century, Europeans (and increasingly Americans) were coming to India as a landthat promised spiritual release from the weariness of the material life. In the twentieth century, this reputation appeared to be solidified. The struggle for independence came to be waged under the leadership of Gandhi, whose unflinching advocacy of non-violence endeared him to admirers as a man of religion and peace; and in the 1960s, when the enduring image of India was as a land suffused spirituality, Westerners flocked to India to avail themselves of the spiritual advice and teachings of countless number of Indian gurus. This image has taken something of a battering in recent years, and today Westerners, when they think at all of India, think of the country as engulfed by religious ’wars’ and hatred, as ensnared by perpetual Hindu-Muslim conflict; meanwhile, the gross materialism of middle-class Indians, given naked encouragement by the state, indigenous and foreign corporate interests, the culture of modernity, and international finance organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank, has all but eroded the image as a land of sublime spirituality.
What is indubitably unique about India as a ’land of religions’ is that it is the birthplace of several major world religions. Three-fourths of the people describe themselves as adherents of Hinduism, the oldest continuous faith in the world. Though today Hinduism has spread to all parts of the world, taken there by Indian migrants, Hinduism has, and will continue to have, an indelible association with India; and perhaps in no other case is the association between a faith and a land so close as it is with Hinduism. This religion produced a vast corpus of texts: preeminent among them have been the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, and the Bhagvata Purana; and the commentaries of Shankaracharya; modern-day classics include the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, the Gita-Rahasya of Tilak, and Conversations with Sri Ramana Maharishi.
India is equally a land of other faiths: the world’s second largest population of Muslims, nearly 130 million in number, is to be found in India, and there are also some 25 million Christians. Indian Islam has enjoyed a relationship that is at once syncretistic and agonistic with Hinduism, and the fruits of this encounter have been many, extending from the more obvious vocal and classical music of India, Mughlai cuisine, and Indo-Mughal architecture, to the lived practices common to adherents of both these great faiths. In antiquity, Buddhism flourished in India, and it is in Bodh Gaya that the Buddha gained enlightenment; his great contemporary, Mahavira, is the founder of Jainism, also uniquely Indian. Today Jains are among India’s most distinguished trading and business communities; and the legacy of Jain art and culture is just as profound. Sikhism, another Indian faith, is often imagined as the Protestantism of Hinduism: today there are nearly 15 million Sikhs in India, and perhaps as many as 2 million outside India, whose practices and precepts may well change the nature of the faith in India. India also has the largest community of Zoroastrians, also known as Parsees, and though in recent years the once-thriving and very old Jewish community of Cochin has all but disappeared, the small Jewish community of Bombay still makes its presence felt in the public realm.
But all these are only the institutionalized forms of religious worship in India, and a bewildering array of other religious practices, both outside the faiths and within the faiths, are encountered all over India. Various devotional poets, religious mendicants, renowned men and women of spirituality, and local holy men and women wear no religious tags, and their teachings and lives continue to be an example to the common realm of humanity. From the 9th century to the 16th century, from the Deccan to the north, and from Bengal in the east to modern-day Gujarat and Maharashtra in the West, India was swept by the fervor of bhakti, or devotion. The songs, lyrics, and religious compositions of the bhakti poets — Nammalvar, Jnaneshvar, Kabir, Tulsidas, Surdas, Tukaram, Vidyapati, Chandidasa, Mirabai, among others — are still sung to popular and classical music alike, and scarcely any kind of literature resonates more with Indians than do their compositions. Similarly, though the institutionalized religions are associated with great architectural monuments, such as the Hindu temple cities of South India (Kanchipuram, Rameswaram, Chidambaram, and many others), the Mughal splendors of Delhi, Agra, and Fatehpur Sikri, or the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the roadside monuments and shrines are even more indicative of the manner in which these faiths interweave with the lives of their adherents.