The religion in India is described by various religious practices and beliefs. Though India is declared a secular country in the year 1976 which signifies that all religions must be treated with equal respect in the country, India is the place of birth of four major religions of the world i.e. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Religion has been playing a very significant role in the culture of India throughout the Indian history. While religious tolerance and religious diversity are both honoured by the law, order and custom in India; the Indian Constitution has confirmed the ‘right to freedom of religion’ as the fundamental right.
History of Religions in India
Northwest India was considered the place of origin to the Indus valley civilization, one of the oldest civilizations in the world. While diverse religions and cultures are practiced in India, it is home to majority of the Hindus across the world. India being the birthplace of most of the Hindu saints, several Hindu temples, pilgrimage places and shrines are situated in India. One such place in India, i.e. Allahabad hosts the world famous ‘Kumbha Mela’ which is the most popular and largest religious belief of Hindus. People from across the world come together and take the ritual and pious bathe in the convergence of the three famous and sacred India rivers: the Yamuna, the Ganga and the Saraswati.
There are various traditions, beliefs and Hindu philosophy such as Meditation, Yoga, Divination, Reincarnation, Karma and Ayurvedic medicine that have been welcomed and popularised in the West too. While different people in India follow and practice different religions, Hinduism is the most dominant religion and the influence of Hinduism can be felt across the world. Various Hindu-based Institutions such as Brahma Kumaris, the Hare Krishna movement, ISKCON, the Ananda Matha and others play a significant role in spreading Indian spiritual practices and beliefs.
Mentioned below are the descriptions of different religions practiced and followed in India:
Hinduism is the most ancient religion in the world and is the third largest religion worldwide after Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is considered the most dominant religion followed in India, as it is followed by the Hindus, which account for approximately 84% of the total Indian population. Hinduism is also called the ‘Sanatan Dharma’ means the everlasting religion as mentioned in the Hindu mythological books and epics. While Hinduism is yet practiced and followed by almost all Hindus, its roots traces back to very ancient or prehistoric times, somewhere around 5,000 years ago.
Years ago, Hinduism also spread through parts of China, South-eastern Asia, Japan and Korea. Hindus basically worship both male and female god and deities. While Lord Vishnu, Shankara, Ganesha, Hanuman, Rama and Krishna are the most prominent names of Hindu Male Gods, Durga, Kali, Saraswati, Parwati, Sita, Lakshmi, Radha, Gayatri, Ambey, etc are some of the famous female Hindu Goddesses. The origin of Hinduism includes the cultural aspects of the Indus Valley Civilization as well as the other Indian civilizations.
The most primitive and the ongoing text of Hinduism religion is the Rig-Veda which was created during the Vedic period dating to 1700–1100 BCE. During the puranic and epic periods, the most basic versions of the epic verses in their present forms, including Mahabharata and Ramayana were written nearly from 500–100 BCE, even though these were verbally passed on through the families for centuries much prior to this period.
The Jain community forms less than 1% of the total Indian population. Jainism, also called Jain Dharma is a very old Indian religion. People who follow Jainism are popularly called ‘Jains’, a word obtained from ‘Jina’, the Sanskrit word. Jina means victor and signifies the pathway of success in crossing over the stream of rebirths of life through a spiritual and ethical life. The history of Jainism is described by the succession of 24 triumphant teaches and saviours called ‘tirthankaras’ and the first being the very famous Rishabhanatha. He is assumed to have lived millions of years ago according to the Jain tradition and the 24th Tirthankara was the Lord ‘Mahavira’ who lived around 500 BCE. According to Jains, the religion Jainism is an everlasting religion with the tirthankaras being the guide of every cycle of Jainism.
The religion Buddhism started in India over 2,500 years ago and it remains one of the most dominant religions spread worldwide, especially in the East. There are approximately 360 million people worldwide following Buddhism and around a million American Buddhists currently.
The philosophy, values and beliefs of Buddhism is supported by the teachings of Lord Buddha, earlier known as Siddhartha Gautama who belonged to the royal family of Kapilvastu and lived in between 563 and 483 BC. After being initiated in ancient India somewhere around the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, Buddhism spread all through the East Asian countries of Vietnam, Japan, Korean, China and Mongolia, the Central Asia, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia.
Christianity is highly popular and one of the most prominent religions followed in India. Currently, there are approximately 25 million people in India following Christianity. People who follow Christianity are called Christians. According to the writings of Eastern Christians and the works of scholars, Christianity was brought in India by Thomas the Apostle. He had visited Muziris in Kerala and baptised the Jewish settlements of Kerala. These people are popularly known as Saint Thomas Christians also called Nasrani or Syrian Christians today.
Even though the accurate origin of Christianity religion in India is still unclear, there is a broad consensus worldwide that Christianity was originated in India during the 3rd century AD. In India, the religion Christianity has varying denominations such as Catholicism, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Oriental Orthodox. Most of the Christians stay in South India, specifically in Goa, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. A large share of Indian Population staying in the North-east Indian states also follows Christianity. The religion was expanded in India during the 18th Century by the Protestant US and British missionaries and the Catholic Portuguese expeditions during the 18th Century.
Islam represents the second-most followed and practiced religion in India after Hinduism. At present, India is the third largest country after Indonesia and Pakistan which has Muslim population in the world. People who follow and practice Islam are called Muslims.
The religion Islam depicts a powerful and enthralling impact in India. Islam with its significant dominance has been instilled into the Indian culture and civilization. Muslim people came to India during the existence of Muhammad the Prophet, setting up several mosques and the organizing missionary activities during the 7th century C.E. The attempts and activities of those missionary proved to be successful, originating Islam decisively in India. In India, Islam had and still has a distinctive experience of co-existing with several other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism Sikhism and Jainism, which have originated in India as well as the religious invaders such as Judaism, Zoroastrian and Christianity.
Sikhs constitute approximately 2% of the total population of India and they have stood up for India as and when required. The traditional Sikh men keep long hair and do not shave their moustache or beard. They tie and collect their head in a turban. Sikhism is relatively a novel religion that was introduced by Guru Nanak. He was the first and the foremost Guru of Sikh religion and was born in a Hindu family in the year 1469 in Punjab. He was an avid traveler, reader, scholar and philosopher, He preached humanity to people and that is why he achieved the title of ‘Guru’. His followers became popular as ‘Sikhs’ meaning learners.
Nanak was followed by nine more Gurus and the preaching and lessons of all the Gurus are collected in the sacred book ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ written in Gurumukhi script. The last Guru of Sikhism was Guru Gobind Singh, who affirmed the sacred ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ as the Guru of the Sikhs. The last Guru was highly influential in transforming Sikhs to a community of warriors and gave them the title/surname of ‘Singh’ signifying lion.
The group was prepared to retaliate and hit back the Mughals and their suppression of Sikhs. The children born in Sikh family get baptized in a ceremony where the male child receives the title ‘Singh’ and the female child becomes ‘Kaur’ signifying princess. The five important possessions of Sikhism are categorized as 5 K’s i.e. Kesh (unshaved hair), kangha (comb), Kripana (dragger), Kada (bracelet) and Kachcha (shorts). Though less in numbers, Sikhs are an integral part of India and play a very significant role especially in forces and other major positions.
Followers of religion Zoroastrian are basically Parsis constituting only 0.01% of Indian population, Majority of people from this community live in Mumbai and they are unique and can be easily identified. Devotees of Zoroastrian religion basically migrated from Persia. The religion was found in 7th century BC; however its admirers were rooted out from Iran during 7th century AD by the Muslim extremists. According to Zoroastrianism, there is only one God with no distinct shape or form. They also believe that there is an ever-lasting war happening between the good and the bad forces and that the actions of each individual would determine the outcome of the war.
Since Parsis initially arrived in Gujarat region of India, they mark Udvada village as the place of pilgrimage and their sacred language being Avesta, the ancient language once spoken in Iran. In order to honour God, Parsis light fires in the temples dedicated to their religion and they always show major religious tolerance. They believe in the preservation of the pure and natural elements viz. water, fire, sky, earth and air and hence, instead of burying or cremating the dead bodies, Parsis leave them on elevated towers, especially constructed for this purpose. The bodies later get consumed as food by the eagle, crows, hawks and other birds. Parsis have high belief in blood purity and thus, the boys and girls are allowed to marry in their own society and religion only.
India believes in ‘Unity in Diversity’ which is also obvious in its religious beliefs. In India, people of varying cultures and religions live in harmony and celebrate every festival with great pomp and show. Festivals like Diwali, Holi, Durga Puja, Dusshera, Id, Baisakhi, Christmas, Good Friday and many other festivals get celebrated with the same vivacity and brotherhood.