Religions Of India
Over 80 percent of Indians are Hindu, but there are significant minorities. Muslims number about 110 million and there are over 20 million Christians, 18 million Sikhs, 6 million Buddhists and a number of other religious groups. The Indian religious and social life is driven by the caste system. While the same has undergone substantial charges since Independence, especially in towns and cities, but most people in India are still clearly identified as a member of a particular caste group. Indian religion is characterized by use of symbols and icons for worship. The chanting of hymns and celebration of the festivals with lot of fanfare is worth a tourist's view for a completely delightful experience.
It has always been easier to define Hinduism by what it is not than by what it is. The name, ‘Hindu' name was given by foreigners to the people of the subcontinent who did not profess the other major faiths, such as Muslims or Christians. The beliefs and practices of modern Hinduism began to take shape in the centuries on either side of the birth of Christ. But while some aspects of modern Hinduism can be traced back more than 2,000 years before that, other features are recent.
The four holy abodes for Hindus, where usually "Sanyas" is attained are well visited by all-
- Badrinath - A ice Shiva Linga in the Himalayas
- Puri - the incarnation of Lord Krishna in Orissa
- Ramesvaram - the southern tip of India
- Dwarka - the birth place of Lord Krishna in Gujarat
India was the home of Buddhism, which had its roots in the early Hinduism, or Brahmanism, of its time. Today it is practiced only on the margins of the subcontinent from Ladakh, Nepal and Bhutan in the north to Sri Lanka in the south. Although there are approximately 5 million Buddhists in India, most are very recent converts. The last adherents of the early schools of Buddhism have been killed or converted by the Muslim invaders of the 13th century.
India has sites of great significance for Buddhists around the world. Some say that the Buddha himself spoke of the four places his followers should visit. Lumbini, the Buddha's birthplace, is in the Nepali foothills, near the present border with India. Bodh Gaya is about 80 kilometres south of the modern Indian city of Patna, where he attained what his ‘supreme enlightenment'. The deer park at Sarnath, where he preached his first sermon and set in motion the Wheel of the Law, is just outside Varanasi. While Kushinagar, where he died at the age of 80, is 50 kilometres east of Gorakhpur.
Like Buddhism, Jainism started as a reform movement of the Brahmanic religious beliefs of the sixth century BC. Its founder was a widely revered saint and ascetic, Vardhamma, who became known as Mahavir - 'great hero'. Mahavir was born in the same border region of India and Nepal as the Buddha, just 50 kilometres north of modern Patna, probably in 599 BC. Thus he was about 35 years older than the Buddha. His family, also royal, was followers of an ascetic saint, Parsvanatha, who according to Jain tradition had lived 200 years previously.
The 18 metres high free-standing statue of Gommateshvara at Sravana Belgola near Mysore (built about 983 AD) is just one outstanding example of the contribution of Jain art to India's heritage.
Guru Nanak , the founder of the religion was born just west of Lahore and grew up in what is now the Pakistani town of Sultanpur. His followers, the Sikhs, (derived from the Sanskrit word for 'disciples') form perhaps one of India's most recognizable groups. Beards and turbans give them a very distinctive presence and although they represent less than two percent of the population they are both politically and economically significant. The Sikhism, was propagated through the ten gurus and the code of conduct laid down by them. The famous shrines of Sikhs are Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, Paonta Sahib in UP, Hazoor Sahib in Maharashtra and Manikaran Sahib in the Valley of flowers.
Islam is a highly visible presence in India today. Even after partition in 1947 over 40 million Muslims remained in India and today there are just over 105 million.
Islam is the most recent of imported religions. Islamic contact with India was first made around 636 AD and then by the navies of the Arab Mohammad al Qasim in 710-712 AD. These conquerors of Sindh made very few coverts, although they did have to develop a legal recognition for the status of non-Muslims in a Muslim-ruled state. From the creation of the Delhi Sultanate in 1206, by Turkish rather than Arab power, Islam became a permanent living religion in India.
There are about 23 million Christians in India. Christianity ranks third in terms of religious affiliation after Hinduism and Islam and there are Christian congregations in all the major towns of India.
The great majority of the Protestant Christians in India are now members of the Church of South India, formed from the major Protestant denominations in 1947, or the Church of North India, which followed suit in 1970. Together they account for approximately half the total number of Christians. Roman Catholics make up the majority of the rest. Many of the church congregations, both in towns and villages, are active centres of Christian worship.