India is home to nine widely recognized religions, namely, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Baha’ism. Zoroastrianism, Judaism and the Baha’i Faith may not have originated in India, but are followed by millions of Indians as well!
In this massive post, Voxytalksy will focus on the lesser-known religions of India and will highlight some less known facts and practices of these religions.
- Christianity is India’s third-most followed religion according to the census of 2011. With approximately 28 million followers, the religion constitutes roughly 2.3 percent of India’s population.
- Christianity was perhaps introduced in India by Thomas the Apostle (St. Thomas), who may have reached Kerala in 52 AD.
Number of Followers
- Worldwide, there are 2.2 billion Christian adherents. This is roughly 31 percent of the overall 6.9 billion human population.
- The Christian population in India includes Catholics, Protestants and Oriental Orthodox Christians. About 73% (17,300,000) of the Christians in India are Catholics. Oriental Orthodox Christian individuals in India are estimated to be in the range of 46,10,000. Protestant Christians in India are said to be in the following demarcation: 1,267,786 Lutherans, 648,000 Methodists, 2,392,694 Baptists, and 823,456 Presbyterians. All these Christian communities differ in language, social customs, and economic status but follow their patron saint days in unison.
- Nagaland, Mizoram, and Meghalaya are the most populated Christian states in
- India ranks 15 amongst all countries with the highest church attendance!
- Christianity is a monotheistic religion that follows the miracles and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth known as the Christ or Messiah.
- It is the world’s largest religion with over 2.4 billion followers who believe that Jesus (the Son of God) is the one and true savior of humanity whose coming (as the Messiah) was prophesied in the Old Testament.
- Christian teachings also preach the immanence and involvement of God in every walk of Christian life and says that God’s divine Nature was united to human nature in the person of Jesus Christ – the son of God.
- In Christian worship, the Holy Mass is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in which the ‘Eucharist’ (thanksgiving service of the Holy Mass) is offered by the priest of every church.
- It is a must for all Christians to attend the Holy Mass each Sunday where Christians recall the supper which Christ had with his 12 disciples on the preceding night of his crucifixion.
- Christian families should also take part in a prayer which is said before supper every day. Catholics recite rosary beads with the prayer to Mother Mary as gratitude.
The major holidays of the Christians are Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, All Souls Day, etc. Some Protestant churches also celebrate local harvest festivals, usually in the month of October or early November.
Christians also go on pilgrimage to various places of holy worship in India like:
- Thomas Cathedral in Mylapore (Tamil Nadu)
- Church of Our Lady in Meerut (Uttar Pradesh)
- Basilica of Bom Jesus in Panjim (Goa)
- Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Bandel (West Bengal)
- Shrine of St. Xavier in Kottar (Tamil Nadu)
- Church of Our Lady of Mount in Bandra (Maharashtra)
- Shrine of St. Theresa of Avila in Mahe (Kerala)
- Church of Our Lady of Health in Vailankanni (Tamil Nadu)
- Sikhism is the fourth largest religion in India that has existed for over 548 years. It is the ninth largest religion in the world with over 25 million followers in the world. Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikhism and also the first Sikh Guru who preached universal brotherhood irrespective of caste, color or religion.
- The last Guru, Guru Gobind Singh passed the Guru Granth Sahib (the sacred text of Sikhism) to the Sikhs of the world. It is regarded as the ‘Guruship of the Sikhs to the Eternal Guru of the Sikhs’ that all Sikhs must adhere to.
- Unlike the prose narratives of western scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib is written in devotional poetry which is meant to be sung in both private and congregational settings.
Number of Followers
- There are close to 24 million Sikhs in the entire world who are mostly concentrated in the UK, India, USA, Europe Union, parts of Africa and Canada.
- As per the 2011 census, India has a Sikh Population of 2.08 crores (20.8 million), which is 1.72% of the country’s total population. Out of the total Sikhs in India, 77% are concentrated in the state of Punjab. Other states with high Sikh population are U.T. of Chandigarh, New Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
- There is no place for superstitions in Sikh culture. Sikhism instructs its followers not to believe in things like good or bad moments, good or bad days, good or bad numbers, etc.
- In the 14th century, Guru Nanak Dev Ji observed that Indian women were severely degraded and oppressed by their society. To counter this, he discouraged practices like female infanticide, the Sati system, etc. The surnames ‘Singh’ meaning lion and ‘Kaur’ meaning lioness/princess are the last names of Sikh males and females. Sikhism ensures gender equality to women by giving the choice of not having to change their surname post marriage.
- The 12’o clock connection is no joke! It was actually a message that became famous when Nadir Shah raided Delhi in the year 1739 and abducted nearly 2200 Hindu women along with him. In common folklore, it is mentioned that Sardar Jassa Singh who was the Commander of the Sikh army decided to attack Nadir Shah’s camp at midnight to avenge this misdeed. That is when the message, ‘When the clock strikes 12, they attack’ became famous!
- Sikhism believes that God has no religion, no gender, ‘Nirankar’ which means without form and is ‘Akal Purakh’ means beyond time and space.
- There are 5 K’s – Kesh (hair), Kangha (comb), Katchera (undergarment), Kara (bangle) and lastly Kirpan (sword). A Sikh who is Amrit-dhaari (has taken holy water) has to wear all these 5 K’s at all times.
- Sikhs do not believe in the concept of fasting and choose to live on simple yet healthy food. They celebrate/remember religious festivals like Guru Purab, Vaisakhi (Nagar Kirtan by Panj Pyaare), Prakash Purab, the Shahidi Diwas of their martyred Gurus, Holla Mohalla, Bandi Chhor Diwas, Phalia Prakash Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, etc. by reading verses from the Guru Granth Sahib Ji, lighting candles in devotion and cleaning city areas as part of their Nagar Kirtan (area procession). They also hold community kitchens to share food with people from all walks of life.
The most famous Sikh pilgrimage sites in India are:
- Golden Temple in Amritsar (Punjab)
- Patna Sahib in Patna (Bihar)
- Paonta Sahib in Paonta Sahib (Himachal Pradesh)
- Anandpur Sahib in Chak Nanaki, Anandpur Sahib (Punjab)
- Baba Bakala in Amritsar (Punjab)
- Gobindwal Sahib in Taran Taran (Punjab)
- Taran Taran Sahib in Taran Taran (Punjab)
- Sirhind in Fatehgarh Sahib (Punjab)
- HemKund Sahib in Chamoli (Uttarakhand)
- Nanded Sahib in Nanded (Maharashtra)
- Nankana Sahib in Punjab (Pakistan)
- Buddhism arose in India around when Siddhārtha Gautama (ca. 563-483 B.C.) was deemed a “Buddha” (“Awakened One”) in and outside the ancient Kingdom of Magadha (now in Bihar, India).
- He was a prince of the Shakya Kingdom located in Nepal. The prince (Siddhārtha) abandoned his home and wandered from pillar to post as a religious beggar, searching for the very meaning of human existence. It is through constant self-introspection under a tree in the forests of Gaya (in modern Bihar) that he finally solved the mystery of existence – he had achieved the supreme knowledge that he expressed as the Four Noble Truths.
- The truths that Buddhism elucidates were that – all of life is suffering; the cause of suffering is desire; the end of desire leads to the end of suffering, and the means to end desire is a path of discipline and meditation. This is the moment when Siddhārtha Gautama was now the Buddha (awakened one).
- He spent the remainder of his life traveling about the length and breadth of northeast India converting large numbers of disciples to his idea of salvation. At the age of eighty, the Buddha achieved his final passing away (parinirvana) and died.
- Under the reign of the Buddhist Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, the Buddhist community split into two sub-branches: the Mahāsāṃghika and the Sthaviravāda which have now permeated all over India.
Number of Followers
- Worldwide, there are 535 million Buddhist individuals of which roughly 244 million live in China. The rest are predominant in South East Asia, India and parts of Europe and USA.
- Buddhists currently comprise up to 0.7% of India’s population or roughly 8.4 million individuals. Traditional Buddhists are nearly 13% and Navayana Buddhists (Converted or Neo-Buddhists) comprise more than 87% of Indian Buddhist community according to 2011 Census of India. – Wikipedia
- Buddhists celebrate many festivals/events in reverence of Lord Buddha like: Buddha Jayanti (day that Prince Siddhartha, was born to King Suddhodana and Queen Maha Maya), Losar (traditional Tibetan New Year), Hemis (celebrated at the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh in honour of Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) regarded as the reincarnation of Lord Buddha himself), Ullambana (ghost festival in which offerings are made to ancestors and acts of charity are performed), Asalha Day (also known as the Dhamma day which marks the day Buddha gave his first discourse to a group of five friends), Sangha Day (commemoration of the day Buddha delivered a sermon to 1250 Arhats (high priests) gathered at the Vervana Monastry), and Pavarana Day (end of the three months after Asalha day).
Famous Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India include:
- Bodh Gaya in Gaya (Bihar)
- Sarnath in Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh)
- Kusinara in Kushinagar (Uttar Pradesh)
- Sravasti near Bahraich (Uttar Pradesh)
- Rajgir near Nalanda (Bihar)
- Vaishali near Muzaffarpur (Bihar)
- Jains in India are considered the direct representatives of the Śramaṇa tradition (a Non-Vedic movement that ran parallel to Vedic Hinduism) like Buddhism. Jainism in India traces its history from the age of the twenty-four Tirthankaras who resided in ancient India. Jains revere lord Rishabhanatha as the first-ever Tirthankara and the 23rd Tirthankara (Parshvanatha of c. 872 – c. 772 BCE) and 24th Tirthankara (Mahavira of c. 599 – c. 527 BCE) are also highly revered figures in Jainism. The 22nd Tirthankara Arshth-nemi is considered a distant cousin of Lord Krishna. Mahavira is considered as a contemporary of Lord Buddha.
- The word Jain comes from the word “Jinas” which means a person who has a reached the age of perfection and liberation and is a ‘spiritual conqueror’.
- There are two main sects of Jainism – Digambara (formed in 3rd century BCE) and Śvētāmbara (formed in 5th century CE). Later, the divides into sub-sects known as Sthānakavāsī and Terapanthis respectively.
Number of Followers
- The total Jain population worldwide is estimated to be 7+ million people. In India, there are an estimated 4,451,753 Jains (0.36 percent of Indian population). Jains are mostly found in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. Though their population is spread across almost all the states and union territories, as per the last Indian census in 2011, Lakshadweep is not inhabited by any Jain followers.
- Jains (especially Belgian Jains) control over 60% of the diamond trade in the world. Jains are considered the most educated in India. Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha is said to have been inspired by Jainism.
- Jain doctrine outlines that Jainism has always existed in the world and will always exist until the end of time. It traces its roots to the Indus Valley Civilization which means that it predates the Indo-Aryan period of migration into India.
- At its root, Jainism teaches spirituality, right conduct, right knowledge and right faith. Jain saints consider killing any kind of living being (even insects) as a sin and as such abstain from animal slaughter in their religion, so much so that during the 12th-century, there was a temporary ban in the Indian subcontinent over animal killing during the pious Jain religious festival of Paryushana.
- During the Muslim rule of India (with the exception of Akbar), the naked ascetic tradition of Jainism suffered massive persecution, but overall, other religions like Hinduism and Buddhism co-existed peacefully with Jainism. Many historic Jain temples can be found near Buddhist and Hindu temples which date back to the 1st millennium CE.
- The Jain symbol of Swastika and four dots represent the states of existence in nature and means that a creature is destined to be born in any of those states based on their karma. Only when someone achieves the three dots (correct faith, understanding, and conduct) can one achieve moksha (state of liberation) and reach the top dot within the crescent. The hand with a wheel (dharmachakra) symbolizes Ahimsa.
- The practice of Santhara means fasting to the death to avoid causing suffering to plants whose food we consume.
- Jains do not consume many foods like roots vegetables, unfiltered water, honey and abstain from alcohol and drugs.
- The most widely celebrated Jain festivals are Paryushana (meaning ‘year coming back’ which comes in the months of Shravana or Bhadra (August or September) and is celebrated as a festival of repentance and forgiveness for 8-10 days), Mahavir Jayanti (marking the birth of Mahavira), Diwali (Mahavira is said to have attained nirvana followed by eternal moksha on this day in 527 BCE; Jains are forbidden from bursting crackers as the Hindus generally do during Diwali), New Year (first day of the Kartika month), Gyana Panchami (fifth day of Kartika month in which the knowledge of the holy Jain scriptures are worshipped), Pausha Dashmi (10th day of Pausha that celebrates the birth of the 23rd Tirthankara, Parshvanath), Akshay Tritiya Tapa (austerity practice as the first Jain Tirthankara Rishabhdev had done in the Vaishakh month), Maun-agiyara (11th day of Magshar month in which complete silence is observed to celebrate Kalyanaka of many Tirthankaras), Navapad Oli (semi-fasting ritual that is observed twice a year: March/April and September/October), Mahamastakabhisheka (held once every 12 years in Shravanabelagola, Karnataka where an 18 meter high statue of Bahubali is venerated and anointed), Roth Teej (celebrated on Shukla Tritiya where only one type of grains are eaten once a day), Akshaya Tritiya (celebrating the end of Lord Adinath’s one-year fasting ritual), Shrut Panchami (commemorated every May as reverence to Pushpadanta (9th tirthankara) and Bhutabali (disciple of Acharya Pushpadanta who composed the most sacred Jain text with Pushpadanta called the Satkhandagama).
Famous Jain pilgrimage sites in India include:
- Gomateshwara Bahubali, Shravanabelagola
- Lal Mandir, Delhi
- Hutheesing Temple, Ahmedabad
- Dilwara Temple, Mount Abu
- Ranakpur Temple, Rajasthan
- Shikharji Temple, Jharkhand
- Ajitanath Temple, Mehsana, Gujarat
- Palitana Temples, Gujarat
- Sonagiri Jain Temples, Madhya Pradesh
- Pushpgiri Teerth, Sonkatch
- Shantinath Jain Teerth, Pune
- Parshwanath Temple, Kolkata
- Mirpur Jain Temple, Sirohi
- Shri Mahavirji Jain Temple, Rajasthan
- Kumbhoj Jain Temple, Maharashtra
- Nareli Jain Temple, Ajmer
- Dharmanath Jains Temple, Kochi
- Bawangaja Temple, Madhya Pradesh
- Hanumantal Bada Jain Mandir, Jabalpur
- Navagraha Jain Temple, Karnataka