If there is ever a nation with enormous religious diversity it can be none other than the great nation of India. A birth place of two major religions of the world and practitioners of many non- Indian religions make it a secular state. India’s religious diversity is noticed in all walks of life in India and is very integral part of the country’s history and heritage. It dictates many aspects of life in India including Food, Ceremonies, Education, Politics and Rituals.
Let’s now count down the top seven religions in India based on their practice and population in the country:
Though the follower of Zoroastrianism contribute to very little of the population of India it is still considered as one of the most important religions of India. The followers are called as Parsis and follow the core beliefs of Zoroastrianism, which are mainly three –
- Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta, which mean: Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.
- There is only one path and that is the path of Truth.
- Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, and then all beneficial rewards will come to you also.
The religion though originated in ancient Iran which was Persia and spread to India. It is fabled that when the first Persians came to India and ask sanctuary in India, the then monarch of Gujrat Jadi Rana had a vessel filled with milk to the brim and said that his kingdom was full and did not have room for more. Then a Parsi priest took a pinch of sugar and added it to the vessel stating that they would blend in and make the life sweeter for the rest and cause no harm. Parsis contributed to meagre 0.06% of India’s population but they have had the most influence in India’s economics, freedom struggle, growth and progress.
Jainism is an ancient religion of India dating back to the 5th or 6th BC. The origins of the religion are not very clear but the most influential Jain teacher or Tirthankara is Vardhamana Mahavira or Mahavir Jain. The philosophy of Jain is eternity, ahimsa, non-absolutism, non-possessiveness. Ahimsa a major tenant of Jainism makes all Jains pure vegetarian so much so that very strict Jains do not even eat root vegetable for the fear of hurting organisms growing in the mud. Jains contribute to .37% of the Indian population.
Another ancient religion that took birth in India is Buddhism. Founded by Gautama Buddha in the 4th Century BC, he is considered as “the awakened one” or “Enlightened One. The main tenants of Buddhism are known as “The Three Jewels- The Buddha, The Dharma and The Sangha. Buddhism is mostly practice in north eastern regions of India. It has spread through the world but mostly is concentrated in China, South East Asia and Sri Lanka. It was first practiced majorly by the Mauyran king Ashoka after a terrible war. Though Buddhism almost became extinct in the middle ages In India it was revived with Dalit Buddhist movement by Dr.B.R Ambedkar. Many Buddhist sites are now being excavated across India especially in the southern parts of India. Buddhist contribute to 0.70% of India’s population.
Founded by Guru Nanak, during 14th century Sikhism is a relatively young religion but has nearly 25 million followers around the world. Sikhism is spread through India but is mostly concentrated in the north western states of Punjab, Chandigarh and Delhi. A person who practices Sikhism is known as a Sikh. The two major tenants of Sikhism are Seva and Siramn. Seva meaning service to the society and Simran is to remember God. The religion does not discriminate based on any sort of creed, caste religion or race. Sikhs are required to always have the 5 Ks with them which are- Kesh which is uncut hair, Kanga a small wooden comb, Kara-Which is a circular bracelet made of iron or steel, Kacchera which is an undergarment and Kripan which is a dagger. A Sikh man is easily recognized by the turban that he always wears. Sikhs contribute to 1.7% of India’s population.
The third largest religion in India is the world’s largest religion – Christianity. Christianity is non-indigenous religion that first came to India in AD 52 and was bought by Saint Thomas to preach to the Jews who had settled in Kerala. Majority of Christian live in the southern states of India mainly Kerala, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and the North Eastern States of India. Christianity role in India’s development has been majorly through the establishment of educational institutions across the country. It has also serviced the nation by establishing many hospital and orphanages. Christianity in India has several denominations the predominant ones being the Roman Catholic Church, The Protestant Church, Baptist, Lutherans, Pentecostals and many free churches or evangelical groups. Christian contribute to nearly 2% of all of India’s population.
India’s 2nd largest religion Islam is also the world’s second largest religion. With the third largest country Muslim population in the world coming from India it has a major influence in India and its culture. Islam was first thought have come to India through trade in the state of Kerala. The subsequent invasion by the Muslim rulers from the Middle East and Central Asia paved the way for the establishment of the religion in India. The two major sects of Muslim in India are Shia and Sunnis but the other sects are Khojas, Sufis, Ahmadiyyas and Quranists. Islam’s contribution to the development has been through the Muslim rulers namely the Mughals in the north, the Nizams and Sultans in the south. Islamic architecture forms 2nd most important form of architecture in India. Most Muslim population is concentrated in the states of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and the union territory of Lakshadweep. Muslims contribute to nearly 14.2% of India’s population.
The world’s oldest surviving religion is also India’s largest religion – Hinduism. India being the birth place of Hinduism has the largest population of the followers of the religion who are known as Hindus. Hindus are known to worship many forms of the Mother Nature in the form of Idols. Hinduism is not just a practicing religion in India but also a way of life for many Hindus. In India, Hindus have many practices and rituals like daily Puja or Prayer, Festivals and many Rites of Passages of Life. Hindus main places of worship are temples and shrines that can been seen in every nook and corner of the country. Hinduism has many sects or denominations like the Vaishnavites who worship Vishnu, Shaivites who worship Shiva, Shakthism who worship the Goddess Shakthi Devi and finally Smartism who worship all the above three denominations which was established by Adi Shankara, a vedic scholar. The main tents of Hinduism are – Dharma, Artha ,Kama , Karma, Samara and Moksha. The Hindu Population is spread throughout the country and is also a major religion in Nepal. Hindus contribute to nearly 80% of the population of India.