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Tuesday, November 20, 2007


 

   Major Religions in India


 

 

India, being a secular country, does not recognize any religion as State religion.  The Constitution allows for freedom of faith, worship, and religion.  The amazing diversity of India is reflected in the number of religions and faiths practiced by the Indian people, some of which were born on this land while others were brought in by the successive political and cultural invasions and assimilated by the people of this country.  Among the major religions in India, Hinduism is the largest, followed by Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism.

 

Religion  Description

   Hinduism

             Hinduism is among the most ancient religions of the world.  The Hindus, i.e., the followers of Hinduism, account for over 80% of India's total population.  Hinduism teaches the existence of one Supreme Universal Spirit, but allows its adherents to worship the Almighty (Ishwar, Paramatma or Parama Brahma) in any form they like.  This makes Hinduism a henotheistic religion where the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaish and Shudras have been assigned strictly compartmentalised functions. However, with the passage of time, the caste distinctions have become loose, and with the growing social awakening, the lower caste people who had been looked down upon by those belonging to the higher castes, are now getting their rightful place in the Hindu society.

             Hinduism has a profound philosophy.  The main scriptures of the Hindus are the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

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   Islam

             The Muslims, as the followers of Islam are known, form the second largest religious community in India accounting for over 11 percent of her total population.  Though spread over all parts of India, the ratio of Muslim population exceeds the national average in Lakshadweep Islands, Jammu & Kashmir, Assam and West Bengal.  Islam came to India along with the Muslim invasions.  It is a strictly monotheistic religion which professes the fatalistic acceptance of God's (Allah's) will.  It allows no 'graven images' to profane His worship.  Equality of all believers and a caste-free society are two other features of Islam.

             Prophet Mohammed is believed to be the last and greatest of the prophets, and the Holy Koran, as revealed to him, is the sacred book of Islam.  The devout Muslim has five duties: belief in the one true God, i.e., Allah; praying five times a day, giving alms, a month's fast every year, and a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

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   Christianity

             Christians comprise about 2.5% of India's population.  They are largely concentrated in Goa, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, the last three States accounting for over 60 percent of the total Christian population in the country.

The essence of traditional Christian theology is that Jesus was the son of God who came it save the world, was crucified, resurrected and will come again to judge mankind.  The core of the Christian ethic is the commandment: 'Thou shall love thy Lord thy God with all thy heart and thy neighbour as thyself.'  The belief is that God has three natures - The Father, The Son (Jesus) and The Spirit.

             The various Church groups in India include Catholic Church, Syrian Church, Church of North India, Church of South India, Armenian Church, & Anglican Church.  There is also an Anglo-Indian community in India.

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   Sikhism

             The Sikhs are a sturdy martial race known for their valor and broadmindedness.  They constitute a little less than 2% of India's population.  Though dispersed widely over the entire country, their concentration is in Punjab, where they form the majority of the State's population.

             Sikhism which emerged in the 15th century tried to bridge the gap between Hinduism and Islam.  The founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev, preached against humbug and hypocrisy in religion.  However, it was Guru Gobind Singh who forged the Sikhs into a martial community.  Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, is the most important Gurdwara (Sikh Temple).

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   Buddhism

             Though Buddhism originated in India, the followers of this religion, viz, Buddhists form less than three quarters of one percent of India's population.  Maharashtra has 85% of Buddhists living in India.  Arunachal Pradesh and the higher Himalayan habitats of north-western India too have some Buddhist population.

             Gautam Siddhartha (563-483 BC) also known as Buddha or 'Enlightened One' is the founder of Buddhism.  Beliefs: Life is misery and decay, and there is no ultimate reality in it or behind it.  The cycle of endless birth and rebirth continues because of desire and attachment to the unreal 'self'.  Right meditation and deeds will end the cycle and achieve Nirvana, the Void, nothingness.

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   Jainism

             The Jains form about half a percent of India's population and are largely spread in the States of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. They believe that Mahavira was the last of the Tirthankaras who was preceded by 23 such other perfect souls.
             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. Jains believe that every thing has life and this also includes stones, sand, trees and every other thing. They are vegetarians. But the religious Jains will do everything possible to prevent hurting any being.
             There are two Jain philosophies. Shvetamber and Digamber. Digamber monks like Mahavira don’t wear any clothes, but normally they don’t walk like that outside their temples. The Digambers include among them only men. The Shvetambers monks wear white clothes and they include women.

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   Zoroastrianism

             The Parsees, as the followers of Zoroastrianism are known, fled their native Persia in the face of Muslim religious persecution and arrived in India in the 7th century.  Since then, most of them have remained in the region of Mumbai.

             The Parsis believe in the existence of one invisible God. They believe that there is a continuous war between the good forces (forces of light) and the evil forces (forces of darkness).

             The holiest place for them is the village of Udvada in Gujarat, India. The holy language of the Parsis is an ancient language spoken in Iran, Avesta. The Parsis believe that fire, water, air and earth are pure element to be preserved and therefore they do not cremate or bury their dead ones but leave them on high towers, specially built for this purpose, to be eaten by hawks and crows.

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   Judaism

             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’.

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