Religions of India

Religion in India is characterised by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices. Secularism in India means treatment of all religions equally by the state. India is a Secular State by the 42nd amendment act of Constitution in 1976. The Indian subcontinent is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions; namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

Throughout India’s history, religion has been an important part of the country’s culture. Religious diversity and religious tolerance are both established in the country by the law and custom; the Constitution of India has declared the right to freedom of religion to be a fundamental right.

Northwest India was home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, the Indus valley civilisation. Today, India is home to around 90% of the global population of Hindus. Most Hindu shrines and temples are located in India, as are the birthplaces of most Hindu saints. Allahabad hosts the world’s largest religious pilgrimage, Kumbha Mela, where Hindus from across the world come together to bathe in the confluence of three sacred rivers of India: the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the Saraswati. The Indian diaspora in the West has popularised many aspects of Hindu philosophy such as yoga, meditation, Ayurvedic medicine, divination, karma, and reincarnationThe influence of Indian religions has been significant all over the world. Several Hindu-based organisations, such as the Hare Krishna movement, the Brahma Kumaris, the Ananda Marga, and others have spread Indian spiritual beliefs and practices.

According to the 2011 census, 79.8% of the population of India practices Hinduism and 14.2% follows Islam, while the remaining 6% adheres to other religions (Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism and various indigenous ethnically-bound faiths). Christianity is the 3rd largest religion in India. Zoroastrianism and Judaism also have an ancient history in India, and each has several thousands of Indian adherents. India has the largest population of people adhering to Zoroastrianism (i.e. Parsis and Iranis) and Bahá’í Faith in the world, even though these religions are not native to India. Many other world religions also have a relationship with Indian spirituality, such as the Baha’i faith which recognises Buddha and Krishna as manifestations of the God Almighty.

India has the third largest Shia population in the world and being the cradle of Ahmadiyya Islam, it is one of the countries in the world with at least 2 million Ahmadi Muslims. The shrines of some of the most famous saints of Sufism, like Moinuddin Chishti and Nizamuddin Auliya, are found in India, and attract visitors from all over the world. India is also home to some of the most famous monuments of Islamic architecture, such as the Taj Mahal and the Qutb Minar. Civil matters related to the community are dealt with by the Muslim Personal Law, and constitutional amendments in 1985 established its primacy in family matters.


Religious Diversity:

India is a land where almost all major religions of the world are found. Here we find Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Zorostrianism and Animism. All of these main religions have a number of sects of their own. In India, religious affiliations appear to be over-emphasised. As such, people in India some times, seem to be more loyal to their respective religions than to their nation. This religious diversity has been a factor and a source of disunity and disharmony in the country. As is well known, these religious differences were responsible for the development of the two nation theory and the consequent partition of the country in 1947. But, unfortunately the partition has neither solved the Muslim minority problem nor it has created a homogeneous population in India from a religious point of view.

1. Hinduism: It is an amalgamation of Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Pre-Dravidian religious elements. It is the religion of the majority of the people of India. The followers of Hinduism believe in the doctrine of ‘Karma’, ‘Dharma’, rebirth, immortality of soul, renunciation and salvation. Hinduism allows a number of possible conceptions of God. It also prescribes various alternative paths of attaining God. The Sakta, the Shaiva, the Satnami, the Lingayat, the Kabirpanthi, the Bramho Samaj, the Arya Samaj etc. are different sects of Hinduism.

According to 2011 census,  966.3 million people (79.8%) in India practice Hinduism and provide a solid base for national unity through common beliefs,festivals, customs and traditions.

2. Islam: The religion of the Muslims, originated in Arab. It came to India towards the last quarter of the 12th century A.D, with the Muslim invasions. The Muslim rulers in India patronised it. They established long dynasties over large chunks of the country and encouraged conversions from Hinduism and Buddhism.

Islam does not believe in idol worship. It professes the fatalistic acceptance of Allah’s will and considers Prophet Mohammed as the greatest prophet. The ‘Quran’, sacred book of Islam, ordains five primary duties of a true and devout Muslim, such as belief in God (Allah), prayers five times a day, the giving of alms, a month’s fast every year and a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in the life time of a Muslim.

3. Christianity: Christians in India constitute more than 2% of its population. They are very widely scattered all over the country, but they are mainly concentrated in the south and especially in Kerala where they form nearly 25% of the state’s population. In the North, Christianity has spread rather sporadically and its influence is mainly confined to certain sections of the tribal population and the depressed castes. There are mainly three sects in Christianity. They are (a) Roman-Syrians (b) Roman Catholics and (c) Protestants.

4. Sikhism: It was founded by Guru Nanak in the 16th century A.D. The Sikhs were originally a part of the Vaishnava sect before they converted to it. Sikhism was later developed by a line of Sikh Gurus, who succeeded Guru Nanak. According to Rose “ The Sikh creed involves belief in one God, condemning the worship of other deity; it prohibits idolatry, pilgrimage to the great shrines of Hinduism, faith in omens, charms or witchcraft; and does not recognise ceremonial impurity at birth and death. As a social system, it abolishes caste distinctions and as a necessary consequence, the Brahminical supremacy and usages in all ceremonies, at birth, marriage, death and so on.”

The Sikhs are ideologically nearer to the Hindus than to the Muslims. They as a group can easily be identified by anyone, because of the five “K”s they always wear. The 5 “K” s are Kesh (uncut long hair), Kanga(wooden comb) Kaccha (shorts), Kara (iron bangle in the hand and Kirpan (short sword). Sikh population in India is around 2% which is mainly concentrated in the Punjab and at the adjoining states.

5. Buddhism: It originated in India during the 6th century B.C. Its founder was Gautama the Buddha. Buddhism enjoyed royal patronage for a long period beginning from the Great emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C. As a result, Buddhism spread not only in India but also in countries outside India. It has two sects, namely the Hinayana and the Mahayana. At present Buddhists are found in Sikkim and the adjoining hills, they are also found in Maharashtra as a result of the recent conversions under the leadership of Dr. Ambedkar. However the number of the Buddhists in India is very meager and it represents only less than 1% of the total population.

Lahaul and Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh. Besides, a significant number of Buddhists reside in Maharashtra. They are the Nava-Buddhists or Dalit Buddhists who, under the influence of B. R. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism in order to escape the casteist practices within Hinduism. Ambedkar is a crucial figure, along with Anagarika Dharmapala of Sri Lanka and Kripasaran Mahasthavira of Chittagong behind the revival of Buddhism in India in the 19th and 20th centuries. The escape of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzing Gyatso to India fleeing Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959 and the setting up of the Tibetan Government in Exile at Dharamsala in Mcleodganj in Himachal Pradesh has also accelerated the resurgence of Buddhism in India. The effective religion in Sikkim, which joined the Indian Union in 1975 (making it India’s 22nd state) remains Vajrayana Buddhism, and Padmasambhava or Guru Ugyen is a revered presence there.

6. Jainism: Lord Mahavir established Jainism in India in the 6th century B.C. It is very close to Hinduism. Many of the Hindu doctrines are retained in it. Jains like the Hindus, venerate and worship the cows, they often worship in the Hindu temples and also employ the services of the Brahmin priest in their domestic rites. They are even more scrupulous than the Hindus in maintaining caste distinctions. But it differs from Hinduism in its heretical views regarding the sanctity of the Vedas and in its strict insistence on the principle of Ahimsa. Jains represent only a small portion of the Indian population. They comprise about 0.45% of our population.

Jains are divided into 3 sects: namely (a) The Digambaras, (b) The Sevetambaras and (c) The Dhundias. Jains are mainly urban people and are found in the town and cities of Punjab, U.P, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

7. Zoroastrianism or Parsi: The Parsis or the followers of Zoroaster of Zorathushtra came to India in the 7th century A.D. from Persia in order to escape the forcible conversions to Islam. They worship fire. The expose their dead on the so-called “towers of Silence” to be eaten up by vultures so that the elements- earth, fire and water-are not defiled by the contact of the dead matter. Their number in India is negligible. They are about one lakh in total half of which live in the city of Bombay alone. As such they are mainly urban. They are the most literate and are on the top of the economic ladder of India.

8. Animism: It is mainly a tribal faith. In India there are about 25 million people who believe in Animism. It is a primitive religion, according to which man is believed to be surrounded by a number of impersonal ghostly powers. These powers are said to reside in rocks, rivers, trees, stones etc.


It is in view of this religious diversity that independent India has declared secularism as one of the main principles of its State Policy. Today India strives to integrate its people into a great nation on secular lines. But in spite of the secular policy followed by the state, there have been occasional communal riots in India causing much loss of life and property. It is to be seen how far we will be able to cultivate the ideal of secularism in the minds of our people who are mainly religious minded.


Origin of the major religion in India

Evolution of Hinduism in India
Hinduism is often regarded as the oldest religion in the world, with roots tracing back to prehistoric times, over 5,000 years ago.Hinduism spread through parts of Southeastern Asia, China, Korea, and Japan. Hindus worship a single god with different forms. Hinduism’s origins include the cultural elements of the Indus Valley Civilisation along with other Indian civilisations. The oldest surviving text of Hinduism is the Rigveda, produced during the Vedic period and dating to 1700–1100 BCE. During the Epic and Puranic periods, the earliest versions of the epic poems, in their current form including Ramayana and Mahabharata were written roughly from 500–100 BCE, although these were orally transmitted through families for centuries prior to this period.

After 200 BCE, several schools of thought were formally codified in the Indian philosophy, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta. Hinduism, otherwise a highly theistic religion, hosted atheistic schools and atheistic philosophies. Other Indian philosophies generally regarded as orthodox include Samkhya and Mimamsa.


Rise of Shramana Religions

Historical roots of Jainism in India is traced back to 9th-century BC with the rise of Parshvanatha and his non-violent philosophy. Mahavira the 24th Jain Tirthankara (599–527 BCE) before that 23 Tirthankaras (started from Shri Rishavdeva)for this chaubishi, ( before that infinite 24 tirthankara ) stressed five vows, including ahimsa (non-violence) and asteya (non-stealing). Gautama Buddha, who founded Buddhism, was born to the Shakya clan just before Magadha (which lasted from 546–324 BCE) rose to power. His family was native to the plains of Lumbini, in what is now southern Nepal. Indian Buddhism peaked during the reign of Ashoka the Great of the Mauryan Empire, who patronised Buddhism following his conversion and unified the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd century BCE. He sent missionaries abroad, allowing Buddhism to spread across Asia. Indian Buddhism declined following the loss of royal patronage offered by the Kushan Empire and such kingdoms as Magadha and Kosala.

The decline of Buddhism in India has been attributed to a variety of factors, which include the resurgence of an aggressive Hinduism in the 10th and 11th centuries under Sankaracharya, the later Turkish invasion, the Buddhist focus on renunciation as opposed to familial values and private property, Hinduism’s own use and appropriation of Buddhist and Jain ideals of renunciation and ahimsa, etc. Although Buddhism virtually disappeared from mainstream India by the 11th century CE, its presence remained and manifested itself through other movements such as the Bhakti tradition, Vaishnavism and the Bauls of Bengal, who are influenced by the Sahajjyana form of Buddhism that was popular in Bengal during the Pala period.

Bhakti Movement

During the 14–17th centuries, when North India was under Muslim rule, the Bhakti movement swept through Central and Northern India. The Bhakti movement was initiated by a loosely associated group of teachers, or sants. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Vallabhacharya, Surdas, Meera Bai, Kabir, Tulsidas, Ravidas, Namdeo, Tukaram and other mystics were some of the sants in the North. They taught that people could cast aside the heavy burdens of ritual and caste, and the subtle complexities of philosophy, and simply express their overwhelming love for God. This period was also characterised by an abundance of devotional literature in vernacular prose and poetry in the ethnic languages of the various Indian states or provinces. The Bhakti movement gave rise to several different movements throughout India.

During the Bhakti movement, many Hindu groups regarded as outside the traditional Hindu caste system followed Bhakti traditions by worshipping/following saints belonging to their respective communities. For example, Guru Ravidas was a Chamar of Uttar Pradesh; Guru Parsuram Ramnami was a Chura of Chhattisgarh; and Maharishi Ram Naval was a Bhangi of Rajasthan. In their lifetimes, several of these saints even went to the extent of fighting conversion from foreign missionaries, encouraging only Hinduism within their communities. In Assam for example, tribals were led by Gurudev Kalicharan Bramha of the Brahmo Samaj; in Nagaland by Kacha Naga; and in Central India by Birsa Munda, Hanuman Oaron, Jatra Bhagat and Budhu Bhagat.


Guru Nanak Dev Ji (1469–1539) was the founder of Sikhism. The Guru Granth Sahib was first compiled by the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjan Dev, from the writings of the first five Sikh gurus and others saints who preached the concept of universal brotherhood, including those of the Hindu and Muslim faith. Before the death of Guru Gobind Singh, the Guru Granth Sahib was declared the eternal guru. Sikhism recognises all humans as equal before Waheguru, regardless of colour, caste or lineage. Sikhism strongly rejects the beliefs of fasting (vrata), superstitions, idol worship and circumcision.


Jews first arrived as traders from Judea in the city of Kochi, Kerala, in 562 BCE. More Jews came as exiles from Israel in the year 70 CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple.


The works of scholars and Eastern Christian writings say that Christianity was introduced to India by Thomas the Apostle, who visited Muziris in Kerala in 52 CE and baptised Kerala’s Jewish settlements, who are known as Saint Thomas Christians (also known as Syrian Christians or Nasrani) today.

Although the exact origins of Christianity in India remain unclear, there is a general scholarly consensus that Christianity was rooted in India by the 3rd century AD, including some communities who used Syriac liturgically, and it is a possibility that the religion’s existence in India extends to as far back as the 1st century. Christianity in India has different denominations, like Roman Catholicism, Oriental Orthodox, and Protestantism.

Most Christians reside in South India, particularly in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa. There are also large Christian populations in the North-east Indian states. Christianity in India was expanded in the 16th Century by Catholic Portuguese expeditions and by Protestant British and American missionaries in the 18th century.

Though Islam came to India in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab traders in Malabar coast, Kerala, it started to become a major religion during the Muslim rule in the Indian subcontinent. Islam’s spread in India mostly took place under the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526) and the Mughal Empire (1526–1858), greatly aided by the mystic Sufi tradition.

Islam is the second largest religion in India, with 14.2% of the country’s population or roughly 172 million people identifying as adherents of Islam (2011 census)

There are several tribal religions in India, such as Donyi-Polo. Santhal is also one of the many tribal religions followed by the Santhal people who number around 4 million but only around 23,645 follow the religion. About 2.2 million people in India follow the Bahá’í Faith, thus forming the largest community of Bahá’ís in the world.

  • Around 0.07% of the people did not state their religion in the 2001 census.
  • There are six religions in India which have been awarded “National minority” status—Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Zoroastrians.