Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis are the
major religious communities of India.
Hindus: 672.6 million
Muslims: 95.2 million
Christians: 18.9 million
Sikhs: 16.3 million
Buddhists: 6.3 million
Jains: 3.4 million
Other Religions: 2,766,285
Religions not stated: 60,217
The Hindu religion had its origin in the concepts of the
early Aryans who came to India more than 4,000 years ago. It is
not merely a religion but also a philosophy and a way of life. It
does not originate in the teachings of any one prophet or holy book.
It respects other religions and does not attempt to seek converts.
It teaches the immortality of the human soul and three principal
paths to ultimate union of the individual soul with the all pervasive
The essence of Hindu faith is embodied in the Lord's Song, the Bhagavad
Gita: "He who considers this(self) as a slayer or he who thinks
that this(self) is slain, neither knows the Truth. For it does not
slay, nor is it slain. This (self) is unborn, eternal, changeless,
ancient, it is never destroyed even when the body is destroyed."
Jainism and Buddhism
the sixth century before Christ, Mahavira propagated Jainism. His
message was asceticism, austerity and non-violence.
At about the same time, Buddhism came into being. Gautama Buddha,
a prince, renounced the world and gained enlightenment. He preached
that "Nirvana" was to be attained through the conquest
of self. Buddha's teachings in time spread to China and some other
countries of South-East Asia.
Arab traders brought Islam to South India in the seventh
century. After them came the Afghans and the Moghuls, among whom
the most enlightened was the Emperor Akbar. Akbar almost succeeded
in founding a new religion Din-e-Elahi, based on both Hinduism and
Islam, but it found few adherents.
Islam has flourished in India through the centuries. Muslim citizens
have occupied some of the highest positions in the country since
independence in 1947. India today is the second largest Muslim country
in the world, next only to Indonesia.
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism in the 15th century,
stressed the unity of God and the brotherhood of man. Sikhism, with
its affirmation of God as the one supreme truth and its ideals of
discipline and spiritual striving, soon won many followers. It was
perhaps possible only in this hospitable land that two religions
as diverse as Hinduism and Islam could come together in a third,
Christianity reached India not long after Christ's own lifetime,
with the arrival of St. Thomas, the Apostle. The Syrian Christian
Church in Southern India traces its roots to the visit of St. Thomas.
With the arrival of St. Francis Xavier in 1542, the Roman Catholic
faith was established in India. Today, Christians of several denominations
practice their faith freely.
In the days of the old Persian Empire, Zoroastrianism was
the dominant religion in West Asia, and in the form of Mithraism,
it spread over vast areas of the Roman Empire, as far as Britain.
After the Islamic conquest of Iran, a few intrepid Zoroastrians
left their homeland and sought refuge in India. The first group
is said to have reached Diu in about 766 A.D. Their total world
population probably does not exceed 130,000. With the exception
of some 10,000 in Iran, almost all of them live in India, the vast
majority concentrated in Mumbai. The Parsees excel in industry and
commerce, and contribute richly to the intellectual and artistic
life of the nation.
Jewish contact with the Malabar Coast in Kerala, dates back
to 973 BC when King Solomon's merchant fleet began trading for spices
and other fabled treasures. Scholars say that the Jews first settled
in Cranganore, soon after the Babylonian conquest of Judea in 586
BC. The immigrants were well received and a Hindu king granted to
Joseph Rabban, a Jewish leader, a title and a principality.