Major religions in India

Major religions in India

:"See Indian religions for those religions originating in the Indian subcontinent.":"See Religion in India for general discussion on religions in India."The religious demographics of India show a predominance of Hinduism, accounting for 80% of the population. The second largest religion is Islam (13%).

The other natively Indian religions, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism taken together account for less than 3%.About 2% of Indians adhere to Christianity.


The following is the break-up of different religions in India by population:

Source: Census of India, 2001cite web
url =
title = Tables: Profiles by main religions. DATA FILE (in Spreadsheet format)
accessdate = 2007-04-17
work = Census of India 2001: DATA ON RELIGION
publisher = Office of the Registrar General, India
Please download the file (which is compressed by winzip) to see the data in spreadsheet.]

Source: The First Report on Religion: Census of India 2001cite web
url =
title = Tables: Profiles by main religions.
accessdate = 2007-04-17
work = Census of India 2001: DATA ON RELIGION
publisher = Office of the Registrar General, India

α. Note_label|exclusiondata|α|none The data excludes Mao-Maram, Paomata and Purul subdivisions of Senapati District of Manipur

β. Note_label|assamjk|β|none The data is "unadjusted" (without excluding Assam and Jammu and Kashmir); 1981 census was not conducted in Assam and 1991 census was not conducted in Jammu and Kashmir

More than nine-tenths of Indians state that religion plays a key role in their lives.cite web |url= |title=Among Wealthy Nations ... U.S. Stands Alone in its Embrace of Religion |publisher=The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press |date=19 December 2002 |accessdate=2007-06-03 ] Though inter-religious marriages are generally tabooFact|date=September 2007, Indians are generally tolerant of other religions and retain a secular outlook. Inter-community clashes have never found widespread support in the social mainstream, and it is generally perceived that its causes are political rather than ideological in nature. India's religious diversity extends to the highest levels of government; the Prime Minister of India is a Sikh, the President of India is a Hindu, and the chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is a Christian. The Constitution of India declares the nation to be a secular republic that must uphold the right of citizens to freely worship and propagate any religion or faith. [ [ The Constitution of India Art 25-28] . Retrieved on 22 April 2007.] [cite web |url= |title=The Constitution (Forty-Second Amendment) Act, 1976 |accessdate=2007-04-22 ]

Indian subcontinent

The predominance of Hinduism in the Republic of India is a direct result of the 1947 Partition of India and the subsequent population movements. However, Hinduism is also the religion of the majority of the population of the Indian subcontinent considered as a whole. The distribution of religious adherence in the follow-up states of British India is (according to the CIA Factbook):
*India: 80% Hindu, 13% Muslim, 2% Christian, 2% Sikh (1,100 M)
*Pakistan: 97% Muslim, 2% Hindu, 1% Christian (165 M)
*Bangladesh: 83% Muslim, 16% Hindu (150 M)
*Myanmar: 89% Buddhist, 4% Muslim, 4% Christian (43 M)
*Sri Lanka: 70% Buddhist, 15% Hindu, 7% Muslim, 7% Christian (20 M)In total yielding 63% Hindus, 29% Muslims, 5% Buddhists, 2% Christians, and 1% Sikhs.

Religious communities


A Hindu is a person who practices good karma and bhakti for the achievement of moksha or mukti.

Hinduism is the largest religion in India, counting approximately 1 billion adherents, comprising 80.4% of the population. Often considered a "way of life" rather than a religion, it arose in the Indian subcontinent during the period 2000-1500 BCE. The word Hindu, originally a geographical description, derives from the Sanskrit, "Sindhu", (the historical appellation for the river Indus), and refers to a person from the "land of the river Sindhu". The title Hindu was accepted by the followers of the religion (a.k.a. "Sanatan Dharma") because Hind (India) is their Fatherland and Holyland.

Hinduism differs from many religions in not having a single founder, a specific theological system, a single system of morality, or a central religious organization. The religion is ideologically tolerant and inclusive—qualities which have enabled it to co-exist with other religions over its long history. The main holy books of Hinduism are the Vedas (its foundation) and the Upanishads. Hindus are allowed to worship (or practice their bhagavat-dharma) God in any form and so many Hindus even have a specific Purana for their deity (i.e. Kalki Purana.)

"Astika" (IAST:IAST|āstika) is a Sanskrit adjective (and noun) that is derived from "asti" ("it is or exists")Monier-Williams, Monier, "Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary", Nataraj Books, 2006, ISBN 18-81338-58-4] meaning "believing" or "pious"; [V. S. Apte, "A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary", p. 240.] or "one who believes in the existence (of God, of another world, etc.)." "Nastika" ("na" (not) + "IAST|āstika") is its negative, literally meaning "not believing" or "not pious". As used in Indian philosophy "nastika" refers to belief in Vedic-derived discipline, not belief or lack of belief in theism. In popular language the term "nastika" also means "atheist". As N. N. Bhattacharyya writes:

The followers of Tantra are often branded as Nāstika by the upholders of the Vedic tradition. The term Nāstika does not denote an atheist. It is applied only to those who do not believe in the Vedas. The Sāṅkhyas and Mīmāṃsakas do not believe in God, but they believe in the Vedas and hence they are not Nāstikas. Many Buddhists, Jains, and Cārvākas do not believe in the Vedic principles; hence they are Nāstikas. [Bhattacharyya, N. N. "History of the Tantric Religion". Second Revised Edition. (Manohar: New Delhi, 1999) p. 174. ISBN 81-7304-025-7]

Hinduism is, in fact, an immense synthesis, deriving its elements from a hundred different directions, and incorporating every conceivable motive of religion. Everything is welded together now to form a great whole. Now and again in history a great systematizing impulse has striven to cast all or part of recognized belief into the form of an organic whole. [Sister Nivedita & Ananda K.Coomaraswamy: Myths and Legends of the Hindus and Bhuddhists, Kolkata, 2001 ISBN 81-7505-197-3, p.3-4]

Hinduism is polytheist because many of it consists of practitioners who worship different forms of God, although it is monotheist because it advocates the belief in one God and it believes that all deities and 'forms of God' are ultimately part of the same Supreme Being, it is pantheistic because it believe all things of the universe, including the Devtas(angels) are part and parcel of the Supreme Being.

Hinduism advocates that God has three major aspects: to create, sustain, and destroy. Hinduism teaches that both God and the soul are eternal, God is infallible, and that it is the aim of all life-forms to reach God. The 'Advaita' (Sanskrit for 'ONE') philosophy derived from the Vedas and Upanishads (especially explained in the 'Gita' which is considered the main Hindu holy book) has some of the most advanced metaphysics in any known religion and teaches that all souls, all living beings are part of the same Supreme Being and the ultimate aim of life is to attain union with It. All material pursuits, pleasures, rituals and castes are viewed merely as a detraction from this aim. In general Hinduism emphasizes the complete abandonement of all material and sensual pleasures and pursuing the ideal of God through any of three ways- Jnana Marga(way of knowledge and meditation), Bhakti Marga (way of devotion to a Personal 'form'of God) and Karma Marg (way of duty and salvation through work and good deeds). Hindu sects which do not follow basic adherence to this core are branded 'heretics' (e.g. Tantrikas, Charvakas who believe in pursuing material pleasures to the exclusion of the spiritual) and feared as 'corrupting and impure influences.'

It follows the Vedic calendar. The Rig Veda is the foundation of Hinduism, although a Hindu does not require to believe that Veda is the central source of knowledge, rather each Hindu is to seek out spiritual knowledge wherever they can.


Ayyavazhi is a religion which originated in south India in the 19th century. Officially, in India, it is considered a sect within Hinduism, and its followers are counted as Hindus in the census. Ayyavazhi is also viewed as a Hindu Renaissance. Ayyavazhi has transformed itself into a distinctive and recognisable religion, having made its presence felt in southern India starting in the mid 1830s. Ayyavazhi served initially also as a reformatory system in the society of Travancore, which was noted, unlike any other part of India, for the rule of caste order. It has more than 8000 worship centers throughout India, mostly in the southern parts of Tamil Nadu and south Kerala. Alhough it shares ideas with Hinduism, the Ayyavazhi scriptures reformulate them into versions distinct from Hinduism. The religion has separate mythology, theology, holy places, worship centers and religious headquarters.



Delhi is one of the largest mosques in the world.]
Islam arrived in India as early as the 8th century A.D. During the following years, Islam contributed greatly to the cultural enhancement of an already rich Indian culture, shaping not only the shape of Northern Indian classical music (Hindustani, a melding of Indian and Middle Eastern elements) but encouraging a grand tradition of Urdu (a melding of Hindi, Arabic, and Persian languages) literature, both religious and secular. As of 2001, there were about 138 million Muslims in India (the third largest population in the world, after Pakistan and Indonesia), who are scattered throughout the country, with the highest concentrations in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Kerala, West Bengal and parts of the Gangetic plain. Uttar Pradesh, in the Gangetic plain, has the highest population of Muslims in one state. Muslims make up majority population in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and the union territory of Lakshadweep Islands. There are about 75 sects of Islam followed in IndiaFact|date=February 2007. Sunni Islam is the denomination practiced by the majority of Indian Muslims, followed by Shia Islam.


Ahmadiyya is a relatively small messianic movement founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. [ [ Ahmadiyya. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-07 ] ] The majority of Ahmadis live in northern India, although many are found in New Delhi, Kashmir, and Uttar Pradesh. There are approximately one million Ahmadis in India. The Ahmadiyya's identify themselves as Muslims and there has been a court decision in which this was upheld. [ [ On right to freedom of religion and the plight of Ahmadiyas] . Retrieved on April 10 2007.]


Jainism—along with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism—is one of the four major Dharmic religions originating in India. Dating back to the first millennium BCE, the religion was well in place during the lifetime of its 24th tirthankar, Mahavira. Today, Jains are extremely well-represented in the major professions, despite comprising only 0.4% (around 4.2 million) of India's population. According to the 2001 Census of India, Jains have the highest literacy rate of any religious group—94.1%, in contrast to the national average of 64.8%.


Buddhism, also known as "Buddha Dharma", originated in northern India in the 6th century BCE, and rapidly gained adherents during the Buddha's lifetime. Since, the religion was adopted mostly by the upper classes, its numbers in India remained small—in the hundreds of thousands. While the exact cause of the decline of Buddhism in India after the 9th century CE is not known, Vedanta reform movements, which incorporated Buddhist elements into Hinduism, are thought to have contributed to it, as did Islamic invasions of India, which devastated Buddhist monasteries, libraries, and statuary.

The 20th century saw a resurgence of Buddhism in India. In 1956, B. R. Ambedkar, the main architect of the Indian constitution, and thousands of his Dalit followers converted to Buddhism to protest the Indian caste system. He was however, unaware of the fact that the Buddha had Brahmin heritage. Lord Buddha is said to be a descendant of Sage Angirasa in many Buddhist texts. [ "The Life of Buddha as Legend and History", by Edward Joseph Thomas ] There too were Kshatiryas of other clans to whom members descend from Angirasa, to fulfill a childless king's wish. [ P. 17 "Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion, Geography, History and Literature" By John Dowson ] Buddhists form a large population in the Indian states of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and the Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir. In all, around 9 million Buddhists live in India today.

Most of the Buddhists in India have Hindu names.


Sikhism, was founded in India's northwestern Punjab region about 400 years ago and Sikhs form the majority population in the state of Punjab. As of 2001 there were 19.3 million Sikhs in India. Many of today's Sikhs are situated in Punjab, the largest Sikh province in the world and the ancestral home of Sikhs. There are also significant populations of Sikhs in the neighboring states of Haryana and New Delhi. The most famous Sikh temple is the Golden Temple, located in Amritsar, Punjab. Many Sikhs serve in the Indian Army. The current prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, is a Sikh. Punjab is the spiritual home of Sikhs and is the only state in India where Sikhs form a majority.


Christianity, according to tradition arrived in India in the first century (c.52-85AD) through the apostle Thomas. The chronicle of his mission in India is recorded in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, and the lesser-known Apocalypse of Thomas. In these books, Judas Thomas is regarded as the "Twin" of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, alleging that since this Thomas was identical in look to Christ, he was equal in piety. The apostle completed the conversion of a Malabar prince, and founded a church on the prince's grounds. According to the Gospel of Thomas, he later was buried in the foundation of that building, located by tradition near Mumbai (formerly Bombay).

Christianity was later consolidated in India, by the arrival of Syriac Jewish-Christians now known as Knanaya people in the second century A.D. This ancient ethnic Christian community of Kerala is known as Nasrani or Syrian Christian. The Nasrani people and especially the Knanaya people within the Nasranis have strong Jewish historical ties. Their form of Christianity is one of the most ancient: Syriac Christianity which is also known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and referred to in India as Saint Thomas Christians. It should be noted that the term "Saint Thomas Christians" is a loose term that many non-Nasranis Christians in Kerala are often labelled.

Roman Catholicism reached India during the period of European colonization, which began in 1498 when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived on the Malabar coast. There are over 17 million Catholics in India, which represents 1.5% of the total population. Christian missionary activity increased in the early 1800s. Today Christianity is the third largest religion of India making up 2 - 2.9% of the population. Christianity is prevalent in South & North-east India. Christians make up majority population in the states of Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Mizoram. All these states are tribal and have extremely low population when compared to the larger states in India.


Trade contacts between the Mediterranean region and the west coast of India probably led to the presence of small Jewish settlements in India as long ago as the early first millennium B.C. In Kerala a community of Jews tracing its origin to the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 has remained associated with the cities of Kodungallur (formerly known as Cranganore) and Kochi (formerly known as Cochin) for at least 1,000 years. The Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi, rebuilt in 1568, is in the architectural style of Kerala but preserves the ritual style of the Sephardic rite, with Babylonian and Yemenite influence as well. The Jews of Kochi, concentrated mostly in the old "Jew Town," were completely integrated into local culture, speaking Malayalam and taking local names while preserving their knowledge of Hebrew and contacts with Southwest Asia. A separate community of Jews, called the Bene Israel, had lived along the Konkan Coast in and around Bombay, Pune, and Ahmadabad for almost 2,000 years. Unlike the Kochi Jews, they became a village-based society and maintained little contact with other Jewish communities. They always remained within the Orthodox Jewish fold, practising the Sephardi rite without rabbis, with the synagogue as the centre of religious and cultural life. Following trade routes established by the expansion of the British Empire, a third group of Jews, the Baghdadi Jews immigrated to India, settling primarily in Bombay and Calcutta. Many of the Baghdadi traders became wealthy and participated prominently in the economic leadership of these growing cities. As a result of religious pressure elsewhere, including the forced conversions of Mashhad ("see Muslim Jew"), their numbers were increased by religious refugees. The Baghdadis came mostly from the Ottoman Empire, Persia, and Afghanistan.

The population of the Kochi Jews, always small, had decreased from 5,000 in 1951 to about fifty in the early 1990s. During the same period, the Bene Israel decreased from about 20,000 to 5,000, while the Baghdadi Jews declined from 5,000 to 250. Emigration to Australia, Israel, the United Kingdom, and North America accounts for most of this decline. According to the 1981 Indian census, there were 5,618 Jews in India, down from 5,825 in 1971. The 1991 census showed a further decline to 5,271, most of whom lived in Maharashtra and Kerala.

The Knanaya and Nasrani Christian groups also have strong historical ties to Judaism.


Zoroastrianism was once the predominant religion of the Iranian Subcontinent, but following the fall of the Sassanid Empire in the 7th century, the former national religion began to be gradually supplanted by Islam. According to Zoroastrian tradition, several groups fled to other regions in the hope of preserving their religious tradition, among them at least two groups who migrated to Gujarat, on the western shores of the Indian subcontinent, where they finally settled. The descendants of those refugees are today known as the Parsis.

In contrast to their co-religionists elsewhere, in India the Zoroastrians enjoyed tolerance and even admiration from other religious communities. From the 19th century onward, the Parsis gained a reputation for their education and widespread influence in all aspects of society, partly due to the divisive strategy of British colonialism which favored certain minorities. As such, Parsis are generally more affluent than other Indians and are stereotypically viewed as among the most Anglicized and "westernised" of Indian minority groups. They have also played an instrumental role in the economic development of the country over many decades; several of the best-known business conglomerates of India are run by Parsi-Zoroastrians, including the Tata, Godrej, and Wadia families.

As of the census of 2001, the Parsis represent approximately 0.06% of the total population of India, with a concentration in and around the city of Mumbai (previously known as Bombay).

Bahá'í Faith

About 2.2 million people in India follow the Bahá'í Faith. They are the largest community of Bahá'ís in the world. The Lotus Temple in New Delhi is one of the main symbols of the Bahá'í Faith in India. Bahá'ís are spread all over India and have recently increased in number. Bahá'í teachings emphasize the spiritual oneness of humanity and the underlying unity of the major world religions.

Atheism and agnosticism

India is also home to a considerable number of atheists and agnostics. Bhagat Singh, one of India's prominent freedom fighters, was an atheist and yet, a member of the Arya Samaj.Fact|date=August 2008

Tribal religions

There are various tribal religions in India followed by many people. Many of these tribals practice Hinduism as well to achieve Moksha or Mukti. [ [ 9. Are Indian tribals Hindus? ] ] However, they have some traditions separate from Hinduism. For example, they will worship Hindu deities and practice mainstream Hinduism but they often have a regional god or spirit. The most important tribal leaders however preached a pure form of Hinduism [ ["Case Studies on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: A World Survey" By Willem Adriaan Veenhoven, Winifred Crum Ewing] ] An example is of Birsa Munda, who practiced vegetarianism and humanism. Generally the number is either quite small or the people are found in the remotest area thus they are overlooked during census-taking. However, there are a number of traditional religions praciced in India, including Donyi-Polo and Rangfrah. These religions are mainly followed in Arunachal Pradesh. Animism is also followed by many tribes in southern India and Bihar.

Mahima is another Hindu tradition followed in India which developed in the tribal regions of eastern and central India. This religion is not very common but is unknown to most of the people in India. It is mainly followed by the tribal people of Orissa. The full name of the religion is "Satya Mahima Alekha Dharma", which means the true path of indescribable grace. The religion is essentially monotheistic in nature. Mahimaa religion strictly prescribes the caste system, idol worship. The religion strictly forbids adultery, the consumption of any intoxicants, violence, and the consumption of any flesh apart from fish. Eating of food after the sunset is also a taboo. In its essence it is essentially anti-hierarchical and is anarchistic in its criticism of the existing state system of late nineteenth/early twentieth century tribal dominated Western Orissa. The religion has a monastic order. But the members of the monastic order, like Buddhist monks, do not constitute a priestly class and have no control over the lay practitioners. They have to lead a life of poverty, celibacy, piety, and constant movement, as the monks are not allowed to sleep in the same place on two consecutive nights.




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