Religions in India
Religion in India
ranks among the world's most ancient and varied. The Indian subcontinent
spawned the Dharmic religions
, which compose one of the world's three major schools of religion. Vedic religion
gave rise to what is now the oldest extant and third-largest
; almost 900 million of its one billion adherents live in the Republic of India
The other major Dharmic religions, Buddhism, Jainism
, and Sikhism
, each have millions of Indian followers. The Abrahamic religions
, spread by missionary activity and conquest over many centuries, are the two largest non-native religions.
More than four-fifths of Indians practice Hinduism. Islam, practised by around one-sixth of the population, is the most prevalent minority religion. Christianity and Sikhism are each practised by around 2% of Indians.
About 1.1% practise Buddhism and 0.4% practise Jainism. Zoroastrianism
have a centuries-long history in India; each has several thousand Indian adherents.
More than nine-tenths of Indians state that religion plays a key role in their lives.
Though inter-religious marriages are generally taboo, 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.
Evidence attesting to prehistoric religion
in the Indian subcontinent derives from scattered Mesolithic
rock paintings depicting dances and rituals. Neolithic
pastoralists inhabiting the Indus River
Valley buried their dead in a manner suggestive of spiritual practices that incorporated notions of an afterlife and belief in magic.
Other South Asian Stone Age
sites, such as the Bhimbetka rock shelters
in central Madhya Pradesh
and the Kupgal petroglyphs
of eastern Karnataka, contain rock art portraying religious rites and evidence of possible ritualised music.
people of the Indus Valley Civilisation
, which lasted from 3300–1700 BCE and was centered around the Indus
river valleys, may have worshiped an important mother goddess
Excavations of Indus Valley Civilisation sites show seals with animals and "fire‑altars", indicating rituals associated with fire. A linga-yoni
of a type similar to that which is now worshiped by Hindus has also been found.
Hinduism's origins include cultural elements of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the Vedic religion
of the Indo-Aryans
, and other Indian civilisations. The oldest surviving text of Hinduism is the Rigveda
, produced during the Vedic period
and dated to 1700–1100 BCE. During the Epic and Puranic
periods, the earliest versions of the epic poems Ramayana
were written roughly from 500–100 BCE,
although these were orally transmitted for centuries prior to this period.
After 200 CE, several schools of thought were formally codified in Indian philosophy
, including Samkhya
, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa
Hinduism, otherwise a highly theistic religion, hosted atheistic schools
; the thoroughly materialistic
and anti-religious philosophical Carvaka
school that originated in India around the 6th century BCE is probably the most explicitly atheistic school of Indian philosophy. Carvaka is classified as a nastika
("heterodox") system; it is not included among the six schools of Hinduism generally regarded as orthodox. It is noteworthy as evidence of a materialistic movement within Hinduism.
Our understanding of Carvaka philosophy is fragmentary, based largely on criticism of the ideas by other schools, and it is no longer a living tradition.
Other Indian philosophies generally regarded as atheistic include Classical Samkhya
and Purva Mimamsa
Buddhism and Jainism adapted elements of Hinduism into their beliefs. Jainism's founder, Mahavira
(599–527 BC, though possibly 549–477 BC), stressed five vows, including ahimsa
(non-violence) and asteya
(non-stealing). The historical 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
. The Sakyas claimed to be avatars of Vishnu
. Indian Buddhism
peaked during the reign of Asoka the Great
of the Mauryan Empire
, who patronised Buddhist teachings
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
The Jama Masjid in Delhi is one of the world's largest mosques.
Between 400 BCE and 1000 CE, Hinduism expanded as the decline of Buddhism in India
Buddhism subsequently became effectively extinct in India. Though Islam came to India in the early 7th century with the advent of Arab traders, it started to become a major religion during the Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent
. Islam's spread in India mostly took place under the Delhi Sultanate
(1206–1526) and the Mughal Empire
, greatly aided by the mystic Sufi
tradition. Although historical evidence suggests the presence of Christianity in India since the first century, it became popular following European colonisation
and Protestant missionary efforts
Communalism has played a key role in shaping the religious history of modern India. British India
along religious lines into two states—the Muslim-majority Dominion of Pakistan
(comprising what is now the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
and the People's Republic of Bangladesh
) and the Hindu-majority Union of India
(later the Republic of India). The 1947 Partition of India
inaugurated rioting among Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs in Punjab, Bengal, Delhi, and other parts of India; 500,000 died as a result of the violence. The twelve million refugees that moved between the newly founded nations of India and Pakistan composed one of the largest mass migrations in modern history.
Since its independence, India has periodically witnessed large-scale violence sparked by underlying tensions between sections of its majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities. The Republic of India is secular; though it is often considered a Hindu holy land (punyabhumi
), its government recognises no official religion. In recent decades, communal tensions and religion-based politics have become more prominent.
Themes of India, Religions in India