The Major Religions Of India Essay, Research Paper
India has a great number of different people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. As a result of this, India s religions are just as numerous. Besides having nearly all the world s great religions represented, India was the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism(Finlay et al. 1993). The ratio of the religions in India are: five in six Indians practice Hinduism, one in nine practice Islam, one in forty practice Christianity, one in fifty practice Sikhism, one in one hundred forty five practice Buddhism, and one in two hundred fifty practice some other religion or cult(India 1998).
Hinduism was started from the Indo-Aryan invasion of India approximately 2,000 years before Christ(www.realtime.net 1998). Hinduism grew from Vedism, the religion of the ancient Indo-European people who settled India. Because it integrates a variety of heterogeneous elements, Hinduism constitutes a complex but largely continuous whole; and because it covers the whole life, it has religious, social, economic, literary, and artistic aspects. Hinduism thus resists a precise definition, but a common core of characteristics most Hindus share can be identified (Hinduism 1986). Hinduism is the oldest of our worlds religions, being over 3000 years old. Ninety percent of the world s Hindu population resides in India(Hinduism 1990). It is practiced by eighty percent of the population of India, over 670 million people(Finlay et al. 1993).
The early immigrants to India worshipped the powers of nature and gave personalities to each of them. They believe that all living things are a part of the same essence. In Hinduism, polytheism and idolatry are highly worshipped in. The number of gods worshipped is said to be more than 300,000,000. The average Hindu is unlimited in his polytheism(www.realtime.net 1998). Followers of Hinduism worship many gods but their belief stem from Brahman.
All other gods are an aspect of Brahman(Hinduism 1990). The main gods in Brahmanism are; Brahman the creator, Vishnu the preserver, Shiva the Destroyer and restorer, and Shiakti the mother goddess which can be beneficial or fierce. Each god had helpers, offspring, sacred animals and symbols. On a lower level are the nature gods – Usha the dawn, Surya the sun, Agni the fire, and so on with various gods below them. Lower still are abundance of local gods and demons. Hinduism is the religion that worships the most idols and is the most polytheistic(www.realtime.net 1998).
Most Westerners have a hard time understanding Hinduism and its many gods . It can be said that all of the many gods in Hinduism are pictorial representations of the many attributes of one god. All the gods are usually shown with four arms and Brahman also has four heads to represent his all seeing presence( Finlay et al. 1993).
Although Hinduism does have a number of holy books, there is no group of leaders to organize or set a formal structure. There are no set beliefs or creeds(McNair 1990). The most important of the holy books are the four Vedas or divine knowledge which make up the basis of Hindu philosophy(Finlay et al. 1993). There are rules to determine every aspect of daily life of strict Hindus(McNair 1990).
There are three main components of Hinduism which are Dharma, Karma, and reincarnation. What one does in this life will determine what you are reincarnated as in the next life. This belief comes from the law of Karma which is the law of cause and effect. The goal of the individual is to escape this cycle, or wheel of birth and rebirth, so that the individual soul, Atman, may eventually become part of the absolute soul, or Brahman (Hinduism 1990). Dharma is the natural law that defines the social, ethical, and spiritual harmony of ones life.
If a person follows his Dharma his Karma will be good and if his Karma is good then his reward will be rebirth in a better life(Schulberg 1968). Dharma is the controlling factor in casts and the relationships between them(Finlay et al. 1993).
Hinduism divides their followers into social groups or castes. Castes or Varna are ranked relative to the others in honor and degree of ritual purity, and each is largely associated with different kinds of occupations(Peoples and Baily 1997). There are four main castes which are divided into approximately 300 subcastes which in turn are subdivided into thousands of subdivisions(www.realtime.net).
Islam is the second largest religion is India. There are 75 million followers of the Islam religion which makes up ten percent of the Indian population. India is the largest Islam nation in the world. Muslims which are followers of the Islamic religion are India s largest religious minority(Finlay et al. 1993). There was Muslim rule in India for 550 years until the British took over.
Islam was founded by Mohammed(570 to 632 AD). He was born in Mecca, Arabia. Mohammed was troubled by the idolatry in Hinduism(www.realtime.net 1998). Mohammed had a vision of the angel Gabriel which told him to preach a new religion that taught equality, brotherhood, compassion, and mercy(McNair 1990).
The name of the Islamic god is Allah. Visions from Allah were put together into a Muslim holy book called the Koran(Finlay 1993). Every Muslim has to follow the rules that are stated in the Koran. The rules in the Koran are: profess faith to Allah, believe only in Allah, recite prayers five times a day, fast during the month of Ramadan, donate part of his wealth to charity, and go on a Haj or religious journey to Mecca at least once.
Many Hindus were forced into conversion. Some were offered escape from a lower cast and others were converted with the idea of universal brotherhood(Srinivasan 1990). Muslims are strongly monotheistic and believe it a sin to worship any other god. Their teachings closely follow the old testament of the Bible. Although Islam is not very popular, the effects of it are still strong in architecture, art and food(Finlay et al. 1993).
Sikhism was founded in the Punjab region of North India in the fifteenth century. Sikh means discipline in Punjabi(Sikh 1990). The Sikhs are one of the great minority groups of India. They grew out of an attempt by a Hindu holy man named Nanak, who wandered all over India preaching in bot temples and Moques, to bring an end to the religious wars that were devastating both Hindus and Muslims in the fifteenth century. Nanak saw religion as a bond to unite people not separate them.
What happened was that men of good will on both sides followed Nanak, and instead of healing the enmity between Hindu and Muslim, became a new religious movement-the Sikhs, or disciples. The Sikhs rejected both caste and racial pride, and rituals, pilgrimages, fasts, and what kinds of religious observances might lead to conflict . Now there are Sikhs all over India. They are intelligent, aggressive and hard-working(Rice 1971).
In the sixteenth century Guru Gobind Singh added a military element to the Sikh religion to deal with the persecution they were receiving. The military overtones are still present today. He made the Sikhs easily recognizable by five symbols. They are known as the five Kakkars and they are: Kesh or uncut hair, Kangha or wooden or ivory comb, Kachha or shorts, Kara or steel bracelet, Kirpan or sword. The Sikhs hid their hair in a long turban.
Sikhs have one holy book called the Granth Sahib which contains the works of ten Sikh Gurus and Hindu and Muslim writings. The Sikhs believe in one God, oppose idol worship, and believe their home is your home(Finlay et al.1993).
Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world. Today five million people in India practice Buddhism(Finlay et al. 1993). It was the first religion to become international(www.realtime.net 1998). Buddhism is a complex system of beliefs developed from the teachings of Siddhartha Guntama(560-480 B.C.). He went on a quest to find the solution for sin and suffering. He became Buddha the enlightened one while meditating under a bodhi tree in India. He preached the middle path or moderation in everything to reach enlightenment or nirvana, the place of freedom from reincarnation. He died at the age of eighty with 500 followers(www.realtime.net 1998). Buddhism relies on three basic principals which are Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. They are its founder, his teachings, and the order of monkshood respectively.
The followers of Buddhism believe in the four noble truths and the eight fold path (Srinivasan 1990). Knowledge of the four noble truths lead one to the middle path or salvation from rebirth. The first noble truth is existence entails suffering. The second is that suffering is caused by inherently insatiable desires.
The third noble truth is that desire must be suppressed in order to end suffering. The final noble truth describes the eight fold path, which forms the heart of the Buddha s teaching. It says the beliefs, intentions, speech, actions, lively-hood, self-discipline, self-mastery, and concentration or contemplation is the way to the middle path(www.realtime.net 1998). Buddha preached that all life is suffering and this suffering comes from our sensual desires and the false idea that they are important.
When one follows the eight fold path he will end the desires and enter a state of nirvana free from their delusions. Reincarnation is a part of the eight fold path and the process of rebirths will end after one s karma is perfect(Finlay 1993). In daily life the eight fold path says not to harm any creature. In Buddhism there is no creation and no heaven(Buddhism 1990). Although Buddhism never attracted a large number of the Indian population, its values of compassion and nonviolence became an important part of Indian culture. Basically Buddhism was integrated into Hinduism because Buddha was pronounced by the Hindus the ninth incarnation of Vishnu(McNair 1990).
Christianity is the third largest religion in India. It has 16 million followers but it is generally not considered a big success in India. Saint Francis Xavier was the first Christian missionary to India in 1542(McNair 1990). The major Christian converts came in the nineteenth century when the British took over in East India. In the suburbs and villages of India one can hardly distinguish between the Hindu and Christian neighbors(Srinivasan 1990).
Religion is so omnipresent in India, there are great religious overtones in every aspect of their culture. There is probably more diversity of religions, and sects in India than anywhere else on earth.
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