India has been the birthplace of 3 major religions:
Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Many others have entered
the country by land or by sea and have flourished in a
climate of tolerance. Of these, Islam and Christianity
have special space.
The majority of the people in India are Hindus. Their
religion has roots thousands of years old in simple forms
of animism, but it has also gathered into its fold many
later cults. Objects to worship, customs and beliefs tend
to vary in importance in different localities, but
essentially, Hindu Philosophy teaches the oneness of
Supreme Soul, of which individual souls are but
manifestations. The four Vedas, the oldest surviving
literature in the world are scared texts of Hindus. Two
great and ancient epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata
(comparable to Iliad and Odyssey of ancient Greeks) have
inspired philosophy, ethics and art of Indian people.
Out of Hinduism developed 3 new religions: Buddhism,
Jainism and centuries later Sikhism. Buddha laid emphasis
on right conduct and non-violence and the religion that he
founded spread far field and is today a major world faith.
Mahavira, a contemporary of Buddha, founded the religion
of Jains, preaching salvation through non-violence,
righteous through and deeds and sanctity of all living
Sikh religion had its beginnings in the early 16th century
as reformist movement in Punjab and was led by Guru Nanak,
who preached the oneness of God and equality of all men.
Guru Nanak and great teachers , who followed him
repudiated superstition, empty ritual dogma and idolatry.
Sikhs are enjoined not to cut their hair or shave. The
customary headgear for men is a turban. Punjab is their
home but, as an enterprising, hard-working people, they
have settled in all parts of India and in many countries
The virile religion of Islam , which came from North and
West in the wake of invading forces in 12 century AD, had
profound influence on life in many parts of India. Persian
and Saracenic ideas grafted on to the existing culture in
India, produced remarkable achievements in architecture,
painting and music.
India has the third largest Muslim population in the world
and has produced great figures in Muslim philosophy and
theology. Akbar, Mongol Emperor sponsored Persian
translation of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the great epics
of Hindus, and later many of Upanishads (philosophical
speculations of the later Vedic period) were translated
Christianity came to India earlier than almost anywhere
else outside its own home in Middle East. St. Thomas the
Apostle is believed to have come to the South of India in
the first century and to have made many converts. Syrian
Christian Church of Kerala traces its roots to these
conversions. Morco Polo, who visited Kerala in 1293,
refers to Nestorian Christians he met there. Later in
1544, St. Francis Xavier spent three months in Kerala and
the chapel in Kottar is believed to have been built by
him. In 1972, there were about 11 million Christians in
India sharing fully in the national life of the country.
A community, known as White Jews came to South India to
escape persecution. They came in the ships of King
Solomon, and the present day coastal village of Puvar in
Kerala is believed to be the port of Ophir, where they
traded gold and silver to buy the spices of East. Small
numbers of White Jews still live in Cochin.
Parsis, followers of Zoroaster, came to India from Persia
during 8th century, seeking shelter from religious
persecution and are small but important and prosperous
community. They live mostly in Maharashtra and Gujarat,
but are found in small numbers all over the country.