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India was the birthplace of several religions, some of which exist yet today. Hinduism, the dominant religion in India today, was developed about five thousand years ago. Around 500 BC, Buddhism and Jainism were formed, both of which were once far more popular in India in ancient times as today. Sikhism was developed in the 1400s. These religions are still practiced in India today, but there were other religions that did not survive.

Approximately 80% of Indians practice Hinduism today. Some consider Hinduism to be the oldest religion in the world. With its origins in the Indus Valley Civilization, Hinduism spread through part of Southeastern Asia, China, Korea, and Japan. Essentially, Hindus believe in Brahman, who is eternal. Everything emanates from Brahman, and will ultimately return to it. The multitude of gods and goddesses are manifestations of Brahman.

Today, fewer than 1% of India's population is Buddhist, but Bodhgaya, in the state of Bihar, where the Buddha received enlightenment, is one of the most sacred sites of Buddhism. Buddhism began as a reaction against the strictures of Hinduism. Critical of the Hindu caste system, Buddha encouraged his disciples to seek truth from within their own experiences, rather than through the worship of gods. Although a minor religion in India today, the numbers of Buddhists in the country rose in the 20th century.

During the same century, Jainism also began as a reaction against the caste restraints and rituals of Hinduism. Founded by Mahavira, a contemporary of the Buddha, Jains believe that an immortal soul resides within every human being, and that life's goal is to seek liberation from the negative effects of karma by living a good life. Jains number about 0.4% of the Indian population today.

Sikhism was founded in Punjab by Guru Nanak in the 15th century AD. Like Buddhism and Jainism, the impetus for the new religion has much to do with a reaction against the caste system. Sikhs believe in one god, and reject the worship of idols. As with Hindus and Buddhists, Sikhs believe in the concepts of rebirth and karma. Approximately 2% of Indians are Sikhs today, concentrated in the Punjab region.

Zoroastrianism began in Persia but came to India in the 5th century BC. Zoroastrianism is based on the concept of dualism, whereby good and evil are locked in a continuous battle, and the quality of the afterlife depends on a person's deeds and thoughts during his earthly existence. When Persia became Islamic in the 7th century AD, many of the followers of Zoroastrianism immigrated to India. where they became known as Parsis. Today, although India is home to the largest population of Zoroastrians, they make up a small percentage of India's religious population.

Islam is India's largest minority religion, accounting for just under 15% of the country's religious population, but it has been growing since the 1950s when it made up less than 10% of the population. Although a minority religion, India has the third largest Muslim population in the world. Islam was founded by the Prophet Mohammed in Arabia in the 7th century AD and came to India soon afterward. Most Muslims in India are Sunnis, although India has a long tradition of Sufism, which is a mystical form of Islam.

There is a tradition that Jesus spent his lost years in India, but others insist that Christianity was brought to India by Saint Thomas the Apostle, who was martyred there in 72 AD. India's Christian community today stands at just over 2% of the population, mostly in southern India, and primarily Roman Catholic or Orthodox, although several Protestant denominations are active as well.

Other religions with a presence in India include Judaism and the Bahá'í Faith. Older tribal religions in India have largely merged with Hinduism, and are no longer clearly identifiable, although some of the tribal groups in India are animist, believing that animals, objects, or places are inhabited by spiritual entities, often intertwined with nature.

Freedom of religion is a right, according to India's constitution. However, there have been incidences of religious intolerance, most notably the 1984 Anti-Sikh riots, the 2002 Gujarat riots, the 2008 Anti-Christian riots, and the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus in 1990. Prior to India's independence in 1947, the incidents of violent religious intolerance were more common.

India's government has established the Ministry of Minority Affairs, the National Human Rights Commission, and the National Commission for Minorities to investigate charges of religious discrimination. Although without enforcement powers, local and national authorities generally follow their recommendations.

English language sites related to faith, spirituality, or religion in India are appropriate for this category.

 

 

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