In India, religion is a way of life. It is an integral
part of the entire Indian tradition. Secular India is home to Hinduism,
Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and other innumerable
religious traditions. Hinduism, an ancient India religion, is the dominant faith, practiced by over 80%
of the population.
This ancient India religion had its origin in the concepts of the early Aryans who
came to India more than 4,000 years ago. It is not merely a religion but
also a philosophy and a way of life. Hinduism does not originate in the
teachings of any one prophet or holy book. It respects other religions and
does not attempt to seek converts. It teaches the immortality of the human
soul and three principal paths to ultimate union of the individual soul with
the all pervasive spirit.
The essence of Hindu faith is embodied in the Lord's Song, the Bhagavad
Gita: "He who considers this (self) as a slayer or he who thinks that
this (self) is slain, neither knows the Truth. For it does not slay, nor is
it slain. This (self) is unborn, eternal, changeless, ancient, it is never
destroyed even when the body is destroyed."
Jainism and Buddhism
In the sixth century before Christ, Mahavira propagated jainism. Its
message was asceticism, austerity and non-violence.
At about the same time, Buddhism came into being. Gautama Buddha, a prince,
renounced the world and gained enlightenment. He preached that'Nirvana' was
to be attained through the conquest of self. Buddha's teachings in time
spread to China and some other countries of South-East Asia.
Arab traders brought Islam to South India in the seventh century. After
them came the Afghans and the Moghuls, among whom the most enlightened was
the Emperor Akbar. Akbar almost succeeded in founding a new religion
Din-e-Elahi, based on both Hinduism and Islam, but it found few adherents.
Islam has flourished in India through the centuries. Muslim citizens have
occupied some of the highest positions in the country since independence in
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism in the 15th century, stressed the unity
of God and the brotherhood of man. Sikhism, with its affirmation of God as
the one supreme truth and its ideals of discipline and spiritual striving,
soon won many followers. It was perhaps possible only in this hospitable
land that two religions as diverse as Hinduism and Islam could come together
in a third, namely Sikhism.
Christianity reached India not long after Christ's own lifetime, with the
arrival of St. Thomas, the Apostle. The Syrian Christian Church in the south
traces its roots to the visit of St. Thomas. With the arrival of St.Francis
Xavier in 1542 the Roman Catholic faith was established in India. Today
Christians of several denominations practise their faith freely.
In the days of the old Persian Empire, Zoroastrianism was the dominant
religion in West Asia, and in the form of Mithraism, it spread over vast
areas of the Roman Empire, as far as Britain.
After the Islamic conquest of Iran, a few intrepid Zoroastrians left their
homeland and sought refuge in India. The first group is said to have reached
Diu in about 766 A.D.
The total number of Zoroastrians probably does not exceed 130,000. With the
exception of some 10,000 in Iran, almost all of them live in India, the vast
majority concentrated in Mumbai. The Parsees excel in industry and commerce,
and contribute richly to the intellectual and artistic life of the nation.
Jewish contact with the Malabar Coast in Kerala dates back to 973 BC when
King Solomon's merchant fleet began trading for spices and other fabled
treasures. Scholars say that the Jews first settled in Cranganore, soon
after the Babylonian conquest of judea in 586 BC. The immigrants were well
received and a Hindu king granted to Joseph Rabbaln, a Jewish leader, a
title and a principality.
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