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Religions of India

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62152.  Mon Mar 27, 2006 5:22 pm Reply with quote



Name the four main religions of India.




Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism in that order. The figures from the 2001 census were: Hindu 80.5%, Muslim 13.4%, Christian 2.3% and Sikh 1.9%.

There are almost no Buddhists in India: they make up about 0.7% of the population. Jains are even fewer in number – at about 0.5%. Although the Zoroastrian community in India (also known as the Parsees) is the largest in the world, there are only about 76,000 of them out of a total population of over a billion. There are a mere handful of Jews in Bombay.


More than three-quarters of the population of India describe themselves as followers of Hinduism, the oldest continually practised faith in the world.

India’s Muslim community, at around 145 million, is the third largest* in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.

There are about 25 million Christians in India and 15 million Sikhs.

Buddhism and Jainism were both founded in India but their adherents number just 1.2% of the population between them. Buddhism flourished there in antiquity and was where Buddha gained enlightenment and Mahavira, founder of Jainism, was Buddha’s contemporary.

The number of professed atheists in India is smallest of all, at least according to the census figures. Only 0.1% of the population are rated 'unspecified'.


Jainism was founded by Mahavira in India in the sixth century. Born to a high caste in about 540, he left his home and family at the age of 30 and lived for 12 years as an ascetic, much of the time naked. Jainism avers that everything in the universe, including non-living things, has a soul. It is atheistic in nature and the existence of God is seen as an irrelevance. The purpose of life is seen as the purification of the soul, which can only be obtained by living well, not through knowledge. Jains take a vow of ahimsa – ‘non-violence’. They believe the taking of any life is a sin, even if unconscious. Orthodoc Jain monks wear a net over their mouth and gently sweep the street before them as they walk in case they should accidentally swallow or crush an insect. Gandhi was greatly influenced by Jainism. There are about two million Jains in India today divided into the orthodox Digambara (‘sky-clad’**, ie naked) and the more liberal Shvetambara (‘white-clad’) sects.

Jains never become farmers, because cultivation necessarily involves the killing of pests, but many of them are successful traders and businessmen.

Many of India's leading publishers are Jains.

* There is some dispute about this on the net – some sites claim India has the second largest Islamic community. However, I've checked the figures extremely carefully and I am certain this is wrong.

**It’s quite interesting that ‘sky-clad’ is also the Druidic term for nakedness.

Picture ideas:




s: cia
s: AIN

Last edited by JumpingJack on Wed Mar 29, 2006 4:37 pm; edited 2 times in total

62190.  Tue Mar 28, 2006 4:54 am Reply with quote

Many of India's leading publishers are Jains.

Really? In Britain, they're mostly Camillas.

62191.  Tue Mar 28, 2006 4:56 am Reply with quote

Link to Whirling Dervishes, starting at post 54344

62209.  Tue Mar 28, 2006 6:23 am Reply with quote

Interesting that India also has some of (if not the) biggest groups of organised atheists/secularists/humanists/rationalists in the world. I suppose, given the size of its population, India is always going to have the biggest of just about anything, but even so, organised non-religion is a huge “denomination” in India; certainly bigger than some of the “forfeit” faiths mentioned above.

62439.  Wed Mar 29, 2006 7:49 am Reply with quote

I have some nice photos of Jain temples, if we want to use them...

62576.  Wed Mar 29, 2006 4:31 pm Reply with quote

Good thought, Mat.

Can you cite a credible number of Indian atheists, and I will put it in the list?

I can't go through any more web-links today, I'm getting brain-strain.

I'd have to say, though, that if there are a substantial number of atheists in India, they seem reluctant to confess it on their census forms...

62663.  Thu Mar 30, 2006 5:04 am Reply with quote

JumpingJack wrote:

Can you cite a credible number of Indian atheists, and I will put it in the list?

After many hours of searching ... no. The secular movement in India seems very under-webbed, given its centrality to the global secular movement, and indeed secularism's centrality in the very concept of India's national (ie post-Empire) identity.

There are references here and there to the fact that being an atheist in India became a lot trickier in recent years (which might explain the census figures) during the long rule of the Hindu-fascist BJP. The BJP (which supported the Nazis during WW2) equated being Hindian with being Hindu, and therefore anyone who emphasised secularism was an Enemy of the Party and thus of the Destiny of the Nation.

I'll email the world secular chaps and see if they have a figure.

62671.  Thu Mar 30, 2006 5:15 am Reply with quote

According to this site, there are 7.27 lakh atheists in india - that is 727,000 - according to the 2001 census.

This is an increase of 76.3% since the last census.

if you take these numbers as gospel, I don't think they even come near to JJ's top 4 list.

62699.  Thu Mar 30, 2006 6:15 am Reply with quote

In fact, the whole business of censuses and non-believers is quite interesting; take this country, where figures show that a tiny percentage of the population is in any meaningful way affiliated with the C of E (church attendance, etc), and yet almost everyone on the census claims C of E as their religion. This used to be true of hospital and prison forms, too; I wonder if it still applies? And I wonder which country, if any, has a large percentage of census-defined non-believers?

If people think this is worth pursuing, I’ll try and get some figures from the world secularists HQ.

62704.  Thu Mar 30, 2006 6:36 am Reply with quote

'C of E' is just a way of saying 'not particularly religious' without actually having to go against the British reluctance to talk about these things or face the embarrassment of having to publicly stand up and be counted as a non-believer. Good old Anglicanism.

That's how it is round my neighbourhood, at any rate.

62714.  Thu Mar 30, 2006 6:55 am Reply with quote


Also, I think you'll find that there are many fewer definite atheists than you might think. And a lot more agnostics.

Most people aren't that certain about it. While a large majority of people don't believe in most of the details of religion – the resurrection etc – I would guess that an equally large majority have some sort of woolly, generalized belief in a higher power of some kind.

I'd also guess that almost no one believes in the physical resurrection of the body in 'Heaven' but that an awful lot of people believe in reincarnation.

62762.  Thu Mar 30, 2006 8:36 am Reply with quote

Also, I think you'll find that there are many fewer definite atheists than you might think. And a lot more agnostics.

Yes, which is why I think the phrase "non-believers" is more useful, implying a lack of belief in religion.


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