Though limited in its physical space, India has always had a vast area opened for all those who have wanted to take refuge to its lands. The welcoming attitude of this nation has given it the unique characteristic of being a country with people following several religions and faiths. The pellucid air of the nation becomes sacred with the pious sounds of Azaan from the mosques, conchs from the temples, big bell from the church and Gurbani from the Gurudwara.
The main religions followed in the country are Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. The dominant majority of the Indians, which is around 82 percent of the entire population of India, follow the Hindu faith and thus you can find most of the festivals celebrated here, like Diwali, Dussehra, Janmashtmi, Shivratri, Ram Navami, Ganesh Chaturthi, all find their roots deeply connected with the Hindu mythology. Other religions, except Hinduism, are a result of invasions,conquests, travelers and missionaries. Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism and Zoroastrianism are the other religions that gradually emerged and strengthened their roots in India.
People following Hinduism worship three main Gods who form a trinity, Lord Brahma who is the creator, Lord Vishnu who is the savior and Lord Shiva or Shankar, the destroyer. Hindus believe in Karma, incarnations, salvation and idol worship. The revered books are four Vedas-Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sam Veda and Atharva Veda. Other Holy books that include divine teachings are Ramayana, Mahabharat and the Puranas. The four major holy places for Hindus are Badrinath, Puri, Rameshwaram and Dwarka, as the places find mention in the mythological books. Some trees, plants like basil and animals, especially cows and snakes, are highly worshiped.
Only around 12 percent of the population in India follow Islam. Islam has its roots in Saudi Arabia and the religion spread to India and to other places as a result of Muslim Invasions from Turkey, Yemen and Afghanistan since the 11th Century. Through violence of the sword, many people were converted into Islam, which enhanced their presence in the country. Muslims mainly belong to two sects-the Shias and the Sunnis, having different beliefs and principles. Some Muslims are Sheiks, who call themselves the generations of the first muslims while others call themselves Syeds, who believe they are of Prophet Mohammed’s daughter’s clan.
The holy book of Islam is Quran and their language is called Urdu. They worship the holy Quran in a mosque, but women are not allowed to enter here. They offer their prayers from home. The main Muslim festivals celebrated in India are Id-i-Milad, Bakri-Id, Shab-i-Barat and Muharram. Their prayer is called Namaaz and their thirty day fasting ritual is known as Ramzaan.
Christianity is a religion which is followed in every country of the world. Around 2.5 percent of the Indian population follow Christianity. The religion originated two thousand years ago in Bethlehem or Palestine. Christians worship Jesus Christ in Churches and they follow their holy book, Bible. The main festivals they celebrate are Christmas, Easter, Good Friday and Lent. These festivals are more commonly celebrated in the states of Goa and Kerala, where Christian population is in abundance.
Sikhism is followed by 2 percent of the Indian population. The Sikhs are easily identified by their turbans, colorful attire and humble nature. The religion was established by Guru Nanak Dev Ji and it flourished under the leadership of the ten gurus that followed the lineage. The Sikhism teachings say that there shouldn’t be any discrimination between people on the basis of caste, creed, race, sex or religion. They follow the teachings of their holy book, Guru Granth Sahib and worship it in the Gurudwara. The main Sikh festivals are Baisakhi, Lohri and Gurupurab.
Jainism is considered by many, to have its roots in India. The religion originated in around 500 BC, founded by the 24th Jain Tirthankar or prophet, Lord Mahavira. Jains worship the prophets of the religion as Gods and follow their teachings that includes following of non-violence or Ahimsa to attain salvation. The religion is divided into two sects-the Digambars and the Shwetambars. The digambar remain nude and consider the sky to be their only covering while shwetambars wear white clothes as a mark of purity. The main Jain pilgrimage spots in India include Mount Abu in Rajasthan, Mount Gimar in Gujarat and Mount Shatunjaya near Palitana.
Buddhism is another religion that originated in India as a system of moral teachings and guidelines of conduct. Like Jainism, it was also created in around 500 BC when Siddhartha achieved enlightenment in Gaya and became Gautam Buddha. The teachings of Gautam Budhha mainly included the four noble truths and the eight-fold path of conduct, which comprises of right understanding, thought, speech, endeavor, action, mode of living, concentration and mindfulness. Buddhism is widely followed in north and north-eastern parts of India like Ladakh, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh. The main Buddhist scriptures are Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidamma Pitaka. The place of worship is known as a monastery or Gompa. Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, Sanchi and Ajanta.
Zoroastrianism is a religion that was founded in Persia in around 6th Century BC and its followers are known as Parsis. Many Parsis fled to the coastal regions of Maharashtra, especially Mumbai, to escape violence in their country. They worship Lord Ahura Mazda and their holy scripture is known as Zend-e-Avesta. The basic teachings of Zoroastrianism includes the logic behind man’s existence, his duties and his final destination. Their main place of pilgrimage is Udwada in Gujarat.The main Parsi rituals include Navjoti, when a child is welcomed to the world of Zoroastrianism and No Ruz or the New Year.
So many variations can be observed in the beliefs, customs, rituals, moral conducts and ways of worship in these religions. Some raise their joined palm in a crescent shape, some join their hands and bow down while others move the prayer wheel, but the hopes, the faiths and the wishes are quite the same. The multiplicity of hues on a same canvas, make it more vibrant and meaningful than a plain white sheet. This is what India is all about, vibrant with variations, bonded with affection!