History of the Religions of India

History of the Religions of India

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The history of the religions of India includes four of the world’s greatest religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Religious diversity and religious tolerance are guaranteed by law and by the Constitution of India, which posits freedom of religion as a basic right and defines India as a secular state.

About four out of five Indians practice Hinduism. One in seven adheres to Islam, and the remainder variously adhere to Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism. In addition, Zoroastrianism, Bahai, and Judaism each have at least several thousand adherents in India. But Hinduism is India’s most prominent religion, as seen in the abundance of shrines and temples everywhere. Indeed, India hosts the world’s largest religious pilgrimage, in which Hindus worldwide come together to immerse themselves in the confluence of India’s three sacred rivers: the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the Saraswati. The Indian diaspora has introduced many aspects of Hindu philosophy to the world. These include yoga, meditation, Ayurvedic medicine, and the concepts of karma and reincarnation. India also has the largest population of Muslims in the world, and India is the cradle of Ahmadiyya Islam. Sufi shrines are found throughout India, and attract Sufi adherents from around the world.

Prior to the advent of the Mughal Empire and Delhi Sultanate, as much as 90% of the population had become Hindu. The leaders of those Muslim domains, most notably Akbar the Great, sought to synthesize Islam with the Hinduism of their subjects. But a backlash arose during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries that hardened traditional religious boundaries.

Still, India has been safe haven to followers of persecuted religions for thousands of years. For example, Hebrew Jews fled captivity in Babylonia for refuge in India, as did Aramaic Christians who came in the wake of the Islamic invasion of Syria in the 7th century. Similarly, Zoroastrians fled persecution in Persia in the 9th century after the Muslim conquest of Persia. And when the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and took refuge in India after it was invaded by China, many Tibetans followed him to India.

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Buddhism: Siddhartha GautamaRiseSpreadMiddle WayFour Noble TruthsThree Precious JewelsBuddhism in Han Dynasty ChinaBuddhism in T’ang Dynasty ChinaBuddhism in Ming Dynasty China | Hinduism: BeliefsDeitiesWritings: EpicsUpanishads | Hindu-Muslim Synthesis| Jainism: Mahavira | Sikhism



Siddhartha Gautama

Buddhism: Rise

Buddhism: Spread

Middle Way

Four Noble Truths

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Three Precious Jewels

Buddhism in Han Dynasty China

Buddhism in T’ang Dynasty China

Buddhism in Ming Dynasty China




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Hindu-Muslim Synthesis

Jainism and Sikhism




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