Being the world’s most populous country after China, India also has a wide variety in terms of religion, belief and traditions. The most common is Hinduism, which 80% of the population believes. Before explaining what is Hinduism , what other religions are there in India? Hinduism is followed by Islam (13%), Christianity (2%), Sikhism (2%), Buddhism (1%) and Jainism (0.4%). As far as I can see, every belief is respectful to each other.
What is Hinduism?
Hinduism is a polytheistic belief system without a book and a prophet. So how many Gods are there in Hinduism? I reached different numbers in each source and even in India, I got different answers when I asked. Shortly, we can say that there are millions of Gods. But 3 of them are the most important.
–Brahma: the creator God
-Vishnu: the protector of the universe.
-Shiva: the destroyer God.
You can see temples, figures and statues of gods all over India. Even in houses, cars and buses. Some of the God pictures are incredibly scary, and some of them are impossible to give meaning!
What Are the Main Beliefs in Hinduism?
In order to better understand what is Hinduism , it is necessary to know the main beliefs in Hinduism.
Reincarnation: It is the most fundamental belief of Hinduism. It is the belief that after death, the soul will come to Earth again and again in different bodies. This death-life cycle actually indicates that the soul is immature and it is not a desired state. The main purpose is to make mature the spirit so that it meets the creator God Brahma. To die and be cremated in Varanasi is what will allow the spirit to meet Brahma. For detailed information on cremation ceremonies in Varanasi, you can read Holy City Varanasi.
Moksha: It means reaching nirvana. That is the meeting of the soul with Brahma. Moksha is reached by dying and being cremated in Varanasi.
Karma: Hindus believe that when they come back to Earth by reincarnation, their lives are determined by the good or bad things they did in their previous lives. In other words, if you were a good person in your previous life, they believe that when you come back to life, you will be in good conditions and rich, if you were bad, you will be poor or even in an animal body. For this reason, there is no riot when there are so many poor and homeless people in India. Because people think they deserve these bad lives because of what they did in their previous lives.
Ahimsa: They believe and respect that all living things are sacred. In fact, this may be based on belief in karma, in my opinion. Because Hindus believes that animals can be humans in their previous lives or they could become animals in their next life. Hindus have a vegetarian diet and never eat meat.
It is a classification that determines all social and economic lives of Hindus. From birth, all life is shaped according to the caste system. From the jobs to the person to be married, it must be chosen due to the caste. Class change is absolutely not possible. Although the Indian government is trying to abolish this unjust system, it seems unlikely because of Hinduism beliefs.
There are four classes according to the caste system;
Brahmins: It is the highest class of the caste system. There are clergymen.
Kshatriyas: The ruler, kings and soldiers are from this class.
Vaishyas: Merchants and artisans are in this group.
Shudras: They are the workers. Farmers, like craftsmen, perform professions that require physical strength.
There are also “dalits” that are “untouchables” who are not even deemed worthy of any class. They do things that nobody wants to do, such as collecting garbage. They live away from the city among themselves, as they are excluded by the Hindus.
Why is The Cow Sacred in India?
Many people think that Hindus worship the cow, but that is not the case. The cow is a sacred animal for Hindus because they associate the cow with life. Cow’s milk has an important place in life. Milk, yogurt, cream are used a lot in Indian cuisine. In addition, they use the cow’s thresher for house construction and warming. Even Hindus believe that cow’s urine has a healing power. Cows roam freely everywhere in India, absolutely not harmed or cut. Those who do harm are even punished severely.
Why is the Ganges River Sacred?
Ganges River is the image of Goddess Ganga on earth according to Hindus. They take a dip the Ganges river to purify their sins and even the ashes of cremations are thrown into the Ganges river. Thus, they believe that the soul is liberated and united with Brahma. Those who are not cremated are left to the Ganges by tying stones to their feet. The Ganges River, which is believed to have healing power, is so dirty nowadays that you do not even touch your finger.
Ganges River is a river that originates from the Himalayas. However, according to Hindus, the waters of the Ganges River do not come from the Himalayas, it is from the top of the sky. Aarti ceremonies are held at sunrise and sunset in Varanasi to salute the Ganga, the Ganges river.
People who distance themselves from the real world, who try to mature their soul and reach moksha through meditation. You see a lot of them in Varanasi. They live on the streets and feed on what people give. They live in a very different mind, far from this Earth. The female ones are called Sadvi.
After finishing what is Hinduzim, let’s have a look at other religions in India:
Islam and Christianity in India
Islam is the 2nd most common religion in India. It is possible to see many Muslim neighborhoods, mosques and Islamic buildings. The biggest and most beautiful example of these is of course Taj Mahal.
Christianity is more common in the southern part of India. You can see a lot of churches, especially in Goa.
What is Sikhism?
Sikhism, derived from the word “Sikh” meaning student in Sanskrit, was founded by Guru Nanak in the 16th century. Guru Nanak did not believe in the caste system, refused to participate in Hindu rituals, and said that people are equal . Both Islam and Hinduism influences are seen in Sikhism. Sikhism is monotheistic as in Islam. In addition, all people are seen equally, regardless of religion, race or gender. On the other hand, as in Hinduism, the main belief of Sikhism is transmigration, that is, reincarnation. Spirit dies and is reborn constantly.
The main Sikh temple is Golden Temple and it opens to everyone regardless of language, religion or race. One of the main beliefs in Sikhism is the perfectionism in God’s creation. For this reason, men and women do not cut their hair regardless of the fact and Sikh men wrap their long hair with colorful scarves. So you can easily recognize the Sikhs from the outside.
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism, more considered a philosophy of life, denies the existence of God the creator. Its main beliefs are meditation (turning into yourself), reincarnation and karma.
Its founder is Siddhartha, called “Buddha”. Siddhartha, who lived in 500 BC, is the son of a king and while his life passes richly in the palace, one day he leaves the palace. He realizes that real life is not the life that he is living and faces pain and poverty. He does not return to his palace again and begins to live as a monk. He turns into himself with meditation and begins to spread his teachings around him. Although Buddha was born in India, it is more common in other Far Eastern countries (Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China ..) Watch below video of the temple of Buddha’s tooth I visited in Sri Lanka. (with English subtitles)
What is Jainism?
Jainism is based on respect for all living things. They do not kill any living creatures and even wear masks because they think that their breathing can kill living things. Jains think they can mature by suffering. They fast for a long time. Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, also died of starvation while fasting.
Gandhi, who gave India its independence, also had a belief in Jainism. Click to watch the Jain temple I visited in Ahmedabad / India.