Religion has been an important part of India’s culture throughout its history. Religious diversity and religious tolerance are both established in the country by law and custom. A vast majority of Indians (over 93%) associate themselves with a religion. Four of the world’s major religious traditions; Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are originated at India. These religions are also called as ‘Eastern Religions’. 1. Hinduism
The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit name Sindhu for the Indus River. With around 1 billion followers, Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is considered as the oldest religion of the World originating around 5000 years ago. It is the predominant spiritual following of the Indian subcontinent, and one of its indigenous faiths. Hinduism is a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid common set of beliefs. Hinduism was spread through parts of South-eastern Asia, China, Korea, and Japan. Hindus worship a god with different forms. Evolution
The origin of Hinduism dates back to prehistoric times. Some of the important evidences of prehistoric times:
- Mesolithic rock paintings depicting dances and rituals gives evidence attesting to prehistoric religion in the Indian “subcontinent”.
- Neolithic pastoralists inhabiting the Indus River Valley buried their dead in a manner suggestive of spiritual practices that incorporated notions of an afterlife and belief in magic.
- Other Stone Age sites, such as the Bhimbetka rock shelters in central Madhya Pradesh and the Kupgal petroglyphs of eastern Karnataka, contain rock art portraying religious rites and evidence of possible ritualised music.
- The people of the Indus Valley Civilization, centered around the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra river valleys, may have worshiped an important mother goddess symbolising fertility.
- Excavations of Indus Valley Civilization sites show seals with animals and “fire-altars”, indicating rituals associated with fire. A linga-yoni of a type similar to that which is now worshiped by Hindus has also been found.
- The earliest versions of the epic poems Ramayana and Mahabharata were written roughly from 500–100 BCE.
- After 200 BC, several schools of thought were formally codified in Indian philosophy, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva-Mimamsa and Vedanta.
- The 9th and 8th centuries BCE witnessed the composition of the earliest Upanishads. Upanishads form the theoretical basis of classical Hinduism and are known as Vedanta (conclusion of the Veda).
Hindu philosophy is traditionally divided into six āstika (orthodox) schools of thought, or darśanam, which accept the Vedas as supreme revealed scriptures. The āstika schools are:
- Samkhya, an atheistic and strongly dualist theoretical exposition of consciousness and matter.
- Yoga, a school emphasizing meditation, contemplation and liberation.
- Nyaya or logic, explores sources of knowledge (Nyāya Sūtras).
- Vaisheshika, an empiricist school of atomism.
- Mimāṃsā, an anti-ascetic and anti-mysticist school of orthopraxy.
- Vedanta, the last segment of knowledge in the Vedas, or the ‘Jnan’ (knowledge) ‘Kanda’ (section).
Vedanta came to be the dominant current of Hinduism in the post-medieval period.Of the historical division into six darsanas, only two schools, Vedanta and Yoga, survive.
Samkhya is the oldest of the orthodox philosophical systems in Hinduism. It espouses dualism between consciousness and matter by postulating two “irreducible, innate and independent” realities:
- Consciousness itself or Purusha (self, atma or soul)
- Primordial materiality or Prakriti (creative agency or energy).
Prakriti consists of varying levels of three dispositions or categories of qualities: Activity (rajas), Inactivity (tamas) and Harmony (sattva). An imbalance in the intertwined relationship of these three dispositions causes the world to evolve from Prakriti. This evolution from Prakriti causes the creation of
23 constituents, including intellect (buddhi), ego (ahamkara) and mind (manas). Samkhya theorizes the existence of many living souls (Jeevatmas) who possess consciousness, but denies the existence of Ishvara(God).
Samkhya holds that Puruṣa, the eternal pure consciousness, due to ignorance, identifies itself with products of Prakriti such as intellect (buddhi) and ego (ahamkara). This results in endless transmigration and suffering. However, once the realization arises that Puruṣa is distinct from Prakriti, the Self is no longer subject to transmigration and absolute freedom (kaivalya) arises.
The Yoga philosophical system is closely allied with the Samkhya school, but is more theistic than the Samkhya. The foundational text of the Yoga school is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, who is regarded as the founder of the formal Yoga philosophy. Hindu philosophy distinguishes seven major branches of Yoga:
- Rāja Yoga (Classical Yoga), a system of yoga codified by Patañjali and classified as one of the six āstika (“orthodox”) schools of Hindu philosophy.
- Jnana yoga, (buddhi-yoga) centred on the faculty of discernment and ‘virtually identical with the spiritual path of Vedānta’.
iii. Karma-yoga, in which the world of everyday work becomes the tool by which self is transcended. (iv) Bhakti-Yoga the path of devoted service to God.
- Tantra-yoga focused on the techniques and psycho-physical teachings contained within a body of texts called tantras.
- Mantra-yoga, one of the most ancient forms of yoga in which the psycho-acoustical properties of the spoken word are used to concentrate the mind.
iii. Hatha yoga, a system of physical purification designed to reintegrate and re-balance the mind and body in preparation for Raja-yoga (first described by Yogi Swatmarama).
The Nyaya school is based on the Nyaya Sutras. They were written by Aksapada Gautama, probably in the second century BCE. The most important contribution made by this school is its methodology. This methodology is based on a system of logic that has subsequently been adopted by the majority of the Indian schools.
The followers of Nyaya believed that obtaining valid knowledge was the only way to gain release from suffering. According to Nyaya, there are exactly four sources of knowledge: perception, inference, comparison, and testimony. Knowledge obtained through each of these is either valid or invalid.
The Vaisheshika school postulates an atomic pluralism in which all objects in the physical universe are reducible to certain types of atoms, and Brahman is regarded as the fundamental force that causes consciousness in these atoms. The school was founded by the sage Kaṇāda (or Kana-bhuk, literally, atom- eater) around the 2nd century BC. Major ideas contained in the Vaisheshika Sutra are:
- There are nine classes of realities: four classes of atoms (earth, water, light and air), space (akasha), time (kāla), direction (dik), infinity of souls (Atman), mind (manas).
- Individual souls are eternal and pervade material body for a time.
- There are seven categories (padārtha) of experience: substance, quality, activity, generality, particularity, inherence and non-existence.
Although the Vaisheshika school developed independently from the Nyaya, the two eventually merged because of their closely related metaphysical theories. In its classical form, however, the Vaisheshika school differed from the Nyaya in one crucial respect: where Nyaya accepted four sources of valid knowledge, the Vaisheshika accepted only two—–perception and inference.
- Purva Mimansa
Ø The main objective of the Purva Mimamsa school was to establish the authority of the Vedas.
Consequently, this school’s most valuable contribution to Hinduism was its formulation of the rules of Vedic interpretation. Its adherents propounded unquestionable faith in the Vedas and regular performance of the yajñas, or fire-sacrifices. They believed in the power of the mantras and yajñas to sustain all the activity of the universe. In keeping with this belief, they placed great emphasis on dharma, which consisted of the performance of Vedic rituals.
Ø The Mimamsa philosophers believed that the other schools of thought that aimed for release (moksha) were not allowed for complete freedom from desire and selfishness, because the very striving for liberation stemmed from a simple desire to be free. According to Mimamsa thought, only by acting in accordance with the prescriptions of the Vedas may one attain salvation. Although Mimamsa does not receive much scholarly attention, its influence can be felt in the life of the practising Hindu, because all Hindu ritual, ceremony, and law is influenced by this school.
Ø The Vedanta, or later Mimamsa school, concentrates on the philosophical teachings of the
Upanishads rather than the ritualistic injunctions of the Brahmanas.
Ø These were mystical aspects of Vedic religion that focused on meditation, self-discipline, and spiritual connectivity, more than traditional ritualism.
Ø Vedanta means, the last segment of knowledge in the Vedas.
Ø While, the earlier segments of the Vedas are called ‘Karma Kanda’. Parts of Vedas that focus on spiritual practices such as worship, devotion and meditation are called ‘Upasana Kanda’. (Kanda = section).
Ø Vedantic thought drew on Vedic cosmology, hymns and philosophy. While thirteen or so Upanishads are accepted as principal, over a hundred exist. The most significant contribution of Vedantic thought is the idea that selfconsciousness is continuous with and indistinguishable from consciousness of Brahman.
Ø The principles of the Vedanta sutras are presented in a cryptic, poetic style, which allows for a variety of interpretations. Consequently, the Vedanta separated into six sub-schools, each interpreting the texts in its own way and producing its own series of sub-commentaries. (i) Advaita:
- This is the oldest and most widely acknowledged Vedantic school. Advaita means “non-duality.” Its
first great consolidator was Adi Shankaracharya
- According to Advaita, Brahman is the only reality, and there exists nothing whatsoever which is not Brahman. The appearance of dualities and differences in this world is a superimposition on Brahman, called Maya. Maya is neither existent nor non-existent, but appears to exist temporarily.
- When a person tries to know Brahman through his mind, due to the influence of Maya, Brahman appears as God (Ishvara), separate from the world and from the individual. In reality, there is no difference between the individual soul (Jivatma) and Brahman (Paramatma).
- The spiritual practices such as: devotion to God, meditation & self-less action etc. purifies the mind and indirectly helps in perceiving the real.
- The only direct cause of liberation is self-knowledge which directly removes the ignorance. After realization, one sees one’s own self and the Universe as the same (ii) Vishishtadvaita:
- Vishishtadvaita is means qualified non-dualism. Ramanujacharya was the foremost proponent of thephilosophy of Vishishtadvaita.
- Vis hishtadvaita advocated the concept of a Supreme Being with essential qualities or attributes. They are against the Advaitan philosophy of Brahman as an impersonal empty oneness.
- They saw Brahman as an eternal oneness, but also as the source of all creation, which was omnipresent and actively involved in existence. To them the sense of subject-object perception was illusory and a sign of ignorance. However, the individual’s sense of self was not a complete illusion since it was derived from the universal beingness that is Brahman. Ramanuja He saw Vishnu as a personification of Brahman.
- Dvaita Vedanta means the dualistic conclusions of the Vedas. This philosophy was founded by Madhvacharya. It propagates the principle of dualism by theorizing the existence of two separate realities.
- The first and the more important reality is that of Vishnu or Brahman. Vishnu is the supreme Self, God, the absolute truth of the universe, the independent reality.
- The second reality is that of dependent but equally real universe that exists with its own separate essence.
- The distinguishing factor of this philosophy as opposed to Advaita Vedanta (monistic conclusion of Vedas) is that God takes on a personal role and is seen as a real eternal entity that governs and controls the universe.
- Dvaita philosophy attempts to address the problem of evil with the idea that souls are not created.
Because the existence of individuals is grounded in the divine, they are depicted as reflections of the divine, but never in any way identical with the divine. Salvation therefore is described as the realization that all finite reality is essentially dependent on the Supreme.
- Dvaitadvaita was proposed by Nimbarka.
- According to this philosophy there are three categories of existence: Brahman, soul, and matter.
Soul and matter are different from Brahman in that they have attributes and capacities different from
- Brahman exists independently, while soul and matter are dependent yet seperate. Further, Brahman is a controller, the soul is the enjoyer, and matter the thing enjoyed.
- The highest object of worship is Krishna and his consort Radha, attended by thousands of gopis, or cowherdesses; of the celestial Vrindavana; and devotion consists in self-surrender.
- Shuddhadvaita is the “purely non-dual” philosophy propounded by Vallabhacharya.
- The Shuddhadvaita principle sees equality in “essence” of the individual self with God. There is no real difference between the two. It does not deny God as the whole and the individual as the part. The individual soul is not the Supreme (Satcitananda) clouded by the force of avidya, but is itself Brahman, with one attribute (ananda) rendered imperceptible.
- Unlike Advaita, the world of Maya is not regarded as unreal, since Maya is nothing else than a power of Ishvara. He is not only the creator of the universe but is the universe itself.
- The followers of Shuddhadvaita are the worshipers of Krishna. They maintain that if one wants to obtain moksha and the bliss given by Krishna, the only path to do so is bhakti.
Acintya Bheda Abheda:
- This is the philosophy of “inconceivable oneness and difference” in relation to the power creation and creator, (Krishna) and also between God and his energies within the Gaudiya Vaishnava religious tradition.
- Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was the founder of this philosophy. He was stating that the soul or energy of God is both distinct and non-distinct from God, whom he identified as Krishna, Govinda, and that this, although unthinkable, may be experienced through a process of loving devotion (bhakti).
Three other nāstika (heterodox) schools don’t draw upon the Vedas as the sole primary authoritative text, but may emphasize other traditions of thought. The nāstika schools are:
While Charvaka is classified as a nāstika school, Buddhism and Jainism are also classified as nāstika religions since they do not accept the authority of the Vedas.
Hinduism, otherwise a highly theistic religion, hosted atheistic schools; the thoroughly materialistic and
antireligious philosophical Cārvāka (Nastika) school that originated in India around the 6th century BCE is probably the most explicitly atheistic school of Indian philosophy. It is not included among the six schools of Hinduism generally regarded as orthodox. Our understanding of Cārvāka philosophy is fragmentary, based largely on criticism of the ideas by other schools, and it is no longer a living tradition.
Academics categorize contemporary Hinduism into four major denominations: Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Smartism and Shaktism. The denominations differ primarily in the god worshipped as the Supreme One and in the traditions that accompany worship of that god.
Vaishnavas worship Vishnu as the supreme God; Shaivites worship Shiva as the supreme; Shaktas worship Shakti (power) personified through a female divinity or Mother Goddess, Devi; while Smartas believe in the essential oneness of five (panchadeva) or six (Shanmata, as Tamil Hindus add Skanda) deities as personifications of the Supreme.
- It is focused on worshiping of Vishnu. Vaishnavites lead a way of life promoting differentiated monotheism, which gives importance to Lord Vishnu and His ten incarnations.
- Its beliefs and practices, especially the concepts of Bhakti and Bhakti Yoga, are based largely on the Upanishads, and associated with the Vedas and Puranic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, and the Padma, Vishnu and Bhagavata Puranas.
- Awareness, recognition, and growth of the belief have significantly increased outside of India in recent years. The Gaudiya Vaishnava branch of the tradition has significantly increased the awareness of Vaishnavism internationally, since the mid-1900s, largely through the activities and geographical expansion of the Hare Krishna movement founded by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in New York City in 1966.
- Shaivism reveres the god Shiva as the Supreme Being. Shaivas believe that Shiva is All and in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer, revealer and concealer of all that is.
- Devotees of Shiva wear Sacred ash as a sectarian mark on their foreheads and other parts of their bodies with reverence. The Sanskrit words bhasma and vibhuti can both be translated as “sacred ash”.
- Shaivism has a vast literature that includes texts representing multiple philosophical schools, including non-dualist (abheda), dualist (bheda), and non-dual-with-dualism (bhedābheda) perspectives.
- Shaktism focuses focuses worship upon Shakti or Devi – the Hindu Divine Mother – as the absolute, ultimate Godhead. Shaktism regards Devī as the Supreme Brahman itself, with all other forms of divinity, female or male, considered being merely her diverse manifestations.
- In the details of its philosophy and practice, Shaktism resembles Shaivism. However, Shaktas focus most or all worship on Shakti, as the dynamic feminine aspect of the Supreme Divine.
- Shaktism is practiced throughout the Indian subcontinent and beyond, in numerous forms, both
Tantric and non-Tantric; however, its two largest and most visible schools are the Srikula (lit.,
family of Sri), strongest in South India, and the Kalikula (family of Kali), which prevails in northern and eastern India.
- Smartism is a liberal or nonsectarian denomination of the Vedic Hindu religion which accepts all the major Hindu deities as forms of the one Brahman.
- The term Smarta refers to adherents who follow the Vedas and Shastras. Only a section of south
Indian brahmins call themselves Smartas now.
- Smartas are followers and propagators of Smriti or religious texts derived from Vedic scriptures.
Smarta religion was practiced by people who believed in the authority of the Vedas as well as the basic premise of puranas. As a consequence usually only a brahmin preferred to use this term to refer to his family tradition.
- It is most essential for Smarta Brahmins to specialize in the Karma Kanda of the Vedas and associated rituals diligently, and to teach the subsequent generations.
Hindu society has been categorized into four classes, called varnas. They are:
- the Brahmins: Vedic teachers and priests;
- the Kshatriyas: warriors, nobles, and kings;
iii. the Vaishyas: farmers, merchants, and businessmen; and iv. the Shudras: servants and labourers
Bhagavad Gita, the sacred text of Hindus, links the varna to an individual’s duty (svadharma), inborn nature (svabhāva), and natural tendencies (guṇa).
Traditionally the life of a Hindu is divided into four Ashramas (phases or stages).
- The first part of one’s life, Brahmacharya, the stage as a student, is spent in celibate, controlled, sober and pure contemplation under the guidance of a Guru, building up the mind for spiritual knowledge.
- Grihastha is the householder’s stage, in which one marries and satisfies kāma and artha in one’s married and professional life respectively.
- Vānaprastha, the retirement stage, is gradual detachment from the material world. This may involve giving over duties to one’s children, spending more time in religious practices and embarking on holy pilgrimages.
- Finally, in Sannyāsa, the stage of asceticism, one renounces all worldly attachments to secludedly find the Divine through detachment from worldly life and peacefully shed the body for Moksha.
Hindu literature can be divided into two categories:
Shruti – that which is revealed and Smriti – that which is remembered.
The Vedas coming under the Shruti category are considered sacred scripture. Later texts like the various shastras and the itihaasas form Smruti. Holding an ambiguous position between the Upanishads of the Vedas and the epics, the Bhagavad Gita is considered to be revered scripture by most Hindus today. All Shruti scriptures are composed in Sanskrit.
Important Pilgrimage sites of Hindu devotees are:
- Kumbh Mela: One of the holiest of Hindu pilgrimages that is held every 12 years; the location is rotated among Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain. It is considered as one of the largest pilgrimage gathering in the world.
- Char Dham (Famous Four Pilgrimage sites): The four holy sites Puri, Rameswaram, Dwarka, and
Badrinath compose the Char Dham (four abodes) pilgrimage circuit.
- Old Holy cities as per Puranic Texts: Varanasi formerly known as Kashi, Allahabad formerly known as
Prayag, Haridwar-Rishikesh, Mathura-Vrindavan, Pandharpur, Paithan and Ayodhya.
- Major Temple cities: Puri, which hosts a major Vaishnava Jagannath temple and Rath Yatra celebration; Katra, home to the Vaishno Devi temple; Three comparatively recent temples of fame and huge pilgrimage are Shirdi, home to Sai Baba of Shirdi, Tirumala – Tirupati, home to the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple; and Sabarimala, where Swami Ayyappan is worshipped.
- Shakti Peethas: Another important set of pilgrimages are the Shakti Peethas, where the Mother Goddess is worshipped, the two principal ones being Kalighat and Kamakhya.
- Shramana Traditions
The Shramana movement was a Non-Vedic movement parallel to Vedic Hinduism in ancient India. The Shramana tradition gave rise to Jainism, Buddhism, and Yoga, and was responsible for the related concepts of saṃsāra (the cycle of birth and death) and moksha (liberation from that cycle).
Sramanism, emphasizing thought, hard work and discipline, was one of the three strands of Hindu philosophy. The other two included Brahmanism, which drew its philosophical essence from Mimamsa. The third and most popular strand of Indian philosophical thought revolves around the concept of Bhakti or Theism, based on the idea of God, as understood in most parts of the world. Philosophy
Śramaṇas held a view of samsara as full of suffering (Dukka). They practiced Ahimsa and rigorous ascetism. They believed in Karma and Moksa and viewed rebirth as undesirable. Vedics, on the contrary believe in the efficacy of rituals and sacrifices, performed by a privileged group of people, who could improve their life by pleasing certain Gods. Beliefs and concepts of Śramaṇa philosophies:
- Denial of creator and omnipotent Gods
- Rejection of the Vedas as revealed texts
- Affirmation of Karma and rebirth, Samsara and transmigration of Soul.
- Affirmation of the attainment of moksa through Ahimsa, renunciation and austerities Denial of the efficacy of sacrifices and rituals for purification.
- Rejection of the caste system
Jainism and Buddhism are the two main schools philosophies that have continued in India since ancient times.
The distinguishing features of Jain philosophy are its belief on independent existence of soul and matter, absence of a supreme divine creator, potency of karma, eternal and uncreated universe, a strong emphasis on non-violence, morality and ethics based on liberation of soul.
Jainism is the sixth largest religion in India and is followed throughout the India. Lakshadweep is the only Union Territory/state without Jains. Maharashtra has the highest number of Jain Population. Like most ancient Indian religions, Jainism has its roots from the Indus Valley Civilization, reflecting native spirituality prior to the Indo-Aryan migration into India.
Principles of Jainism
Jainism encourages spiritual development through cultivation of one’s own personal wisdom and reliance
on selfcontrol through vows. Ascetics of this religion undertake five major vows:
- Ahimsa (Non-violence): The first major vow taken by ascetics is to cause no harm to living beings. It involves minimizing intentional as well as unintentional harm to other living creatures.
- Satya (Truth): The vow is to always speak of truth. Given that non-violence has priority, other principles yield to it whenever there is a conflict. In a situation where speaking truth could lead to violence, silence is to be observed.
- Asteya: Asteya, is to not take into possession, anything that is not willingly offered. Attempt to squeeze material wealth from others or exploit the weak is considered theft.
- Brahmacharya: The vow of brahmacharya requires one to exercise control over senses from indulgence in sexual activity.
- Aparigraha: Aparigraha is to observe detachment from people, places and material things. Ascetics live a life of complete renunciation of property and human relations.
Jain metaphysics is based on seven or nine fundamentals which are known as Tattva. These are an attempt to explain the nature and solution to the human predicament. These are:
- Jīva: The living entities are called Jiva. It is a substance which is different from the body that houses it.
Consciousness, knowledge and perception are the fundamental attributes of the Jiva.
- Ajīva: The non-living entities which consists of matter, space and time falls into the category of Ajiva.
- Asrava: Due to the interaction between the two substances, jīva and ajīva, there is influx of a special ajiva called karma into the soul. This karma then sticks to the soul.
- Bandha: The karma masks the jiva and restricts it from having its true potential of perfect knowledge and perception.
- Saṃvara: Through right conduct, it is possible to stop the influx of additional karma.
- Nirjarā: By performing asceticism, it is possible to shred or burn up the existing karma.
- Moksha: The jiva which has removed its karma is said to be liberated and have its pure, intrinsic quality of perfect knowledge in its true form.
Ø Authors sometimes add two additional categories: the meritorious and demeritorious acts related to karma. These are called puṇya and pāpa respectively. Tirtankara
Ø Jainism has been preached by a succession of twenty-four propagators of faith known as Tirthankara. Tirtankara is a human being who helps in achieving liberation and enlightenment as an “Arihant” by destroying all of their soul constraining (ghati) karmas, became a role-model and leader for those seeking spiritual guidance. There are 24 Tīrthaṅkaras and each of them revitalized the Jain Order.
Ø Tirthankara is also said to mean “full moon,” a metaphorical reference to Kevala Jnana. Keval Gnan is a state of permanent, perpetual, absolute knowledge of the Soul; it is the precursor to moksha, final liberation from samsara, the cycle of birth and death.
Ø Jaina tradition identifies Rishabha (Adinath) as the first tirthankara. The last two tirthankara, Parshva and Mahavira are historical figures whose existence is recorded.
Ø A Chakravarti is an emperor of the world and lord of the material realm. Though he possesses worldly power, he often finds his ambitions dwarfed by the enormity of the cosmos. Jaina puruna give a list of twelve Chakravarti. One of the greatest Chakravarti mentioned in Jaina scriptures is Bharata. Tradition says that India came to be known as Bharata-varsha in the memory of this Bharata.
Ø There are nine sets of baladeva, vāsudeva and prativāsudeva. Baladeva are non-violent heroes.
Vasudeva are violent heroes and prativāsudeva can be termed as villains. Vasudeva ultimately kills prativasudeva. Baladeva goes to heaven. On the other hand, vasudeva go to hell on account of their violent exploits, even if they were to uphold righteousness. Jain sects
Ø In the 4th century CE, Jainism developed two major divisions Digambara (sky clad ascetics) and Svetambara (white robed ascetics). Both Digambara and Svetambara communities have continued to develop, almost independently of each other. With the passage of time, both had further sub- sects. Except for some minor differences in rituals and way of life, their belief and practices for
the spiritual progress are the same. The four main sects with a sizable population are Digambara, Svetambara Murtipujaka, Sthanakavasi and Terapanthi.
Ø The Digambaras, like Mahavira, practice total nudity to avoid all attachments. The Shvetambaras reject nudity as an exterior symbol having no significance on their inner spiritual development. They also accepted women into the monastic community early on, unlike the Digambaras.
Ø The fourteen Purvas was a body of Jain scriptures preached by tirthankara of Jainism. These
teachings were memorized and passed on through ages, but became fairly vulnerable and died off within one thousand years after Lord Mahavira’s nirvana (liberation).
Ø Agamas are canonical texts of Jainism based on Mahavira’s teachings. Mahavira’s preachings were orally compiled by his disciples into various Sutras (texts) which were collectively called Jain canonical or Agamic literature. These Agamas are composed of forty-six texts: twelve angās, twelve upanga āgamas, six chedasūtras, four mūlasūtras, ten prakīrnaka sūtras and two cūlikasūtras.
Ø Svetambaras accept thirty-two to forty-five aagamas, final redaction of which took place at the Council of Valabhi (453 – 466 BCE). Digambaras accept two canonical texts Satkhandaagama and Kasaayapahuda composed in 2nd century CE.
Ø Jains had a major influence in developing a system of philosophy and ethics that had a great impact on Indian culture. They have contributed to the culture and language of the Indian states Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
- Navkar Mantra is the fundamental prayer of Jainism. In this prayer there is no mention of names, including that of thetirthankara. It does not ask for favors or material benefits, it simply serves as a
gesture of deep respect towards beings they believe are more spiritually advanced and to remind followers of the Jainism of their ultimate goal of nirvana.
- Jains follow six obligatory duties known as Avashyakas includes samyika (pracitising serenity), chaturvimshati (praising tirthankara), vandan (respecting teachers and monks), Pratikramana, Kayotsarga, pratyakhyana (renunciation).
- Paryushana is one of the most important festivals for the Jains. Normally Svetambara Jains refer it as Paryushana, while Digambara Jains refer it as Das Lakshana. It is believed that the deva do ashtprakari puja of tirthankara and it takes them eight days to do this ashtaprakari puja. This is called Ashtanhika Mahotsav, so at the very same time Jains celebrate it as Paryushan. Paryushana lasts eight days for Svetambara Jains and ten days for Digambaras Jains.
- Mahavira Jayanti, the birthday of Mahavira, is celebrated on the thirteenth day of the fortnight of the waxing moon, in the month of Chaitra.
- A unique ritual in this religion involves a holy fasting until death called Sallekhana. Through this one achieves a death with dignity and dispassion as well as a reduction of negative karma to a great extent. This form of dying is also called Santhara.
Ø Buddhism is a religion indigenous to the Indian subcontinent that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha. Buddha is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering (dukkha) through eliminating ignorance (avidyā) by way of understanding and seeing dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda) and eliminating craving (taṇhā), and thus attain the highest happiness,
Ø Buddhism reached its peak under the Mauryan Empire (322-185 AD). Ashoka gave royal patronage to Buddhism and made it a pan-Asian religion. He sponsored Buddhist missions to
various areas within his empire and also to the Greek-ruled areas of the Northwest, Sri Lanka in the south as well as the Central Asia. After the death of Ashoka, Buddhism did not get a direct royal patronage. Soon Buddhism declined and was almost wiped out from India but instead spread to the South East Asian countries and to Sri Lanka.
Ø Siddhārtha Gautama was born in Lumbini in modern-day Nepal, around the year 563 BCE, and
raised in Kapilavastu. Young prince Gautama was kept away from seeing the sufferings of normal people since an astrologer prophesied that he would renounce the material world if sees the miseries of Life. In a series of encounters, known in Buddhist literature as the four sights, he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest.
Ø For six years, Siddhartha submitted himself to rigorous ascetic practices, studying and following different methods of meditation with various religious teachers. But he was never fully satisfied. One day, however, he was offered a bowl of rice from a young girl and he accepted it. In that moment, he realised that physical austerities were not the means to achieve liberation. From then on, he encouraged people to follow a path of balance rather than extremism. He called this The Middle Way.
Ø At the age of 35, Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi tree, in the town of Bodh Gaya in India, and meditated. He purified his mind of all defilements and attained enlightenment after many days, thus earning the title Buddha, or “Enlightened One”.
Ø Thereafter, he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order. He spent the rest of his life teaching the path of awakening he had discovered, traveling throughout the north-eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, and died at the age of 80 (483 BCE) in Kushinagar, India.
Samsara is “the cycle of birth and death”. Sentient beings crave pleasure and are averse to pain from birth
to death. Buddhists strive to end the sufferings by eradicating the causes and conditions, applying the methods laid out by the Buddha and subsequent Buddhists.
Karma in Buddhism is the force that drives saṃsāra. Good, skillful deeds (kusala) and bad, unskillful (akusala) actions produce “seeds” in the mind that come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. The avoidance of unwholesome actions and the cultivation of positive actions is called śīla. Rebirth refers to a process whereby beings go through a succession of lifetimes as one of many possible forms of sentient life, each running from conception to death. Buddhism rejects the concepts of a permanent self or an unchanging, eternal soul, as it is called in Hinduism and Christianity. Each rebirth takes place within one of five realms according to Theravadins, or six according to other schools. These are further subdivided into 31 planes of existence.
Branches of Buddhism
Two branches of Buddhism are generally recognized: Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”) and Theravada
(“The School of the Elders”)
- Mahayana The followers of Mahayana believe that Buddha taught universal salvation. One should not aim at personal nirvana and should help ease the suffering of humanity. Mahayana Buddhism is found throughout East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan etc.) and includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Shingon, and Tiantai (Tendai). In India, this form of Buddhism is followed in Ladakh, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh.
- Theravada The Theravada Buddhism is better known as the earliest form of Buddhism. The ‘Thera’ means old and ‘Vada’ means school. The aim of this form of Buddhism is to attain personal nirvana through the triple recourse to ethical conduct, mental discipline and higher knowledge or wisdom. It has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar etc.). In
India, this strain of Buddhism is represented by the followers of Dr B.R.Ambedkar known as the
Ambedkar Buddhists, who are exclusive to India.
Ø In some classifications, Vajrayana practiced mainly in Tibet and Mongolia, and adjacent parts of China and Russia is recognized as a third branch. Hinayana is an ugly Mahayana polemical term coined by Mahayanists to both classify and refer to those schools of Buddhism with which the Mahayana disagreed.
The Four Noble Truths
The teachings on the Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism. These four
truths explain the nature of dukkha, its causes, and how it can be overcome. They can be summarized as follows:
- The truth of dukkha (suffering, anxiety, dissatisfaction): explains the nature of dukkha.
- The truth of the origin of dukkha: It says that the origin of dukkha can be known. The origin of dukkha is commonly explained as craving conditioned by ignorance. On a deeper level, the root cause of dukkha is identified as ignorance.
- The truth of the cessation of dukkha: It says that the complete cessation of dukkha is possible.
- The truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha: It identifies a path to cessation of dukkha.
Noble Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path consists of a set of eight interconnected factors or conditions, that when
developed together, lead to the cessation of dukkha. The Eight factors are:
- Right View (or Right Understanding): Viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be
- Right Intention (or Right Thought): Intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness
- Right Speech: Speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way
- Right Action: Acting in a non-harmful way
- Right Livelihood: A non-harmful livelihood
- Right Effort: Making an effort to improve
- Right Mindfulness: Awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness
- Right Concentration: Correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first four jhānas
Ø The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma
(the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). Taking “refuge in the triple gem” has traditionally been a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path, and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist.
Ø Other practices may include following ethical precepts; support of the monastic community; renouncing conventional living and becoming a monastic; the development of mindfulness and practice of meditation; cultivation of higher wisdom and discernment; study of scriptures; devotional practices; ceremonies; and in the Mahayana tradition, invocation of buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Ø The Buddhist place of worship is called a Vihara or Gompa, which usually houses one or more statues of the Buddha. The five great events in Buddha’s life are represented by symbols as under:
- Birth by Lotus and Bull
- Great Renunciation by Horse
iii. Nirvana by Bodhi Tree
- First Sermon by Dharmachakra or Wheel (v) Parinirvana or death by the Stupa.
The Wheel of Law or dharmachakra, is the most important symbol of Buddhism. According to the
Buddha, dharma is the law that ensures the welfare of the greatest number of people if practiced
faithfully. The wheel symbolises the goodness in every person. The wheel has eight spokes representing the eight virtues enumerated by the Eight Fold Path, the path to salvation.
Ø The Tibetan Buddhism is “essentially Buddhism of the Mahayana school, with elements of
modified Shaivism and native ritualistic shamanism”. Monks belonging to this strain of Buddhism are called lamas. Tibetan Buddhism, also called Lamaism, is a predominant religion of Tibet, Mongolia and other parts of the world. In India it is practised by over 1,20,000 Tibetans settled in their different settlements at Dharamsala, Dehradun (UP), Kushalnagar (Karnataka), Darjeeling (West Bengal),Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Ladakh.
Ø The Tibetan Buddhism follows a strict code of traditional hierarchy. The supreme position is occupied by two lamas: the Dalai Lama (Grand Lama) and the Panchen Lama (Bogodo Lama). Of the two, the Dalai Lama is more powerful and is considered as the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, while the Panchen Lama is the second most senior religious authority. Next in rank are the Hutukhtus, or spiritual dignitaries. The Rimpoches or Hobilghans or bodhisattvas form the third level of authority.
Ø The present and the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was identified and enthroned in 1940, in Lhasa. After the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1950, the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 and established a Government-in-exile at Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh.
- 5. Sikhism
Ø Sikhism began about 500 years ago by Guru Nanak and preaches a message of devotion and remembrance to God at all times, truthful living and equality of mankind and denounces superstitions and blind rituals. Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book, Adi Granth or Sri Guru Granth Sahib.
Principles of Sikhism
Ø Sikhs believe that God is Monistic or Non-dual. He is the creator of the Universe, whose existence
and continued survival depends on His will. God is both Saguna (with attributes) and Nirguna (without attributes) and is called by names such as Sat (truth), Sat Guru (true Guru), Akal Purkh (timeless being), Kartar (creator) and Wahi-Guru (praise to the God).
Ø The belief in the ten Gurus – spiritual guides who dispel ignorance and darkness is the essential element of Sikh religion. According to it the only way to achieve liberation (mukti) from the cycle of birth and death is by being Godconscious (gurmukh). The Khalsa and five K’s
Ø The concept of Khalsa, literally meaning ‘the pure’, was introduced by Guru Gobind Singh. He established this new fraternity with five followers (later known as Panj Pyares), who were baptized with amrit as Khalsas. The Khalsa symbolised coalescence of serenity and strength, purity and power, shastra (scripture) and shastra (weapon), and the power of wisdom (jnana shakti) and the power of action (kriya shakti).
Ø It was made obligatory for every Sikh to wear the Five K’s – Kesha (long hair), Kangha (comb), Kara (steel bracelet), Kaccha (short drawers) and Kirpan (sword).
Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Ø The Guru Granth Sahib (also known as the Adi Granth) is considered the Supreme Spiritual
Authority and Head of the Sikh religion. It is a collection of devotional hymns and poetry which proclaims God, lays stress on meditation on the True Guru (God) and lays down moral and ethical rules for development of the soul, spiritual salvation and unity with God.
Ø The writings of the Gurus appear chronologically. Each of the Gurus signed their hymns as Nanak. Guru Granth Sahib has 3,384 hymns, of which Guru Nanak Dev contributed 974 hymns including sloks and pauris.
Ø It also contains Bhagatas of Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas, Sheikh Farid, Trilochan, Dhanna, Beni, Sheikh Bhikan, Jaidev, Surdas, Parmanand, Pipa and Ramanand. The fifth Guru Arjan Dev began
the great task of collection of the holy compositions as Sri (Amritsar) and compiled the Holy
Ø The religion of Islam teaches that in order to achieve true peace of mind and surety of heart, one must submit to God and live according to His Divinely revealed Law. The word ‘Muslim’ means one who submits to the will of God, regardless of their race, nationality or ethnic background.
Ø Muslims believe that all of God’s prophets which include Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, brought the same message of Pure Monotheism. For this reason, Prophet Muhammad is not considered as the founder of a new religion, as many people mistakenly think, but he was
the Final Prophet of Islam. Principles of Islam
Ø According to traditional Islamic belief, the religion has existed since time immemorial. Allah, the Almighty God, created Adam (the father of the human progeny) out of a lump of clay and commanded the angels to greet him with a ‘Sijda’ (prostration in humility). All the angels obeyed the command with the exception of Iblis (the Satan). This resulted in Satan’s condemnation and Allah commanded that whosoever followed the Satan’s path will forfeit His pleasure and that his abode will be in the fire of hell eternally. Basic Islamic Beliefs are:
- Tawheed: This means, believe in One, Unique, Incomparable God Who is the Creator, the Ruler and the
Sustainer of the universe, and none has the right to be worshipped but He alone ii. Belief in the existence of Angels of God as the honoured creatures
iii. Belief in God’s Revealed Books
- Belief in the Prophets and Messengers of God
- Belief in the Day of Judgement and Life after Death
- Belief in Predestination – God’s complete authority over human destiny
Main sects of Islam
Ø The followers of Muslim are divided into two main sects: Shiah and Sunni. Though essentially
following the same beliefs and tenets, they differ on two points: the succession to Prophet
Muhammad, and the religious authority in Islam after him.
Ø Shiism is a minority branch of Islam which makes up about one tenth of the total population of the Muslim world. The Shiites form an important part of the population in a number of Arab countries like Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and Iran. The Shiahs consider Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet as his rightful heir. They maintain that Ali was the first legitimate Imam or Khalifah (Caliph) and therefore reject Abu Bakr, Omar and Usman, the first three Khalifahs of the Sunni Muslims, as usurpers.
There are two main shiite sects:
- The “Twelvers” are by far the largest group of Shiah Islam. They believe that the line of Ali became extinct with al-Askari, the Twelfth Imam, who mysteriously disappeared in 873 AD. They however refuse to accept that al-Askari died and believe that he will appear shortly before the end of the world.
- The Ismailites or Seveners are the second largest shiite sect. Their spiritual leader is the Aga Khan. The
Ismailites only recognize the seven first Imams.
Sunnism is the main branch of Islam and recognizes the legitimacy of the first four Khalifahs or Caliphs. The Sunnis believe that the office of the Prophet was not hereditary and no one could claim to be his sole heir. The community chooses one amongst themselves as their leader or the Khalifah.
There are four orthodox sects among the Sunni Muslims i.e. Hanafiyah (followers of Imam Abu Hanifah), Shafiyah (followers of Imam Ash-Shafii), Malakiyah (followers of Imam Malik) and Hanbaliyah (followers of Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal).
Ø The word Caliph or Khalifah, means ‘successor’ or ‘deputy’. It is used to designate the Prophet’s successor as leader of the Muslim community. This title was used by the successive Arab empires and by the Ottoman sultans. The Ottoman Caliphate was maintained for two years after the abolition of the Sultanate, until it was itself abolished by Kemal Ataturk in February 1924. Prophets of Islam
Ø According to Islamic belief, Allah has sent various Prophets to the world at different times and
different places to guide the people on the righteous path.
Ø The names of the following Prophets are mentioned in the Holy Quran: Adam, Sheth, Idris, Nuh (Noah), Hud, Salih, Lut, Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismail, Ishaq (Isaac), Yaqub (Jacob), Yusuf (Joseph), Shuaib, Dawud (David), Sulaiman (Solomon), Ilyas, Al-Yasa (Elisha), Musa (Moses), Aziz (Ubair or Ezra), Ayyub (Job), Dhul-Kifl (Isaih or Kharqil Bin Thauri), Yunus (Jonah), Zakariya (Zachariah), Yahya (John the Baptist), Isa (Jesus Christ) and Muhammad.
Ø Prophet Muhammad is considered as the messenger of Allah and the last of all Prophets who
restored Islam to its pristine purity. Prophet Muhammad was born in 570 AD at Makkah. At the age of 40, Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from Allah through the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) in a cave at Mount Hira near Makkah. The revelations continued for 23 years, and they are collectively known as the Quran.
Ø He began preaching these revelations to the common populace in Makkah. Due to sever opposition from the unbelievers, Prophet Muhammad and his followers undertook the great migration or Hijra to a town called Yathrib, which later came to be known as Medina. This emigration marks the beginning of the Muslim Calendar.
Ø In Medina, Islam began to flourish and Prophet Muhammad died at the age of 63. As a mark of respect to the Prophet, the Muslims use the words ‘Peace Be Upon Him’ after his name. Islam in India
Ø Islam first came to India at the Malabar Coast of Kerala through Arab traders as early as 6 AD.
Several centuries later the local population that embraced Islam became a well-knit social and cultural group known as the Moplas. Within the next 200 years, the first Muslim empire, the Delhi Sultanate, was established in India with its capital in Delhi.
Ø This was followed by several other Muslim dynasties like the Khiljis, the Tughlaqs, the Lodis and the Mughals. The period of the Mughals was the golden age of Islam in India. The religion flourished under the Mughal rule and many Indians embraced Islam.
Ø Today Muslims constitute about 12% of India’s population and are concentrated largely in Andhra
Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Kashmir.
- 7. Sufism
Ø Sufism or tasawwuf, as it is called in Arabic, is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. Today, however, many Muslims and non-Muslims believe that Sufism is outside the sphere of Islam.
Ø The origins of Sufism can be traced to the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, whose teachings
attracted a group of scholars who came to be called “Ahle Suffe”, the People of Suffe, from their practice of sitting at the platform of the mosque of the Prophet in Medina.
Ø There they engaged themselves in discussions concerning the reality of ‘Being’, and in search of the inner path and devoted themselves to spiritual purification and meditation. These individuals were the founders of Sufism. Fundamental principles
Ø Sufis represented the inner side of the Islamic creed, which stresses on self-realisation, beautification of the soul through piety, righteousness and universal love for all. The Sufis consider that there is a particular Divine Attribute that dominates the being of every prophet and
saint, such that they can be said to be the incarnation of that attribute. The aim of Sufism is the cultivation of Perfect Beings who are mirrors reflecting the Divine Names and Attributes.
Ø In Sufism, a perfect being is also called a Wali (saint), a word that literally means ‘sincere friend’.
The superstructure of Sufism is built upon the concept of teacher, pir or murshid.
Ø Sufism had succeeded in inculcating the sentiments of fraternity, equality and equity, coupled with sense of service to humanity, in the followers, irrespective of race, community, caste, creed and colour.
Ø In India, Sufism helped in maintaining communal harmony and social stability by advocating religious tolerance and by borrowing spiritual techniques and practices from other religions. Sufism has adapted extensively from the Vedanta school of the Hindu philosophy.
The musical and ecstatic aspect of Sufism is called Sama. This is a particular kind of devotional dance akin to Kirtana and was introduced by Jalaluddin Rumi. The Sufi, while being spiritually enraptured, gives the attention of his or her heart to the Beloved. With particular movements and often special and rhythmical music, he engages in the selfless remembrance of God.
Sufis identify two types of Sama poetry:
- First praising God (this is called Hamd), Prophet (this is called Naat) and the Sufi saints (this is called
- The second focussing on spiritual emotion or mystical love, ecstatic states and on separation and union.
The Sama poetry is mostly sung in the form of Qawwali. Music of Sama is set within metric framework, accompanied by Dholak, Tabla, Sarangi, Harmonium and Sitar.
- Muslim Religious Movements
Ø The word ‘Bohra’ is derived from the Gujarati word vohorvu or vyavahar meaning “to trade”. The
Muslim community of Daudi Bohras traces its ancestry to early conversions to Ismaili Shiism during the reign of the Fatimid Caliph Imam, al-Mustansir (1036-1094 AD).
Ø When schisms occurred in the Ismaili dawah (mission) in the eleventh and twelfth centuries in
Egypt, the Ismailis in India followed the Fatimid Tayyibi dawah of Yemen.
Ø Subsequently, this community split a number of times to form the Jafari Bohras, Daudi Bohras, Sulaymani Bohras, Aliyah Bohras and other lesser-known groups.
Ø The religious hierarchy of the Daudi Bohras is essentially Fatimid and is headed by the dai mutlaq who is appointed by his predecessor in office. The dai appoints two others to the subsidiary ranks of madhun (licentiate) and mukasir (executor). These positions are followed by the rank of
shaikh and mullah, both of which are held by hundreds of Bohras. An Aamil leads the local congregation in religious, social and communal affairs. Each town has a mosque and an adjoining jamaat-khanah (assembly hall) where socio-religious functions are held.
Ø The Bohras recognize the seven pillars of Islam. Walayah (love and devotion) for Allah, the
Prophets, the imam and the dai is the first and most important of the seven pillars.
Ø The others are tahrah (purity & cleanliness), salat (prayers), zakat (purifying religious dues), saum
(fasting), haj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and jihad (holy war).
Ø The Bohras enjoy a great degree of social and religious cohesion. Every Bohra is required to take an oath of allegiance (Misaaq), which is a formal initiation into the faith. The oath, inter alia, commits a Bohra towards adherence to the Shariah and accepting the leadership of the Sayyidna and the dai.
Ø The cult of Sayyidna, the high priest, and the Kothar, the clergy, is deeply ingrained in the Bohra psyche. Every Bohra follows a system of tax payment to the Syedna, who also exercises a great control over the marriage and death rites. Another distinctive feature is their use of a Fatimid lunar calendar which fixes the number of days in each month. Wahabism
Ø Wahabism was the first great modern expression of the awakening of the Arab Islam in the 18th century. Its founder was Muhammad Ibn Abd-al-Wahab. He preached and propagated the “pure faith” based only on the Holy Quran and the Sunnah and criticised the loosening of moral
standards under foreign influences. Wahabism led in 1932 to the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia. The only other Wahabi state is Qatar.
Ø The Wahabis do not receive the decisions of the four orthodox sects, but say that any man who can read and understand the Quran and the Ahadith can judge for himself in the matters of doctrine. They do not offer prayers to any prophet, wali, pir or saint. They do not even perform any act of reverence at the Prophet’s mosque at Madina. They observe only four main festivals, namely, Idul-Fitr, Idul-Azha, Yaum Al-Ashura and the Lailat-al Qadr and do not observe Prophet Muhammad’s birthday (Milad-un-Nabi) as a festival.
Ø Christianity is the religion of the followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Christianity has the largest adherents all over the world numbering more than 1.5 billion.
Ø Jesus Christ was born as a Jew in Bethlehem in 4 BC. He was believed to have possessed
supernatural powers. He began travelling widely and preaching to people in various towns.
Ø Alarmed by the growing popularity of Jesus Christ and his preaching, some Jewish priests conspired to kill him and succeeded in having him crucified. On the third day after his Crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected. He lived on earth for another 40 days and then ascended to heaven.
Ø The incidents preceding and succeeding his birth matched the prophesies of the Old Testament, according to which, the son of God would be born on the earth to rid humanity of its sins. The followers of Jesus formed a new faith, which was named as Christianity (after Christ) and its followers, Christians.
Fundamental principles of Christianity
Ø Christians are monotheists and insist that the originator and preserver of creation is one but is
represented in the Holy Trinity, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Christians see God as the Lord of Israel and the father of the divine and human figure of Jesus Christ.
Ø Jesus Christ, was the eternal word of God who assumed human form to serve humanity and to rescue the human beings. Jesus Christ suffered and died to redeem mankind from sin. Christians also believe that Jesus Christ now sits at the right hand of God as the final judge of the dead, and that He will return again as prophesised.
Ø Christians believe that Jesus Christ chose 12 learned men as messengers and directed them to spread his teachings and guide the populace. The 12 apostles are Peter (Simon); his brother Andrew; James; and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, the sons of Zebedee; Thomas and Matthew; James, son of Alphaaeus; Thaddaeus; Simon the Patriot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ.
Ø The holy book of the Christians is the Bible. The Bible contains a collection of writings dating from 9 BC to 1 AD written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and English. The Bible is divided into the Old Testament with 46 books and the New Testament with 27.
Ø The Old Testament is a Hebrew text, sacred to both the Jews and Christians and contains information about the creation of the world.
Ø The life and teachings of Jesus Christ, which form the centre of Christian belief, are recorded in the New Testament.
Ø Christianity became the formal religion of the Roman Empire after Constantine, the Emperor of
Rome, converted to Christianity in 313 AD. The religion was known as Catholic or universal, with the Roman Pope as its head. By 1054 AD many differences arose and the Church formally split into the Eastern Orthodox and the western Roman Catholic schools.
Ø In the 15th century, a new school of philosophy began to question the supremacy of the Pope. In the 16th century Martin Luther advocated many reforms in the Church, which led to yet another split in the Christian community and the formation of Protestant churches across Northeast Europe. The Protestants disapproved of the authority of the Pope and advanced the cause of the Bible as the sole authority.
Christianity in India
Ø By tradition, Christianity is said to have arrived in South India with the arrival of St. Thomas, one
of the apostles of Jesus Christ, at the Malabar Coast in 52 AD. He spent some years in South India and died near Madras. However, others believe that the first missionary to arrive in the country was Saint Bartholomew. Historically, Christian missionary activity started with the advent of St. Francis Xavier in 1544 AD.
Ø Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Catholic as well as Protestant missionaries preached Christian doctrines in India and also made important contributions to social improvement and education in India.
Ø The great period of expansion of Christianity in India began in 1858, when the British government took over rule in India from the East India Company. Christians from many countries came as missionaries.
Ø At present Christians are scattered all across India but most of them are concentrated in the Northeast and in Kerala and other southern states. Today, there are 23 dioceses in India with 11 of them being located in Kerala. A. The Syrian Church:
- The Christians belonging to the Syrian Church are found in South India and claim an apostolic foundation for their Church.
- They believe that Christianity was introduced in India by St. Thomas in 52 AD at the Malabar Coast. He established seven Christian communities or churches in Kerala.
- The Malabar Church renounced the authority of the Pope and asserted its independence in 1653 AD. This is known in history as the ‘Coonen Cross Declaration’.
- The Christian communities then split into many groups – East Syrian Catholics, West Syrian Catholics,
Syrian Orthodox, Jacobite Syrian Orthodox, Marthoma, Church of the East and the Latin Church.
- Today, the Chaldean Syrian Church is one of four archbishoprics in the Assyrian Church of the East, and has about 15,000 members in and around Thrissur City. Its cathedral is the Mart Mariam Cathedral, Thrissur City’s first Christian church. B. The Roman Catholic Church:
- With the arrival of the Portuguese to India, the visits of Roman Catholic Missions to India became more organised, and were initially concentrated to Goa, Cochin, Tuticorin and other coastal areas.
- St. Francis Xavier (1506-52 AD) became the first Jesuit missionary to arrive in India.
- In 1557 AD, Pope Paul IV declared Goa an archdiocese with its supremacy extending from the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa to China, and all Christians, including the East Syrian Church, brought under its jurisdiction.
- The Protestant Missions
- The first Protestant missionaries, German Lutherans, came to India in 1706 AD at Tranquebar, near
Tiruchinapally, under the protection of the King of Denmark.
- By the 19th century several other missions were established in different parts of South India.
- The North Indian Church
- Some consider that St. Thomas had travelled to North India and introduced Christianity. Others consider it to be the influence of merchants from the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.
- Under the influence of the Portuguese, several missionaries began to visit North India between
16th18th Centuries. The Jesuit missions were sent regularly to the Mughal Courts from the time of
Akbar to that of Aurangzeb.
- William Carey arrived in India in 1793 AD. Carey’s pioneering work in Bible translation, primary education and journalism had a profound influence in Bengal and other parts of India. Numerous other missionaries began visiting India after the passing of Charter Acts by the British Parliament in
1813 and 1833 AD.
Judaism is one of the oldest religions of the world, evolved in Egypt about 3,700 years ago. It believes in the unity and oneness of the universal Creator. Judaism is the religion, philosophy and way of life of the Jewish people.
- According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was the leader of a tribe named Habiru (Hebrew) in Chaldea in about 2000 BC. He advocated the theory of monotheism and decided to move his tribe to Canaan
(Palestine) to propound his theory. Here, the Hebrews mixed freely with local people and eagerly sought converts to their faith.
- Abraham’s grandson Jacob had an encounter with a mysterious being who told Jacob that in future, his
name would be known as ‘Israel’. The renamed Israel had 12 sons, who later became the progenitors of
12 tribes named after them. These tribes bore the collective name of Bene Israel or ‘Children of Israel’.
- The Israelis grew in number and for approximately two centuries dwelt in Egypt, where they were
enslaved. In about 1200 BC, under the leadership of Moses, they escaped and wandered in the wastes of Sinai (Egypt) for a long time. Here, Moses, the first Prophet of god, received revelation of the law, the Ten Commandments, which is today known as the Sefer Torah, the Jewish scripture.
- After this, a kingdom was founded in Canaan with Jerusalem as its capital. In this city, a temple was built to perform sacred rites.
- After King Solomon died, Israel was split into two kingdoms. The Southern Kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and called Judah with Jerusalem as its capital.
- The remaining 10 tribes comprised the Northern Kingdom. When the Assyrians invaded the Northern
Kingdom, they scattered the Israelites to various parts of their empire, northeast of Israel. Today they are referred to as the ten lost tribes. The Scriptures suggest they will be identified and returned to Israel in the Last Days.
Beliefs and practices
Ø The Jews believe in one god as was instituted by Abraham, Who they call Yahweh and from
whom all creation flows. Judaism believes in prophets, of whom Moses was the first. According to tradition, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Every devout Jew follows these commandments till today.
Ø The religion gives great importance to a good moral life and does not advocate asceticism, celibacy or self-imposed suffering, as it believes that the path to salvation is only through good deeds.
Ø The religious scripture Sefer Torah consists of the first five books of the Old Testament. There
are 613 percepts in the Torah to regulate the daily life of every Jew and this number is symbolised in the threads of the prayer shawls (tsisith) that every adult male Jew is enjoined to wear for prayers. The Talmud, the body of Jewish law, is considered Yahweh’s exclusive and immutable law. The Synagogue is the Jewish place of worship.
The Jews have three principle sects: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformist.
- The Orthodox cling to all ancient traditions and forms of religious worship and practices
- The founder of the Reform movement adopted the philosophy of changing with the times, and religious services and rituals were considerably shortened.
- The Conservative Jews followed a middle path, retaining some features of the Orthodox groups but permitting relaxation in certain cases.
Judaism in India
It is commonly accepted that the Jews have been in India for over 2,000 years ever since they first landed
on the West coast of India. The Indian Jews are known as a peace-loving community. They follow the Hebrew calendar. The Indian Jews have a special thanks giving ceremony known as Eliyahoo-ha-Nabior i.e. ‘gratitude to Elijah the Prophet’, on festive occasions. Indian Jews fall into five categories:
- Bene Israel – meaning Children of Israel. Marati speaking. Arrived in Maharashtra 2,100 years ago.
- Cochin Jews – arrived in India 2,500 years ago and settled down in Kerala as traders.
- Baghdadi Jews – Jews who came to India as traders from West Asia, mainly from Baghdad. They are settled mainly in Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata.
- Bene Menashe – The Manipur Jews constitute a community which sees itself as descendants of the
Manasseh (Menashe) Tribe (which is one of the 10 lost tribes of Jews).
- Bene Ephraim – also called “Telugu Jews”. They are a small group who speak Telugu. Their observance of Judaism dates to 1981.
Parsism or Zoroastrianism is about 2600 years old and finds its origin in Persia. The religion was founded by Spenta Zarathustra or Zoroaster, who is considered as the Prophet of the
Zoroastrian practice is based on the responsibility of every man and woman to choose between good and evil, and to respect God’s creations.
Ø Zarathustra preached the oneness of god and believed that Ahura Mazda was the one and only god, who is formless and has six great aspects called the AmeshaSpentas. These are Ardibehest, Bahman, Shahrivar, Spendarmad, Khordad and Amardad. The Parsis believe that the Ahura Mazda is eternally in conflict with Angra Mainyu or Ahirman, who represents the evil force. Practices
Ø The Parsi place of worship is called the fire temple. Five daily prayers, usually hymns or Gathas uttered by Prophet Zarathustra are said in the home or the temple, before a fire, which symbolizes the realm of truth, righteousness and order. Fire is regarded as the son of Ahura Mazda, and represents god.
In Zorastriniasm, Dakhma-nashini is the only method of corpse-destruction. This involves the destruction of the dead body in the stone-enclosed Dakhma, by the flesh-eating bird or the rays of the Sun.
Zenda Avesta is the religious scripture of the Parsis. It contains the teachings, sermons and prayers
composed by Prophet Zoroaster and his disciples and followers. Avestha is also the name of the language in which it is composed.
It is divided into five parts: the Yasna (worship with ceremony and offerings), the Videvdad (laws against demons), the Yashts (worship), the Khordeh Avestha, which comprises of selected portions of the
Avestha and forms the book of daily prayers of the Zoroastrians, and the five Gathas – Ahunavaiti, Ushtavaiti, Spenta-Mainyu, VohuKhshathra and Vashishta-Ishti, which contain the 17 hymns of God received by Prophet Zarathushtra by way of a Divine Revelation. Sects
There are three principle sects among the Parsis: Shahenshai, Kadmi and Fasli. The only difference between the three sects is the calendar they adhere to.
- The Faslis follow the traditional Persian calendar
- The Shahenshais calculate their calendar from the last Sassanian king, Yazdegard III The Kadmis
claim their calendar is the oldest and most accurate.
Zoroastrians of India
The first Zoroastrians to enter India arrived on the Gujarat coast in the 10th century and by the 17th
century, most of them had settled in Bombay. Today, there are approximately 90,000 Parsis in India and are concentrated largely in Maharashtra and Gujarat.
- The Bahai Faith
Ø The Bahai Faith is a monotheistic religion founded by Bahá’u’lláh in 19th-century Persia. The
Bahais believe that the ‘Promised One’ of all ages and peoples, Bahá’u’lláh revealed himself in
- He dispatched one of the distinguished Bahai teachers, Jamal Effendi to India to spread the teachings of the Bahai faith in the years 187475.
Beliefs and practices
Ø The Bahais believe in the three cardinal principles – oneness of mankind, oneness of God and
oneness of religion. Bahais believe that throughout history the Creator has educated humanity through a series of Divine Manifestations. These Manifestations include: Krishna, Buddha, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus and Muhammad. They believe that in the present age, God has revealed Himself through Bahaullah, whose name means ‘The Glory of God’. He is regarded as their Prophet.
Ø The Bahais work for the removal of prejudices based on caste, creed, religion, sex, colour, race
and language. They advocate universal education and the inculcation of a scientific outlook among people. The Bahais do not believe in superstitions, ceremonies, rituals and dogmas.
Ø The Bahais pray to the one true God, the Creator of the universe. The act of praying is described as ‘a conversation with God’.
Ø It is obligatory for every Bahai to pray and meditate on the Words of God every day. There are prayers for all occasions and these can be offered individually or collectively. The Lotus Temple
Ø The Bahai House of Worship at New Delhi is popularly known as the Lotus Temple. The temple gives the impression of a half-open lotus flower afloat, surrounded by its leaves. There is no clergy in the temple, no idols, no pictures, no sermons, no rituals. It is a place for communication between man and his Creator, God.
Ø The shrine has been designed by a young architect, Mr. Fariburz Sabha, a Canadian citizen and a
Bahai of Iranian descent, who was selected from among the world’s top architects.
- Religious Pilgrimages of India
The Cave of Amarnath is about 50 kilometers from Pahalgam in south Kashmir but involves tough walking, trekking and pony-riding. The cave is surrounded by snowy mountains. The cave itself is covered with snow most time of the year except for a short period of time in summer when it is open for pilgrims.
- According to legend the cave is situated at the place where Lord Shiva had given amrit (nectar) to the gods of the Hindu. It is believed that Lord Shiva adopted the shape of an ice-lingam which still exists in the cave.
- The Yatra was abandoned for a long time due to devastating floods and other natural calamities in the valley. A local Muslim family called Maliks is said to have re-discovered it. The successive generations of the Malik family of Mattan have since then been taking an active part in preparation of the Yatra and they get a share of the offerings at the cave.
- The Kashmiri labourers, invariably all Muslims, help the pilgrims throughout. The pilgrims traverse the route chanting “Har Har Mahadev” and “Amarnath Swami Ki Jai”. The Muslim helpers join them by saying “Ya Peer Dastgeer”. The Yatra culimates on the full moon day of August.
Nearly 3 million Muslims from more than 120 countries journey to the holy city of Makkah each year to
make the spiritual pilgrimage known as the Hajj. The pilgrimage is one of five Pillars of Islam that form the framework of
- Muslims trace the origin of the Haj to Prophet Ibrahim, who rebuilt the first House of Allah, the Kaaba, as the focal point for the worship of Allah alone.
- The Hajj begins on the eighth day of Dhul-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic year, and lasts for six days, from 8th-12th of Dhul-Hijjah. For the first three days of the Haj, the pilgrims are required to wear
special garments called Ihram.
- Upon arrival in Makkah, the pilgrims go to the Haram Sharief (Holy mosque) and perform the Tawaaf
or the circumambulation around the Kaaba or the House of Allah.
- The rituals also involve stoning (Rami) of the Jamarat (Satan) on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah, followed by the performance of Tawaf-e-Ziyarah and Sayee at Makkah, which marks the culmination of the main rituals of the Hajj.
- In India, the Ministry of External Affairs is the nodal agency which is responsible for making arrangements for the Indians Hajjis. Nearly 1,72,000 Indian pilgrims are going every year to perform Hajj. In addition, nearly 80,000 Indian pilgrims visit Saudi Arabia every year to perform the lesser pilgrimage known as ‘Umrah’.
Kumbh Mela is the greatest riverside religious festival of Hindus that takes place once every three years. However, the major Maha Kumbh Mela occurs once in 12 years.
- Legend has it that Lord Vishnu saved the nectar (Amrut) from the demons and gave it to the gods in a pot.
The gods rested the pot at each of the four cities of Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik.
- A few drops of Nectar are supposed to have spilled over on the water at these four places and sages, saints and pilgrims started periodically to flock to each of these ‘Tirthas’ to celebrate the divine event.
- Thousands of devotees take a holy dip in the river that is believed to purge them of their sin.
- Recorded history is witness to the fact that the Kumbh festival has been celebrated since even before the second century BC.
The hill temple of Lord Ayyappa in Shabarimala is situated in the Western Ghats of Kerala.
- The temple is open to all devotees irrespective of caste, creed, religion or social status. It attracts millions of pilgrims from within and outside India every year. Lord Ayyappa is also described as Hariharaputra, the son of Vishnu and Shiva, born in a supernatural way to annihilate the demoness Mahishi.
- The idol of Ayyappa is believed to have been installed at Sabrimala on the day of Makar Sankranti (midJanuary). Devotees believe that on this day, a peculiar light called ‘Makara Vilakku’ or ‘Makkara- Jyoti’ is seen facing the deity over the hills and they eagerly await this blissful sight.
- The Makara Vilakku is preceded by the period of Mandalam, which is a 41-day long ritualistic worship during which the pilgrims observe strict discipline and rigid austerities like wearing black clothes, observing strict celibacy and avoiding meat and alcohol.
- Girls and women between 10 and 50 years of age are not allowed to visit the temple to facilitate strict observance of celibacy in the temple complex.
- Only those pilgrims who have observed the austerities for at least 41 days are allowed to use the Patinenttampadi (or the 18 steps) leading to the main sanctum sanctorum. The devotees greet one another as ‘Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa’.
- The Pushkar Fair is held in the month of Kartik on the full moon day in Pushkar.
- Pushkar is home to one of the only two temples dedicated to Brahma, the other being at Khedbrahma in
Kerala. It is one of the innumerable temples skirting the large Pushkar Lake.
- The Pushkar fair centres around the event of taking a dip in the Pushkar Lake on the full moon night. Due to its association with Brahma, Pushkar is considered to be the tirtharaja, the king of all pilgrimage sites.
- The nearby temple of Savitri also attracts many married women, especially from Bengal, who worship the
goddess and seek the boon of eternal company with their spouse.
Pushkar is also the site for the biggest cattle fair in India. Scholars suggest that the cattle fair was an
extension of the religious event of taking a dip in the lake.
Urs of Khwaja Moin-Ud-Din Chishti
- Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, the founder of the Chishti order, came to India from Persia as a member of
Muhammad Gouri’s invading army in 1191. He settled in Ajmer, where he preached Islam until his death in 1233 AD. A darga was built in his memory. Affectionately called Garib Nawaz, he was said to be an emancipator of the poor.
- Each year an Urs is celebrated is celebrated in the month of Rajab to commemorate the death anniversary of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. According to the legend, the Khwaja entered his cell on the first day of the month of Rajab to meditate for five days and died on the sixth day.
- During this six-day fair, which is attended by people of different communities, various ceremonies are performed and the Qawwalis are sung in praise of the Khwaja.
- The tomb is known for its power to fulfill wishes. Devotees tie a kalawa on the pillars when seeking a favour. They are expected to untie the knot once their request has been granted.