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Religions in india

Religion seeps into every facet of Indian life. Despite being a secular democracy, India is one of the few countries on earth in which the social and religious structures that define the nation's identity remain intact, and have continued to do so for at least 4000 years despite invasions, persecution, European colonialism and political upheaval. Change is inevitably taking place as modern technology reaches further and further into the fabric of society but essentially rural India remains much the same as it has for thousands of years. So resilient are its social and religious institutions that it has absorbed, ignored or thrown off all attempts to radically change or destroy them.

India's major religion, Hinduism, is practised by approximately 80% of the population. In terms of the number of adherents, it's the largest religion in Asia and one of the world's oldest extant faiths. Hinduism has a vast pantheon of gods, a number of holy books and postulates that everyone goes through a series of births or reincarnations that eventually lead to spiritual salvation. With each birth, you can move closer to or further from eventual enlightenment; the deciding factor is your karma. The Hindu religion has three basic practices. They are puja or worship, the cremation of the dead, and the rules and regulations of the Hindu religion. Hinduism is not a proselytising religion since you cannot be converted: you're either born a Hindu or you're not.

Buddhism was founded in northern India in about 500 BC, spread rapidly when emperor Ashoka embraced it but was gradually reabsorbed into Hinduism. There are about 6.6 million Buddhists in India, and important Buddhist sites in northern India, such as Bodhgaya, Sarnath (near Varanasi) and Kushinagar (near Gorakhpur) remain important sites of pilgrimage. The Jainism also began life as an attempt to reform Brahminical Hinduism. It emerged at the same time as Buddhism, and for many of the same reasons. The Jains now number only about 4.5 million and are found predominantly in the west and south-west of India. The religion has never found adherents outside India. Jains believe that the universe is infinite and was not created by a deity. They also believe in reincarnation and eventual spiritual salvation by following the path of the Jain prophets.

There are more than 100 million Muslims in India, making it one of the largest Muslim nations on earth. Muslim influence in India is particularly strong in the fields of architecture, art and food. The Sikhs in India number 18 million and are predominantly located in the Punjab. The religion was originally intended to bring together the best of Hinduism and Islam. Its basic tenets are similar to those of Hinduism with the important modification that the Sikhs are opposed to caste distinctions. The holiest shrine of the Sikh religion is the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Christianity is said to have arrived in India in the South, specifically the Malabar Coast, with the Apostle St. Thomas in 52 AD. However, scholars say that it is more likely Christianity arrived around the 4th century with a Syrian merchant Thomas Cana who set out for Kerala with 400 families to establish what later became a sect of the Syrian Orthodox Church. This sect survives today. Services are in a mixture of Aramaic and Malayalam and the Patriarch of Baghdad is the sect's head. Other eastern sects include the Jacobites, Canaanites and orthodox Syrians. Catholicism established a strong presence in the wake of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama's visit to Calicut (in present Kerala) in 1498. Sects that have been active in the region include the Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits. Protestantism arrived with the British, Dutch and Danish and their legacy lives on today in the Church of South India. India has about 18 million Christians, around three quarters of who are South Indians.

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