Religion in India – UPSC Notes – Art and Culture

The Indian subcontinent is home to a diverse range of religions that define the morality and ethics of those who practise them. We have several communities coexisting, as well as a variety of religions. Each religion’s spirituality is vested in sacred books and physical spaces where people gather to pray. India has no official religion, citizens are free to follow their own religious belief systems. India is a secular democratic republic and the Constitution of India provides equal opportunities to every religion. Check out our article on Religion in India – A comprehensive coverage!

Religion in India – Brief

  • The Indian Government is not bound by a particular religious belief system. There are a large number of different religions in India.
  • There is the presence of innumerable different faiths and sects.
  • History rich in different cultures and civilisations have added to this number.
  • Followers of various religions have diverse social compositions.
  • Hinduism is the major religion practised by 80% population.

Types of Religion in India

Certain religions emerged as a protest against dominant Hinduism, including Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Religious belief systems formed due to conquest or colonization encompassed Islam and Christianity. Migrant religious groups included Jews, Zoroastrians, and followers of the Bahai faith.


  • Hinduism is one of the most popular religions in the country, encompassing a wide range of cults and sects.
  • Derived from the word ‘Hindu,’ it originally referred to people living in the geographical area around the Indus River.
  • At its core, Hinduism borrows fundamental principles from pre-Vedic and Vedic religious philosophies.
  • The origins of Hinduism trace back to around 2000 BC when Aryans settled along the banks of the Indus River.
  • The term “Hindu” originates from the earlier name of the river, ‘Sindhu,’ which, when migrated Persians called it ‘Hindu,’ gave rise to the terms ‘Hindustan’ and ‘Hindus’ for the land and its inhabitants.

Brahmo Samaj

  • Initiated by Raja Rammohan Roy, the Brahmo Samaj was founded in 1828 with the aim of challenging the problems within Hinduism.
  • Driven by a quest to address these issues and uncover the truths of Vedanta, Raja Rammohan Roy established the Brahmo Samaj.
  • This reformist movement staunchly opposed iconography and the worship of any form of imagery.
  • The Brahmo Samaj actively spoke out against the abhorrent practice of Sati, campaigning tirelessly for its abolition, a cause that eventually succeeded after years of effort.
  • In addition to its social and religious reforms, Raja Rammohan Roy also established two schools under the Brahmo Samaj to promote education among the masses.
Raja Ramohan Roy - Religion in India
Raja Ramohan Roy – Religion in India

Arya Samaj/Shramana

  • Founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the Arya Samaj aimed to rejuvenate Hinduism from within its roots.
  • Arya Samaj adherents believed in the supreme authority of the Vedas, considering them the repository of all values and knowledge.
  • One of their primary principles was dedicated to working for the betterment of humanity.
  • Recognizing the importance of education for the masses, they established a significant number of schools.
  • Practicing iconoclasm, the Arya Samaj sought to convert non-Hindus to Hinduism. Swami Dayanand Saraswati initiated the Suddhi or purification movement, facilitating the conversion process.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati - Religion in India


  • The term ‘Jain’ is derived from the words jina or jaina, signifying ‘Conqueror.’
  • Jainism holds that its followers are individuals who have conquered and mastered their desires.
  • Unlike having a single founder, the truth in Jainism is revealed to the world by teachers, known as Tirthankaras, who guide the way. Before Mahavira, there were 23 Tirthankaras in Jainism.
  • Although commonly assumed to be the founder, Mahavira was the 24th and final Tirthankara, dedicated to achieving his spiritual goals and imparting the path to attain moksha or liberation.
  • In a departure from Vedic authority, Jainism, akin to Buddhism, rejects it. However, it upholds the existence of a soul (atman), making it the focal point of Jain philosophy.
  • In Jainism, it is the soul that undergoes existence and acquires knowledge, distinct from the mind or body, perceived as a mass of matter.
  • Emphasizing compassion and love for all forms of life, Jainism primarily communicates its teachings in the language of the common masses, rejecting the use of Sanskrit, a Brahminic language.
Religion in India - Jainism
Religion in India – Jainism


  • One of the world’s major religions, Buddhism, originated in the Indian subcontinent and has subsequently spread to significant parts of South-east Asia.
  • The narrative of Siddhartha, who later became known as Buddha, is intertwined with the genesis of Buddhism.
  • Buddhism’s traditions, beliefs, and practices all trace their roots back to Buddha.
  • Ranked as the world’s fourth-largest religion after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, Buddhism is practiced by approximately 7% of the global population.
  • In India, Buddhists constitute 0.7 percent of the population, amounting to 8.4 million people, with the majority residing in Maharashtra.
  • Built upon a philosophical system and a moral code, Buddhism’s fundamental philosophy revolves around the Four Noble Truths propounded by Buddha.
  • The rapid growth of Buddhism was notably spurred by the patronage of Emperor Asoka.
Religion in India - Buddhism
Religion in India – Buddhism


  • The history of Sikhism unfolds with the life, times, and teachings of Guru Nanak (1469-1539).
  • Guru Nanak, a nonconformist with a distinct perspective, launched a concerted campaign against Hinduism.
  • Beyond criticism of the prevailing way of life in Punjab, he provided his followers with an alternative socio-religious organization.
  • Introducing congregational worship in a dharamsala and communal dining, Guru Nanak sought to regulate his followers’ community life and foster unity among them.
  • Rather than merely condemning the existing social order, Guru Nanak proposed a constructive alternative.
  • According to him, the ultimate purpose of human existence is salvation, achievable by breaking free from the endless cycles of birth and rebirth.
Religion in India - Sikhism
Religion in India – Sikhism


  • Islam originated in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century AD and subsequently spread worldwide through a vast empire.
  • The term “Islam” itself signifies “submission” to God, and Muslims are individuals who submit to God and adhere to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad.
  • Prophet Muhammad, regarded as the final messenger of God on Earth, follows in the footsteps of earlier prophets such as Abraham and Moses.
  • Abraham is a shared ancestor in the historical lineage of both Christians and Muslims.
  • Within Islam, there are two primary sects known as Sunni and Shia Muslims, along with various other minor sects.


  • Christianity, one of the world’s largest religions, boasts a significant following in India.
  • Founded by Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, the faith gained popularity after Christ’s trial and resurrection three days later.
  • Over time, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, experiencing rapid expansion. Vatican City subsequently became the seat of Roman Catholic Christianity.
  • As Christianity evolved, various reform movements emerged, leading to the establishment of sects such as Protestants, Methodists, and others.
  • At the core of Christianity is the belief in a single God who is the creator of the universe. The faith teaches that when necessary, God sends messengers or messiahs to assist in the well-being of His creation.
Religion in India - Christianity
Religion in India – Christianity


  • Founded in Persia around 6-7 BCE by the prophet Zarathustra, Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion centered on the belief in one eternal god, Ahura Mazda, embodying justice and goodness.
  • Within this faith, there is a duality between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, a spirit associated with malice and malevolence. The eternal struggle between these two entities is believed to culminate in a final day when good will ultimately triumph over evil.
  • The Zoroastrians, often referred to as Parsis, first encountered India in 936 AD, fleeing from Islamic invasions in Iran. Presently, they constitute one of India’s smallest and declining communities, primarily residing in Mumbai, Goa, and Ahmedabad.
  • Their places of worship, known as Atash Bahram or fire temples, are exceptionally rare, with only eight known temples throughout the entire country.
Religion in India - Zoroastrianism
Religion in India – Zoroastrianism


  • Judaism stands as one of the oldest religions, yet it has endured a history marked by significant persecution.
  • Adherents of Judaism are known as Jews, a group that has been targeted by various empires throughout history. The most notorious example of this persecution was carried out by Hitler, resulting in the slaughter and torture of millions of Jews in Germany.
  • Like several other major religions, Judaism is monotheistic, rooted in the belief in a single God. Their religious traditions predate both Christianity and Islam, with the latter two having drawn extensively from Judaic philosophies.
  • In Judaism, the central figure is Yahweh, recognized as the one and only true God, a belief established by the patriarch Abraham.
Religion in India - Judaism
Religion in India – Judaism


  • Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, delves into the innermost tenets of the faith, known as tasawwuf.
  • Emphasizing self-awareness, tolerance, righteousness, and universal love, Sufism seeks to embody the spiritual essence of Islam.
  • The term “Sufism” is derived from the Arabic word for wool (suf), referencing the rough wool garments worn by ascetics and even prophets. Alternatively, some trace it back to the root word saf, signifying purity in Arabic.
  • In response to the increasing materialism within the Caliphate, religious individuals in Persia turned to asceticism around the beginning of the 12th century AD, eventually becoming known as Sufis.
Religion in India - Sufism
Religion in India – Sufism

Religion indeed holds significant influence wielded by the powerful, serving as a tool to either foster communal unity or create divisions. However, India has historically experienced more years of religious peace than instances of communal tensions. The coexistence and harmonious relations among different religions contribute to increased tolerance and the promotion of secular values. It is crucial to encourage unity, cooperation, and enhanced understanding among various religions and sects through inter-religious dialogue. Such initiatives can play a pivotal role in fostering peaceful coexistence, promoting mutual respect, and fortifying the principles of secularism within the diverse fabric of Indian society.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) – Religion in India

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Religion in India:

  1. What is India’s main religion?
    • While Hinduism has been the dominant religion for several thousand years, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, and Sikhism have also flourished. Religion is taken far more seriously in India than it often is in the West and by virtually the entire population.
  2. How many Hindu religions are there in India?
    • Hinduism is the largest religion in India. According to the 2011 Census, 966.3 million people identify as Hindu, representing 79.8% of the country’s population.
  3. What is the religion in India in 2023?
    • India is a secular society where religions can be freely practiced. While Hinduism has the largest population at over 80 percent, it is also home to the world’s largest Muslim population (close to 13 percent), followed by Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists.
  4. Which is the first religion in India?
    • Hinduism is considered the world’s oldest religion, with roots and customs dating back more than 4,000 years.
  5. Who brought Islam to India?
    • Islam arrived in the Indian subcontinent in the 7th century when the Arabs conquered Sindh. It later spread to Punjab and North India in the 12th century via the Ghaznavids and Ghurids conquests, becoming an integral part of India’s religious and cultural heritage.

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