Religion forms an integral part of Indian life and the norms associated with it. In fact, religion is so important in India that it forms the basis of many of the political, commercial and educational facets of these people’s lives and customs. Religion has always been a defining character of this country, and its history is speckled with people that influenced and moulded religion in some way. Generally speaking, Indians are tolerant of other religions, not promoting a spirit of division or hatred across religious borders. In fact, the constitution requires that its citizens be accepting of one another’s beliefs, values, morals and ideals for the betterment of a cohesive and cooperative land. However, marriages across these lines are usually discouraged, even today.Of the approximately 1.1 billion people in India, over 80% subscribe to the Hindu faith. Hinduism is defined by its loving acceptance of all, as well as its respect for life, whether human or animal. The other religions are represented as follows:
Muslims: ± 14%
Christians: ± 2.3%
Sikhs: ± 2%
Buddhists: ± 0.8%
Jains: ± 0.4%
The rest are subsidiary religions, usually individual ones as set out by a rural tribe that has not had the outside influence of bibles, mosques or temples.
There are two mains religious streams in India into which most other religions can be characterised. These are the Vedic stream (e.g. Hinduism) and the Shramana stream (e.g. Buddhism and Islam). These two categories follow distinct patterns of teachings and beliefs, but have proved to benefit one another, rather than clash, which often results in hatred and violence.
While the subscription to various orthodox faiths may have waned, particularly in the modern areas and generations, the celebrations of important festivals and the observance of various key rituals remain major parts of Indian culture. Many of these rituals have to be performed every day, and there are only a very small number of Indians that do not follow these customs. While these customs may vary quite a bit from one village or language group to the next, they are equally important and are adhered to with great commitment. A good example of this is the Hindu followers’ morning routine of bathing and then worshipping in the family shrine, where they offer their gods food and light a lamp for them, recite scriptures and sing praises. Likewise, Muslims wash themselves before offering each of their five daily prayers.
Even the food of India is influenced by its many religions. Buddhists have promoted the idea of vegetarianism, and it is only the minority of Indians that eat meat as part of their diets. Islam does not allow its members to eat pork, while Hindus are strictly forbidden from eating beef, as its followers considers cows to be sacred.
Religious ceremonies and customs come to the fore at events such as weddings, funerals and the birth of a baby. In most cases, wedding dates are chosen according to astrology, babies are often blessed and assigned a god and the dead are sent off to another dimension of life.
To examine the various religions that make up this multi-faceted country is to learn about the very essence of India.