Jainism is an important part of India’s history: it has roots in ancient religion, and it propels believers onto a path of physical, spiritual, and ethical enlightenment over a lifetime. It holds life in the highest esteem even down to the smallest microscopic organism. This non-violent religion has a number of important traditions, including festivals, rituals, worship, fasting, and meditation. But today it isn’t one of India’s biggest religions, having only about four and a half million followers spread out all across the globe.
Although Jainism is important, let’s explore some of India’s other major religions and how they overtook Jainist beliefs and practices.
- Hinduism. Like Jainism, “dharma” is widely practiced in this religion as well. Hinduism is one of the oldest religions in the world, and also one of the most eclectic because of how it came into being. This religion had no founder, but is instead made up of various ancient Indian traditions and cultures that are now long-dead. Core aspects include rituals, community, cosmology, ancient texts, and pilgrimage. A whopping 79.8 percent of Indians practice Hinduism.
- Islam. Many Indians also practice Islam (around 14.2 percent) and most of them belong to the Sunni sect. Muslims arrived during a period of trade from Arab states in the seventh century CE. A temple was built and the religion began to spread. This wave grew higher when Turkic invasions began in Northern India during the 12th century.
- Christianity. Around 2.3 percent of Indians are Christian believers. “Tradition” suggests that Thomas the Apostle came to the Malabar Coast in 52 AD to help spread the new religion. Although there are other stories, historians acknowledge that Christianity had been firmly rooted throughout India by the sixth century AD.
- Sikhism. This religion is practiced by about 1.7 percent of Indians. It was founded by Guru Nanak and has been an important part of Indian culture for about 550 years. They have many traditions including uncut hair, wooden combs, steel bracelets, cotton underwear, and small swords to protect the weak.
- Buddhism. Although it is the world’s fourth-largest religion, relatively few people practice in India (around .7 percent) even though it originated there around the fifth century BCE. Buddhists believe that the cycle of life and death occurs from continual rebirth. The purpose of the religion is to break this cycle to defeat its inherent suffering. Those who achieve this goal reach Nirvana.
Jainism comes in sixth place! It is practiced by only .4 percent of Indian citizens.