An informal pre-departure orientation from a participant’s perspective.
You’ve guessed it!
Religions in India are diverse!
I know that this is getting repetitive by now, but more than almost any other nationality, Indians are characterized by the great variety of their faiths. India is a secular state, although religion has historically played a defining role in India’s identity and relations with other nations.
While the vast majority of Indians (80%) are Hindu, the other 1/5th of the population is comprised of Muslims (12%), Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.9%), and other groups (2.5%), including Buddhists, Jains and Parsis. In net amounts, India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. It is therefore a mistake to understand India just in terms of Hinduism. Real Indian culture is about the interaction and synergy of such different religions, including polytheism, monotheism, and atheism, and how they manage to coexist and interact within a single state.
What is amazing about Indian religion is not just the variety of faiths, but the number of major world religions that began in India. Hinduism is indigenous to India, and most Hindus still live in the region. Much later, Buddhism was founded when an Indian prince achieved enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. Sikhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism also have their roots in India.
As you travel around India, religion is apparent everywhere. You can visit sacred sites throughout India for each of the major religions: bath in the holy river Ganges, meditate in the deer park at Sarneth, see the Golden Temple in Amritsar, or walk through the beautiful courtyard of the mosque at Fatehpur Sikri. Just remember that these are not just tourist attractions: to the other people there, they are some of the holiest place in the world. The same goes for buying souvenirs with religious iconography. Please have respect and keep in mind how your actions may appear to others.
Photo: All Hindus try to bath in the sacred Ganges river at least once in their life, which rinses them clean of all sins. The city of Varanasi, shown here, is one of the holiest places in India for Hindus.
These religions are too complex for me to justice to in the context of this website, so I recommend that you read about them from more knowledgeable sources!
Once again, the BBC comes through with an excellent resource! This pages offers an in-depth look at the six major world religions. The most relevant sections are Hinduism, Sikhism, and Islam.
For more on Hinduism, have a look at http://www.lapraik.com/cordeaux/Hinduism/hinduism.htm
If you are interested in the more obscure religions, check out http://www.omsakthi.org/religions.html or look at http://whorlpool.905host.net/files/religions_world.htm for more links than you'll ever be able to follow!
Updated: 2006 November 16