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Religions in India

India known as the land of spirituality and philosophy, was the birthplace of some religions, which even exist today in the world.

The most dominant religion in India today is Hinduism. About 80% of Indians are Hindus. Hinduism is a colorful religion with a vast gallery of Gods and Goddesses. Hinduism is one of the ancient religions in the world. It is supposed to have developed about 5000 years ago. Later on in ancient period other religions developed in India.

Around 500 BC two other religions developed in India, namely, Buddhism and Jainism. Today only about 0.5% of Indians are Jains and about 0.7% are Buddhist. In ancient times Jainism and specially Buddhism were very popular in India. Indians who accepted Buddhist philosophy spread it not only within the Indian sub-continent but also to kingdoms east and south of India.

These three ancient religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, are seen as the molders of the India philosophy. In 'modern' period new religions were also established in India.

One comparatively new religion in India is Sikhism and it was established in the 15th century. About 2% of Indians are Sikhs. There were other attempts to create new religions in India but they did not always succeed. For example, a Moghul emperor, Akbar, who reigned between 1556 - 1605, tried to establish a new religion, Din- E- Elahi, but it did not survive. There are other religious philosophies whose believers see themselves as a separate religion, but they do not always get this recognition. For example Lingayat of south India see themselves as a different religion, while others see them as a sect of Hinduism. There are also some tribal communities who demand to be recognized as separate religion from Hinduism. In the 19th century some Hindu reformers tried to remodel Hinduism to adjust it to modern period.

Along with the religions that developed in India, there are followers of non- Indian religions. The largest non-Indian religion is Islam. They are about 12% of India's population. Christians are more then 2% of India's population. There are also Zoroastrians who even though make less then 0.01% of India's population, are known around India. There are also a few thousand Jews in India. Judaism and Christianity might have arrived in India before they arrived in Europe.

Arrival of Non-Indo Religions

India, well known as the land of spirituality and philosophy, was the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism among other religions. Along with the religions that developed in India, there are also followers of religions of non- Indian origins. Among these religions are Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Bahaism and Judaism. The followers of these different religions arrived in India at different times.

The largest religion of non-Indian origin is Islam. They are about 12% of India's population. Muslims who arrived in India converted Indians to Islam. Islam was spread in India through two means, peaceful and sword. The first spreaders of Islam in India were individuals who saw in spreading Islam a holy precept. They used peaceful means to convert to Islam. But most of Indians are believed to have converted to Islam through the sword, which means the Muslim invaders gave the Indians an option to choose between death and Islam. The different Muslim rulers of India also brought into their kingdoms Muslim mercenaries, businessmen and slaves from different parts of the world like Russia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Arab countries and Africa. These people remained in India, married local Indians and converted them to Islam.

Like the Muslims, the Christians, who arrived to India also converted Indians to their religion, Christianity. Christians are about 2.5% of India's population. Most of the Indians were converted to Christianity by the missionaries who arrived in India with the European powers from 15th century. Of the European powers, the Portuguese were most enthusiast to baptize Indians. But Christianity did not arrive in India with the arrival of European missionaries. It reached India almost 2000 years ago.

Christianity originates in Israel. One of the Apostles (the 12 chief disciples of Jesus), St. Judas Thomas, was a carpenter. He was brought to India by a merchant to build a temple. St. Thomas arrived in Kerala, in south India in 52 AD. He succeeded in converting local Indians to Christianity. His converts were called Syrian Christians. One assumption says that some of the Syrian Christians were actually local Jews converted by St. Judas Thomas to Christianity. The disciples of Jesus at first intended to convince the Jews to adopt the philosophy of Jesus as new Judaism. Therefore they arrived to regions where Jews had settled in the world. Among these regions where Jews had settled was India. Two Apostles are believed to have arrived in India for this purpose. St. Judas Thomas arrived in Kerala in south India and St. Bartholomew in western Maharashtra in west India.

Judaism is probably the oldest religion of non-Indian origin to arrive in India. Today there are also a few thousand Jews in India. Judaism and Christianity might have arrived in India before they reached Europe.

The different Jewish communities of India, Bene Israel, Cochini, Baghdadi and Bne Menashe claims their arrival in India in different ways and it is not always clear how they really came to India. The Bene Israel, which is the largest Jewish community of India, lived earlier in the villages of west Maharashtra. They are believed to exist in India for over 2000 years. The Cochini Jews in south India also claim that their first forefathers arrived in India over 2000 years ago during King Solomon's rule. The Bne Menashe of East India who claim to origin from the 'Lost Tribes' arrived much later in India. The Bne Menashes arrived in east India from China and Myanmar (Burma). In the late 18th century, Jews from Arab countries and Iran arrived in India because of religious persecutions in their countries. They were called collectively as Baghdadi Jews.

Two other religions that arrived in India because of religious persecutions in their countries were Zoroastrianism and Bahaism. Both of them arrived from Iran.

Nine Unknown Men

Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka.