What is the Religious Make-Up of India?

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  • Originally Written By: Venus D.
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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The religious makeup of India is generally thought to be quite diverse. Most Indians, usually somewhere around 80%, are Hindu. The country is the birthplace of this tradition as well as the traditions of Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, all of which have devoted followers despite being in the minority. Faiths that have been imported — which is to say, that originated elsewhere and came with immigrants, missionaries, or both — include Islam, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism. Indian culture typically places an important emphasis on religion, and perhaps because of this most people living there belong to one faith group or another. Participation in the activities of local temples, churches, and shrines is often an important part of community building, particularly in rural places. Major celebrations and regional festivals are often also connected to faith-based holidays or ceremonies, and all of the different faiths of India tend to have high rates of active participation and devotion.



Hinduism is considered the oldest religion in the world and was developed around 2500 BCE in India; the majority of the people within the country still consider themselves a part of this tradition. It has close to one billion followers worldwide and is the third largest religion in the world. It is a polytheistic tradition, which means that is centers on the worship of multiple gods simultaneously, and it incorporates a number of different mythologies, too. The Hindu holy text is known as the Vedas , which is considered to be constantly evolving.

Different sects within Hinduism have different beliefs. For example, the Smartism sect believes that worship can be conducted in numerous ways while the Vaishnava sect believes only worship of the god Vishu is important.


Buddhism, meaning teachings of the awakened one, developed around the 5th century in India and had a large influence on the development of faith traditions within the country. Only about 1% of the modern population considers itself a part of this tradition, though it is still an influential part of the culture in many places. Buddhism is an atheistic tradition based on the teaching of Siddhartha Gotama, sometimes also known as Siddartha Gautama, who was born in modern-day Nepal. The focus in this tradition is the attainment of nirvana through meditation.


Sikhism began to surface in the 16th century in Northern India and adherents today are primarily concentrated in the Indian province of Punjab. In general about 2% of the Indian population considers itself Sikh. Sikhism is a monotheistic tradition, meaning there is just one central diety. In practice, adherents follow the teachings of ten Gurus, or religious leaders. Sikhs adhere to a concept known as the “five Ks,” which are five articles of faith. These are a turban, a comb, a bracelet, a special undergarment, and a sword. Traditionally these are worn at all times by the men of the tradition to symbolize true faithfulness.


Jainism began in ancient India, and still has a following today though, of the ancient Indian traditions, this one has the smallest following in modern times. Like Buddhism it is atheistic philosophy, which means basically that is doesn’t hold any diety in a central position of worship. Rather, it teaches that there is equality among all living things and focuses on the principle of non-violence. Followers of Jainism compose a relatively small number of Indians, usually less than 1% of the national population, who generally tend to be in the most affluent echelons of society.


Islam, a monotheistic religion that arrived in India in the 600s from the Middle East, is more popular; roughly 13% of Indians belong to the tradition today. Its holy text, the Quran, is believed to be the word of God as revealed to the prophet Mohammed through the angel Gabriel. Adherents are frequently known as Muslims.

Islam is comprised of two sects, Sunni and Shia. Most of India's Muslims, like the world's Muslims, are Sunni. While the two sects are largely similar, they do hold some different beliefs. One distinction between these two sects is that the Shias require that religious leaders be descendants of the prophet Muhammed.


Christianity is believed to have arrived in India between 50 and 90 CE, and just over 2% of the modern population is said to be affiliated. It is a monotheistic faith tradition that focuses on Jesus as the messiah. The arrival of European explorers in the 16th century introduced Roman Catholicism, which is especially popular in South and Northeast India, especially in the states of Meghalava, Nagaland and Mizoram. Various protestant traditions also have strong followings in many places.


Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy that arrived in India from Persia around 650 BCE. It is based on the concept of Ahura Mazda as the single God, and is relayed through the teachings of the prophet Zoraster. Its central and most sacred text is known as the Avesta. One belief is that the universe is presently in the phase of coming closer to perfection as a result of people's good deeds. Indians that belong to this tradition are typically known as Parsis, but they are usually a strong minority; usually, they make up less than 1% of the population.


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Post 3

Vinayk25 -- I always thought there were two main sects so when I read your comment I went and researched a little more.... It seems that the Bohra Ismaili are a sub-sect of the Shi'a sect. Are there any others? Does the Sunni sect have subgroups?

Post 2

The article says that there are only two sects of muslims ie the Sunni's and Shia's. However there are other minor sects as well such as the Bohra muslims and Ismaili's. These are two progressive sects and usually well educated and wealthy merchants. Prominent among them are the spiritual leader The Agha Khan and Aziz Premji the IT chief of WIPRO.

Post 1

I am an Asian Indian and honestly I have never heard of any sect in Hinduism known as 'Smartism'. Surely there is 'Shaivism' ( "Shaiva" for the followers of Lord Shiva ), a contemporary sect of 'Vaishnava '(for the followers of Lord Vishnu) Sect.

Moderator's reply: Thanks for your question! Smartism is actually a recently coined term used to describe the denomination of Hindus who follow the Shastras and Vedas teachings. The name is derived from the Sanskrit word, Smārta meaning “relating to memory.” Check back on our site for a future article devoted solely to the Hindu denomination of Smartism.

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