Buddhism is the fourth largest religion of the world
after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Although it
originated in India, it has stronghold in countries
like Tibet, China, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia where
missioaries from India carried its message. Buddhism
was founded in India by prince Siddhartha Gautam, who
was born about 550 B.C. in Northern India and lived
till 485 B.C. Siddhartha lived in wealth and pleasantness
but he found suffering
and sickness among people in his kingdom. He left his
home and wandered around to find the meaning of life.
One day he sat under a bodhi tree and got the enlightenment.
From that time on he was called as BUDDHA. Buddhism
has many concepts akin to Hinduism like karma and reincarnation.
Buddha suggested that life is full of sufferings and
one must act in a way to escape from them.
He laid down four basic
principles (TRUTHS) to achieve that:
All life is sorrow and suffering
Human suffers due to desire or selfcenteredness
Desire can be ended by following the eight fold path-
right belief, intention,speech, action, work, effort,
thinking, and meditation.
A person who follows this
path gets rid of desire and hatred and achieves spiritual
peace i.e.NIRVANA. This would then lead to end of KARMA
cycle or rebirth of soul (reincarnation). Buddha founded
the Buddhist monastic order before leaving the wheel
of life. The order known as SANGHA lays down certain
No killing of humans or animals
Monks will shave their head and beard, wear special
Yellow robes have a bowl for begging and a string with
108 beads. These monks never marry and devote their
life to meditation
Buddhism reached its peak in India during the time of
king Ashok in about 320 B.C. but started declining under
Gupta dynasty. Indian Buddhism, in time, restored many
of older Hindu beliefs and gods. By 1100 A.D., Hinduism
again became the major religion
By tradition, Christianity is said to have arrived in
India with Saint Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus
Christ, who spent some years in South India and possibly
died there. However, others believe that the first missionary
to arrive in the country was Saint Bartholomew. Historically,
Christian missionary activity started with the advent
of Saint Francis Xavier in 1544. He was followed by Portuguese
missionaries at first and eventually by missionaries from
other countries like Denmark, Holland, Germany and Great
Britain. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Catholic
as well as Protestant missionaries preached Christian
doctrines in India and also made important contributions
to social improvement and education in India.
Much of the modern influences in the Indian society can
be attributed to the role of Christianity in India. Christian
missionaries helped in setting up schools and colleges
all over India and also spread the message of faith and
goodwill in the country. Christianity and its teachings
influenced a number of intellectuals and thinkers in India,
including Mahatma Gandhi.
Today, the Christians in
India number about 30 million and consist of people
from every denomination of Christianity.
It is the third largest and the oldest religion of the
World. No one is actually certain how old is Hinduism
but it can be said with certainity that Indus valley
civilisation contributed some ideas to Hindu religion.
The earliest known Hindu
scriptures are the "Vedas". Vedas describe
the religion of Aryans, who invaded India around 1500
B.C. The Vedic religion was not Hinduism although hindus
consider Vedas as their scriptures. Of the Hindu "Trinity"
Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Mahesh
(Shiva) the destroyer only Vishnu's name appears in
the oldest Vedas. The
concept of Trinity dates back to 500 A.D. Around the
same time, the importance of goddess began which appears
in many forms of Shakti (Shiva's consort). However,
Upanishads which were written several hundreds years
later have characteristic Hindu ideas of unity of soul
with Brahman, karma, reincarnation, and salvation (Moksha-
The notion of class and caste which was absent in Vedas
starting appearing during this period. Hindus are mainly
divided into three groups
i) Shivites, who are devoted to Shiva, whom they consider
as their creator and preserver of the universe
ii) Vaishnavas, who assign the above roles to Vishnu
and iii) Shaktas, who worship Shakti.
These divisions of Hinduism are not very rigid as in
other faiths and it is not strange for people of one
belief to mix with others. The Hindus do not form congergations
and mostly worship at home. They worship other God and
Goddesses as well as these are considered as another
reincarnation of main Hindu Gods. As a result, the major
Gods and Goddesses are worshiped in many names and forms.
Hindus have little missionary feeling because they believe
that the proper way to become a Hindu is to born one.
Hindu rituals cover all areas of a person's life. Hindu
society has a high standard of conduct, with little
immorality, crime, or violence.
There are many definitions of the word 'Hindu' based
on geography, religion, or politics etc. but none of
them is perfect. It is a way of life, therefore, there
is no need to define Hinduism. We should simply recognise
the fact that Hindu society exists.
Hinduism is universal and
contains different schools of philosophy and religion.
Hinduism is the oldest
religion of the world but it reforms and changes with
demands of the time, thus it is ancient but remains
Every Hindu keeps these four objectives
in view and tries to achieve them:
Material prosperity (artha)
Theory of Action (karma):
we reap what we sow. We must take responsibility
for all actions we do in this life.
To achieve the above objectives life is
divided into four segments:
(bramacharya)- student life i.e. acquiring knowledge.
Family life (grihastha)- enjoyment and prosperity and
running of society and
Retirement (vanaprastha)- delegate responsibility to
younger generation to
perform selfless social
Renunciation (sanyas)- complete renunciation of the
world for union with God.
Islam is the second
largest religion of the world whose followers are called
Muslims. The largest number of Muslims are in Asia and
Africa and particularly in middle east and north Africa.
The founder of Islam, Muhammad, was born about 570 A.D.
in Mecca. His parents died when he was young and was
raised by relatives. When Muhammed was about 40 years
old, God began to speak to him. God told him to transmit
His message to people of
Arabia. In 622 A.D. the people of Mecca, where he was
living with his family got so upset with his teachings
that Muhammed and his followers had to flee. His escape
to the city of Madina is known as HIJRA and this day
is considered as the beginning of Islam. Eight years
later (630 AD), Muhammed returned to
Mecca and took over the city with a large number of
his followers without any resistance. Muhammed called
God as Allah and declared Mecca a holy city and Kaaba
a shrine for Allah. God also dictated a book to Muhammed
which was written
down later and is known as KORAN. From then on the followers
of Islam built a mighty Empire that streched from Spain
to India at its peak.
Five principles of islam
is no God but God(Allah), and Muhammed is His prophet.
Prayer to Allah five times daily
helping the poor and providing for upkeep of places
never drink alcohol or eat pork and certain other foods;
and no eating, drinking or smoking during daylight
for one month (Ramadan).
to Mecca at least once in a life time.
Muhammed's death, the Muslims tried to develop specific
policies based on what Muhammed said and did at various
times. These were compiled into a collection known as
Hadith. From Hadith and Koran, the scholars in 7th and
8th century developed a set of rules for worship and
for life. These rules are now known as SHARIA or Islamic
law. To govern the state, the Muslims elected the succesor
whom they called Caliph. Muhammed's son Ali was selected
as the fourth Caliph. The majority, Sunnite consider
first three Caliph as genuine whereas a minority, called
Shiites believe that it was Muhammed's wish that Ali
be the first Caliph. The separation of Islam into 'Sunnite'
& 'Shiite' has no exact parallel in other religions.
Under these two denominations there are several sects
with somewhat different beliefs.
Jainism was founded
by Mahavira who was born about 580 B.C. in Northern
India. It has 4 million followers in India. He preached
atheism or the absence of god. Jainism also believes
that one can achieve salvation (freedom from wheel of
life i.e. rebirth). Jains use the word Karma to mean
a substance that binds the soul to physical world. By
causing sins you keep accumulating Karma whereas meditation
and fasting burns the Karma. One can get freedom from
rebirth (Salvation) only after burning the Karma
accumulated in past lives.
laid down five ways to get rid of wheel of life-
not destroy life
nothing that is not freely given
The Sikh religion
emerged during the early 16th century in the state of
Punjab in North India. The founder of this faith was Guru
Nanak, who from his childhood was attracted to both Hindu
and Muslim saints. Born a Hindu, but also inspired by
the teachings of Islam, he began to preach the message
of unity of both religions. According to him, the basic
teachings of both faiths were essentially the same. Nanak
attracted many followers and came to be known as a Guru
or a teacher. His disciples came together to form a new
religious tradition called Sikhism.
The Gurus who followed
Nanak contributed to the consolidation and spread of
Sikhism. The teachings of Guru Nanak were incorporated
in the 'Guru Granth Sahib', the Holy Book of the Sikhs
which became a symbol of God for Sikhs. The fifth Guru,
Guru Arjun built the Golden Temple at Amritsar which
became the holiest of Sikh shrines. The tenth Guru,
Govind Singh imparted military training to the Sikhs
to help them defend themselves. He also decided to terminate
the succession of gurus and was thus the last of the
Sikhism propounds monotheism,
i.e. worship of one God. It also opposes the caste system
and believes that all men are equal. However the ideas
of karma and rebirth from Hinduism are accepted. Today,
many Sikh practices are common to Hindus. Intermarriages
between the two communities are also common. However
the Sikh community has its own unmistakable identity.
Though the Sikhs constitute less than 2 percent of the
Indian population, they have become a distinct element
in the configuration of the Indian religious tradition
and the Indian society.
NANAK DEV - Founder of Sikhism
(The Hindu, November 14, 1997 - Surjit Singh Sahney)
The birth of Guru Nanak
in 1469 A.D. marked a turning point in medieval history.
Born at a time when society was split into various groups
based on caste, creed and religion, Nanak tried to unite
humanity through the message of universal brotherhood
and communal harmony and to launch a new movement for
the establishment of an egalitarian society and a joint
social order. For him all human beings were God's children.
He advocated man's direct link with the Ultimate Reality.
He denounced asceticism, monasticism, formalism and
image worship and all rites and rituals connected with
His four odesseys took
him to Assam in the east, Sri Lanka in the south, Tibet
in the north and Mecca and the Islamic centres in the
Middle East. People were attracted to him because of
his charismatic personality. Even as a child, he displayed
a contemplative turn of mind, love for solitude and
large- heartedness. He was generous by nature and exuded
warmth and friendliness. Even while young, he composed
many hymns effortlessly, which were spiritually meaningful.
There was a moment of supreme transformation and enlightenment
in his life when he stood face to face before God, who
directed him to spread a new faith among people, based
on discipline and purity of character.
Guru Nanak's unusual attire,
attracted the attention of quite a few people. He was
once asked, "To which faith do you belong?'' His
reply was, "I do not need symbols for my prayer.
For me, the Lord's name is my `salagram', good deeds
my necklace and divine grace, the anchor of my raft.''
The episode of Guru Nanak's
physical disappearance from Sultanpur and his re-appearance
represented the divine call he received for embarking
on his noble mission. He travelled extensively, mostly
on foot. He laid stress on charity and detachment while
making an honest living. He was a bridge between the
Hindus and the Muslims. He was probably the first to
give India the concept of a Nation.
He advised people to be
in the world but not worldly. In his teachings, adherence
to dharma, company of holy men, morality and good conduct
hold a very high place. To him, religion was a way of
A world teacher,
Guru Nanak's message is of universal application and
is relevant for all time and for the entire mankind.
Guru Nanak, who founded Sikhism, gave new hope to the
downtrodden mankind to join his fraternity as equals.