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North India Tours
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Jammu and Kashmir
Himachal Pradesh

Religions of North India

In the olden days, the people of India were not city-dwellers. They lived in the forests and enjoyed the kind of life which the dense forests offered. Most of the myths revolved around trees, Yakshas, snake spirits, Nagas, Nagins, etc. Today, India is the home to all the world's major religions. About 80% of the people of India are Hindus. Besides this there are various other people belonging to various communities like Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and various other religious groups. One of the most important feature of the Indian religion and the social life is the caste system. After independence there has been significant changes in the caste system, but still in India most of the people are identified as the member of the particular caste group.


The origin of the modern Hinduism can be traced back about more than 2000 years ago, but today there has been some major changes in the belief and practice. The Aryans were the first people who came to India and settled in the Indus and Gangetic plains. The actual history of the Aryans seems to be recorded in the two great epics, which are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Lord Krishna who was considered as the Supreme god at that time,


was later worshipped by many devotees. Between the 4th and 9th centuries, some of the various ancient gods and goddesses of the Vedic period appeared and were later worshipped like the Brahma, Agni, Surya, Indra, Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti. For most of the Hindus today, worship is regarded as an integral part of the faith. The great majority of the Hindus worship these gods in the temples and also have a small shrine in their homes.

The Lord Mahavira founded Jainism around 500 BC. He was very kind hearted towards all beings and rejected the Hindu belief that the Supreme Creator had created this universe. The Jain monks became embodiments of total renunciation and wore fewer clothes. A begging bowl and a stove were their only possession. They covered their mouths to avoid any living insect accidentally entering their mouth and that is how they preached non-violence. In the course of time, non-violence also became an essential element of Hinduism. Various Hindu thinkers provides respect to the others’ beliefs.

Muslims are the largest minority of India. They constitute a majority in the Kashmir Valley, and are evenly spread in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The majority of Muslims are Sunnis, who follow the descendants of Mohammed’s direct successor, the Caliph, while other Muslims are Shiaites who are the descendants of the Prophet’s son in law, Ali. Both the sects visit Mecca which is Prophet Mohammed’s birth place.


Sikhs constitute about 2% of the Indian population. Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak (1944-1538), and originated as a Bhakti movement. He rejected the caste system and treated everyone equally. Sikhism is a fairly new religion, which split from Hinduism in the 16th century. It grew in response to conflict between Hindus and Muslims in Punjab forced by the terrible suppression by the Muslim rulers. Provoked by Aurangzeb's hostility the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, enjoined upon all Sikhs to take the surname ‘Singh’ (Lion). The Sikhs believe in one God and worship him in their temples called Gurudwaras. Their holy book is the Granth Sahib, a collection of the teachings of their Ten Gurus and other contemporary saints, both Hindus and Muslims. The tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, ordered that there would be no more Gurus after him and that their sacred book, the Granth Sahib, should be read for guidance. Their holiest city is Amritsar with its Golden Temple called Harmander Sahib.


India was the home of Buddhism, but today it is practiced only on the margins of the sub-continent, in Leh, Ladakh, Nepal and Bhutan. Today, there are approximately 5 million Buddhists in India, who worship the Lord Buddha, also known as the Gautama. There are various places of great significance for Buddhists around India like Lumbini, the Buddha’s birth place, Bodhgaya, where he attained enlightenment, the deer park at Sarnath, where he preached his first sermon, and Kushinagara, where he died at the age of 80. Besides this there are remarkable monuments, sculptures and works of art in Sanchi and Ajanta, where it is still possible to view the flowering of Buddhist culture in India.

Jews in India, have lived in Cochin for almost 3000 


years. Their migration dates back to 973 AD when King Soloman’s merchant fleet started trading with Kerala for spices and silver. They originally settled on the Malabar coast. The Dravidian King of Cochin treated them well and granted a piece of land to Josepin Rabban, a Jewish leader. They prospered and have lived peacefully over the centuries in Kerala. Now, only some of the Jews are there as most of them have now migrated to Israel. It is possible to see some old Jews in the Cochin synagogue, one of the oldest in the world.

Zoroastrianism was founded by Prophet Zoroaster around 800 BC. A good example of India’s hospitality towards the offended people of the world can be seen in the treatment of Zoroastrians who came to Gujarat (India) from Iran around AD 766. They are called Parsis in India and reside in Mumbai and other places of India. Over the centuries, they have tried to preserve purity in their blood by intermarrying among themselves. Of late, this system is breaking down as many Parsi boys and girls do not feel the necessity to marry among themselves. The advent of Islam in Iran led to their maltreatment and they found India safer. The Zoroastrian holy book is the Zend-Avesta, which describes the ongoing battle between good and evil. They worship Ahura Mazda, who is symbolized by fire. Parsis worship nature’s elements and are fire worshippers, keeping the symbol of their belief burning in their temples.


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