Religion has been an important part of India’s culture throughout its history. Religious diversity and religious tolerance are both established in the country by laws and customs. A vast majority of Indians (over 93%) associate themselves with a religion. Four of the world’s major religious traditions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated at India. These religions are also called as ‘Eastern Religions’.



The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit name Sindhu for the Indus River. With around 1 billion followers, Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam. Hinduism is considered as one of the oldest religion of the World. It is the predominant spiritual following of the Indian subcontinent, and one of its indigenous faiths. Hinduism is a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid common set of beliefs. Hindus worship a god with different forms.


  • Some of the important evidences of prehistoric times:
    • Mesolithic rock paintings depicting dances and rituals gives evidence attesting to prehistoric religion in the Indian “subcontinent”.
    • Neolithic pastoralists inhabiting the Indus River Valley buried their dead in a manner suggestive of spiritual practices that incorporated notions of an afterlife and belief in magic.
    • Other Stone Age sites, such as the Bhimbetka rock shelters in central Madhya Pradesh and the Kupgal petroglyphs of eastern Karnataka, contain rock art portraying religious rites and evidence of possible ritualised music.
    • The people of the Indus Valley Civilization, centered around the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra river valleys, may have worshiped an important mother goddess symbolising fertility.
      • Excavations of Indus Valley Civilization sites show seals with animals and “fire-altars”, indicating rituals associated with fire.
    • The oldest surviving text of Hinduism is the Rigveda, produced during the Vedic period. The Vedas center on worship of deities such as Indra, Varuna and Agni, and on the Soma ritual.
    • Fire-sacrifices, called yajna are performed by chanting Vedic mantras but no temples or idols are known.
    • The earliest versions of the epic poems Ramayana and Mahabharata were written roughly from 500- 100 BCE.
    • After 200 BCE, several schools of thought were formally codified in Indian philosophy, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, PurvaMimamsa and Vedanta.

Academics categorize contemporary Hinduism into four major denominations:


  • It is focused on worshiping of Vishnu. Vaishnavites lead a way of life promoting differentiated monotheism, which gives importance to Lord Vishnu and His ten incarnations.
  • Its beliefs and practices, especially the concepts of Bhakti and Bhakti Yoga, are based largely on the Upanishads, and associated with the Vedas and Puranic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, and the Padma, Vishnu and Bhagavata Puranas.
  • The Gaudiya Vaishnava branch of the tradition has significantly increased the awareness of Vaishnavism internationally, since the mid-1900s, largely through the activities and geographical expansion of the Hare Krishna movement founded by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in New York City in 1966.


  • Shaivism reveres the god Shiva as the Supreme Being. Shaivas believe that Shiva is all and in all, the creator, preserver, destroyer, revealer and concealer of all that is.
  • Devotees of Shiva wear Sacred ash as a sectarian mark on their foreheads and other parts of their bodies with reverence. The Sanskrit words bhasma and vibhuti can both be translated as “sacred ash”.
  • Shaivism has a vast literature that includes texts representing multiple philosophical schools, including non-dualist (abheda), dualist (bheda), and non-dualwith-dualism (bhed bheda) perspectives.


  • Shaktism focuses on worship of Shakti or Devi – the Hindu Divine Mother – as the absolute, ultimate Godhead. Shaktism regards Deva as the Supreme Brahman itself, with all other forms of divinity, female or male, considered being merely her diverse manifestations.
  • In the details of its philosophy and practice, Shaktism resembles Shaivism. However, Shaktas focus most or all worship on Shakti, as the dynamic feminine aspect of the Supreme Divine.
  • Its two largest and most visible schools are the Srikula (lit., family of Sri), strongest in South India, and the Kalikula (family of Kali), which prevails in northern and eastern India.


  • Smartism is a liberal or nonsectarian denomination of the Vedic Hindu religion which accepts all the major Hindu deities as forms of the one Brahman.
  • The term Smarta refers to adherents who follow the Vedas and Shastras. Only a section of south Indian brahmins call themselves Smartas now.
  • Smartas are followers and propagators of Smriti or religious texts derived from Vedic scriptures.
  • Smarta religion was practiced by people who believed in the authority of the Vedas as well as the basic premise of puranas.
  • It is most essential for Smarta Brahmins to specialize in the Karma Kanda of the Vedas and associated rituals diligently, and to teach the subsequent generations.


  • Hindu society has been categorized into four classes, called varnas. They are:
    • (i) the Brahmins: Vedic teachers and priests;
    • (ii) the Kshatriyas: warriors, nobles, and kings;
    • (iii) the Vaishyas: farmers, merchants, and businessmen; and
    • (iv) the Shudras: servants and labourers
  • Bhagavad Gita, the sacred text of Hindus, links the varna to an individual’s duty (svadharma), inborn nature (svabhava), and natural tendencies (guna).


  • Traditionally the life of a Hindu is divided into four Ashramas (phases or stages).
  • The first part of one’s life, Brahmacharya, the stage as a student, is spent in celibate, controlled, sober and pure contemplation under the guidance of a Guru, building up the mind for spiritual knowledge.
  • Grihastha is the householder’s stage, in which one marries and satisfies kama and artha in one’s married and professional life respectively.
  • Vanaprastha, the retirement stage, is gradual detachment from the material world. This may involve giving over duties to one’s children, spending more time in religious practices and embarking on holy pilgrimages.
  • Finally, in Sannyasa, the stage of asceticism, one renounces all worldly attachments to secludedly find the Divine through detachment from worldly life and peacefully shed the body for Moksha.

Hindu texts

  • Hindu literature can be divided into two categories:
    • (i) Shruti – that which has been heard
    • (ii) Smriti – that which is remembered.
  • The Vedas coming under the Shruti category are considered sacred scripture. Later texts like the various shastras and the itihaasas form Smriti.
  • Holding an ambiguous position between the Upanishads of the Vedas and the epics, the Bhagavad Gita is considered to be revered scripture by most Hindus today. All Shruti scriptures are composed in Sanskrit.

Hindu Pilgrimage

Important Pilgrimage sites of Hindu devotees are:

  • Kumbh Mela: One of the holiest of Hindu pilgrimages that is held every 12 years; the location is rotated among Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain. It is considered as one of the largest pilgrimage gathering in the world.
  • Char Dham (Famous Four Pilgrimage sites): The four holy sites Puri, Rameswaram, Dwarka, and Badrinath compose the Char Dham (four abodes) pilgrimage circuit.
  • Major Temple cities: Puri, which hosts a major Vaishnava Jagannath temple and Rath Yatra celebration; Katra, home to the Vaishno Devi temple; Three comparatively recent temples of fame and huge pilgrimage are Shirdi, home to Sai Baba of Shirdi, Tirumala – Tirupati, home to the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple; and Sabarimala, where Swami Ayyappan is worshipped.
  • Shakti Peethas: Another important set of pilgrimages are the Shakti Peethas, where the Mother Goddess is worshipped, the two principal ones being Kalighat and Kamakhya.

Shramarta Traditions

  • The Shramana movement was a Non-Vedic movement parallel to Vedic Hinduism in ancient India.
  • The Shramana tradition gave rise to Jainism, Buddhism, and Yoga, and was responsible for the related concepts of samsara (the cycle of birth and death) and moksha (liberation from that cycle).
  • Sramanism, emphasizing thought, hard work and discipline, was one of the three strands of Hindu philosophy. The other two included Brahmanism, which drew its philosophical essence from Mimamsa. The third and most popular strand of Indian philosophical thought revolves around the concept of Bhakti or Theism, based on the idea of God, as understood in most parts of the world.

Philosophy of Shramana Tradition

  • Shramanas held a view of samsara as full of suffering (Dukha). They practiced Ahimsa and rigorous ascetism.
  • They believed in Karma and Moksa and viewed rebirth as undesirable.
    • Vedics, on the contrary believe in the efficacy of rituals and sacrifices, performed by a privileged group of people, who could improve their life by pleasing certain Gods.
  • Beliefs and concepts of Sramana philosophies:
    • Denial of creator and omnipotent Gods
    • Rejection of the Vedas as revealed texts
    • Affirmation of Karma and rebirth, Samsara and transmigration of Soul.
    • Affirmation of the attainment of moksa through Ahimsa, renunciation and austerities
    • Denial of the efficacy of sacrifices and rituals for purification.
    • Rejection of the caste system
  • Jainism and Buddhism are the two main schools philosophies that have continued in India since ancient times.


  • The distinguishing features of Jain philosophy are its belief on independent existence of soul and matter, absence of a supreme divine creator, potency of karma, eternal and uncreated universe, a strong emphasis on non-violence, morality and ethics based on liberation of soul.
  • Jainism is the sixth largest religion in India and is followed throughout the India.
  • Lakshadweep is the only Union Territory/state without Jains. Maharashtra has the highest number of Jain Population.


Jainism encourages spiritual development through cultivation of one’s own personal wisdom and reliance on self-control through vows. Ascetics of this religion undertake five major vows:

  1. Ahimsa (Non-violence): The first major vow taken by ascetics is to cause no harm to living beings.
  2. Satya (Truth): The vow is to always speak of truth. Given that non-violence has priority, other principles yield to it whenever there is a conflict. In a situation where speaking truth could lead to violence, silence is to be observed.
  3. Asteya: Asteya, is to not take into possession, anything that is not willingly offered. Attempt to squeeze material wealth from others or exploit the weak is considered theft.
  4. Brahmacharya: The vow of brahmacharya requires one to exercise control over senses from indulgence in sexual activity.
  5. Aparigraha: Aparigraha is to observe detachment from people, places and material things. Ascetics live a life of complete renunciation of property and human relations.
  6. Jain metaphysics is based on seven or nine fundamentals which are known as Tattva. These are an attempt to explain the nature and solution to the human predicament. These are:
    • Jiva: The living entities are called Jiva. It is a substance which is different from the body that houses it. Consciousness, knowledge and perception are the fundamental attributes of the Jiva.
    • Ajiva: The non-living entities which consists of matter, space and time falls into the category of Ajiva.
    • Asrava: Due to the interaction between the two substances, java and ajava, there is influx of a special ajiva called karma into the soul. This karma then sticks to the soul.
    • Bandha: The karma masks the jiva and restricts it from having its true potential of perfect knowledge and perception.
    • Samvara: Through right conduct, it is possible to stop the influx of additional karma.
    • Nirjara: By performing asceticism, it is possible to shred or burn up the existing karma.
    • Moksha: The jiva which has removed its karma is said to be liberated and have its pure, intrinsic quality of perfect knowledge in its true form.
  7. Sometimes two additional Tattva categories: the meritorious and demeritorious acts related to karma are added. These are called punya and papa respectively


  • Jainism has been preached by a succession of twenty-four propagators of faith known as Tirthankara.
  • Tirtankara is a human being who helps in achieving liberation and enlightenment as an “Arihant” by destroying all of their soul constraining (ghati) karmas, became a role-model and leader for those seeking spiritual guidance. There are 24 Tirthankara and each of them revitalized the Jain Order.
  • Jaina tradition identifies Rishabha (Adinath) as the first tirthankara. The last two tirthankara where Parshva and Mahavira.
  • A Chakravarti is an emperor of the world and lord of the material realm. Though he possesses worldly power, he often finds his ambitions dwarfed by the enormity of the cosmos. Jaina puruna give a list of twelve Chakravarti. One of the greatest Chakravarti mentioned in Jaina scriptures is Bharata. Tradition says that India came to be known as Bharata-varsha in the memory of this Bharata.

Jain Sects

  • In the 4th century CE, Jainism developed two major divisions Digambara (sky clad ascetics) and Svetambara (white robed ascetics).
  • Both Digambara and Svetambara communities have continued to develop, almost independently of each other. With the passage of time, both had further sub-sects. Except for some minor differences in rituals and way of life, their belief and practices for the spiritual progress are the same. The four main sects with a sizable population are Digambara, Svetambara Murtipujaka, Sthanakavasi and Terapanthi.
  • The Digambaras, like Mahavira, practice total nudity to avoid all attachments.
  • The Shvetambaras reject nudity as an exterior symbol having no significance on their inner spiritual development. They also accepted women into the monastic community early on, unlike the Digambaras.

Jaina Literature

  • The fourteen Purvas was a body of Jain scriptures preached by tirthankara of Jainism.
  • Agamas are canonical texts of Jainism based on Mahavira’s teachings. Mahavira’s preachings were orally compiled by his disciples into various Sutras (texts) which were collectively called Jain canonical or Agamic literature.
    • These Agamas are composed of forty-six texts: twelve angas, twelve upanga agamas, six chedasutras, four mulasutras, ten prakirnaka sutras and two culikasutras.
  • Svetambaras accept thirty-two to forty-five aagamas, final redaction of which took place at the Council of Valabhi (453 – 466 BCE).
  • Digambaras accept two canonical texts Satkhandaagama and Kasaayapahuda composed in 2nd century CE.

Jain Rituals

  • Navkar Mantra is the fundamental prayer of Jainism. In this prayer there is no mention of names, including that of the tirthankara. It does not ask for favors or material benefits, it simply serves as a gesture of deep respect towards beings they believe are more spiritually advanced and to remind followers of the Jainism of their ultimate goal of nirvana.
  • Jains follow six obligatory duties known as Avashyakas includes samyika (pracitising serenity), chaturvimshati (praising tirthankara), vandan (respecting teachers and monks), Pratikramana, Kayotsarga, pratyakhyana (renunciation).
  • Paryushana is one of the most important festivals for the Jains. Normally Svetambara Jains refer it as Paryushana, while Digambara Jains refer it as Das Lakshana. It is believed that the deva do ashtprakari puja of tirthankara and it takes them eight days to do this ashtaprakari puja. This is called Ashtanhika Mahotsav, so at the very same time Jains celebrate it as Paryushan. Paryushana lasts eight days for Svetambara Jains and ten days for Digambaras Jains.
  • Mahavira Jayanti, the birthday of Mahavira, is celebrated on the thirteenth day of the fortnight of the waxing moon, in the month of Chaitra.
  • A unique ritual in this religion involves a holy fasting until death called Sallekhana. Through this one achieves a death with dignity and dispassion as well as a reduction of negative karma to a great extent. This form of dying is also called Santhara.

Jainism Sites

  1. Dilwara Temples, Mount Abu: Use of marble.
  2. Gomateshwara Statue, Shravanabelagola (Karnataka): Black stone structure of Gomateshwara
  3. Ranakpur Jain Temple, Rajasthan: Carved marble pillars
  4. Sonagir Temples : Place of penance
  5. Bawangaja: Statue of Lord Adinath
  6. Hanumantal : Madhaya Pradesh, 22 Jain shrines
  7. Khajuraho’s Jain group of temples: Lord Adinath and Lord Parasnath temples
  8. Puliyarmala Jain Temple, Kalpetta
  9. The Dharamnath temple located in, Cochin is regarded to be the most important shrine for the Jain community in Kerala.
  10. The Girnar mountain range: The Jain temples here dot the whole area and are beautifully built
  11. Kulpakji Shrine, Andhra Pradesh: Home of the Svetambara Jains


  • Buddhism is a religion indigenous to the Indian subcontinent that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, who is commonly known as the Buddha.
  • Buddha is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end suffering (dukkha) through eliminating ignorance (avidya) by way of understanding and seeing dependent origination (pratityasamutpada) and eliminating craving (tanha), and thus attain the highest happiness, nirvana.
  • Buddhism reached its peak under the Mauryan Empire. Ashoka gave royal patronage to Buddhism and made it a pan-Asian religion. He sponsored Buddhist missions to various areas within his empire and also to the Greek-ruled areas of the Northwest, Sri Lanka in the south as well as the Central Asia. After the death of Ashoka, Buddhism did not get a direct royal patronage. Soon Buddhism declined and was almost wiped out from India but instead spread to the South East Asian countries and to Sri Lanka.

Gautama Buddha

  • Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini in modernday Nepal, around the year 563 BCE, and raised in Kapilavastu. Young prince Gautama was kept away from seeing the sufferings of normal people since an astrologer prophesied that he would renounce the material world if sees the miseries of Life. In a series of encounters, known in Buddhist literature as the four sights, he learned of the suffering of ordinary people, encountering an old man, a sick man, a corpse and, finally, an ascetic holy man, apparently content and at peace with the world. These experiences prompted Gautama to abandon royal life and take up a spiritual quest.
  • For six years, Siddhartha submitted himself to rigorous ascetic practices, studying and following different methods of meditation with various religious teachers. But he was never fully satisfied. But, soon he realized that physical austerities were not the means to achieve liberation. From then on, he encouraged people to follow a path of balance rather than extremism. He called this The Middle Way.
  • At the age of 35, Siddhartha sat under the Bodhi tree, in the town of Bodh Gaya in India, and meditated. He purified his mind of all defilements and attained enlightenment after many days, thus earning the title Buddha, or “Enlightened One”.
  • Thereafter, he attracted a band of followers and instituted a monastic order. He spent the rest of his life teaching the path of awakening he had discovered, traveling throughout the north-eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, and died at the age of 80 (483 BCE) in Kushinagar, India.


  • Samsara is “the cycle of birth and death”.
  • Karma in Buddhism is the force that drives samsara. Good, skillful deeds (kusala) and bad, unskillful (akusala) actions produce “seeds” in the mind that come to fruition either in this life or in a subsequent rebirth. The avoidance of unwholesome actions and the cultivation of positive actions is called sila.
  • Rebirth refers to a process whereby beings go through a succession of lifetimes as one of many possible forms of sentient life, each running from conception to death.
  • Buddhism rejects the concepts of a permanent self or an unchanging, eternal soul, as it is called in Hinduism and Christianity.

Branches of Buddhism

Two branches of Buddhism are generally recognized: Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”) and Hinayana (“The Lesser Vehicle”)


  • Mahayana believes firmly in the spirit of Buddha’s teachings.
  • Mahayana scriptures are written in form of Sutras in Sanskrit.
  • This form of Buddhism gained recognition at the time of Kanishka
  • It believes in salvation by faith.
  • The Mahayana ideal is salvation for all, that is why it is called as greater vehicle.
  • Mahayana upholds the ideals of Boddhisatva / the saviour – who is concerned about the salvation of others.
  • This sect believes in the divine qualities of Buddha and thus believes in Idol Worship.
  • It is also known as the Bodhisattva Vehicle.
  • Mahayana Buddhism is spread across India, China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and Mongolia.
    • Tibetan Buddhism is a traditions of Mahayana only.
  • The fundamental principles of Mahayana doctrine are based on the possibility of universal liberation from suffering for all beings. Therefore, this is considered the “Great Vehicle”.


  • Early Buddhist teachings gave more importance to self-realization and effort in achieving nirvana. The ideal of Hinayana is individual salvation, thus it is considered lesser vehicle.
  • The Hinayana or Theravada doctrine believes in the original teaching of Buddha. They does not believe in Idol Worship.
  • Hinayana teaches that, to attain individual salvation the path goes through self discipline and meditation.
  • It should be noted here that Asoka patronized Hinayana.
  • Pali, the language of masses was used by the Hinayana scholars.
  • It is also called the “Deficient Vehicle”, the “Abandoned Vehicle”, Stharvivada or Theravada meaning “doctrine of elders”.
  • Hinayana stresses on righteous action and law of karma.
  • Hinayana regards Buddha as a man, of extraordinary knowledge, but just a man, therefore, do not worship him.
  • It is developed around the acts of Buddha.
  • Hinayana believes in salvation by works, that each man should work for his own salvation.
  • Hinayana scriptures are written in Pali, and founded on the Tripitakas.
  • Hinayana or Theraveda traditions are followed in Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, other South-east Asian countries.

The Four Noble Truths

The teachings on the Four Noble Truths are regarded as central to the teachings of Buddhism. They can be summarized as follows:

  1. Life is Full of Suffering
  2. Trishna or desire causes suffering
  3. Cessation of Suffering
  4. The path for ending suffering: This path is called the eightfold path

Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Eightfold Path consists of a set of eight interconnected factors or conditions, that when developed together, lead to the cessation of dukkha. The Eight factors are:

  1. Right View (or Right Understanding): Viewing reality as it is, not just as it appears to be
  2. Right Intention (or Right Thought): Intention of renunciation, freedom and harmlessness
  3. Right Speech: Speaking in a truthful and non-hurtful way
  4. Right Action: Acting in a non-harmful way
  5. Right Livelihood: A non-harmful livelihood
  6. Right Effort: Making an effort to improve
  7. Right Mindfulness: Awareness to see things for what they are with clear consciousness
  8. Right Concentration: Correct meditation or concentration, explained as the first four jhanas.


  • The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community).
  • Taking “refuge in the triple gem” has traditionally been a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path, and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist.
  • Other practices may include following ethical precepts; support of the monastic community; renouncing conventional living and becoming a monastic; the development of mindfulness and practice of meditation etc.
  • The Buddhist place of worship is called a Vihara or Gompa, which usually houses one or more statues of the Buddha. The five great events in Buddha’s life are represented by symbols as under:
    • (i) Birth by Lotus and Bull
    • (ii) Great Renunciation by Horse
    • (iii) Nirvana by Bodhi Tree
    • (iv) First Sermon by Dharmachakra or Wheel
    • (v) Parinirvana or death by the Stupa.


  • The Wheel of Law or dharmachakra, is the most important symbol of Buddhism.
  • According to the Buddha, dharma is the law that ensures the welfare of the greatest number of people if practiced faithfully. The wheel symbolises the goodness in every person. The wheel has eight spokes representing the eight virtues enumerated by the Eight Fold Path, the path to salvation.

Tibetan Buddhism

  • The Tibetan Buddhism is “essentially Buddhism of the Mahayana school, with elements of modified Shaivism and native ritualistic shamanism”.
  • Monks belonging to this strain of Buddhism are called lamas. Tibetan Buddhism, also called Lamaism, is a predominant religion of Tibet, Mongolia and other parts of the world. In India it is practised by Tibetans settled in their different settlements at Dharamsala, Dehradun (UK), Kushalnagar (Karnataka), Darjeeling (West Bengal),Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Ladakh.
  • The Tibetan Buddhism follows a strict code of traditional hierarchy. The supreme position is occupied by two lamas: the Dalai Lama (Grand Lama) and the Panchen Lama (Bogodo Lama). The Rimpoches or Hobilghans or bodhisattvas form the third level of authority

Buddhist Monastries

  1. Hemis Monastery: It is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Drukpa Lineage, in Hemis, Ladakh, India. It is situated South of Leh in Jammu and Kashmir, on the West bank of river Indus. This monastery is famous for the annual festival of Guru Padmasambhava which is held in June-July.
  2. Tabo Monastery: It is located in the Tabo village of Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India.
  3. Tsulglagkhang Monastery: It is one of the most famous monasteries of Buddhist people. This is the home for His Holiness Dalai Lama and is situated in Maclodganj, Dharamshala district in Himachal Pradesh. It is also known as Dalai Lama’s temple.
  4. Thiksey Monastery: It is located on top of a hill in Thiksey village, east of Leh in Ladakh, India. It is a twelve-story complex and houses many items of Buddhist art such as stupas, statues, thangkas, wall paintings and swords.
  5. Tawang Monastery: It is located in Tawang city of Tawang district in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, is the largest monastery in India and second largest in the world after the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.
  6. Bylakuppe Monastery: It is the largest teaching center of the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in the world. It is located in Bylakuppe, in the district of Mysore of the state of Karnataka.
  7. Shashur Monastery: It is a Buddhist monastery of the Drugpa sect in Lahaul and Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, northern India.
  8. Ghum Monastery: It is located in Ghum, West Bengal. It is belongs to the Gelukpa or the Yellow Hat sect and is known for its 15 feet high statue of the Maitreya Buddha.
  9. Kye Gompa Monastery: It is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located on top of a hill at an altitude of 4,166 metres above sea level , close to the Spiti River, in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh, Lahaul and Spiti district, India. It is the biggest monastery of Spiti Valley and a religious training centre for Lamas.
  10. Lingdum Monastery: It is a Buddhist monastery near Ranka in Sikkim. It follows the Zurmang Kagyu tradition.
  11. Alchi Gompa Monastery: It is situated in Alchi village of Leh District of Jammu and Kashmir.
  12. Shankar Monastery: It is located near Leh in Ladakh. It is a daughter establishment of Spituk monastery.
  13. Matho Monastery: It is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery situated on the bank of Indus river. It is in Leh, Jammu and Kashmir. It is affiliated with the Saskya order.
  14. Nako Monastery: It is situated in Kinnor district of Himachal Pradesh. It was established in 996 AD. It is one of the oldest Monasteries on the ancient routes followed by Lamas over centuries.
  15. Rumtek Monastery: It is also called the Dharmachakra centre. It is located near Gangtok, Sikkim.


  • Sikhism began about 500 years ago by Guru Nanak and preaches a message of devotion and remembrance to God at all times, truthful living and equality of mankind and denounces superstitions and blind rituals.
  • Sikhism is open to all through the teachings of its 10 Gurus enshrined in the Sikh Holy Book, Adi Granth or Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Principles of Sikhism

  • Sikhs believe that God is Monistic or Non-dual. He is the creator of the Universe, whose existence and continued survival depends on His will.
  • God is both Saguna (with attributes) and Nirguna (without attributes) and is called by names such as Sat (truth), Sat Guru (true Guru), Akal Purkh (timeless being), Kartar (creator) and Wahi-Guru (praise to the God).
  • The belief in the ten Gurus – spiritual guides who dispel ignorance and darkness is the essential element of Sikh religion. According to it the only way to achieve liberation (mukti) from the cycle of birth and death is by being God conscious (gurmukh).

The Khalsa and five K’s

  • The concept of Khalsa, literally meaning ‘the pure’, was introduced by Guru Gobind Singh. He established this new fraternity with five followers (later known as Panj Pyares), who were baptized with amrit as Khalsas.
  • The Khalsa symbolised coalescence of serenity and strength, purity and power, shastra (scripture) and shastra (weapon), and the power of wisdom (jnana shakti) and the power of action (kriya shakti).
  • It was made obligatory for every Sikh to wear the Five K ’s – Kesha (long hair), Kangha (comb), Kara (steel bracelet), Kaccha (short drawers) and Kirpan (sword).

Sri Guru Granth Sahib

  • The Guru Granth Sahib (also known as the Adi Granth) is considered the Supreme Spiritual Authority and Head of the Sikh religion.
  • It is a collection of devotional hymns and poetry which proclaims God, lays stress on meditation on the True Guru (God) and lays down moral and ethical rules for development of the soul, spiritual salvation and unity with God.
  • The writings of the Gurus appear chronologically. Each of the Gurus signed their hymns as Nanak. Guru Granth Sahib has 3,384 hymns, of which Guru Nanak Dev contributed 974 hymns.
  • It also contains Bhagatas of Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas, Sheikh Farid, Trilochan, Dhanna, Beni, Sheikh Bhikan, Jaidev, Surdas, Parmanand, Pipa and Ramanand. The fifth Guru Arjan Dev began the great task of collection of the holy compositions at Sri (Amritsar) and compiled the Holy Granth Sahib.


  • The religion of Islam teaches that in order to achieve true peace of mind and surety of heart, one must submit to God and live according to His Divinely revealed Law. The word ‘Muslim’ means one who submits to the will of God, regardless of their race, nationality or ethnic background.
  • Muslims believe that all of God’s prophets which include Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, brought the same message of Pure Monotheism. For this reason, Prophet Muhammad is not considered as the founder of a new religion, as many people mistakenly think, but he was the Final Prophet of Islam.

Principles of Islam

  • According to traditional Islamic belief, the religion has existed since time immemorial. Allah, the Almighty God, created Adam (the father of the human progeny) out of a lump of clay and commanded the angels to greet him with a ‘Sijda’ (prostration in humility).
  • All the angels obeyed the command with the exception of Iblis (the Satan). This resulted in Satan’s condemnation and Allah commanded that whosoever followed the Satan’s path will forfeit His pleasure and that his abode will be in the fire of hell eternally.

Basic Islamic Beliefs are:

  • (i) Tawheed: This means, believe in One, Unique, Incomparable God Who is the Creator, the Ruler and the Sustainer of the universe, and none has the right to be worshipped but He alone.
  • (ii) Belief in the existence of Angels of God as the honoured creatures
  • (iii) Belief in God ’s Revealed Books
  • (iv) Belief in the Prophets and Messengers of God
  • (v) Belief in the Day of Judgement and Life after Death
  • (vi) Belief in Predestination – God’s complete authority over human destiny

Main Sects of Islam

  • The followers of Muslim are divided into two main sects: Shiah and Sunni. Though essentially following the same beliefs and tenets, they differ on two points: the succession to Prophet Muhammad, and the religious authority in Islam after him.
  • Shiah is a minority branch of Islam which makes up about one tenth of the total population of the Muslim world. The Shiites form an important part of the population in a number of Arab countries like Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and Iran. The Shiahs consider Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet as his rightful heir. They maintain that Ali was the first legitimate Imam or Khalifah (Caliph) and therefore reject Abu Bakr, Omar and Usman, the first three Khalifahs of the Sunni Muslims, as usurpers.
    • There are two main Shiite sects:
      • (i) The “Twelvers” are by far the largest group of Shiah Islam. They believe that the line of Ali became extinct with al-Askari, the Twelfth Imam, who mysteriously disappeared in 873 CE. They however refuse to accept that alAskari died and believe that he will appear shortly before the end of the world.
      • (ii) The Ismailites or Seveners are the second largest shiite sect. Their spiritual leader is the Aga Khan. The Ismailites only recognize the seven first Imams.
  • Sunnism is the main branch of Islam and recognizes the legitimacy of the first four Khalifahs or Caliphs. The Sunnis believe that the office of the Prophet was not hereditary and no one could claim to be his sole heir. The community chooses one amongst themselves as their leader or the Khalifah.
  • There are four orthodox sects among the Sunni Muslims i.e. Hanafiyah (followers of Imam Abu Hanifah), Shafiyah (followers of Imam Ash-Shafii), Malakiyah (followers of Imam Malik) and Hanbaliyah (followers of Imam Ahmed Bin Hanbal).


  • The word Caliph or Khalifah, means ‘successor’ or ‘deputy ’. It is used to designate the Prophet’s successor as leader of the Muslim community.
  • This title was used by the successive Arab empires and by the Ottoman sultans.
  • The Ottoman Caliphate was maintained for two years after the abolition of the Sultanate, until it was itself abolished by Kemal Ataturk in February 1924.

Prophets of Islam

  • According to Islamic belief, Allah has sent various Prophets to the world at different times and different places to guide the people on the righteous path.
  • The names of the following Prophets are mentioned in the Holy Quran: Adam, Sheth, Idris, Nuh (Noah), Hud , Salih, Lut, Ibrahim (Abraham), Ismail, Ishaq (Isaac), Yaqub (Jacob), Yusuf (Joseph), Shuaib, Dawud (David), Sulaiman (Solomon), Ilyas, Al-Yasa (Elisha), Musa (Moses), Aziz (Ubair or Ezra), Ayyub (Job), Dhul-Kifl (Isaih or Kharqil Bin Thauri), Yunus (Jonah), Zakariya (Zachariah), Yahya (John the Baptist), Isa (Jesus Christ) and Muhammad.

Prophet Muhammad

  • Prophet Muhammad is considered as the messenger of Allah and the last of all Prophets who restored Islam to its pristine purity.
  • Prophet Muhammad was born in 570 CE at Makkah. At the age of 40, Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation from Allah through the Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) in a cave at Mount Hira near Makkah. The revelations continued for 23 years, and they are collectively known as the Quran.
  • He began preaching these revelations to the common populace in Makkah. Due to sever opposition from the unbelievers, Prophet Muhammad and his followers undertook the great migration or Hijra to a town called Yathrib, which later came to be known as Medina. This emigration marks the beginning of the Muslim Calendar.
  • In Medina, Islam began to flourish and Prophet Muhammad died at the age of 63. As a mark of respect to the Prophet, the Muslims use the words ‘Peace Be Upon Him’ after his name.

Islam in India

  • Islam first came to India at the Malabar Coast of Kerala through Arab traders. Several centuries later the local population that embraced Islam became a well-knit social and cultural group known as the Moplas.
  • The first Muslim empire, the Delhi Sultanate, was established in India with its capital in Delhi. This was followed by several other Muslim dynasties like the Khiljis, the Tughlaqs, the Lodhis and the Mughals.
  • The period of the Mughals was the golden age of Islam in India. The religion flourished under the Mughal rule and many Indians embraced Islam.
  • Today Muslims constitute about 14% of India’s population and are concentrated largely in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Kashmir.


  • Sufism or tasawwuf, as it is called in Arabic, is generally understood by scholars and Sufis to be the inner, mystical, or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam.

The Origin

  • The origins of Sufism can be traced to the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, whose teachings attracted a group of scholars who came to be called “Ahle Suffe”, the People of Suffe, from their practice of sitting at the platform of the mosque of the Prophet in Medina.
  • There they engaged themselves in discussions concerning the reality of ‘Being’, and in search of the inner path and devoted themselves to spiritual purification and meditation. These individuals were the founders of Sufism.

Fundamental principles

  • It stresses on self-realisation, beautification of the soul through piety, righteousness and universal love for all. The Sufis consider that there is a particular Divine Attribute that dominates the being of every prophet and saint, such that they can be said to be the incarnation of that attribute.
  • The aim of Sufism is the cultivation of Perfect Beings who are mirrors reflecting the Divine Names and Attributes. In Sufism, a perfect being is also called a Wali (saint), a word that literally means ‘sincere friend’.
  • The superstructure of Sufism is built upon the concept of teacher, pir or murshid. Sufism had succeeded in inculcating the sentiments of fraternity, equality and equity, coupled with sense of service to humanity, in the followers, irrespective of race, community, caste, creed and colour.
  • The mystical ideas of Sufism were constantly in conflict with the orthodox elements of Islam due to Sufism’s emphasis on love, repentance, peace and renunciation. Though Sufism did question the orthodoxy, it did not completely abolish orthodox practices. However, a major contribution of Sufism was the expansion of the geographic presence of Islam in India. The principles preached by Sufis won them over to Islam with its simplistic principles that appealed to all persons irrespective of their class or religion.


  • The musical and ecstatic aspect of Sufism is called Sama. This is a particular kind of devotional dance akin to Kirtana and was introduced by Jalaluddin Rumi.
  • The Sufi, while being spiritually enraptured, gives the attention of his or her heart to the Beloved. With particular movements and often special and rhythmical music, he engages in the selfless remembrance of God. Sufis identify two types of Sama poetry:
    • First praising God (this is called Hamd), Prophet (this is called Naat) and the Sufi saints (this is called Manqabat.)
    • The second focussing on spiritual emotion or mystical love, ecstatic states and on separation and union.
  • The Sama poetry is mostly sung in the form of Qawwali. Music of Sama is set within metric framework, accompanied by Dholak, Tabla, Sarangi, Harmonium and Sitar.

Dawoodi Bohras

  • The word ‘Bohra’ is derived from the Gujarati word vohorvu or vyavahar meaning “to trade”.
  • The Muslim community of Daudi Bohras traces its ancestry to early conversions to Ismaili Shiism during the reign of the Fatimid Caliph Imam, al-Mustansir (1036-1094 CE).
  • Subsequently, this community split a number of times to form the Jafari Bohras, Daudi Bohras, Sulaymani Bohras, Aliyah Bohras and other lesser-known groups.
  • The religious hierarchy of the Daudi Bohras is essentially Fatimid and is headed by the dai mutlaq who is appointed by his predecessor in office. The dai appoints two others to the subsidiary ranks of madhun (licentiate) and mukasir (executor). These positions are followed by the rank of shaikh and mullah, both of which are held by hundreds of Bohras.
  • An Aamil leads the local congregation in religious, social and communal affairs. Each town has a mosque and an adjoining jamaat-khanah (assembly hall) where socio-religious functions are held.
  • The Bohras recognize the seven pillars of Islam. Walayah (love and devotion) for Allah, the Prophets, the imam and the dai is the first and most important of the seven pillars. The others are tahrah (purity & cleanliness), salat (prayers), zakat (purifying religious dues), saum (fasting), haj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and jihad (holy war).
  • The Bohras enjoy a great degree of social and religious cohesion. Every Bohra is required to take an oath of allegiance (Misaaq), which is a formal initiation into the faith.


  • Christianity is the religion of the followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Christianity has the largest adherents all over the world numbering more than 2.2 billion.


  • Jesus Christ was born as a Jew in Bethlehem in 4 BCE. He was believed to have possessed supernatural powers. He began travelling widely and preaching to people in various towns.
  • Alarmed by the growing popularity of Jesus Christ and his preaching, some Jewish priests conspired to kill him and succeeded in having him crucified. On the third day after his Crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected. He lived on earth for another 40 days and then ascended to heaven.
  • The incidents preceding and succeeding his birth matched the prophesies of the Old Testament, according to which, the son of God would be born on the earth to rid humanity of its sins.
  • The followers of Jesus formed a new faith, which was named as Christianity (after Christ) and its followers, Christians.

Fundamental principles of Christianity

  • Christians are monotheists and insist that the originator and preserver of creation is one but is represented in the Holy Trinity, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
  • Christians see God as the Lord of Israel and the father of the divine and human figure of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the eternal word of God who assumed human form to serve humanity and to rescue the human beings. Jesus Christ suffered and died to redeem mankind from sin.
  • Christians also believe that Jesus Christ now sits at the right hand of God as the final judge of the dead, and that He will return again as prophesized.
  • Christians believe that Jesus Christ chose 12 learned men (apostles) as messengers and directed them to spread his teachings and guide the populace.


  • The holy book of the Christians is the Bible. The Bible contains a collection of writings dating from 9 BCE to 1 CE written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and English.
  • The Bible is divided into the Old Testament with 46 books and the New Testament with 27.
    • The Old Testament is a Hebrew text, sacred to both the Jews and Christians and contains information about the creation of the world.
    • The life and teachings of Jesus Christ, which form the centre of Christian belief, are recorded in the New Testament.

Christian Sects

  • Christianity became the formal religion of the Roman Empire after Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, converted to Christianity in 313 CE. The religion was known as Catholic or universal , with the Roman Pope as its head.
  • By 1054 CE many differences arose and the Church formally split into the Eastern Orthodox and the western Roman Catholic schools.
  • In the 15th century, a new school of philosophy began to question the supremacy of the Pope. In the 16th century Martin Luther advocated many reforms in the Church, which led to yet another split in the Christian community and the formation of Protestant churches across Northeast Europe. The Protestants disapproved of the authority of the Pope and advanced the cause of the Bible as the sole authority.

Christianity in India

  • By tradition, Christianity is said to have arrived in South India with the arrival of St. Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, at the Malabar Coast in 52 CE. He spent some years in South India and died near Madras. However, others believe that the first missionary to arrive in the country was Saint Bartholomew.
  • Historically, Christian missionary activity started with the advent of St. Francis Xavier in 1544 CE. 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.
  • The great period of expansion of Christianity in India began in 1858, when the British government took over rule in India from the East India Company. Christians from many countries came as missionaries.
  • At present Christians are scattered all across India but most of them are concentrated in the Northeast and in Kerala and other southern states.


  • Judaism is one of the oldest religions of the world, evolved in Egypt about 3,700 years ago.
  • It believes in the unity and oneness of the universal Creator.
  • Judaism is the religion, philosophy and way of life of the Jewish people.


  • According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was the leader of a tribe named Habiru (Hebrew) in Chaldea in about 2000 BCE. He advocated the theory of monotheism and decided to move his tribe to Canaan (Palestine) to propound his theory. Here, the Hebrews mixed freely with local people and eagerly sought converts to their faith.
  • Abraham’s grandson Jacob had an encounter with a mysterious being who told Jacob that in future, his name would be known as ‘Israel’. The renamed Israel had 12 sons, who later became the progenitors of 12 tribes named after them. These tribes bore the collective name of Bene Israel or ‘Children of Israel’.
  • The Israelis grew in number and for approximately two centuries dwelt in Egypt, where they were enslaved. In about 1200 BCE, under the leadership of Moses, they escaped and wandered in the wastes of Sinai (Egypt) for a long time. Here, Moses, the first Prophet of god, received revelation of the law, the Ten Commandments, which is today known as the Sefer Torah, the Jewish scripture.
  • After this, a kingdom was founded in Canaan with Jerusalem as its capital. In this city, a temple was built to perform sacred rites.
  • After King Solomon died, Israel was split into two kingdoms. The Southern Kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and called Judah with Jerusalem as its capital.
  • The remaining 10 tribes comprised the Northern Kingdom. When the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom, they scattered the Israelites to various parts of their empire, northeast of Israel.
  • Today they are referred to as the ten lost tribes. The Scriptures suggest they will be identified and returned to Israel in the Last Days.

Beliefs and practices

  • The Jews believe in one god as was instituted by Abraham, who they call Yahweh and from whom all creation flows. Judaism believes in prophets, of whom Moses was the first.
  • According to tradition, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Every devout Jew follows these commandments till today.
  • The religion gives great importance to a good moral life and does not advocate asceticism, celibacy or self-imposed suffering, as it believes that the path to salvation is only through good deeds.
  • The religious scripture Sefer Torah consists of the first five books of the Old Testament. There are 613 percepts in the Torah to regulate the daily life of every Jew and this number is symbolised in the threads of the prayer shawls (tsisith) that every adult male Jew is enjoined to wear for prayers. The Talmud, the body of Jewish law, is considered Yahweh’s exclusive and immutable law. The Synagogue is the Jewish place of worship.

Jewish sects

  • The Jews have three principle sects: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformist.
  • The Orthodox cling to all ancient traditions and forms of religious worship and practices.
  • The founder of the Reform movement adopted the philosophy of changing with the times, and religious services and rituals were considerably shortened.
  • The Conservative Jews followed a middle path, retaining some features of the Orthodox groups but permitting relaxation in certain cases.

Judaism in India

  • It is commonly accepted that the Jews have been in India for over 2,000 years ever since they first landed on the West coast of India.
  • The Indian Jews are known as a peace-loving community. They follow the Hebrew calendar. The Indian Jews have a special thanks giving ceremony known as Eliyahoo-ha-Nabior i.e. ‘gratitude to Elijah the Prophet’, on festive occasions.
  • Indian Jews fall into five categories:
    • Bene Israel: meaning Children of Israel. Marati speaking. Arrived in Maharashtra 2,100 years ago.
    • Cochin Jews: arrived in India 2,500 years ago and settled down in Kerala as traders.
    • Baghdadi Jews: Jews who came to India as traders from West Asia, mainly from Baghdad. They are settled mainly in Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata.
    • Bene Menashe: The Manipur Jews constitute a community which sees itself as descendants of the Manasseh (Menashe) Tribe (which is one of the 10 lost tribes of Jews).
    • Bene Ephraim, also called “Telugu Jews”: They are a small group who speak Telugu. Their observance of Judaism dates to 1981.


  • Parsism or Zoroastrianism originated in Persia. The religion was founded by Spenta Zarathustra or Zoroaster, who is considered as the Prophet of the Parsis. Zoroastrian practice is based on the responsibility of every man and woman to choose between good and evil, and to respect God’s creations.
  • Zarathustra preached the oneness of god and believed that Ahura Mazda was the one and only god, who is formless and has six great aspects called the Amesha-Spentas. These are Ardibehest, Bahman, Shahrivar, Spendarmad, Khordad and Amardad.


  • The Parsi place of worship is called the fire temple. Five daily prayers, usually hymns or Gathas uttered by Prophet Zarathustra are said in the home or the temple, before a fire, which symbolizes the realm of truth, righteousness, order and ‘represents god.
  • In Zorastriniasm, Dakhma-nashini is the only method of corpse-destruction. This involves the destruction of the dead body in the stone-enclosed Dakhma, by the flesh-eating bird or the rays of the Sun.

Religious Scriptures

  • Zenda Avesta is the religious scripture of the Parsis. It contains the teachings, sermons and prayers composed by Prophet Zoroaster and his disciples and followers. Avestha is also the name of the language in which it is composed.
  • It is divided into five parts: the Yasna (worship with ceremony and offerings), the Videvdad (laws against demons), the Yashts (worship), the Khordeh Avestha, which comprises of selected portions of the Avestha and forms the book of daily prayers of the Zoroastrians, and the five GathasAhunavaiti, Ushtavaiti, SpentaMainyu, VohuKhshathra and Vashishta-lshti, which contain the 17 hymns of God received by Prophet Zarathushtra by way of a Divine Revelation.


  • There are three principle sects among the Parsis: Shahenshai, Kadmi and Fasli.
  • The only difference between the three sects is the calendar they adhere to –
    • (i) The Faslis follow the traditional Persian calendar
    • (ii) The Shahenshais calculate their calendar from the last Sassanian king, Yazdegard III
    • (iii) The Kadmis claim their calendar is the oldest and most accurate.

Zoroastrians of India

  • The first Zoroastrians to enter India arrived on the Gujarat coast in the 10th century and by the 17th century, most of them had settled in Bombay.
  • Today, Parsis in India are concentrated largely in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Bahai Faith

  • The Bahai Faith is a monotheistic religion founded by Baha’u’llah in 19th-century Persia.
  • The Bahais believe that the ‘Promised One’ of all ages and peoples, Baha’u’llah revealed himself in 1863.
  • He dispatched one of the distinguished Bahai teachers, Jamal Effendi to India to spread the teachings of the Bahai faith in the years 1874-75.

Beliefs and practices

  • The Bahais believe in the three cardinal principles – oneness of mankind, oneness of God and oneness of religion.
  • Bahais believe that throughout history the Creator has educated humanity through a series of Divine Manifestations. These Manifestations include: Krishna, Buddha, Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus and Muhammad. They believe that in the present age, God has revealed Himself through Bahaullah, whose name means The Glory of God’. He is regarded as their Prophet.
  • The Bahais work for the removal of prejudices based on caste, creed, religion, sex, colour, race and language. They advocate universal education and the inculcation of a scientific outlook among people. The Bahais do not believe in superstitions, ceremonies, rituals and dogmas.
  • The Bahais pray to the one true God, the Creator of the universe. The act of praying is described as ‘a conversation with God’.
  • It is obligatory for every Bahai to pray and meditate on the Words of God every day. There are prayers for all occasions and these can be offered individually or collectively.

The Lotus Temple

  • The Bahai House of Worship at New Delhi is popularly known as the Lotus Temple. The temple gives the impression of a half-open lotus flower afloat, surrounded by its leaves.
  • There is no clergy in the temple, no idols, no pictures, no sermons, no rituals. It is a place for communication between man and his Creator, God.
  • The shrine has been designed by a young architect, Mr. Fariburz Sabha, a Canadian citizen and a Bahai of Iranian descent, who was selected from among the world’s top architects.

Religious Pilgrimages of India

Amarnath Yatra

  • The Cave of Amarnath is about 50 kilometers from Pahalgam in south Kashmir but involves tough walking, trekking and pony-riding. The cave is surrounded by snowy mountains. The cave itself is covered with snow most time of the year except for a short period of time in summer when it is open for pilgrims.
  • According to legend the cave is situated at the place where Lord Shiva had given amrit (nectar) to the gods of the Hindu. It is believed that Lord Shiva adopted the shape of an ice-lingam which still exists in the cave.
  • The Yatra was abandoned for a long time due to devastating floods and other natural calamities in the valley. A local Muslim family called Maliks is said to have re-discovered it. The successive generations of the Malik family of Mattan have since then been taking an active part in preparation of the Yatra and they get a share of the offerings at the cave.
  • The Kashmiri labourers, invariably all Muslims, help the pilgrims throughout. The pilgrims traverse the route chanting “Har Har Mahadev” and “Amarnath Swami Ki Jai” . The Muslim helpers join them by saying “Ya Peer Dastgeer”. The Yatra culimates on the full moon day of August.


  • Nearly 3 million Muslims from more than 120 countries journey to the holy city of Makkah each year to make the spiritual pilgrimage known as the Hajj. The pilgrimage is one of five Pillars of Islam that form the framework of Islamic life.
  • Muslims trace the origin of the Haj to Prophet Ibrahim, who rebuilt the first House of Allah, the Kaaba, as the focal point for the worship of Allah alone.
  • The Hajj begins on the eighth day of Dhul-Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic year, and lasts for six days, from 8th-12th of Dhul-Hijjah. For the first three days of the Haj, the pilgrims are required to wear special garments called Ihram.
  • Upon arrival in Makkah, the pilgrims go to the Haram Sharief (Holy mosque) and perform the Tawaaf or the circumambulation around the Kaaba or the House of Allah.
  • The rituals also involve stoning (Rami) of the Jamarat (Satan) on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah, followed by the performance of Tawaf-e-Ziyarah and Sayee at Makkah, which marks the culmination of the main rituals of the Hajj.
  • In India, the Ministry of External Affairs is the nodal agency which is responsible for making arrangements for the Indians Hajjis. Nearly 1,75,000 Indian pilgrims are going every year to perform Hajj. In addition, nearly 80,000 Indian pilgrims visit Saudi Arabia every year to perform the lesser pilgrimage known as ‘Umrah’.

Kumbh Mela

  • Kumbh Mela is the greatest riverside religious festival of Hindus that takes place once every three years. However, the major Maha Kumbh Mela occurs once in 12 years.
  • Legend has it that Lord Vishnu saved the nectar (Amrut) from the demons and gave it to the gods in a pot. The gods rested the pot at each of the four cities of Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik.
  • A few drops of Nectar are supposed to have spilled over on the water at these four places and sages, saints and pilgrims started periodically to flock to each of these ‘Tirthas’ to celebrate the divine event.
  • Lakhs of devotees take a holy dip in the river that is believed to purge them of their sin.

Ayyappa Temple

  • The hill temple of Lord Ayyappa in Sabarimala is situated in the Western Ghats of Kerala.
  • The temple is open to all devotees irrespective of caste, creed, religion or social status. It attracts millions of pilgrims from within and outside India every year.
  • Lord Ayyappa is also described as Hariharaputra, the son of Vishnu and Shiva, born in a supernatural way to annihilate the demoness Mahishi.
  • The idol of Ayyappa is believed to have been installed at Sabrimala on the day of Makar Sankranti. Devotees believe that on this day, a peculiar light called ‘Makara Vilakku’ or ‘Makkara-Jyoti’ is seen facing the deity over the hills and they eagerly await this blissful sight.
  • The Makara Vilakku is preceded by the period of Mandalam, which is a 41-day long ritualistic worship during which the pilgrims observe strict discipline and rigid austerities like wearing black clothes, observing strict celibacy and avoiding meat and alcohol.
  • Girls and women between 10 and 50 years of age are not allowed to visit the temple to facilitate strict observance of celibacy in the temple complex. However, Supreme Court has granted women of all age groups entry into Ayyappa temple.
  • Only those pilgrims who have observed the austerities for at least 41 days are allowed to use the Patinenttampadi (or the 18 steps) leading to the main sanctum sanctorum.
  • The devotees greet one another as ‘Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa’.

Pushkar Mela

  • The Pushkar Fair is held in the month of Kartik on the full moon day in Pushkar, Rajasthan.
  • Pushkar is home to one of the only two temples dedicated to Brahma, the other being at Khedbrahma in Kerala. It is one of the innumerable temples skirting the large Pushkar Lake.
  • The Pushkar fair centres around the event of taking a dip in the Pushkar Lake on the full moon night. Due to its association with Brahma, Pushkar is considered to be the tirtharaja, the king of all pilgrimage sites.
  • Pushkar is also the site for the biggest cattle fair in India. Scholars suggest that the cattle fair was an extension of the religious event of taking a dip in the lake.

Urs of Khwaja Moin-Ud-Din Chishti

  • Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, the founder of the Chishti order, came to India from Persia as a member of Muhammad Gouri’s invading army in 1191. He settled in Ajmer, where he preached Islam until his death in 1233 CE. A darga was built in his memory. Affectionately called Garib Nawaz, he was said to be an emancipator of the poor.
  • Each year an Urs is celebrated in the month of Rajab to commemorate the death anniversary of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. According to the legend, the Khwaja entered his cell on the first day of the month of Rajab to meditate for five days and died on the sixth day.
  • During this six-day fair, which is attended by people of different communities, various ceremonies are performed and the Qawwalis are sung in praise of the Khwaja.
  • The tomb is known for its power to fulfill wishes. Devotees tie a kalawa on the pillars when seeking a favour. They are expected to untie the knot once their request has been granted.

Q. The concept if Anuvrata was advocated by: [1995]
(a) Mahayana Buddhism
(b) Hinayana Buddhism
(c) Jainism
(d) The Lokayata school

Q. The concept of Eight fold path forms the theme of: [1998]

(a) Dipavamsa
(b) Divyavadana
(c) Mahaparinibban
(d) Dharma Chakara Pravartana Sutta

Q. With reference to ancient Jainism, which one of the following statements is correct? [2004]

(a) Jainism was spread in South India under the leadership of Sthalabahu.
(b) The Jainas who remained under the leadership of Bhadrabahu were called Sh
(c) Jainism enjoyed the patronage of the Kainga king Kharaavela in the first century BC.
(d) In the initial stage of Jainism, the Jainas worshipped images unlike the Buddhist .

Q. Which of the following statements is not correct? [2002]

(a) The statute of Gomateswara at Shravana Belagola represents the last tirthankar of the Jains.
(b) India’s largest Buddhist monastery is in Arunachal Pradesh.
(c) Khajuraho temples were built under Chandela kings.
(d) Hoysaleswara temple is dedicated to Shiva.

Q. Anekantavada is a core theory and philosophy of which one of the following? [2009]

(a) Buddhism
(b) Jainism
(c) Sikhism
(d) Vaishnavism

Q. The ‘Dharma’ and ‘Rita’ depict a central idea of ancient Vedic civilization of India. In this context, consider the following statements. [2011]

  1. ‘Dharma’ was a conception of obligations and of the discharge of one’s duties to oneself and to others,
  2. ‘Rita’ was the fundamental moral law governing the functioning of the Universe and all it contained.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) Only (i)
(b) Only (ii)
(c) Both (i) and (iii)
(d) Neither (i) nor (ii)

Q. Which of the following statements is/are correct about Brahmo samaj? [2012]

  1. It opposed Idolatry
  2. It denied the need of a priestly class for interpreting the religious texts,
  3. It popularised the doctrine that the Vedas are infallible. Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) Only (i)
(b) (i) and (ii)
(c) Only (iii)
(d) (i), (ii)and (iii)

Q. With reference to the history of ancient India, which of the following was/were common to both Buddhism and Jainism? [2012]

  1. Avoidance of extremities of penance and enjoyment.
  2. Indifference to the authority of the Vedas.
  3. Denial of efficacy of rituals.

Select the correct answer using the codes given below
(a) Only (i)
(b) (ii) and (iii)
(c) (i) and (iii)
(d) (i), (ii) and (iii)

Q. With reference to Buddhist history, tradition and culture in India, which of die following pairs is/are correctly matched? [2014]

Famous Shrine Location
(i) Tabo monastery and temple complex – Spiti valley
(ii) Lhotsava Lakhang temple, Nako – Zanskar valley
(iii) Alchi temple complex – Ladakh

Which of the above pairs is/are correctly matched?
(a) Only (i)
(b) (ii) & (iii)
(c) (i) & (iii)
(d) All of these

Q. With reference to the cultural history of medieval India, consider the following statements: [2016]

1. Siddhas (Sitiars) of Tamil region were monotheistic and condemned idolatry.
2. Lingayats of Kannada region questioned theory of rebirth and rejected the caste hierarchy.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Q. With reference to the religious history of India, consider the following statements: [2017]
1. Sautrantika and Sammitiya were the sects of Jainism.
2. Sarvastivadin held that the constituents of phenomena were not wholly momentary but existed forever in a latent form.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

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