Religion in India; a mix of religions with huge differences per state


If you have never been to India, your knowledge about this immense country probably would be limited. However, you might know a few things. I’m pretty sure that you know the name of its magnificent but very polluted capital, New Delhi. And you might also know the Indian Subcontinent’s main tourist attraction, the number one romantic selfie- spot Taj Mahal. If you had paid some attention during the geography lessons during schooldays, there might also be some other things that you can share. Cows are considered holy, in this country where Hinduism is the main religion, right? You can find them on all roads, often blocking traffic. Anything else, if you have never been here? Yes, you will share your grief about the poor living conditions of millions of people. This was exactly what I knew when I first traveled to India, years ago. But there’s more to know, much more. You will find more tourist attractions, without any doubt. The beaches of Goa, the temples in the south, the forts and dessert of Rajasthan to name a few. Or spotting tigers and Asian elephants in one of the many wildlife parks of India. This is all true and India is a traveler’s paradise with many, must see attractions! However, India and the people itself are actually the foremost tourist attraction! And the positive thing here is: they are everywhere.

I have written about the people in many of my previous posts. In this post, I want to elaborate a bit more about the various religions in India and how they are embedded in the various states. Let’s start with the numbers on a national level. India has a population of 1.32 billion. 79,8% of the total population consider themselves as Hindus. So, Hinduism is definitely the dominant religion. I now want to jump to the second religion in this immense country. It might come as a surprise for you, especially if you have limited knowledge about the country: Islam is the second largest religion in India. 14,2% of the population is Muslim, which makes India the second (!) country in the world in the number of Muslims, after Indonesia but before Pakistan or Bangladesh. Looking at the ratio’s on the lower part of the demographic charts, there are a few minority groups. 2,3% of the Indian population is Christian, 1,7% is Sikh, 0,7% is Buddhist and 0,4% is Jain.

This is pretty interesting, right? The numbers are definitely interesting, especially if you take a deeper dive into some local demographics. Are you planning to travel through India? Keep in mind that there are huge differences in religion ratios per state. If you’re interested in observing a lot of Hindu traditions, it’s better to avoid states with a ‘low’ ratio of Hindus. Kerala, one of my favorite states and definitely a place I would recommend anyone to visit, has one of the lowest rates of Hindus. Only 54% of the population is Hindu. Two other religions within in Kerala, also known as ‘Gods own country’, are Islam (26%) and Christianity (18%). This mix of religions makes Kerala an interesting pot-pouri of various people, also if you keep in mind that the communist party is very active in this state. Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India, has a population of over 200 million. The chief minister of this state is Yogi Adityanath, an Indian Monk and Hindu Nationalist from the BJP. Being a Hindu, he has to deal with a large population of Muslims (19%) and unfortunately there have been some tensions in this populous state. Punjab is a state in the north of India and it has a population of roughly 28 Million. Sikhism is the dominant religion in this state, over 57% of the population is Sikh. Second religion is Hinduism, with 38%. Punjabi-music can be heard all over India, but the turban is a rare sight in some areas. In Punjab it seems as if every grown up boy or man wears one and it definitely is a photographers dream to walk around towns (I have never been there).

Nagaland is a very rarely visited state that borders Burma to the east. It is one of the three states in India where the population is mostly Christian. More than 88% of the 2 million inhabitants of this tiny state consider themselves as Christians. Contrary to this is Himachal Pradesh. The capital of this state is Shimla, a picturesque hilly city on 2200 meter above sea level.  Himachal Pradesh has one of the highest ratios of Hindus. Over 95% of its population is Hindu. I can continue this write up and confuse you with some even more interesting numbers but I won’t do this. Instead, I would like to come back to my statement on keeping the various ratios in mind if you plan a trip through this immense country. You need to remember that all people, no matter what background or social position within the society, take religion very seriously. And its makes traveling more fun if you are aware of the local religions. During my last trip to Goa I especially enjoyed the many beautiful white churches. And during multiple stays in Hyderabad, I have been visiting the very large mosque in the city center.

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