Last modified on March 21, 2020, at 21:11

Religion in India

Four major world religions – (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism) – were founded in the Indian subcontinent. In addition, Islam has been an important force on the subcontinent since the seventh century.

Judaism in India

The Bnei Menashe of northeastern India claim descent from the lost tribe of Manasseh, but the accuracy of this claim is debated.

The Cochin Jews (or Malabar Jews) claim to have occupied India since the time of Solomon, but historical evidence can place them in India only from about 700 B.C.[1]

The Bene Israel group claim to have arrived in India between about A.D. 100 and A.D. 300, and can be traced by other evidence to as early as about A.D. 1000.[2]

Two other Jewish groups in India are the Bene Ephraim and the Baghdadi Jews.


Christianity arrived in India in the first century A.D., possibly through the travels of the Apostle Thomas, whose tomb in the Indian city of Chennai is a major pilgrimage site for Christians in India.


Islam arrived partly through the implementation of holy war or jihad by Arab militants led by Muhammad bin-Qasim in the latter half of the 8th century A.D., and partly through the efforts of Arab traders in South India. It continued to spread with invasions, wars and forced conversions by Afghans and Turkic Mongols. Eventually, peace settled and they slowly integrated into the society and formed India's Islamic tradition. The Taj Mahal, India's national monument, was built by a Muslim emperor named Shah Jahan.

Conflicts and violence

Hindu nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism have been prevalent in India since independence. From December 1992 to January 1993, 900 people died in riots between Hindus and Muslims in Mumbai (then Bombay). The 2002 Gujarat violence killed 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus.

Violence towards Christians

For a more detailed treatment, see Violence towards Christians in India.

Hindu nationalist groups like Bajrang Dal and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) have anti-Christian sentiment. VHP has engaged in several programs to convert Christians to Hinduism. In a well-publicised case, Bajrang Dal member Dara Singh and 12 others killed Graham Staines, a Christian missionary and his two sons Philip and Timothy (aged 10 and 8 respectively). Graham Staines had been working with leprosy sufferers for 34 years. Shiv Sena, a political party in India, remain opposed to Valentine's Day celebrations, and members of Shiv Sena have carried out violent attacks on shops and restaurants organising Valentine's Day.


  • Hinduism is India's largest religion; 80.4% of the population are Hindu.
  • Islam is the largest minority religion in India; 13.4% of the population are Muslim.
  • Christianity is the third largest religion of India; 2.3% of the population are Christians.
  • India is home to 12 million Buddhists; 0.773% of the population are Buddhists.
  • India is home to 4.2 million Jains; 0.4% of the population are Jains.
  • According to census of 2001, there are 19.2 million Sikhs in India.
  • 0.006% of the population are Parsis (Zoroastrians).
  • 2.2 million people in India follow the Bahá'í faith, which is the largest national contingent of Bahá'ís in the world.
  • Jews are a religious minority of India, and are concentrated in the states of Kerala, Maharashtra, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and Mizoram.
  • 2% of the population are atheists.


  1. Koder S. "History of the Jews of Kerala". The St.Thomas Christian Encyclopaedia of India. Edited by. G. Menachery. 1973
  2. Jewish Encyclopedia article for Bene Israel