India a land of diversities -diversity of religions, caste, creed, languages, geography, and customs presents a fine canvas of multi-colors. Religion plays a vital role in the day to day life of the people in India. The country has the largest population of the Hindus and the second-largest of the Muslims in the world. The followers of other minority religions such as Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, etc. Inhabit the different regions have different religious practices and rituals but there is always a pervading sense of unity prevailing in the country and people live in mutual harmony. In the following blog, I’m trying to pass down some important features of major religions and sects with their worship places.
HINDU RELIGION INFORMATION- The inception of the word “Hindu” is supposed to be from the word Indus. As the Greeks and the Arabs started invading India that called the land. Indus land after the name of the famous Indus River and the inhabitants of this land as the “Hindus” The Hinduism is better known as the Sanatan Dharma or the perennial religion.
There is no solid proof when this religion and the ethos behind it came into existence. As this is not a regular religion and simply it is a way of living. The ancient Philosophy of the Vedas and the Upanishads are the core of the Hindu Beliefs. The followers of this religion adhere to the idea of reincarnation and rebirth. The Holy Books for the Hindus are the Ramayana and the Bhagwat Geeta. The first is the Epic dealing with the deeds of Lord Rama and teaching the masses about the ethics and the ideals, and righteousness.
In Hindu Religion, there are mainly Sub Cults. Mainly there are the followers of three fourths- Shaivism, Vaishnavism and the Shakti. In the Olden times, there were some trivial strifes of beliefs between the Shavities and the Vaishnavites. But in the modern life people normally give place to the idols of all deities- Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu the forms of mother goddess, etc.
Most of the people believe in Sakar God (God in Idol) and thus indulge in idolatry. The basic philosophies are the principle of Karma as taught by Lord Krishna in the Geeta. According to this philosophy, one has to perform its duties the right way and one is rewarded or punished according to karma. This also paves the way for the next life- whether you get human life or the animal or another.
Often asked question is why India has majority of old temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Vishnu.
Hinduism is not a monotheistic religion rather it believes in the existence of trinity, Brahma is supposed to be the creator(There is only one temple of Brahma in India, Pushkar where annually a festival is organised in the month of November), Vishnu is the sustainer and most Hindus pray to Vishnu who is supposed to sustain all the life forms, Shiva is supposed to be the God of destruction and salvation,Naturally after sustenance humans are only afraid of death and want to appease the God to be in his good books so maximum devotees rever God Shiva.
Famous Hindu Temples In India
India is the country where you can visit the centuries-old famous Hindu Temples spreading from North to South. If you want to pay reverence to Lord Shiva what can be the other best option than to choose Varanasi Kashi Vishwanath Temple or the Mahakal Temple of Ujjain. In case you want to visit the Krishna Temple, plan for Mathura Vrindavan Tour. In case you are a Shakti worshiper you can plan going to Vaishnav Devi in Jammu. In case you have a penchant for the Ganges pilgrimage you can plan for Haridwar Rishikesh Tour.
Thus you have plethora of options for doing temple tours in India. Right beneath I am mentioning some important cities for the Hindu pilgrimage-
Varanasi- The Oldest City of India – The heart of Hinduism lies in Varanasi. This city has been a famous haunt of the Old sages for meditation and penance and is considered the pious land of Shiva. The legendary King Harish Chandra is supposed to work with Chandal at the famous Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi.This ghat fortells the famous story of faithfulness and dedication of King Harishchandra towards his master where he is adamant on realizing the cremation tax even from his own wife Shaivya for the last rites of his only son Rohtaash. The famous saints of Bhakti movement Kabir and Ravi Dass spent most of their lives living in the city.
The river Ganges is the lifeline of the city. The famous Ghats on the bank of the river with thousands of people indulging in taking sacred bath, adoring the river and the others involved in the cremation ceremonies of their near ones present the diversity of the Rich Hindu Culture. Most of the pilgrims believe to wash away their old sins as the belief in the Old Testament of the river Lethe. Later they visit the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple which is famed as one of the famous “jyotirlingas” Besides these people also visits the other famous temple in the vicinity. Varanasi is known to be the city of Lord Shiva it is believed that whosoever leaves the ethereal world in Varanasi gets a permanent place in the abode of Lord Shiva or salvation in easy terms. River Ganges throughout its journey from Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal flows from North to south, its only here in Varanasi that Ganges flows from south to the north.
Krishna Temples in Mathura & Vrindavan
Mathura Vrindavan twin cities along with Gokul, Barsana, and Goverdhan form a complete Brij tour. These cities have thousands of temples dedicated to Lord Krishna an incarnation of lord Vishnu. These cities located on the banks of river Yamuna have been alluring the pilgrims across India and the globe. The main Temples of Mathura are the Birth Place of Lord Krishna (Krishna Janma Bhoomi) and the Dwarkadesh Temple.
In Vrindavan, you get to see the ISCON Temple, Bankey Bihari Temple, Prem Mandir. Rangji Temple of Vrindavan is made in typical South Indian style of Temples having Gopurams. Krishna is always associated with Radha and thus you can visit the native place of Radhaji at Barsana. Nidhivan is a place where it is considered that still Krishna comes in the night and performs divine celestial dance with a flute. Govardhan is also a pious place where millions of people do spiritual perambulation around the holy mountain Giriraj Parvat.
Khajuraho- The City of Chandela Rulers- Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh has lots of ancient temples built in the era of the Gurjar Pratithana Dynasty. These Temples once upon a time were great centers for learning of Hindu Religion specialty of Tantric cult of Shaivism. The Eastern and Western group of temples besides the architectural beauty have great religious significance. Many out of the scores of these temples do not have deities at present, but the famous ones like Kandehria Mahadev Temple are good enough to call the religious pilgrims.
Haridwar & Rishikesh– Starting Point of Chardham Yatra- These twin cities lying in the Uttrakhand State of India are great centers for the pilgrims from the Hindu religion. Millions of devotees come annually to have a sacred bath in the Ganges and visiting the famous Temples of Haridwar and Rishikesh such as MANSA Devi Temple, Chandi Devi Temple. Neelkanth Mahadev Temple etc. The eye-catching scenario is presented at the Aarti ceremony at the famous ghats. Rishikesh is the starting point of the famous Chardham Yatra. Various Ashrams of the city are the famous haunts of the sages and the spirituality loving folks.
Ujjain- Ujjain is renowned all over the world for its famous Mahakaleshwar Temple. It has proximity to Indore and can easily be visited in one day from there. Do not forget to be a spectator of the well-known ceremony of Bhasmarti in the Mahakal Temple.
Puri- The famous Jagannath puri is located in the state of Orrisa and is a famous Hindu pilgrimage center. The famous Cart Festival of Puri presents myriads of colors of rich Hindu culture to the audience when the procession of Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhadra is organized.
Islam- Islam came to India in 712 A.D with the invasion of Mohammad Bin Kasim and presently this is the second major religion of the country with the second major population of Muslims in the country after Indonesia. The followers of this religion worship normally in the Mosques and their prayers are called Namaz. According to Hadis, it is desirable for Muslim to pray 5 times a day and offer Charity of 10% of their income for the religious causes and helping others. Muslims have two major sects- Shias and Sunnis. The well known Muslim Festivals are Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Adha, and Muharram.
Important Places of Worship in India for Islam
Delhi- Delhi, the capital city of India has been subdued by the Muslim influence an account of long rule of various Muslim dynasties such as the slave, Khilaji, Tughlaq, Lodhi, and Mughals. Thus various mosques, palaces were erected during a long era of the Muslim rule, eloquent Jama Masjid attracts the devotees of Islam from not only from Delhi but far and wide. This grand and the biggest mosque of India were envisaged by the emperor Shahjahan and for the prayer purposes the Iman for Bukhara was appointed as the head, still the Imman of this celebrated mosque hails from the same family. Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia’s Shrine is a very famous Sufi site in Delhi.
Agra- This city was started as a cantonment by a Sikandar Lodhi though the legends say that it was previously known as Agravan before the Islamic rule and this signifies the Forest Ahead, after Hindus the second religion of Agra is Islam with a sizable Muslim population. The numerous mosques built in Agra appeal to the religious lovers for prayers. The principle is the Zama mosque in the Kinari Bazar area. Besides you can also pray in the Taj Mahal Mosque on Friday (not allowed for the people from other towns). You can visit the famous mosque in the Agra Fort known as Nageena Mosque.
Fatehpur Sikri- This second capital of the Mughal emperor Akbar has a large size of Muslim followers. It was the place for the great Sufi saint Salim Chisti who made his Khankas on the mound and it is considered that Akbar was blessed with children by the blessings of this Sufi saints. Still, if you visit Fatehpur Sikri you can visit the Shrine of this saint a grand mosque.
Hyderabad- Hyderabad in South India is famed with Charminar across the globe. This city has a large Muslim population and people come to pray in this mosque built from granite. Another grand mosque is the Mecca Masjid. This mosque is a very holy place for the Muslims as it houses several important relics related to the prophet Mohammad worth mention is the hair of Prophet Muhammad.
Ajmer- Ajmer is an important tourist place of Rajasthan and has religious sanctity. It is an important center of Sufism. Lots of devotees flock to this place to pay their reverence to the Sufi Saint- Hazrat Muin Ud Din Chisti. The pilgrims come to this place to seek spirituality.
Kashmir- The valley of Kashmir has been the cradle of Sufism. The notable Charar- e- Sharif, Hazratbal Shine, etc and other famous mosques of the state.
Deoband- This town located in Sarahanpur district of Uttar Pradesh lies 150 km from Delhi. An important learning center of Islam was established in 1886 by Maulana Muhammad Qasim.
Jainism- Jainism was initiated by Lord Mahavira in 6th century B.C and he discarded the principle of the Ajibaks. The followers of this religion are nearly 1 % in India and they rely on the five principles- Ahimsa (non Killing), Satya (Truth), Asteya (no stealing), Aparigarh (over-accumulation of wealth) and BramhCharya (Celibacy). There are two principal sects- Shwetambar and Digambar Shavatambar followers practice weaving white clothes while Digambars follow Nadism and they consider directions as their aprons.
Famous Places of Worship for Jainism in India
Jainism believes in the nonexistence of God and follows the principle of soul purification to attain Nirvana or self-enlightenment. This religion was followed by contemporary rulers such as Bindusar of Mauryan dynasty. Several top rich man and the tradesmen followed this religion and this paved the way for the construction of magnificent Jain Temples in India.
Jain Temples of Rajasthan
Rajasthan holds a large number of Jain population. The Jain Temples in Rajasthan attracts not only the followers but a large number of tourists. Imagine the visit of the famous Dilwara Temples sitting on the nearby mound. Besides the religious significance, these temples are fine specimen of art and carvings. The Jain Temple at Ranakpur near Udaipur invites several religious devotees. If you are in Jaisalmer do not forget to visit the famous Jain temples inside the fort of Jaisalmer. Other famous Jain temples in Rajasthan can be visited in Pushkar, Sajamer, Sirohi and some other places.
Jain Temples of Gujrat
The state of Gujarat and its large legacy of Jain temples is a famous tourist destination. The famous Jain temples in various regions of this state were erected during 6 to 7th century A.D. The followers of this religion go to visit the Palitana Jain Temples and Kumbhariya Jain temple in Ambaji. As a devout Jain, you can prefer visiting the other Jain Temples at diverse places in Gujarat such as Girnar Jain Temples, Vashi Jain Temple or Mahudi Jain temple, etc.
Jain Temples of Maharashtra
Jainism has been a paramount religion in Maharashtra. The fine example of these temples is Ellora caves and Babu Amichand Jain Temple. The magnificent Jain Temple of Kajrat is a fine example of art and religion.
Jain Temples In Karnataka- The city of Hassan in Karnataka is famous for gomateshwara statue. It is a famous Jain state known as Shravanabelagola at only 50 km distance from Bengaluru. Visiting Bhagavan Bahubali is considered are of the important rite in the Jainism. Besides this, you can also visit the Shimoga Navagraha Jain Temple. Halebeedu Cave Temples, Badami temples, etc.
Jain Temples of Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh boasts of its rich legacy of forts, palaces, and temples. It is blessed with a rich Jain influence which is perceived while you visit the famous Jain Temple in the state such as Atishay Kshetra at Bajrang Garh which is more than 1200 years old. Besides the Eastern Group of Khajuraho temples are also the center of Jain spirituality and also enlisted as UNESCO World Heritage site.
Christianity is another minority religion in India like Buddhism and Jainism. It is considered that Christianity was first of all introduced in India almost 2000 years ago when St. Thomas, the apostle came to India and preached the tenets of Jesus in Kerala. The followers of this religion are in every part of India but the majority lives in the North East and in Goa and Kerala. The Holy Book of the Christians is the Bible and there are two main groups in this religion- Catholics and the Protestants.
Places of Worship for Christians in India
There are several magnificent churches which were built either by the British or by the Portuguese. They are based on the blend of Indo European architectural features.
Kerala- The state of Kerala boasts of the rich Christian heritage. The famous Parumala church of Munnar is of prime importance and is supposed to have spiritual powers. Another important Church is Malayattoor Kurisindi which is based on the hill, it is believed that St. Thomas spent most of his time on this hill.
Goa- Goa is famed with the old Christian Churches. Lots of spiritual persons flock the famous basilica of Bom Jesus to pay their reverence. This Basilica houses the Grave of St Francis Zavier. You can also visit the other famous Cathedrals in Goa such as SE Cathedral, St Francis of Assisi, etc.
Churches of Agra- Besides the Taj Mahal Agra is renowned all over the world for its famous cathedrals. The oldest church was built in Agra by the emperor Akbar and is still intact in the Cathedral of Immaculate conception. You can attend the mass at St Mary’s Church, St Paul’s Church, etc.
Sikhs is the fifth largest religion in the world. The Sikh religion started as a reform movement initiated by the first master of Sikh faith Guru Nanak. Sikh in literal meaning means a “disciple”. Guru Nanak spoke freely against the prevailing ills of the then Indian society. He emphasised on the unity and brotherhood of mankind. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion with emphasis on service to the mankind. The tenth master Guru Gobind Singh gave Sikhism the shape of an institution and started the Amrit (Sikh baptization). One who gets baptized in the name of Sikhs Gurus and one universal God is ought to carry five K’s (Kesh-unshorn hair, Kangha -comb, Kirpan-sword, Kada -iron bangle, Kacha-undergarment). Every Sikh temple is open to all mankind, there is a free community kitchen in every Sikh temple anyone can have free meals in this community Kitchen. Sikh temple is known as “Gurudwara “meaning the abode of the Guru”. Sikh religion negates rituals and the pilgrimage. But in these years some places got associated with the Sikh Gurus and became a place of worship for the followers of Sikh faith.
Famous Worship Places of Sikhs in India
Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib)- this is supposed to the most sacred Sikh temple. The original temple was serviced by the fourth master (Guru) Ramdass. Later the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1830 guilded the sanctum with real gold. The temple was destructed and reconstructed many times during the struggle of Sikh followers with Muslim rulers. The Gold hued temple is situated amidst a holy tank. Sikh believers take a bath in holy water supposed to relieve the soul from the cycle of rebirth. There are four gates to the temple which symbolize the opening of entry to all the varnas. There is a large community kitchen in the temple where more than 50,000 devotees are served free meals every day irrespective of their religion or caste. Sikh regard the holy book Sri Guru Granth Sahib as their eleventh Guru and the sanctum sanctorum here has the live embodiment of present eleventh Guru. The devotees get the blessings. The Harmandir Sahib is the spiritual center of Sikh faith. While Akal Takht is the temporal seat of authority of Sikh faith. Two symbolic flags are signifying the spiritual and temporal authority. The Akal Takht is one of the Five Takhts of Sikh faith.
Takht Sri Patna Sahib -The tenth master (Guru) of Sikh religion Guru Gobind Singh Ji was born over here in the state of Bihar. The present Gurudwara was rebuilt by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, very recently in January 2017 the celebrations of the 350 years of the birth of Guru Gobind Singh were conducted at Takht Sri Patna Sahib .
Takht Sri Kesh Garh Sahib- This very important Gurudwara lies around 100 km from the famous city Chandigarh, it is over here in 1699 Guru Gobind Singh (Tenth master) initiated the first five baptized Sikh into the Sikh Faith. Kesh-unshorn hair is one of the prerequisites of being a baptized Sikh. The Gurudwara Kesh Garh sahib lies in Sri Anand Pur Sahib town on the foothills of Himalayas. Every day during the evening congregation a public display of the weapons from the era of the Guru ji is held. The Anandpur Sahib also has numerous other Sikh temples associated with the lives of Sikh Gurus.
Takht Sri Dam Dama Sahib. -This important Gurudwara lies in the Malwa area of Punjab very near to the town of Bathinda. Over here Guru Gobind Singh ji compiled and edited the Sikh scriptures. Thus the term Guru ki Kashi came into existence. Kashi since time immemorial has been the seat of the learned. In 1999 officially during the tricentenary celebrations, Sri Dam Dama Sahib was accorded the stature of a Takht, the devotees come over here and pray before the Guru before the start of the formal education of their kids.
Hazur Sahib- Situated on the banks of river Godavari in the state of Maharashtra. The Gurudwara is situated at the place where the tenth master Guru Gobind Singh left for his heavenly abode. Before leaving he ordered his disciples to follow Sri Guru Granth Sahib as the master of the Sikh faith after him. The Present Gurudwara was constructed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839. just like Keshgarh Sahib, similar display of the weapons and articles is done every day for the devotees. In 2008 the tercentenary Celebrations of Guru dom of Sri Granth Sahib Ji were Celebrated with the then Prime minister of India Mr. Manmohan Singh joining the congregation
Buddhism emerged in India at the almost same time when Jainism started, but amazingly it became a world religion. Presently less than 1% of followers of Buddhism reside in India with the majority living in the Ladakh region. Unlike Jainism, the followers of this religion are not so strong on non-violence. This region was propagated by Lord Buddha after he attained Buddhatva in Bodhgaya. There are lots of Buddhist sites and monasteries spreading all around India. The followers of all this religion celebrate Vasak (Buddha’s Birthday) and Magh Puja Day. There are two main sects in this religion- Henyana, and Mahayana
Famous Buddhist Pilgrimage Sites in India
India has been the cradle of Buddhism and thus several Buddhist sites can be explored such as-
Bodhgaya- Lord Buddha attained enlightenment under the Peepal tree at Bodhgaya in Bihar. The major attraction of Bodhgaya is the Maha Bodhi Temple which has a massive statue of Buddha. Another religious place of importance is the jewel Walk where the traditions say that Lord Buddha used to stroll around. There are various other monasteries built around this site.
Sarnath- This famous site is located at a distance of 10 km from Varanasi and is known to all for its religious importance. The scriptures say that Lord Buddha after attaining Buddhatva delivered his first sermon to his 5 followers in a cave over here. The main attraction of this place is the Dhamek Stupa which was built by emperor Ashoka.
Kushinagar- This is the place where Lord Buddha attained Nirvana. At present, you can visit some monasteries at this place.
Kaushambi- This sacred Buddhist site is located at a distance of 18 km from Varanasi. Lord Buddha visited this place several times preaching the people about divinity. During the era of Ashoka, some famous monasteries were built and still, you can find the ruins of such monasteries.
Sikkim- The land of Sikkim is renowned as being the land of monasteries. The local culture of this place is subdued by the Buddhist influences. Do not forget to visit the rumtek monastery and Phodong Monastery.
This is the most minority religion in India and the followers of this religion are supposed to come to India in 8th century AD from central Asia. Presently there is a crisis in the growth of the population of this religion and according to the census reports of 2001, there are only 70,000 Indians who are protecting this religion. The famous religious scripture of this religion is Zend Avesta and it contains the tenets of this religion as told by Prophet Zoroaster. There worship place is Angyari or the Fire temple and the practitioner of this religion worship fire. The legends say that at the time of the arrival the spiritual leaders of this religion promised the local ruler not to mix up in Indian culture and they are still adhering to the same traditions. The followers of this religion are popularly known as Parsis.
The famous Worship Place of Zoroastrianism in India
Presently most of the followers of this religion are found in Gujarat and Maharashtra and their religious Shrines are still intact in many cities of these states.
Maharashtra- The majority of Zoroastrianism followers live in the state Capital of Maharashtra- Mumbai. Earlier they settled in Gujarat, Agra, Delhi, and some other countries but for the feasibility of work mostly migrated to Mumbai. Thus Mumbai has the largest number of Parsi fire temples. One such is situated at Perin Nariman Street. Another old Fire temple can be visited at Banaji Lave.
Agra- Agra used to have several Parsi families in the Mughal time. On account of his Inquisitive nature Akbar invited the Parsi saint Dastoor Mahyar Ji Rama. In the same time, a sizable population of the followers used to dwell. Thus the fire temples and their special crematorium (Tower of Silence) were erected.
Gujarat- The state of Gujarat holds several Parsi Temples close to Surat the Fire Temple Atash Behram in Udvada is a famous place for this community. Another sacred place is Iranshaw temple. The small hamlet of Sanjan is one of the oldest settlements of this community.
Judaism is one of the oldest Abrahamic religion and Christianity and Islam have their origins from it. India has fourth number Jewish population of Asia. Three kinds of Jewish populations of India are Bene Israeli, Baghdadi Jews, and Cochin Jews. The sacred book of the jews in the Old Testament and their religious place of worship is the synagogue. They consider Saturday as the Sabbath day, unlike Christianity which considers Sunday as the Sabbath day.
Places of Worship for Judaism in India
Cochin- The Malabar jews arrived in Cochin and built this synagogue in 1578. This is one of the oldest Synagogues. Later on Dutch renovated this place. Before visiting this place you have to take off the Shoes.
Mumbai A large number of the Jewish population lives in the commercial capital of India and thus time to time various synagogues were created. Samuel Ezekiel who was a Bene Israeli built the Gate of Mercy synagogue in 1789. This is magnificent synagogue to visit. Another worth visit synagogues are- Kensett Eli yahoo synagogues and the Magen David Synagogue.
Radha Swami followers are all around the country. This faith was propagated by Swami Shiv Dayal Ji Maharaja around a century ago. Swami was based in Agra. Later on the followers made a big Temple Samadhi on the cremation place of the Swami This Temple is known as Dayal bagh, Agra. There are three different congregations of the Radha Swami faith in Agra The Soami Bagh congregation doesnt believes in live Guru while the Dayal Bagh and Huzuri Bhavan congregation believes in live Guru and have their own live Guru leading the congregation . This famous temple of Dayal Bagh took more than 100 Years in completion and attracts the followers and the tourists with it’s fine carvings done in the white marble. This faith has numerous educational institutions in Agra with a separate university.
One of the disciple of the faith Baba Jaimal Singh started a congregation in Punjab, today this off shoot has the maximum disciples, Dera Baba Jaimal Singh is popularly known as Radha Swami Satsang Beas, Baba Gurinder Singh Dhillon is the present master of the congregation.He took over from Baba Charan Singh in year 1990.
The dera is huge township of more than 4000 acres in Amritsar district of Punjab, It is divided into huge congregation halls and living quarters for the disciples, austere living and self less service is required from the disciples. The living master initiates the disciples into the path of spirituality as he ordains the “Naam Daan” the disciples are then supposed to do daily meditation and repetition of the holy name for at least 2.5 hours in a day, apart from the living quarters there are huge Bahndaras or the community kitchen which operates on the principle of self less service.Most of the teachings of Radha swami faith are some what similar to the Sikh faith. At the time of Guru Mahraj Baba Gurinder Singh adressing the gathering the number may go up to lakhs of devotees. Radh Swami faith preaches lacto Vegetarian food for its devotees, The devotees are expected to earn their livelihood from fair and just means and they are supposed to do charity out of their earned livelihood.
Bahai Sect- This faith was started in 1863 by Bahaullah in Iran. The followers belive that God Would have an incarnation in the same way as jesus or Prophet Muhammad Bahaullah announced himself to be a prophet and he was excited.In this religion God is considered single and omnipotent. There are also sizable followers of this religion. The famous worship place of Bahai Sect is Delhi is the lotus Temple.