Indian religions, also called Dharmic religions, are the related religious traditions that originated in the Indian subcontinent, namely Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism, inclusive of their sub-schools and various related traditions. They form a subgroup of the larger class of "Eastern religions". Indian religions have similarities in core beliefs, modes of worship, and associated practices, mainly due to their common history of origin and mutual influence.
The documented history of Indian religions begins with historical Vedic religion, the religious practices of the early Indo-Aryans, which were collected and later redacted into the Vedas, four canonical collections of hymns or mantras. The language used, archaic Sanskrit, also stems from the same period. The period of the advent, spread, and eventual establishment of this religion lasted from 1,500 BCE to about 500 BCE.
The period from 1000-800 BCE onwards marked the beginning of the Upanisadic or Vedantic period, and which ended around 500 BC (though prolonged seminaries lasted at much dates). This period heralded the beginning of much of what became classical Hinduism, with the composition of the Upanishads, later the Sanskrit epics, still later followed by the Puranas.
Jainism and Buddhism arose from the sramana culture. Buddhism was historically founded by Siddartha Gautama, a Kshatriya prince-turned-ascetic, and was spread beyond India through missionaries. It later experienced a decline in India, but survived in Nepal and Sri Lanka, and remains more widespread in Southeast and East Asia. Jainism was established by a lineage of 24 enlightened beings culminating with Parsva (9th century BCE) and Mahavira (6th century BCE).
Certain scholarship holds that the practices, emblems and architecture now commonly associated with the Hindu pantheon and Jainism may go back as far as Late Harappan times to the period 2000-1500 BCE.
Hinduism is divided into numerous denominations, primarily Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, Smarta and much smaller groups like the conservative Shrauta. Hindu reform movements and Ayyavazhi are more recent. About 90% of Hindus reside in the Republic of India, accounting for 83% of its population.
Rama is a heroic figure in all religions. In Hinduism and Sikhism, he is the God-incarnate as a princely king, in Buddhism, he is a bodhisattva-incarnate, in Jainism, he is the perfect human. Buddhist Ramayanas are Vessantarajataka, Reamker, Ramakien, Phra Lak Phra Lam, Hikayat Seri Rama, etc. There also exists the Khamti Ramayana among the Khamti tribe of Asom wherein Rama is an avatar of a Bodhisattva who incarnates to punish the demon king Ravana (B.Datta 1993). The Tai Ramayana another book retelling the divine story in Asom.
The Vedas reflect the liturgy and ritual of Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age Indo-Aryan speaking peoples in India. Religious practices were dominated by the Vedic priesthood administering domestic rituals/rites and solemn sacrifices. The Brahmanas, Aranyakas and some of the older Upanishads (such as BAU, ChU, JUB) are also placed in this period. Many elements of Vedic religion reach back to early Bronze Age Proto-Indo-Iranian times. The Vedic period is held to have ended around 500 BCE.
Specific rituals and sacrifices of the Vedic religion include:
The historical Gautama Buddha, who was a Buddha, was born into the Shakya clan of Angirasa-and-Gautama Rishi lineage, just before the kingdom of Magadha (which lasted from 546–324 BCE) rose to power. His family was native to Kapilavastu and Lumbini, in what is now southern Nepal. The Ajivikas and Samkhyas belonged to another sramana tradtion, both of which did not survive.
Scholars Jeffrey Brodd and Gregory Sobolewski write that "Jainism shares many of the basic doctrines of Hinduism and Buddhism. Jainism derives its title from the Sanskrit verb root "ji", meaning to conquer. According to the Mahavamsa, Jainism was present in Sri Lanka before the arrival of Thera Mahinda. Early Tamil Brahmi Jain inscriptions in Tamil Nadu are dated to second century BCE. Jainism has declined since the 12th century in many regions, but continues to be an influential religion in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Buddhism in India spread during the reign of Asoka the Great of the Mauryan Empire, who patronised Buddhist teachings and unified the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd century BCE. He sent missionaries abroad, allowing Buddhism to spread across Asia. Indian Buddhism started declining following the rise of Puranic Hinduism during the Gupta dynasty, but continued to have a significant presence in some regions of India until the 12th century. Scholar James Bird writes, "But when primitive Buddhism originated from Hindu schools of philosophy, it differed as widely from that of later times, as did the Brahmanism of the Vedas from that of the Puranas and Tantras.
Between 400 CE and 1000 CE Hinduism expanded as the decline of Buddhism in India continued. Buddhism subsequently became effectively extinct in India but survived in Nepal and Sri Lanka.
There were several Buddhistic kings who worshiped Vishnu, such as the Gupta, Pala, Malla, Somavanshi, and Sattvahana. Buddhism survived followed by Hindus. National Geographic edition reads, "The flow between faiths was such that for hundreds of years, almost all Buddhist temples, including the ones at Ajanta, were built under the rule and patronage of Hindu kings."
Several important icons were women. For example, within the Mahanubhava sect, the women outnumbered the men, and administration was many times composed mainly of women. Mirabai is the most popular female saint in India.
The modern era has given rise to dozens of Hindu saints with international influence. For example, Brahma Baba established the Brahma Kumaris, one of the largest new Hindu religious movements teaches the discipline of Raja Yoga to millions. Prabhupada founded the Hare Krishna movement, also international with many followers. Anandamurti, founder of the Ananda Marga, has influenced many worldwide. Satya Sai Baba has his ashrams also, around the world, preeching the message of peace, brotherhood and worship. Through all these new Hindu denominations traveling international, many Hindu practices such as yoga, meditation, mantra, divination, vegetarianism have become absorbed by new coverts and others influenced.
Astika and nastika are sometimes used to categorise Indian religions. Those religions that believe that God is the central actor in this world are termed as astika. Those religions that do not believe that God is the prime mover and actor are classified as nastika religions. From this point of view the Vedic religion (and Hinduism) is an astika religion, whereas Buddhism and Jainism are nastika religions.
Another definition of the terms astika and nastika, followed by Adi Shankara, classifies religions and persons as astika and nastika according to whether they accept the authority of the main Hindu texts, the Vedas as supreme revealed scriptures, or not. By this definition, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Raja Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Vedanta are classified as astika schools, while Charvaka is classified as a nastika schools. By this definition, both Buddhism and Jainism are classified as nastika religions since they do not accept the authority of the Vedas.
All three religions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, agree that Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism (as well as several Hindu denominations) do not accept the authority of the Vedas.
Sikhism originated in fifteenth century Northern India with the teachings of Nanak and nine successive gurus. The principal belief in Sikhism is faith in Vāhigurū— represented by the sacred symbol of ēk ōaṅkār [meaning one god]. Sikhism's traditions and teachings are distinctly associated with the history, society and culture of the Punjab. Adherents of Sikhism are known as Sikhs (students or disciples) and number over 23 million across the world.
Although it began as a relatively neutral faith system that proposed to inculcate the best practices of Hinduism and Islam, over time, its Gurus led followers in various rebellions and battles against the Islamic Mughal rulers of the time, most notably against Aurangzeb.
In a judicial reminder, the Indian Supreme Court observed Sikhism and Jainism to be sub-sects or special faiths within the larger Hindu fold, and that Jainism is a denomination within the Hindu fold. Although the government of British India counted Jains in India as a major religious community right from the first Census conducted in 1873, after independence in 1947 Sikhs and Jains were not treated as national minorities. In 2005 the Supreme Court of India declined to issue a writ of Mandamus granting Jains the status of a religious minority throughout India. The Court however left it to the respective states to decide on the minority status of Jain religion.
However, some individual states have over the past few decades differed on whether Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs are religious minorities or not, by either pronouncing judgments or passing legislation. One example is the judgment passed by the Supreme Court in 2006, in a case pertaining to the state of Uttar Pradesh, which declared Jainism to be undisputably distinct from Hinduism, but mentioned that, "The question as to whether the Jains are part of the Hindu religion is open to debate. However, the Supreme Court also noted various court cases that have held Jainism to be a distinct religion.
Another example is the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill, that is an amendment to a legislation that sought to define Jains and Buddhists as denominations within Hinduism. Ultimately on July 31 2007, finding it not in conformity with the concept of freedom of religion as embodied in Article 25 (1) of the Constitution, Governor Naval Kishore Sharma returned back the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2006 citing the widespread protests by the Jains as well as Supreme Court's extra-judicial observation that Jainism is a "special religion formed on the basis of quintessence of Hindu religion by the Supreme Court