Understanding Nepal’s complex religious landscape can be an overwhelming task at first, but knowing some of the history behind each religion in the country will help you navigate this important part of Nepalese life.
Creating the official religion of a country can be a thorny issue, and Nepal is no exception to this rule. This is one of the reasons why most of the countries in the world are decleared as “Secular Country”. Following the steps of other countries, Nepal has been also decleared as secular state on January 15, 2007(Asar 31, 2064 B.S).
Though being a secular country, The major religions practiced in Nepal include Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, but others such as Christianity and Sikhism are also gaining influence. In this article we will take a look at the religious landscape of Nepal and how this has shaped Nepalese culture throughout history.
As we have mentioned above, the majority of the population of Nepal identifies as Hindu, but Hinduism isn’t the only religion practiced in this country. There are over 10 other religions represented in Nepal, including Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The most common of these after Hinduism are Buddhism and Islam; each religion is practiced by 10% or more of the population.
Major Religions In Nepal
Hinduism and Buddhism are predominant in Nepal. Almost all Nepalese follow either or both religions, or subscribe to indigenous beliefs that have incorporated religious elements over time. According to 2011 census, Hinduism is practiced by almost 80% of Nepalese while 12% practice Buddhism (mostly Tibeto-Burman speaking). The remaining less than 10% practice Islam, Christianity and other religions. So, the four major relgions in Nepal are Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Let’s take a look at each group individually to learn more about their practices and beliefs.
1. Hinduism In Nepal
Hinduism is the largest and main religion in Nepal. According to the Census of Nepal 2011, the total numbers of Hindus living in the country is 21,551,492 which is more than 80% of the country’s total population. Hinduism has been in practise in Nepal from ancient time. That’s why it has a long history in Nepal. Name of the country itself has a very interesting history associated with Hindu practise.
Legends say a Hindu sage named “Ne” was the person who introduced Hinduism in Nepal when he established himself in the Kathmandu Valley in the prehistoric era. So, the name “Nepal” means the protected place “pala in sanskrit” by the sage Ne.
It is said that it was this sage who started the Gopala Dynasty in Nepal after selecting a pious cowherd named Bhuktaman to be the first of the many kings of Gopal Dynasty. This dynasty ruled over Nepal for the longest over 600 years.
Not only the name of Nepal, but it is also believed that Lord Vishu himself gave Nepalese their first flag with the moon and sun embelems on it.
Although Hinduism is a major religion in Nepal, Hindu devotionals are very popular among both Hindus and non-Hindus in Nepal. Statues in temples around Kathmandu show that many pray to Krishna, Shiva, and other Hindu god & goddess for good health, happiness, or a long life.
For Hindus, Buddhism is closely related to Hinduism because of its similarities to Hindu traditions. Still, it is also considered a separate religion because it has evolved into a unique set of practices over time and across India.
In addition to these two religions, there are many other religions practiced by Nepalese citizens including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Jainism, Sikhism and Bahai Faith. As you can see from these examples of religion in Nepal , religion plays an important role in Nepalese culture and society today.
Tirtha Yatra – Sacred Pilgrimages In Nepal
Nepali Hindus, who make up 80% of Nepal’s population, believe that pilgrimage is a way to connect with Vishnu, one of Hinduism’s principal deities.
According to tradition, every Hindu should visit four places in his or her lifetime: Pashupati Kshetra, Mukti Kshetra, Ruru Kshetra, and Baraha Kshetra, positioned in the different directions of the country, ranging from east to west and north to south.
In addition to these, Hindus also undertake tirtha yatra (sacred pilgrimages) to sacred rivers like Gandaki and Koshi. There are many other temples, shrines, and monasteries like Lumbini and Muktinath that are significant to both Hindus and Buddhists in the country.
2. Buddhism In Nepal
Buddhism is one of two constitutionally recognized religions in Nepal. Its origins trace back to Siddhartha Gautama, a spiritual leader also known as Buddha. Buddhism started spreading across Asia including Nepal in around 500 B.C. Today there are more than 10% of total population of Nepal who follows Buddhism.
Buddhists practice their religion at Buddhist monasteries located throughout Nepal. Many Buddhists believe in reincarnation, which holds that people can be reborn as animals or humans after they die if they have not led moral lives. The majority of Buddhism follow Theravada Buddhism and live along the southern border with India.
There are also small populations of Tibetan Buddhists and Newar Buddhists who live mostly in Kathmandu Valley and other parts of central Nepal. There are many stupas throughout the country where Buddhist practise their religion. Major stupas are Swayambhunath and Boudhanath which are enlisted in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
Buddhist Deity Worship
Buddhism is still considered by most Nepalese to be their indigenous religion, but Hindusism has been on a steady rise for decades. While many Nepalese are now practitioners of both religions, most adherents consider one religion to be more important than another.
Most importantly, Hinduism tends to coexist quite peacefully with Buddhism in Nepal – there aren’t any nasty disputes or major conflicts in practice between these two religions. In fact, it is common for temples and shrines to have statues of both Buddha and Shiva inside them!
This peaceful coexistence also extends into daily life: Many Nepalese have adopted some aspects of each religion without feeling that they need to choose one over another. The best example of such religious syncretism can be seen in festivals: Both Buddhists and Hindus celebrate Dashain (the main festival), Tihar (the festival honoring animals), and Tarpan (the festival commemorating deceased ancestors).
3. Islam In Nepal
Muslims make up around 4% of Nepal’s population. Most Muslims are Sunni, and most practice their faith at home. There are some mosques in major cities such as Kathmandu and Pokhara, but most Nepali Muslims only visit a mosque on special holidays or occasions.
The majority of Muslims live in western Nepal, near India. The rest live in eastern Nepal near Tibet. The Muslim community is very small because almost all Nepalese who have converted to Islam leave for other countries like India or Pakistan where there is a larger Muslim community.
Those that remain are largely isolated from mainstream society. However, in recent years there has been an increase in inter-religious dialogue between Muslims and Buddhists in Nepal.
This has led to increased understanding and acceptance of each other’s religions by both communities. One important organization that promotes dialogue between Buddhists and Muslims is the International Buddhist-Muslim Association (IBMA).
Historically too, there have never been any conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in Nepal there have been some controversies between the two communities due to the religious conversions and strict laws against the same.
History Of Islam In Nepal
The history of Islam in Nepal is quite long now. It is believed that the first Muslims in Nepal arrived in Nepal during King Ratna Malla’s reign in the late 15th century. They were said to be come to Nepal from Kashmir, Afghanistan, Persia, and Arabia.
They had come to Nepal as traders, merchants, musicians, and specialists on perfumes and ornaments. With the time, they were encouraged by the kings and the rulers to settle in Nepal with their family. And later in the late 19th century, many Indian muslims migrated to the Terai of Nepal.
With the time, Muslims in Nepal also have shared some common historical experiences with the Hindu majority and have developed a stronger identification with the Nepali state. In Nepal, there are mainly now Kashmiri Muslims, Tibetan Muslims, Madhesi Muslims, and Newari Muslims.
4. Christianity In Nepal
Christianity has been present in Nepal since as early as 1762. According to Christian historian Sarath Das, it was first brought by British missionaries like John Wilson, who lived and worked in Kathmandu during his assignment in India. According to Nepal Census 2011, Christians are about 1.4% of total’s population of Nepal.
While there are no accurate numbers on how many Christians reside in Nepal today, some sources estimate that there are around 10,000 believers across all 20 of its districts. The majority of these Christians are converts from Hinduism.
In fact, according to a 2016 report by Open Doors International, a non-profit organization that supports persecuted Christians worldwide, Nepal is one of only seven countries where more than half of all Christians have converted from another religion (the others being Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan). The highest concentration of Nepali Christians can be found in Kathmandu Valley; however, there is also a significant population in Pokhara.
Christian And Controversies In Nepal
In a Hindu majority country, the relations between Hindu and Christians have been many times a subject of controversy. Due to the expansion of christianity in Nepal, it has been one of the most controversial subjects in Nepal.
It has been timely and oftenly claimed in Nepal that Christian pastors and missionaries offer many materials to the poor and uneducated Hindus and muslims to convert into Christian.
There have been many occassions in Nepal where there have been conflicts between these two communities over the conversion, land, and other cultural disputes.
Because of the fact that the Catholic Church of Nepal is the one of the fastest growing churches in the world, due to which the population and demographics of the Hindus of Nepal is decreasing has lead to the serious tensions between the two communities.
It has been claimed several times that these missionaries take profit of someone’s economic condition, and manipulate poor and educated Nepalese to convert. Nepali Hindus have been always against these acts. Expansion of Christianity in Nepal has been seen as a common problem by Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims in Nepal.
There are many popular festivals in Nepal that are celebrated by the people of Nepal. The most important festivals are Dashain, Tihar, Bisket Jatra, Gai Jatra and Chaite Dasain. Among these, Dashain is a national festival and Tihar is celebrated by all religious people while others like Bisket Jatra and Chaite Dasain are mostly celebrated by Buddhists.
Other Religions In Nepal
As of now, you must have known that the major religions in Nepal are Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Though many people practice a combination of different religions or even more than one religion simultaneously.
Followers have their own theories about how many gods exist-most religious scholars believe in one ultimate god; others believe there is only one god but that he exists in several manifestations. Below are some other religions in Nepal that are practised by very few portions of total populations of Nepal.
Kiratism: Kiratism, also known as Kirit Mundum or Kirati Mundum is a very ancient religion that is said to be originated from Nepal. Kiratism is the indigenous Indo religion of the Kirat group of Nepal, Darejeeling, and Sikkhim mostly practised by Yakkha , Limbu , Sunuwar, Rai, Thami , Jirel, Hayu and Surel peoples in the north-eastern Indo subcontinent. Kirati people worship mother nature, sun, moon, wind, fire, and main pillar of the house. Their major festivals are Udhauli and Ubhauli. Currently, there are around 3% of total population of Nepal Kirati people in Nepal.
Sikhism: There are very few numbers of Sikh people living in Nepal. Sikkhism in Nepal is believed to be started in Nepal by the founder of Sikkhism-Guru Nanak Dev himself. In around 1516, Guru Nanak visited Kathmandu, Nepal and spent more than a year meditiating on a site now known as Nanak Math in Balaju, Kathmandu. Later during the rise of British East India Company in India, many Sikhs entered Nepal. Today, there is a very small community of around 7000 Sikkhs in Nepal.
Jainism: Jainism is one of the minorities communities in Nepal with around only 4000 total populations living in the country. Although the numbers of Jains are very less in Nepal, their history backs to as early as 300BC, when Bhadrabahu, the last Jain Acharya visited Nepal for penance and stayed there for twelve years preaching the teachings of Lord Mahavira.
Judaism: There are no native Jews in Nepal, but Judaism is in practise in Nepal. This began in 1986 A.D when the Israili Embassy organised a Passover celebration-the traditional Jews celebration and holiday for arounf 7000 Israili people who visited Nepal annually. After that in 2000, the first Chabad House was opened in Kathmandu for hosting events and provide services to the local Jewish communites who travels to Nepal.
Baháʼí Faith: With hardly over 1500 populations, Baháʼí Faith is a minor community in Nepal. The first known entry of members of the Baháʼí Faith to Nepal was around 1952 by N. P. Sinha, an Indian Baháʼí, to Birgunj soon followed by Kedarnath Pradhan who was from Sikkim before moving to Kathmandu along with his family.
Despite of having many religions in Nepal, in many ways, Nepal can be considered one of world’s only Hindu countries. A large portion of its population follows Hinduism, while another significant percentage practices a form of Hinduism that is heavily influenced by Buddhism and traces its roots back to ancient Tibet. The rest practice Christianity, Islam, or other religions as well.
Although there are no official numbers available, it is estimated that at least 80% of Nepalese people identify with some sort of religion. This has resulted in a relatively diverse religious landscape in Nepal-one which includes everything from temples and mosques to churches and monasteries. However, despite these differences, religion plays an important role in everyday life for most Nepalese people.
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There are more than 10 types of major and minor religions followed in Nepal.
Hinduism and Buddhism are the two main religions in Nepal.
With more than 80% of the total population’s of Nepal, Hinduism is the main religion in Nepal.
Nepal is a country where people of many religions, cultures, traditions, and ethinicities live together with mutual respect and understanding.