Diverse Religions in Nepal
Nepal was the last Hindu Country in the world before it was declared secular in 2006. Many other many religions harmoniously exist in Nepal, as it a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious nation through democracy. Hinduism and Buddhism are the most prevalent religions in the country. As per surveys 81.3% of the total population of Nepal are Hindus, 9% Buddhists, 4.4% Muslims, 3.1% Kirants, 1.4% Christians 0.5% others (Jains, Sikhs etc), 0.2% unspecified.
Nepal has had Hinduism and Buddhism from the beginning of recorded history, though it originally had only Kiratism and other tribal religions. Islam was introduced to the nation around the 11th century with the arrival of Muslim Indians. Christianity was introduced to the country in the 1700s when Catholic friars entered the Kathmandu valley and Christian missionaries are still active throughout the country. Sikhism came to Nepal during the 18th century and spread throughout Nepal, and Jainism came to Nepal during the 19th century but spread only to Kathmandu and some districts of Nepal. Now both Sikhism and Jainism are an integral part of Nepal and both constitute a significant role in Nepalese identity and culture.
As the nation has been declared secular, the constitution of Nepal guarantees freedom of religion. Anyone is allowed to choose and practice their religion without having any obligations but pursuing or encouraging someone to convert to a different religion through any means is prohibited by the Law.
Hinduism is the major religion practiced in Nepal with almost 82 percent of the population devoted to this religion. It is considered to be the sanatan dharma (Eternal religion) and believed to have existed before the human civilization. It poses a considerable amount of influence on the day to day life and social practices in the country which can be observed though the plethora of shrines, temples and festivals spread throughout the Nation.
It is believed that a great sage name Ne Muni who lived in the Himalayas was the one who introduced the religion in the area and passed on his doctrines during the prehistoric times. It is also said the country was named after him who chose and gave Nepal its very first king – Bhuktaman and ushered in the Gopala Dynasty.
Nepal is the birthplace of Lord Buddha, revered to be the founder of Buddhism. His teachings have spread to the whole of Asia and the world and is considered to be “The Light of Asia”. Lord Buddha was born as a prince to King Suddhodhan and Queen Mayadevi of the Shakya Clan who eventually renounced his aristocratic life in search of Nirvana. 9 % of the Nepalese population are Buddhists. Significant Buddhism shrines and stupas can be seen throughout the country. Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini is considered to be one of the major ones as it is the site where the lord was born and is believed to have taken seven steps and delivered his first peace message to the world.
There are three factions or branches of practices in Buddhism
- Hinayana which focuses on the teachings of Buddha
- Mahayana considers worshipping deities and idols along with the teachings
- Vajrayana uses tantras and mudras to achieve rapid enlightenment also including teachings of Hinayana and Mahayana
Islam, founded by Prophet Muhammad (The messenger of God) is the second largest followed religion in the world. About 4.4% of the population of Nepal follow Islam. Islam is believed to have been introduced in Nepal in the 11th century by the Indian/ Persian/ Afghan muslims who came to Nepal as merchants, traders, musicians and counsellors of the Nepali Kings back then. The majority of the Muslim population live in the southern terai region of Nepal. Some of the popular mosques in Nepal are:
- Takia Mosque (The Oldest)
- Madatiya Mosque
- Kashmiri Mosque
Kirantism is the archaic religion of the indigenous Himalayan tribe of Kirant ethnicity believed to have originated in Nepal. The Kirant tribe includes the people of Rai, Limbu, Sunuwar, yakkha communities. Kirat Mudhum as it is also called practices the worship of ancestors, nature and shamanism. The religion combines beliefs of Tibetan Buddhism, Shaivism and animism and worship deities like Sumnima-Paruhang and Tegra Ningwaphumang. Old Hindu Scriptures have mentioned the kirants as the devotees of Lord Shiva. Only 3.1% of the people in Nepal fall under this religion.
Jesus Christ is believed to be the founder of Christianity, who claimed himself to be the son of god and came to earth to rid of all humanity of their sins. It is considered that Christianity was introduced in Nepal by the Catholic Friars in the 17th century. Although being the largest religion followed in the world, only 1.4% of the population adhere the religion in Nepal. A ban on the Christians for 2 centuries until 1951 could be the reason for such small share.
There are three faction of Christianity, a. Catholic, b. Protestant and c. Orthodox. The majority of Nepalese Christians are evangelical protestant and a few Catholics.
There are a small portions of the population of Nepal that follow other religions such as Sikhism, Jainism, Judaism, Bon religion.
Nepal is not just diverse in the geographical, natural and wildlife traits. Nepal is a nation where people of diverse religion, race or ethnicity have the freedom to practice their beliefs and exist among each other harmoniously.