Religions in Nepal - The Repository of Ethnic Mosaic

Nepal, the abode of the Himalayas and the mighty Mount Everest, since time immemorial has witnessed the origin and development of many world religions. Although it was officially a Hindu nation until 2007, people of varied faiths have lived in harmony in Nepal for hundreds of years. Now the many religions in Nepal are Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Kiratism, Christianity, Sikhism, Bahá'í and other religions. 

Read on to know more about the various religions in Nepal that currently exist, their history, their beliefs and practices.

1. Hinduism

Hinduism, Religions in Nepal
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Hinduism is the dominant religion in Nepal with around 81% of the population being Hindus. This is well evident from the many Hindu temples spread throughout the country. Legend has it that a sage named Ne Muni was the one to introduce the religion in Nepal in prehistoric times, living in the Himalayas and teaching his doctrines. He also chose the first ever king of Nepal - Bhuktaman and laid the foundation of the Gopala Dynasty. The country is believed to be named after him. The double triangular Nepali flag with sun and moon is also believed to be given to the people by Lord Vishnu.
Popular Temples in Nepal: 
- Muktinath Temple
- Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu
- Dantakali Temple, Dharan
- Changunarayan Temple, Kathmandu 

2. Buddhism

Buddhism, Religions in Nepal
Source 
The religion of Buddhism traces back its roots to the country, with Lumbini in Nepal being the birthplace of Lord Buddha. His clan, the Shakyas helped in the initial spread of Buddhism in the Kathmandu valley and thereafter, the religion flourished during the reign of Emperor Ashoka. After this period the Shah dynasty took over in Nepal and Buddhism gradually declined with much of its practices being absorbed in Hinduism. At present around 9% of the total population of Nepal practices the religion and three main schools of thought can be observed - Tibetan, Newar and Theravada Buddhism.
Popular Buddhist Sites in Nepal:
- Swayambhunath - Boudhanath

3. Islam

Islam, Religions in Nepal
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After Hinduism and Buddhism, Islam is the next most practised faith constituting around 4.4% of the total population. The first-ever Muslims to have arrived in Nepal comprised of Kashmiris, Persians, Afghans and Arabians who worked as courtiers, counsellors and musicians of Nepali kings, traders, manufacturers of guns, and also trainers of Nepali soldiers in the use of arms and ammunition. The present-day Nepali Muslims are actually descendants of these people and some other Kashmiri merchants who arrived as late as the 1970s and Tibetan Muslims who arrived in the country post-1959 after the Communist takeover in China. Most of these people now live in the Terai region in southern Nepal and have cultural similarities with North-Indian Muslims.
Popular Mosques in Nepal:
- Takia Mosque in Durbar Marg being the oldest.
- Madatiya Mosque, Madatiya
- Kashmiri Masjid, Kathmandu

4. Kiratism

Kiratism, Religions in Nepal
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Kiratism is an ancient religion that is said to have originated in Nepal. The indigenous Himalayan tribes of Limbu, Rai, Sunuwar and Yakkha are followers of this faith. Also known as Kirat Mundhum, Kiratism involves worship of ancestors, nature, sun, moon, wind, fire, main pillar of their homes, and Gods like Sumnima-Paruhang and Tegra Ningwaphumang, and combines beliefs of Tibetan Buddhism, Shaivism and animism.
Kirat Mundhum Source

Each of the four tribes has their own religious texts and some distinct beliefs, rituals and traditions. They celebrate festivals like Udhauli and Ubhauli marking the onset of the winter and summer seasons respectively and accordingly the migration of birds and animals to the warmer south or cooler northern regions. Sometimes Dashain and Tihar are also celebrated along with some sect-wise specific festivals.
Udhauli Celebrations Source

Kiratis have a long and ancient history and they find their mention in Hindu epics like Vedas and Mahabharata. Historians have confirmed that Kirati kings have ruled over the Kathmandu valley for nearly 2000 years, even prior to the Lichhavis. But despite such a long and rich history, Kiratis at present comprise a meagre 3% of the Nepali population residing mostly on the eastern parts.

5. Christianity

Christians, Religions in Nepal
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In Nepal there are around 380,000 reported Christians (1.4% of the population), most of them being evangelical Protestants and very few Catholics. The reason for this small share is that Christians had been officially banned in Nepal for a long period of time until 1951. They started entering Nepal in 1951 and the first church of Nepal - The Ram Ghat church in Pokhara - was built in 1952. Subsequent years saw the formation of many Christian missionary organizations who built hospitals and made efforts to develop education and rural areas. However, conversion or influencing people to change their faith remained illegal, so the church did not develop much until 1990 when the situation improved with the introduction of multi-party democracy in the country.

6. Other Religions

The remaining 0.9% of the Nepali population is made up of Sikhs, Jains, Bahai's, Jews and atheists.

1. Sikhism in Nepal was initiated in 1516 with Guru Nanak Dev visiting the country, meditating and preaching there. In later years, many more Sikhs entered the country fleeing from the British and settled there. At present, there are nearly 7000 Sikhs in Nepal who worship in two of the Gurdwaras in the country. The Nanak Math in Kathmandu is another holy site for Nepali Sikhs.

2. Jainism: Currently, there are around 4000 Jains in Nepal who form the Jain society and worship in the Jain temple in Kathmandu. Members of both the sects in Jainism - Digambar and Svetambara are allowed to worship there. The roots of Jainism in Nepal can be traced back to as early as 300 BC, when Bhadrabahu - the last acharya of the unified Jain sangha, went to the country for penance and stayed there for twelve years preaching the teachings of Lord Mahavira.

3. Bahá'í: The Bahá'ís are a minority religion in Nepal with hardly 1500 people. However, despite this religious minority, there is no denying the contribution of the Bahai's in the social upliftment of the country. They have engaged themselves in women empowerment schemes, rural development programmes and formation of schools and clinics. Nepalis started converting to Bahá'ísm in the 1950s following the entry of some of the followers of the faith to Nepal and a United Nations conference in Colombo.

4. Judaism: Nepal does not have any native Jews. The practice of the religion began only in 1986 with the embassy of Israel in Kathmandu organizing a 'Passover' - a traditional Jewish celebration and holiday, for the Israeli people travelling to the country. Later on, the first Chabad House opened in Kathmandu in 2000 which was a centre for hosting events and services involving the local Jewish community and Jewish tourists. Two other such houses opened in Pokhara and Manang in 2007 and 2010.
 
Jainism, Religions in Nepal
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The country at present is a secular state and all the residents are given the freedom to choose and practise whatever religion they wish to. Tourists of all religions, caste, creed, ethnicity and nationality are accepted in the country with open arms.

This post was published by Sinorita Naskar

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