Read on to know more about the various religions in Nepal that currently exist, their history, their beliefs and practices.
Legends apart, most of the dynasties that had ruled Nepal for centuries - Lichhavi, Simroun, Thakuri, Suryavanshi, Malla and Shah, had Hindu kings, thus leading to an overwhelming expansion of the religion in the country over the years. Hindus in Nepal are polytheistic just like Hindus elsewhere and celebrate numerous festivals throughout the year such as Dashain & Tihar (Nepali equivalent of Durga Puja and Diwali), Gaijatra, Fagun Purnima (Holi), Krishna Janmashtami, etc. The Pashupatinath and Budhanilkantha are some of the well-known Hindu temples. Janakpur in Nepal is considered by many to be the birthplace of Sita and hence is another holy place.
Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal have shared many of their places of worship, having found similarities in each others' religious beliefs and practices - the Muktinath Temple is one such. They celebrate some common festivals like Buddha Jayanti and Indrajatra. In fact, there are many people who practice both religions.
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. Swayambhunath and Boudhanath are two of the most popular Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal, with the latter even being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to these, the country has numerous other Buddhist monuments and monasteries.
Most of these people now live in the Terai region in southern Nepal and have cultural similarities with North-Indian Muslims. There are a number of mosques in Nepal, Kashmiri Takia Mosque in Durbar Marg being the oldest. The Raki Bazaar in Indra Chowk is named after the Iraqi merchants who settled here during medieval times.
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.
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.
It has been said that Christians of Nepal have been victims of religious violence and faced discrimination in the Hindu-majority country. Christianity still continues to be a controversial religion in Nepal and it is believed that the actual population of Christians in the country is much higher than what is reported.
6. OthersThe remaining 0.9% of the Nepali population is made up of Sikhs, Jains, Bahai's, Jews and atheists.
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.
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.
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.
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.