Read on to know more about the various religions in Nepal that currently exist, their history, their beliefs and practices.
1. HinduismHinduism 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. BuddhismThe 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. IslamAfter 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
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.
6. Other ReligionsThe 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.