World Religions

Arrival of Non-Indian religions into India

India, well known as the land of spirituality and philosophy, was the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism among other religions. Along with the religions that developed in India, there are also followers of religions of non- Indian origins. Among these religions are Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Bahaism and Judaism. The followers of these different religions arrived in India at different times.

The largest religion of non-Indian origin is Islam. They are about 12% of India's population. Muslims who arrived in India converted Indians to Islam. Islam was spread in India through two means, peaceful and sword. The first spreaders of Islam in India were individuals who saw in spreading Islam a holy precept. They used peaceful means to convert to Islam. But most of Indians are believed to have converted to Islam through the sword, which means the Muslim invaders gave the Indians an option to choose between death and Islam. The different Muslim rulers of India also brought into their kingdoms Muslim mercenaries, businessmen and slaves from different parts of the world like Russia, Afghanistan, Turkey, Arab countries and Africa. These people remained in India, married local Indians and converted them to Islam.

Like the Muslims, the Christians, who arrived to India also converted Indians to their religion, Christianity. Christians are about 2.5% of India's population. Most of the Indians were converted to Christianity by the missionaries who arrived in India with the European powers from 15th century. Of the European powers, the Portuguese were most enthusiast to baptize Indians. But Christianity did not arrive in India with the arrival of European missionaries. It reached India almost 2000 years ago.

Christianity originates in Israel. One of the Apostles (the 12 chief disciples of Jesus), St. Judas Thomas, was a carpenter. He was brought to India by a merchant to build a temple. St. Thomas arrived in Kerala, in south India in 52 AD. He succeeded in converting local Indians to Christianity. His converts were called Syrian Christians. One assumption says that some of the Syrian Christians were actually local Jews converted by St. Judas Thomas to Christianity. The disciples of Jesus at first intended to convince the Jews to adopt the philosophy of Jesus as new Judaism. Therefore they arrived to regions where Jews had settled in the world. Among these regions where Jews had settled was India. Two Apostles are believed to have arrived in India for this purpose. St. Judas Thomas arrived in Kerala in south India and St. Bartholomew in western Maharashtra in west India.

Judaism is probably the oldest religion of non-Indian origin to arrive in India. Today there are also a few thousand Jews in India. Judaism and Christianity might have arrived in India before they reached Europe.

The different Jewish communities of India, Bene Israel, Cochini, Baghdadi and Bne Menashe claims their arrival in India in different ways and it is not always clear how they really came to India. The Bene Israel, which is the largest Jewish community of India, lived earlier in the villages of west Maharashtra. They are believed to exist in India for over 2000 years. The Cochini Jews in south India also claim that their first forefathers arrived in India over 2000 years ago during King Solomon's rule. The Bne Menashe of East India who claim to origin from the 'Lost Tribes' arrived much later in India. The Bne Menashes arrived in east India from China and Myanmar (Burma). In the late 18th century, Jews from Arab countries and Iran arrived in India because of religious persecutions in their countries. They were called collectively as Baghdadi Jews.

Two other religions that arrived in India because of religious persecutions in their countries were Zoroastrianism and Bahaism. Both of them arrived from Iran.

Zoroastrians, who even though make less then 0.01% of India's population, are well known around India. The followers of this religion are called Parsis because they arrived from Persia (Iran). The followers of this religion exiled from Iran in the 7th century AD. They arrived in Gujarat in west India. In the 20th century followers of the Bahai religion arrived in India because of religious persecution in Iran.

Aharon Daniel


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