Religion in Nepal has been one of the major highlights of the country at present. Because of the drastic changes made in the field of religion, the scenario of Nepal has changed quite a bit. Nepal is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious country. It was previously a Hindu nation, but after the declaration of secularism, things have changed. It is now a haven for people of all religion.
The most dominant religion here remains to be Hinduism with 81.34% of the population and Buddhism trails behind with 9% being the second dominant one. Declaration of Secularism brought an increase in the number of followers of other religions. It served as a gate pass to go out of the previous Hindu cultures, out into the world of diversity. Although secularism allows people to follow a religion, influencing or forcing others is strictly prohibited. Forceful conversion is considered a crime and is punishable by fines, imprisonment and even expulsion if he/she is a foreigner. There have been some protests convert it into a Hindu nation once again. But secularism still prevails, protecting the freedom and individuality of the people.
Note: The data provided in this article are based on the census of 2011 A.D. and are liable to change.
Hinduism is the most dominant religion in Nepal. Referred to as the Sanatan Dharma (Eternal religion), Hinduism is said to have existed before the human civilization. Introduced by the first rulers, it is the oldest religion of Nepal. Majority of the ruling dynasties of Nepal were Hindu, so Hinduism is well developed and common among the residents of this nation. Thus, Hinduism was established as the major religion in Nepal. Festivals like Dashain, Tihar, Gai Jatra and Holi are celebrated throughout the nation with great enthusiasm and interest.
It is a polytheistic religion as there about three hundred thirty million deities in the Hindu religion. Each deity is linked to an act or ceremony and has its importance. People choose the deities they wish to worship daily In Nepal, there is a tradition of worshipping a family deity (Kul devata) along with the other deities. The people worship the deities by offering sweets, flowers and tika. They also sing prayers, also known as Bhajans dedicated to specific gods to impress them.
Buddhism religion is mostly about inner journey and way to connect oneself to the reality and experience it. It focuses on the physical and spiritual contentment of a person. Being the birthplace of the greatest messenger of Buddhism, Gautam Buddha, it is the second dominant religion. Buddhism was first introduced in Nepal by Gautam Buddha during the rule of the 7th Kirat king Jitedasti. It further spread during the rule of king Sthunko, when the Indian emperor ordered the construction of Ashoka Pillars in Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.
This religion has established itself as a diverse religion. Beliefs in between the followers vary. It has two roots: Hinayana and Mahayana. Hinayana focuses on the teachings of Buddha, and the Mahayana considers worshipping deities and achieving enlightenment by following them as examples. However, jest remains the same. In Nepal, the Buddhists of Mahayana root are found more. This root of Buddhism is also found intertwined with the Hinduism. Many religious sites like Muktinath and Swayambhunath are important to both Hindus and Buddhists.
Founded by Muhammad, also known as the messenger of God, Islam is the second-largest religion in the world. In Nepal, Islam exists in small numbers but are quite devoted to their religion. The Islamic religion was brought in Nepal during the 17th century by the north Indians. Although the first Muslims to enter Nepal can be dated back to the 15th Century when Kashmiri traders came here to trade. Some Afghans and Persians also worked as weapons trainers or manufacturers during this period, and it is believed that Islamic religion spread during that period.
Muslims are very devout to their god and can be seen as an example of devotion and dedication. The concentration of Islam followers can be seen in the terai parts but at present high number of Muslims can be seen in other parts too although there are few religious places for Muslims, Islamic followers are increasing steadily in Nepal.
Kiratism is a religion practised in Nepal and India and was first introduced by the people of the Kirat dynasty. It was established as the main religion of Nepal during their rule. After being defeated by the Lichhavi, the religion was limited to those of Kirat ethnicity only. Kiratism is practised by the Kirat ethnic group who live in the hilly and mountain regions of Nepal. The Kirats include Rai, Sunwar, Limbu and Yakkha.
Kiratism focuses on worshipping of Nature and their ancestors (Kul devata). The Kirats have also been mentioned in the Hindu scriptures as devotees of Lord Shiva. In the scriptures, Lord Shiva himself has been known to take the Kirat form and also worshipped as Kirateshwor Mahadev by both Hindus and Kirats. Because of this, the Hindu and the Kirat cultures are closely related. The Limbu people of the Kirat community are said to worship Tagera Ningwaphuma, a shapeless entity.
Introduced in 1715 by Catholic Capuchin friars, Christianity is the fastest-growing religion of Nepal. Christianity is the largest religion in the world. While Christianity is divided into three types: Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, there are subtypes within them too. Most of the Christians in Nepal are Evangelical Protestants. Christianity believes in one god, and the founder of this religion is said to be Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ claimed himself to be the son of the god and was here on earth to rid people of their sins.
Nepal has the fastest-growing population of Christianity in the entire world! Christianity was banned in Nepal for two centuries until the declaration of multiparty democracy in 1990. Since then the religion has read rapidly. It has influenced many and even changed the lives of people for good. However, there have been cases of forceful conversion, which was once a topic of major concern. At present, the forceful conversion is punished by the law and only willful conversion is allowed.
Aside from the major religions of Nepal, other religions have significant numbers too, but fail to show up in the statistics. The Bon religion can be found in the villages of Upper Dolpo and Mustang. It originated from Tibet and is derived from Buddhism. About 13000 follows of Bon religion reside in the Himalayan regions of Nepal.
Sikhism is another such religion. About 7000 Sikhs reside in the country at present. After Guru Nanak spent a year meditating in Balaju of Kathmandu in 1516, Sikhism began to spread in Nepal. Many Sikhs also entered Nepal when they had a conflict with the East India Company in 1849.
Jainism is probably one of the oldest religions to exist in Nepal. It dates back to 300 BCE when Bhadrabahu spent twelve years in Nepal preaching the religious knowledge of the Jain scriptures. Currently, there are about 3200 Jains in the country.
While the number of followers of dominant religions will remain high, the other religions of Nepal will not go unnoticed. Furthermore, new religious practices are welcome here, as it further enhances the religious diversity of Nepal. Secularism will be discussed in the future too, but this nation remains secular at present and supports the growth and promotion of any religion in Nepal within the bounds of the law.