The origins of the of the South Asian peoples can be traced to an early settlement at the height of the Great Indus Valley Civilization as long ago as 3300 BCE. This civilization was in the present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Northern part of India. Most of the region was under the Mauryan Empire from 322 to 185 BCE. Hinduism and Buddhism flourished in most parts of South Asia and Asia in general during this period in the context of a growing Indian Culture.
An Arab General called Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Pakistan and inspired subsequent invasions which facilitated the spread of Islam to much of South Asia. The British Empire took over the region from the 18th Century onward, annexing such nations as India, Afghanistan, and present-day Pakistan. South Asia is the origin of four major world religions Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. The introduction of Christianity in Asia was mainly the work of missionaries from Europe while Islam was through the Arab Conquests.
Religious Demography in South Asia
Hinduism came about during the end of the Vedic Period and was part of the Indian culture. Hinduism and Buddhism both vied for supremacy in India and Hinduism emerged as the stronger of the two. Hinduism is the most dominant religion in present day India with a following of 79.5% of India’s population. It is also popular in Nepal and Indonesia.Hinduism is a compound of many traditions, and its practice differs from one place to another. Hinduism has evolved over time and has inspired religious movements all over the world such as yoga.
Hinduism, just as is the case with any other religion, sets the path to the way people should live and consequently restrictions on how they should not live. Hinduism has long supported the caste system in India where Social class is determines division between citizens. Hinduism is particularly famed for restricting eating of a cow’s meat because cows are considered sacred. Many sects of Hinduism encourage a vegetarian diet.
Buddhism emerged as a part of Indian Culture and approximately 300 million people all over the world practice Buddhism. Buddhism differs from Hinduism mainly on the subject of social inequality, an issue which Hinduism supports through the Caste System in India. This difference and subsequent battles for supremacy in India facilitated the spread of Buddhism to other Asian countries by Buddhist missionaries and believers.
Today, Buddhism is a dominant religion in two South Asia countries, Sri Lanka where it is 70.19% of the population and Bhutan where it is 75% of the population. It is a minority religion in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. Buddhism is credited to Siddhartha Gautama who is known as the Buddha. He is said to have found enlightenment at the age of 35 and after years of meditation and study spread his teachings to other people. Statues of the Buddha are common in most countries in Asia. Buddhism does not have notable restrictions, and the religion is mostly hinged on self-discipline.
Jainism has an estimated 4 million followers in India alone who are often referred to as Jains. Jainism also emerged as part of Indian culture nearly the same time as the emergence of Buddhism and Hinduism. Its rise is credited to Mahavira who is revered as its founder. Jainism encourages self-discipline, non-violence, and purity of life. It teaches harmlessness and renunciation as the path to having a liberated soul. Jainism forms 0.4% of the population in India and a minority following in several other countries in South Asia, including Nepal, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka.
Jains, to a large extent, avoid eating animal products among other code of conduct such as chastity before marriage, truthfulness, non-violence, and leading a simple life.
Sikhism originated in the Punjab region as a monotheistic religion. Sikh is a term meaning disciple in the Punjab language. It is ranked fifth of all faiths in the world regarding size with an estimated 20 million followers across the world. It teaches reverence to only one God through the writings and teaching of its Ten Gurus. It teaches equality across gender, tribes, and race. Its founder is believed to be Guru Nanak born in 1469. Sikhism denounces Islam and Hinduism and considers the religions to be promoting the use of blind rituals. Notable for Sikhism is The Golden Temple found in Punjab in India. Sikhism is deeply rooted in India forming 1.7% of India’s population and is a minority religion in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Nepal.
Sikhism has some restrictions including non shaving of hair on any part of the body, intoxication, obsession with material things, adultery, and feeding on meat slaughtered for rituals.
Contemporary Religious Trends in South Asia
Other religions in the South Asian countries include Islam, Christianity, Ahmaddiyya, Kirat, and others. Hinduism is expected to hold on as a major religion in India, but it may experience a decline in popularity by the year 2050. This is because most of its followers will be an aging population. Islam is expected to surpass all the major religions in South Asia in years to come, fueled by a young and enthusiastic population of followers. Hinduism and Buddhism have enjoyed an increase in popularity over South Asia’s borders, and this trend is likely to continue.