By Carissa Hickok
India has a reputation for being one of the world’s most religious countries. All of the world’s major religions are found there, and two of them originate from the Indian subcontinent – Hinduism and Buddhism. Because of this, there is no shortage of religious sites throughout the country. Islam, Christianity, and Sikhism have also had an influential role in shaping the country’s religious history, and they also have many historical sites for the curious traveler.
Since Hinduism is the prominent religion throughout the entire country, there is no shortage of Hindu temples and religious sites in India. There are seven holy pilgrimage sites for Hindus that many tourists find fascinating to visit. One of the most famous is the city of Haridwar, in Northern India. The city is positioned on the Western Bank of the Ganges, making it a holy site for Hindus to bathe. Every night at sunset, thousands of small lights are put on plates and released into the river – definitely a worthwhile sight to see.
The holiest of all the sites is the city of Varanasi, also located on the Ganges. In addition to more great views of the Ganges, Varanasi is also home to the Kashi Vishwanath temple – a stunningly beautiful gold structure that is also considered one of the holiest and most famous Hindu temples. This is a must see for anyone traveling to Northern India.
Although it is but a small minority in most of India, there is one state where they actually hold a majority of the population – Punjab, one of India’s northernmost states. Sikhs are distinctly known for their wearing of turbans – something that causes Westerners to often confuse them for Muslims. One must-see site in Punjab is the Golden Temple, the holiest site for Sikhs and an all-around gorgeous landmark for the city of Amritsar.
Since only about 2% of India’s population is Christian, many of its churches and other religious sites are remnants from the time of European colonization. The state of Goa, which was once a Portuguese colony, contains several examples of this. One of the most famous is the Basilica of Bom Jesus (meaning Holy Jesus in Portuguese), a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Old Goa. The church is a clear example of classical European architecture, and includes the embalmed body of St. Francis Xavier, a Catholic missionary to Asia.
Although Buddhism has its roots in the Indian subcontinent, today less than 1% of the population is Buddhist. Because of this, many Buddhist temples are historical and protected sites, similarly to old Christian churches. One of the most famous is Mahabodhi Temple, found in the city of district of Gaya in the city of Bihar. It is famously known as the exact location where Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment – one of the key concepts of the Buddhist religion.
Religion in India is a deeply complex topic that could never be covered in a single article. Hopefully this article has piqued your interest in the vast religious diversity of such a fascinating country.
Carissa enjoys traveling so much that she left the corporate world to work as a freelancer, which allows her to up and go on a regular basis. She lives with her dachshund, Daphne in central Florida.