The first instance I questioned ‘religion’ was when I was twelve. I was at a temple when I saw a statue of a lizard. Lamps were lit around the place. The main deity of the temple (which is ancient) is Lord Shiva. My aunt insisted that I folded my hands in prayer, which, of course I refused to do. But with the intervention of my mother- I had to. “I came here to worship Shivan”, I thought. “I didn’t sign up for this. I hate lizards.”.
I felt rather stupid.
Any religion is a result of the socio-economic dynamics of a society. Hinduism is the “religion” that majority of the people in India followed and still do. The reason I’ve used quotes on the word religion here is because I don’t consider Hinduism a religion. Before proceeding into the post, it is fair that I attempt a definition of the word ‘religion’. Religion in my opinion is a way of living. Every religion has its own scriptures and deity. However, it is easy to see that all religious texts follow a blue print. Every religion has its own set of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. And all religions detail on the result of doing the dos and don’ts. (Karma, Hell, Heaven, Judgment day etc.).
The content however is characteristic to the time and region of origin of the religion. Let us consider the example of Hinduism, Hinduism is ancient. And Hinduism has its roots in India. It has a vast number of deities both male and female. Owing to to its vastness and ancientness, it can only be spoken in a “more or less” manner. Hindus worship everything from Human-beings (male, female, and transgender), cows, goats, snakes and almost every indigenous species of plant and animal. In Hinduism,’ worship’ does not have to mean gratitude or bargain. Worshipping means respecting and respect can be viewed as ‘tolerance’. Hinduism speaks subtly of ‘conservation of biodiversity’. And ‘Karma’ which literally translates as ‘deed’ is a concept whose relatively modern equivalent would be ‘as you sow, so you reap.’ Karma necessitates the doing of good.
Other religions that found their roots in India during the B.C. s are- Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. All these, take their scriptures from Hinduism and modified to suit the period and of course have a single deity. In fact, some of the Hindus believe Buddha is one of the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu. And staunch Buddhists refuse to accept this as true.
With the Advent of the Mughals to India, when A.D. was new, came the second major religion in India-Islam. Islam of course, has its roots in the Middle-East. Later came- Christianity, which was carried by the British to India. And with the scenario changing in the politics of the country, the complexness of texts in Hinduism and the unfair hierarchical system, Hindus started taking to the other religions.
That’s pretty much the history required here.
India is certainly a country with a wide range of beliefs and religions. And it is easy to say that people of various beliefs coexist rather peaceably but for the occasional disturbances caused by a few political groups. The religious system of course is rather mature. And except in a matrimonial context, the nation is secular. To state the obvious, the religions in India (in order of majority) are-Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism. There are traces of Zoroastrianism and Judaism (though I’ve personally not been acquainted with an Indian Jew).
The object of the post is, however not transfer of statistical information as in the rise and fall of certain religions. Nor do I consider it necessary to give facts on religious distribution region to region. I’ve been noticing recently that the religions have changed in their structure and dynamics to suit the ‘today’ and this change is very evident in the urban areas of India. It is this ‘transition’ of belief that I plan to discuss here.
The people still do believe in God. But definition of God has changed. It is a universally acknowledged truth that any life-changing event alters a person’s spirituality. When something changes the life for the better, the faith in God intensifies. And a bad phase causes people to either blame God or stop believing in anything. But what could qualify as ‘life-changing’ is unique and is different from person to person. However, I’m going to try and talk about this generically.
I divide our society into three economical classes, broadly.
1. ‘Educated’ middle class and above: (The term educated is quite literal. By educated, I mean someone who has had a college education and is into a reliable vocation.) This is the class of the society which is unharmed by economical fluctuations. A financial loss is somewhat manageable, usually. A ‘difficulty’ to this section could mean a failure of relationship/marriage or death of a loved one. This is a class that takes to religion for emotional needs or just to identify oneself or find perspective. And this is also that section that has not much time for religion. Agnosticism trends high within this section of people. Some shift to more exotic religions like Taoism.
2. The poor: The definition here is again, literal. Poor here means “Money-Poor” or going for a more euphemistic term- economically-backward. I again divide this section into two: One is a group that follows a religion. Another is a group that doesn’t really have a religion. (Quite honestly, this is a section that does not follow a religion because they don’t have to.). Proselytizing is common among the poor. And proselytizing is generally from Hinduism to Christianity. This group is the target of missionaries that promise food and shelter if they’re willing to sign up for the Church and read Bible every day.
3. Middle class: Middle class here just means someone that is able to afford the basic needs without much trouble, despite not having a college degree. This section has undergone a huge change in their beliefs in the past decade. Almost every middle class Indian follows a religion. Exceptions are cases which belong to certain nihilistic movements. Definitely, finances play a major role in the mechanics of a middle-class life. And prayers are generally, aimed at having ‘enough’ or ‘ample’. This class is not stationary. There is this uncertainty associated with everything. The believers in this class stick to the scripture dutifully in the hope of improving the standing. The belief of the people under this category is also transient as a result of the lack of sureness in a situation. The middle class reacts to a failure in a few possible ways like some end up being more ‘rational’ with their beliefs, while some take to another religion that ‘calls’ them, while few stop believing. In God.
Converting is also a nuptial necessity.
Apart from personal experiences, the fact that the past decade has seen quite a large number of religious scams, have made people indifferent to religion. And also is the obvious disconnect between the metaphysics of religion and the material world is felt more intensely since the beginning new millennium.Almost everything has changed in definition. The small has reduced in size and the huge has grown bigger.The ‘new breed’ of ‘professionals’ have become discerning in sense religion in their quest for peace. And when they fail to attain a tranquil state of mind, they feel letdown.
Even as I started writing this post, I knew I could only talk about it in rather sketchy terms(‘in my opinion’ ‘of what I see etc). And to talk about something so vague somewhat precisely in brief is not really plausible. I don’t go further so I don’t hurt anybody’s sentiment also.
Belief hasn’t died or disappeared it has only been metamorphosing and relocating itself.