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Hinduism - Spread and Distribution

Hindu Population - 2008
# Country Hindus
% of total
1 India 811 80.5
2 Bangladesh 24.6 16.0
3 Nepal 23.8 80.6
4 Indonesia 10.0 4.2
5 Pakistan 3.03 1.0
6 Sri Lanka 3.00 15.0
7 Malaysia 1.59 6.3
8 USA 1.22 0.4
9 UK 1.09 1.8
10 Mauritius 0.61 48.0
11 Fiji 0.32 34.0
12 Guyana 0.22 28.4
13 Suriname 0.13 27.4
In the first period of Indian history the Indo-Aryans settled on the Indus and its tributaries. In the second period they had colonised the whole of the Gangetic valley as far as North Behar, and had founded great and flourishing kingdoms all over Northern India. In the third period, the Hindus spread themselves all over India, and all the peoples and nations of the land, except wild hill tribes, accepted Brahmin religion, learning and laws, manners and civilisation. The whole of India was Brahminised before the fourth century BC, i.e. before Alexander the Great invaded India.

It considerably simplifies the study of Indian history by remembering how civilisation, learning, and political power gravitated eastwards and southwards by successive stages during these long centuries. During the Rig-Vedic Period, [1500 BC to 1000 BC ] Aryan civilisation spread itself over the Punjab, and the literature and the history of the age are the literature and the history of the Punjab. In the Vedic Age (1000 BC to 600 BC) the new colonies in Northern India attained a higher civilisation and political importance, and the literature and history of this age are mainly the literature and history of Northern India. In the third Age (600 BC to 400 BC ) the Brahmin kingdoms in Eastern and Southern India had risen to a higher political power, and the scenes of the greatest intellectual and religious movements of this age were laid in Eastern and Southern India.

A vast mass of Sutra literature sprang up all over India; the schools of the Deccan and of Southern India rivalled those of the North; and all nations of India were held together by these codes of Brahmin law, all prescribing the same rites and duties, all breathing the same spirit, all recognising the Vedas and Vedic sacrifices. Ancient Brahminism spread all over India more by its moral and intellectual influence than by the force of arms; and that nations were held together as one great confederation less by political and military weapons than by a common religion, by the observance of common rites, and by codes of Brahmin law shaping and determining the conduct of all Aryans.

The Vaishnavas represented the deified heroes of India as successive incarnations of their god, thus utilising the doctrine of transmigration. The Saivas, on the other hand, took up the deities worshipped by the various tribes, and represented them as being manifestations or servants of Siva. Their system consequently does not present the same unity as that of their rivals: there are no broad lines by which to mark their working, and it is neccessary to gather together disjointed legends in every district of India to learn how they propagated their faith. The priests in many of the temples of these gods are not Brahmans, but members of other castes; they not seeming to have cared to disturb the old arrangements for worship among those whom they proselytised, if they only acknowledged their supremacy. The whole object of the Saivas was to assimilate, not to eradicate, ancient usages. They seem to have been as compliant with regard to the moral practices of those whom they proselytised.

Amid the general anarchy in Northern India caused by the rise of the Rajputs the kingdom of Kanauj managed to survive. The city grew and prospered greatly and it became during the period of Rajput ascendency [648 AD - 1192 AD] the center of religious life in Northern India, its priesthood the acknowledged arbiter in all social and religious questions in the Hindu world. Here the new Hinduism had its principal seat, and it was here too that the new system of caste was evolved. Hitherto Brahmin caste had been a division of the people arising out of the development within the Aryan community of an aristocracy of priests and warriors.

A new principle became henceforth a basis of caste distinction, the principle of classification by occupation, and those who followed a particular calling began to form themselves into a separate caste with customs peculiar to themselves. Teachers from Kanauj were invited by kings to migrate from it to kingdoms so far distant as Guzerat, Bengal and Orissa, to reorganize society upon the model of Kanauj. Through the influence of Kanauj the new Hinduism spread to the four corners of India, and caste divisions grew and multiplied everywhere exceedingly.

Early Distribution of Hinduism Although almost all the world's Hindus live in India or Nepal, there are also overseas communities of Hindus. The first movement of Hinduism from India was to nearby areas of Southeast Asia. Hinduism spread over Burma, Siam, and Java. Great cities were erected with splendid temples and huge idols, the ruins of which still remain, though their magnificence has gone and they are covered to-day with the growth of the jungle. This powerful civilization of the Hindus, established thus in Malaysia, greatly affected the Malayan people on these islands, as well as those who came to the Philippines.

The mighty Himalayas formed the material barrier by which the northward spread of Hinduism was arrested. After a thousand years of conflict, Brahminism succeeded in expelling Buddhism from India, but it was powerless to dislodge it from the mountains and plateaux of the north. The sea of Brahminism rolled over the plain of Bengal, and covered the Deccan, but at the base of the Himalayas its advance was arrested. Here on these rocky heights, and from these mountains all across Thibet, Mongolia, and China, Buddhism was the supreme religion.

Mohammedanism moved westward over Africa and Europe, and was carried eastward as well. Animated by their faith, the Arabs became the greatest sailors, explorers, merchants, and geographers of the age. They sailed from the Red Sea down the coast of Africa as far as Madagascar, and eastward to India, where they had settlements on both the Malabar and Coromandel coasts. Thence Arab missionaries brought their faith to the Malay archipelago, overwhelming the Hindu states. In eastern Indonesia, Islamization proceeded through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, often in competition with the aggressive proselytization of Portuguese and other Christian missionaries. By modern times Hindu believers in Indonesia were relatively few outside of Bali, where they made up more than 93 percent of the population, number over 4 million people, the fourth largest Hindu population in the world.

Modern Distribution of HinduismBy the end of the 20th Century Hinduism was the majority religion in India, Nepal, Mauritius, Guyana and Suriname. In a several other countries, including Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Fiji the USA and UK, Hindus constitute a significant minority. Of the world's 200 countries, Hindus are found in mesurable numbers in 114 countries. This wide distribution - notably to Guyana and Suriname - is attributable to the Indian diaspora that was initially a product of British imperialism and the of voluntary migration of Indians in search of better economic prospects. This movement of Hindus continues to this day as Indian professionals are sought after in various industries like engineering and information technology in countries around the world.

Hinduism, as an institution, offers very little to the poor and underprivileged within its fold. This is one of the prime reasons for voluntary conversion of Hindus from among its members. The erstwhile followers of Hinduism pose a major question mark to traditional Hinduism even today, and are its greatest critics, besides nursing strong resentment and seething anger against atrocities committed by upper caste Hindus in the past, which continues in certain areas of India even today. Hinduism has little to offer to the poor and the underprivileged from among its fold. That is why hordes of the poor and underprivileged left it earlier, when they did so voluntarily (of course there also was a considerable condemnable forcible conversion, which is not at issue here). And those who realize this fault from among the upper caste and/or the privileged class also leave it, or do not at least practice it beyond following some rituals.

What did the Christian missions offer the ordinary Hindu convert? They just tapped the basic needs of the Hindus from the deprived sections. They offered education through their wide network of Mission schools, and they offered medical help through their equally wide network of Mission hospitals. The game plan was that every town would have a hospital and school run by Christian missions. This ensured that the formative years of an individual were spent in a convent school, exposed at a tender age to the benefits of a quality education.

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Page last modified: 24-05-2012 19:26:11 ZULU