Religion in Nepal, Churches, Culture

Nepal is primarily a Hindu country with some 90% of the population claiming to adhere to the faith. However, members of the Buddhist faith are often so closely linked to those of the Hindu faith that it can be difficult to tell them apart. Thus in Nepal, religion serves to bind many people together instead of having the dividing effect that can be seen in so many other countries with adherents of other faiths. Religion in Nepal is, to a large degree, a matter of national identity. Religious beliefs influence culture, art, music and architecture as well as many other facets of life.

Recent surveys state that the remaining portions of the population are generally either Buddhist or Muslim. According to these surveys, 5% claim to be Buddhist, 3% are Muslim while a further 2% belong to some other comparably minor religious denomination – usually Christianity. Because of the high ratio of Hindu believers and the large role that this religion plays in the everyday lives of the people, Nepal was constitutionally declared a Hindu state in the early 1990s. However some feel that the number of Hindu practitioners is hard to estimate because there is a sort of ‘interfaith’ which is commonly practiced in the country between Hindus and Buddhists. Many Hindus worship at Buddhist temples and visa versa which has led to a sort of intermingling of the two faiths and much more mutual respect that would be found elsewhere in the world. Because of this intermingling, the differences between members of the two faiths in this country are very subtle. Often times those who claim to belong to the Hindu faith could just as easily be adherents of Buddhism.

When one considers the geographical distribution of the various religious groups, they will find that Hindus account for at least 87% percent of the general population in every region. There is a concentration of Buddhists in the eastern hills, the central Tarai and Kathmandu Valley. Very often religion is dictated by tribal origins and members rarely deviate from the faith that they were raised with.

Hinduism is regarded by many as being the oldest formal religion known today. It is said that the origins of the religion go back to pastoral Aryan tribes. Hinduism had no single founder and a collection of hymns from northern India, known as the Vedas, form the basis for the theological and philosophical teachings of the faith. Hinduism has a very complex set of beliefs which need to be thoroughly explained to be understood. Adherents generally express their faith in their choice of religious practises as well as their family and social customs.

Buddhism is said to be derived from Hinduism as its founder, Siddhartha Gautama, was originally a Hindu. According to tradition, Siddhartha Gautama spent six years in meditation at the age of 29 which enabled him to attain enlightenment. At the end of this six year period, he became known as ‘Buddha’ – which means ‘enlightened one’ – and he spent the remainder of his life preaching his doctrine. Buddha accepted the basic concepts of Hinduism but rejected a number of specific metaphysical theories, claiming that they only served to distract from the truth. His main concern was that of restoring morality to religious life. Ironically, many adherents of the Buddhist faith in other lands overlook this goal and strive instead to attain ‘nirvana’ or enlightenment through various ritualistic practises.

When one considers the religious history of the country, it is not difficult to understand why Nepal is primarily a Hindu country. Not only is it the oldest religion to be practised here, but it also permeates every aspect of life for the people of the country. Modern times have seen an increase in other religions in Nepal, but the general population has chosen to remain with the faith practised by their forefathers.