Mumbai reflects India’s religious diversity

Editor’s Note: Barb Fraze, CNS international editor, is traveling in Asia as part of the 2010 Senior Journalists Seminar sponsored by the East-West Center in Honolulu.

MUMBAI, India — Mumbai, India’s financial capital, is home to at least eight of the world’s religions. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Jews, Jains and Christians — including Catholics — coexist here.

Scriptures in English, Tamil and Hindi are seen at a Church of North India cathedral in Mumbai.

Included in this blog post are just a few photos from some of Mumbai’s religious places of worship. They reflect the diversity of religions in India, a country that is about 80 percent Hindu. This is not an all-inclusive list. It also does not include cricket, which, as one tour guide indicated, “is almost like a religion for us in this country.”

The Church of North India is a Protestant denomination resulting from the merger of multiple churches. At St. Thomas the Apostle Cathedral in Mumbai, visitors can find Bibles in English and New Testaments in Hindi and Tamil. St. Thomas church has many plaques and sculptures commemorating Indians — often young — who gave service to their country or church.

India’s Catholic Church has three different rites. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has approximately 160 dioceses, including 128 Latin dioceses, six Syro-Malankara dioceses and 26 Syro-Malabar dioceses.

Of India’s approximately 24 million Christians, more than 17 million are Catholic. Christianity is India’s third-largest religion.

Minara Mosque is seen from a street in Mumbai.

At right is Minara Mosque in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. Islam is India’s second-largest religion. The country’s nearly 161 million Muslims make up just 13.4 percent of India’s population, yet India has the world’s third-largest Muslim population, after Indonesia and Pakistan. Approximately 10-15 percent of India’s Muslim population is Shiite, according to an October study released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

To realize how many Muslims are in India, compare it to Iran, with a population that is 99.4 percent Muslim. India has more than twice as many Muslims as Iran’s nearly 74 million adherents to Islam. The United States has nearly 2.5 million Muslims, or less than 1 percent of the population.

According to India’s 2001 census, Sikhs make up nearly 2 percent of India’s population, and Buddhists make up 0.8 percent. Jains make up 0.4 percent of the population.

The final photo, below, is from a Jain temple in Mumbai. Almost all of the world’s 4 million Jains live in India. The religion has some similarities to Hinduism and Buddhism. However, Jains do not believe in the Hindu caste system, but believe in equality for all. Walking into a temple, a visitor might hear bells ringing — the bells are to awaken the deities.

A Jain makes an offering to a deity at a temple in Mumbai.

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