Religions in Himachal Pradesh

Religions in Himachal Pradesh play a very vital role in the life, culture, traditions, economy and festivals of the people. Himachal Pradesh is a land of religions. They need God's assistance to keep them going in this rough terrain. Their agriculture, sustenance of household and movement in hilly tracks are a few of several things that depend on the nature's mercy. For this reason, they have deep faith in religion and God and are regular visitors to religious places. Main religions of Himachal Pradesh are Hinduism and Buddhism. Followers of Jainism, Sikhism and Islam also live here.

Hinduism in Himachal Pradesh :

Hinduism in different forms, and at times influenced by Buddhism, was predominant in Himachal territory since the early centuries of the Christian era, and persists even today more or less in its ancient form. The aspects of nature and the manifestation of physical force are various and have been allotted to a multitude of gods which are worshipped in each village of Himachal Pradesh. The reverence of the Brahman, strict adherence to caste rules, meticulous observance of personal purity and abstention from ceremonial pollution, were the moral features of this religion. Himachalis are great worshippers of the great Hindu trinity— Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. It is said that 'whoever abstains from meat is an esteemed Vaishnav without regard to the doctrine'. The Shaiva may worship Vishnu, and the Vaishnav Shiva, but the Vaishnav will not take meat while a Shaiva may take to meat and drink.

Shiva is known by hundred names but the commonest of them all is Mahadev, Rudra or Shambhu. He is worshipped extensively by all the inhabitants and especially by people of the lower social order. The cult of Mahadev is another form of Shiva worship. Mahadev is the originator of several castes, generally of the lower grades, while Brahma is the progenitor of higher castes. In Himachal Pradesh Shiva is worshipped not only under that name, but two cults — those of Shirgul and Mahasu — are believed to be derivatives of Shaivism. Closely related to the worship of Shiva, and Shakti, more widely spread, is the worship of his consort, Devi. This goddess is called by many names. Durga, Kali, Gauri, Asuri, Parbati, Kalka, Mahesari and Bhavan Astbhuji are some common names for Devi. The humbler divinities, Sitala (the goddess of small-pox), Masani and other goddesses of disease, are manifestations of Mahadevi, the greatest goddess. She is famous by the places of her temples as Jawalaji, Mansa Devi, Chintpurni, Naina Devi and the like. The Himachalis celebrate all the days which are most holy to Devi, that is, the first nine days of waxing moon in the months of Chaitra (March-April) and Asauj (September- October). The asthami that follow in these months are considered holy and these just follow the annual ‘shraddha’ or commemoration of the dead.

On these occasions the Devi is personified as a girl below ten years of age and offerings are made to her as if to the goddess. The worship of Devi assumes the most varied forms in the hills and it is common to find a Nag and Devi temple side by side as similar attributes are ascribed to both. Next to the Shiva and Devi worship, the cult of Nag worship is most prevalent in Himachal. This appears to be the cult of common man’s interest without any philosophical foundations. It is the faith in healing power of the Nag or their ability to cure disease and avoid harm that makes the cult so popular. Guga worship is another form of Nag cult and is associated with the Nag worship and has become particularly popular as an effective cure for snake bites.

All over the hills Jogis and Naths consider Guga as their foremost deity and sing ballads of his exploits. Gugu ballads are also present in Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh. Wooden and stone images of Guga are very common in Kangra and Bilaspur districts.

The other popular deities are Ganesh, Hanuman and Bhairon. Ganesh is the ‘obviator of difficulties and impediments’. He is the first god to be worshipped in holy rites. The worship of Hanuman or Mahabali is closely related to that of Lord Rama, and is worshipped by all castes. Along with gods themselves, there are several demigods and rishis (saints) to whom special reverence is paid.

Buddhism in Himachal Pradesh

Buddhism has also left its influence on the populations of Himachal Pradesh. Only the people of Lahaul, Spiti and parts of Kinnaur profess Buddhism. It is believed that Buddhism entered Lahaul in the eighth century A.D. Nearly every pious Buddhist has his own prayer wheel, which he twists round as he engages in conversation, and in all the monasteries are large vat-like cylinders that revolve on an iron axis.

Generally a stretch of land is enclosed or marked with loose stones, on which are inscribed the mystical Om Mani Padmehum or Om Shloka (verses) in the Tibetan character. They are deposited as offerings for answers to one’s expectations. Besides the above, the chorten and dungston are also worth noting and are frequently found just outside the monasteries or large village. The chorten devoted to the holy Budhha is very similar in form to the dungston, which is a relic built in the hunour of Buddhist saints. Buddhism in its purer form exists in Spiti more than in Lahaul or Kinnaur. The head of this religion here is known as head Gelong or the Avtari Lama under whom are five other Gelong; all the other priests being Lama or Chela. But in other areas it exists with the admixture of Hinduism. Though no human sacrifice now exists yet goats and sheep are offered to trees when water courses are opened in the spring, or during festivals at the beginning of the harvesting season.

Buddhism which does not tolerate shedding of blood has never been able to entirely drive out this system of worship. This is opposite to the spirit of Buddhism. Hinduism and Buddhism are known to have certain points in common, and Buddha is said to have been the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Lamas are the priests of Buddhists. The Buddhism which dominates Himachal belongs to the mixed sect of yellow and red caps. The other religious segments of the Mihachali culture include the Sikhs, Jains, Muslims and Christians. They live mostly in the areas adjoining the plains of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The communities practising these faiths are not indigenous to the state but have settled here after the opening of the region and carving of the state and its reorganization. Only Christianity has been able to make its impact on some local people chiefly residing in the Shimla and Sirmaur districts, who have taken to Christianity.

Buddhism in Kinnaur and Spiti: The Buddhism of Kinnaur and Spiti is of the Tibetan variety. Before the advent of Buddhism, Tibet and vast areas around it practiced a shamanistic religion, a conglomeration of equivocally defined gods of earth and sky. Sorcerers or shamans interceded with these gods for better crops or larger flocks, and human sacrifice, to propitiate fierce natural forces, was known. Elements of this old faith are part of the Bon cult and the adherents of this faith, called the Bonpos or Black Hats can still be found in the region. Translations of Indian Buddhist texts perhaps began reaching Tibet by the fifth century A.D. but the declaration of Buddhism as a state religion, is attributed to King Tri-song-de-tsen in the latter half of the eighth century. Padma Sambhava, a reputed Indian teacher of the time is believed to have visited Tibet in this period and was instrumental in the founding of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet (at Samye). Padma Sambhava travelled extensively to preach and draw adherents in Tibet and its bordering tracts. In Lahaul, the Guru Ghantal monastery is credited to the sage, who came be known as Guru Rimpoche (great teacher). In the ninth century Buddhism suffered major reserves in Tibet in the reign of King Langdarma. Langdarma became one of the major villains of Tibetan Buddhism and it took the religion a century to recover.

The resurgence, sometimes referred to as the second diffusion of Buddhism, was spearheaded by Ye-she-od, the Lama king of Guge Under his patronage, Rinchen Zangpo, revered in Tibetan Buddhism as the Lotsawa (translator), started a major process of translating Indian texts into Tibetan. Rinchen Zangpo was also at the head of a great temple construction movement. Legend ascribes to him 108 temples supposedly built in the course of one, long night. Certainly, the fabulous Tabo in Spiti, Nyarma in Ladakh, Tholing in western Tibet, besides several smaller structures all over eastern Tibet, besides several smaller structures all over western Tibet, Ladakh, Spiti and Kinnaur were inspired by Rinchen Zangpo, if not actually constructed by him. The Guge ruling family was also instrumental in having the brilliant teacher Atisha leave Nalanda in India for Tibet. Atisha and his followers such as Marpa, Milarepa and Domton, added a fresh doctrinal initiative to the resurgence.

The different orders of Tibetan Buddhism are linked to the different stages in the evolution of the religion. The Nyingmapa, often referred to as the unreformed sect, is the oldest order, tracing its origin to Padma Sambhava. Atisha and his followers are accountable for the founding of the Kargyupa group of orders, such as the Kadampa, Drugpa and Drugingpa. A parallel growth is that of the Sakyapa, founded by the scholar Drogmi. These sects, which arrived with the second diffusion of Buddhism, are called the semi-reformed orders. Finally, the reformed order, the Gelugpa, was formed by Tson-khapa. The orders are also distinguished by the colour of the hats worn by the monks. The older orders, such as the Nyingmapa and even the Sakyapa, don red hats while the Gelugpa are yellow hatted.

Four Sects of Tibetan Buddhism: In all of Kinnaur and Spiti only four sects of Tibetan Buddhism are represented, Nyingmapa, Drugpa, Sakyapa and Gelugpa. Orders like the Nyingmapa and the Drugpa permit the monks to participate in family life and they gather together at only specified time of the year. But there is also an anomalous accent on long periods of solitary meditation in farthest caves. The Sakyapa and Gelugpa are quite disciplined. The monks and nuns live in monasteries and nunneries and many years are devoted to mastering dialectics and ritual. With scholarship, monks move up a hierarchical structure from novice to learned teacher. By the time Mahayana Buddhism spread to Tibet, it already possessed a large range of deities, owing their origin both to philosophical constructs and the influences of the Hindu environment in India. Once in Tibet, Padma Sambhava's absorption of different native deities in his teaching of Buddhism, added more figures to the pantheon. The deities range from saintly, simple representations of the earth touching Buddhas, through regally dressed versions of celestial figures to fierce demonic images representing tantric manifestations.

Shakyamuni considered seventh in a series of eight earthly Buddhas or Tathagatas is an image likely to be met within all temples. In the most repeatedly seen representations of Shakyamuni, he is depicted as an austerely clad mendicant, seated cross legged on a lotus with both hands resting on his lap in ‘dhyana mudra’. In another posture, his right hand is extended to touch the ground. This is the ‘bhumisparsha mudra’. An important subject of wall paintings in monasteries is the ‘mandalas’. The Buddhas of the cardinal directions of a ‘mandala’ are called Jina (victorious).

Generally at the centre is the omnipresent Vairocana, with Amitabha to the west, Ratnasambhava on the south, Akshobaya in the east and Amoghasiddhi to the north. The Jina are easily identifiable from their location, since they appear as a set. They can also be distinguished by their colour and their hand gestures. Vairocana is mainly white in colour and seated on a throne of lions with hands in the preaching mode of the ‘dharmachakra mudra’. The red Amitabha is largely a dhyana mudra.

Akshobhaya's popular posture is the bhumisparsha mudra while Amoghasiddhi, may be seen with his right palm held up and facing outward, in ‘abhay mudra’, denoting fearlessness.

Mahayana Buddhism intends to ease the progress of the believer, along the path to ultimate wisdom. For this objective it introduces guiding spirits, called Bodhisattvas, to lead the flock. Bodhisattvas have celestial tantric and mortal origins.

Celestial beings roam the Universe, representing the various Jina or other important concepts. The image most commonly seen is that of Avalokiteshwara representing Amitabha. Other important Bodhisattvas are Maitreya (the Buddha to be) and Manuushri (god of wisdom). The tantric elements in Tibetan Buddhism make a big contribution to the pantheon of deities even apart from the various Bodhisattvas originating from their precepts. The accent on female energy has seen the introduction of consorts for all the important celestial beings. Thus, the female Bodhisattva Tara appears in different colours to accompany several of them. The most important of them is the green Tara, linked to Amitabha.

In Tibetan Buddhism a deity called Paldun Lhamo occupies a pre- eminent position in most of the important rituals, like as the Kalachakra. There are other frightening images, called Dharampalas or protective deities. The red Hevajra and the blue Mahakala are the most prominent of these deities. They are normally place in protective positions, on the outskirts in ‘mandala’ paintings and above temple doorways.

Bodhisattvas: Mortal beings, raised to the status Bodhisattvas, comprise the first disciples of the Buddha as well as other important teachers and scholar. Conceptually these personages are believed to have chosen not to receive the status of Buddhahood. Their compassion towards fellow creatures causes their recurrent appearance on earth, in life after life. The concept permits an ever expanding circle of personages to be deified. Thus, the discovery of reincarnate rimpoches is a regular feature of Tibetan Buddhism even today.

Mantra for Virtue: For the lay believer in Tibetan Buddhism, the sacred mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ is the key to amassing virtue and being absolved of sin. Murmured with rosary beads or prayer well in hand, chanted in monastery and Buddhist temple, sent out on the air by fluttering prayer flags, gurgled down hillsides by water-driven mills or silently engraved on ‘mane walls', the message is part of the environment. Several meanings are ascribed to this invocation, the commonest being, ‘Hail, the precious jewel in the lotus’. The prayer flag is the most explicit symbol of the religion, seen even on housetops in lower Kinnaur. In the upper areas, the long cloth pennants attached to poles or strung up like bunting are well tended, being changed annually during the Darpoche festival. ‘Mane walls' generally divide village paths and travel routes. These rectangular structures, varying from less than a meter to two meter in height and from a few meters to a kilometer in length, are composed of votive stone tablets inscribed with the invocation ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’. The chorten is another structure always seen at a village entrance, near the village temple or in the village square. Originally conceived to house the Buddha’s relics, they evolved in time to take forms commemorating eight major events of the Buddha’s life, such as his victory over the forces of evil, his teaching of Dharma and his achieving enlightenment.

In Tibetan Buddhism, their structure is fashioned to denote the Buddha’s physical form and they generally contain sacred texts and relics of important lamas. They are also infused with mystic powers to ward off evil influences. A charming and very striking structure, found all over Kinnaur, is the ‘kankani’. Each village has at least one of these entrance doorways. A sloping slate roof is supported over two walls with the inner surface and ceiling generally elaborately decorated with protective deities and auspicious symbols.

Monastery and Temple: A Buddhist place of worship can be two sorts in Kinnaur and Spiti, a gompa or a Ihakhang. Monastic centers which accommodate monks and house attendant facilities for worship and meditation, can be of considerable size, while temples, catering only to village level demands of the lay public, are usually simple structures, sometimes comprising of only a single room. The location and size of the monastic centers is related to the historical period of their construction. Those established in the first phase and during the time of the second diffusion (eighth to eleventh centuries) are on valley floors, blending with the habitation around them. They are also not large complexes since the monks of those times perhaps lived in the village. The monasteries built after the fourteenth century reflect their position as repositories of both spiritual and temporal power. These were institution requiring protection from inimical forces. They are large, fortress-like structures, with heavy walls and battlements, located at commanding sites on the sides of steep cliffs and mountain tops. From an artistic standpoint the wealth of Kinnaur sand Spiti lies in the smaller temples, constructed in close proximity to the villages, under the influence of Rinchen Zangpo.

The larger complexes are in any case very few in number in this area. In the heyday of their construction, these fringe lands of the Tibetan plateau were far removed from the centers of power. The monastery at Key is the most imposing specimen of this kind in the entire region. The only other examples are the now virtually abandoned, older buildings of the Gangguid and Dhankhar monasteries. In all of upper Kinnaur and Spiti, the places of worship, like all other buildings, are mud-walled, flat-roofed affairs. At the core of the larger temples is the dhukhang, a hall where the chief deities are installed and the monks assemble for prayers and the gonkhang, a chamber for tantric meditation and rituals. The sacred texts like the Kangyur, the Tangyur or the Yum Pothi may be kept in the dhukang or in their own, separate rooms.

Jainism in Himachal Pradesh

Jainism is one of the indigenous religions of India. The term ‘Jain’ is derived from Jina, or the one who wins over enemies like attachment, passion, jealousy and so on. A true Jain should entirely renounce all thoughts of self. The Jains not only reject all spurious additions, but look upon them with absolute horror. Four or five centuries ago the Jains exercised sovereign power in several provinces but nowadays they are not as powerful. According to Jain faith all being are divided into two classes, animate and inanimate. Animate being are composed of a soul and a body, and the souls, being radically distinct from matter, are eternal. Nirvana is annihilation of the soul. The way to nirvana is naturally shown by the Jina. The means of reaching it constitute the ‘triratna’ — first, perfect faith; second, perfect knowledge; and third, perfect conduct. Jain religion probably was founded by Parsvanath and reformed by Mahavira who was a contemporary of Buddha.

Vaish Agarwals who adopted Jainism, are a religious minority. They are divided into two sects the Shvetambar and the Digambar. The former is a 'white-clad' sect, which derives its authority from Parshvanath, while the latter are ‘sky-clad’ or the nude sect. The holy men among them still maintain nudity, whereas others wear coloured garments. The basic difference between the two sects is of ideology. The Shvetambars feel that one can get moksha in family life while the Digambars refute the idea. Jains in Himachal are residents of foothills of Himalayas.

Sikhism in Himachal Pradesh

The Sikh community's religious philosophy is a result of combining of Islamic and Hindu beliefs. It started as a reform movement, and was founded as a separate entity by Guru Nanak Dev, the first guru (preceptor), in the late fifteenth century. The community had a following predominantly in Punjab. The word ‘Sikh’ is basically derived from the Sanskrit word ‘shishya’, meaning disciple. Sikhs are disciples of their ten gurus, some of whose writings are part of the Granth Sahib, sacred book of the Sikhs. An act of the Indian legislature defines a Sikh as one who “believes in the ten gurus and the Granth Sahib.”

In Himachal at Paonta Sahib, Sikhs had been migrants, though that is now history. The natural environment of the region is valley-type surrounded by hills with the river Yamuna flowing by. The Paonta Sahib township is situated on its right bank. It is symbolized by the famous Sikh Gurdwara of Paonta Sahib. Sikhism advocates belief in one God who is not represented by idol worship or images. Deities do not exist for them. The ancestors of present day Sikhs were converts from Hindu and Islam religion. There are some religious movements started by Sikhs. Main of these are Nirankari movement and Namdhari or Kuka movement. These movements sought to reform Sikhism in some ways.

Islam in Himachal Pradesh

Followers of Islam in Himachal Pradesh are Mirasis Sayyads, Sheikhs and some others. Mirasis are traditional Drum beaters but presently provide brass-band music in marriages. They are distributed are Bilaspur, Una and Hamirpur districts. They are followers of Sunni sect. They also have come to acquire faith in local deities of Hindus as a result of local interaction with Hinduism. Unlike Hindus, Muslims do not have any gradation of high, low, clean or not. They also do not have any taboo on contract of marriage. A true Muslim mass fulfils his obligations towards God and fellow birth. These are offering Namaz five times a day, keeping fast for the whole month of Ramzan, giving a part of his salary as charity for the poor and making the pilgrimage to Mecca for performing certain rituals at least once in one's life time.

Sayyads in Himachal are found in sub-mountainous region. Sheiks are spread in Chamba, Kangre, Una, Hamirpur, Mandi, Bilaspur, Solan and Sirmaur. Pathans are there in Hamirpur, Una and very few in Nangal village.

Religious Beliefs of Gaddis

Men normally believe that their conscious being will not end at death, but will go on indefinitely or forever, long after the frail corporal envelope which lodged it for a time has crumbled away in dust. Religion indeed has played a very important role in the life of our country. The Gaddis are follower of Lord Shiva, best propitiate their deities and spirits by sacrificing sheep and goats. The tribe follows Hindu tradition and religion in its own way. Religion presents some interesting features and religion plays an important role in their life. Animal sacrifice is a common feature of their rituals. Most of their deities are considered non-vegetarians and on any religious ceremony an offering of goats and sheep is made.

The supreme deity of Gaddis is Lord Shiva, who creates the world and destroys the same on dooms day. The worship him but it is catholic in a degree. A folk-lore on Shiva goes — The Gaddi was grazing his flock
The Gaddan offered incense to Shiva
To the Gaddi he gave sheep And to the Gaddan— beauty.

This reveals their faith in Shiva who is imagined to give them health, wealth and beauty. He fulfills all desires of his devotees. It is due to this pervasive faith of the people that this land is called Shivabhumi. The Chaurasi area in Brahmaur has a magnificent temple of Harihar with a number of Shiva-lings. In Brahmaur proper, there is no temple dedicated to Lakshmi Narayan, Krishna and Rama although the people perform Janamashtmi and to a certain extent Rama Navami to.

Spirits: The Gaddis believe in various evil spirits which are propitiated on certain events. They are known as Avtars — spirits raised to the level of local deities out of fear and awe. An Avtar is the spirit of a person who died issueless. It causes sickness and warns of impending mishaps in dreams. He creates panic in the heart of the person who later falls sick.

To scare away the ghost, Jemanwala is performed. The sick person dons clothes which are made for the spirit with a silver image of the dead and then worships the avatar's idol which is usually set up near any stream. Goats are sacrificed to please these spirits. Kailu Bir or Kailung is believed to be a demon causing abortion. He is believed to cause harm to a pregnant woman. To propitiate this spirit, a pregnant woman puts aside four copper coins with her necklace in the name of Kailu. Two or three months after delivery the Brahman with the woman worships the demon which is sanctified by reciting mantras and worshipped with an offer of a he-goat which is sacrificed on this occasion. Gunga is another malicious spirit believed to attack cattle, particularly cows. This powerful demon is worshipped by setting aside an iron pan of breed in his name.

A piece of iron is made and the daily taken into the cattle-shed where he is worshipped by the sacred fire. A he-goat is killed and some drops of blood are sprayed on the iron. Immediately after this, cakes are offered and some of them are eaten by only a member of the household and the rest of the cakes are buried.

Bangalouds: The tribals believe that if the rituals regarding ‘Devosamskar’ are observed properly, the soul of the deceased would not get place. Thus, the angry soul may harm his relations. The dead may also visit his descendants’ and relatives' home in dream. To pacify the soul, people voluntarily construct small houses in the name of the deceased. These houses are called Bangalauds or Bdeangs. These are built on the outer part of the village. But above all the soul of the dead-one lies in eternal peace and may bestow benefits to the relatives of the deceased.

Rituals and Sacrifices: A high priest is attired in the typical Gaddi dress wearing a silken turban, a golden kantha round his neck as well as some gold rings in the ears but no shoes. He carries a heavy silver mace and a thali with articles of puja red vermilion, rice, flowers, a piece of red cloth, the ball, the shankh and milk. The pujari is generally a Brahmin but a peculiar feature of their religion is considered to be the best of all. In some parts of the country a lower caste man cannot enter a temple whereas among Gaddis a priest belongs to a lower community. The animal meant for a sacrifice is first bathed. Fulast (flower and rice) is offered on its head and water is dropped with dub (grass) and the devotees hold a copper coin in their hand. If the animal trembles, it is an indication of god having accepted it as an offering. After this, a third person kills the animal.

The priest chants some mantras and receives skin head and one leg of the animal and the rest of the body goes to the slaughterer. The sacrifices are mostly made while putting new fields under plough; removing the incapacity of a field for increasing wheat; laying the foundation-stone of a house and laying the central beam of a roof; celebrating birth and marriages, on the 12th and 14th day of a death before a journey and for propitiating evil spirits. Chela (priest and magic-man) is the guide without whose consent people do not even send children to schools. The Gaddis in their day-to-day life are very religious. Even a literate Gaddi has full confidence in chelas of priest.

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