Christianity and Islam are both large religious minorities in India, but a thousand years ago the two groups were insignificant proportions of the population. Christianity has been there since 52 BCE, and Islam has been present since 630 BCE. When did these two religious groups start to grow, and what factors aided said growth? Though both religious groups came to the place soon after the founding of each one, they remained very small groups until invasions began. Until these said invasions, there were no religious issues in the nation. Both groups had assimilated into the larger Hindu community, Christians especially lived right alongside Hindus so well that they were indistinguishable to the first Christian missionaries. Given time I think that the beliefs of these outsiders could have successfully been integrated into the belief systems of the surrounding areas. In the same way that some accept Jesus as another avatar of Sri Vishnu, but on a smaller and localized scale.
Before continuing this post, a note on the term Bharat: Prior to the breaking up of Akhand Bharat or Bharatvarsh “India” stretched as far west as Persia (modern-day Iran), and as far east as Indonesia. Because the majority of this post will be dealing with this past entity, I will use the name Bharat to refer to it (as opposed to India, which only came into being in 1947). Bharat was not one nation, rather it was a group of kings and princes with one things in common: they were adherents of Sanatan Dharma. The reach of this culture was vast enough to reach Persia and leave traces, as well as some ideological influences in places as far away as Greece..but that is a whole different post altogether.
This video shows how the three major faiths began and expanded, on a global scale; my only dislike of it so far is that it implies that Sanatan Dharma began because of Shri Krishna. Original animation can be found here, it was made my Maps of War.
Bharat was introduced to the Abrahamic religion of Judaism in as early as 562 BCE through trade with the Mediterranean regions. While the presence of a stable Jewish community in Bharat during that time can be debated, there is no debate that it was present after the death of Christ. According to legend, the Thomas the Apostle traveled as far as western Bharat (Persia). It was Thomas of Cain who was responsible for the immigration of Syrian Christians into the heart of Bharat, not Thomas the Apostle (as I had previously thought*). When the Roman Empire accepted Christianity as the state religion, it pushed out any of those who were not following it’s version of it (what is now Catholocism). These Syrian Christians would arrive approximately 4th century CE. These Christians would continue to live as parts of the surrounding community; they ate the same food, wore the same clothes, celebrated most of the same holidays. In this way they continued to live for well over a millenium, until the Portuguese arrived in 1498. By the time Muhammad was born, Christianity was an established religion in Europe.
After Muhammad defeated his enemies at Mecca in 630 CE, his influence gradually expanded. Trade between Bharat and the Arab peninsula had been prevalent previous to Muhammad’s lifetime, and the two cultures interacted frequently. So it’s no surprise that Muslim traders had reached Bharat the same year that Muhammad’s decisive taking of Meccca. These traders were welcomed to Bharat; it might be due to greed, or it might be that the Bharatis honestly wanted the traders to feel comfortable. If it was the latter, then these ancient Hindus were among the first to give appeasement to Muslims. However, if it was the former then they doomed millions of Hindus. They were offered daughters in marriage, and thus they developed familial ties to the subcontinental portion of Bharat.
The western-most parts of Bharat came under attack from expansionist Muslim forces in 633 CE, under the general Khalid ibn Walid. A decade later, Sindh would come under attack by soldiers of the Rashidun Caliphate, but the caliph Umar ordered it to be ignored. Unfortunately it was again attacked, and this time occupied, by the Umayyad Caliphate not long after that. Muhammad bin Qasim of the Umayyad Caliphate would make one final attempt to gain a foothold in peninsular Bharat, but he would be turned back at the Battle of Rajasthan in 738. The worldwide population of Muslims began to grow, and by the time that Muslim armies would invade Bharat again it was up to 4% of the global population. This invasion would be led by Mahmud of Ghazni, and the target was Gandhara (modern day Afghanistan), and the Panjab. He was the first outsider to successfully penetrate into modern day India, and the one who opened the door to the rest of the Muslim and Mughal forays into Bharat. He would be also the first to lay waste to temples, holy sites, and cities. Destroying the intricate temples that had been raised, looting the treasuries, and massacring priests and scholars. It was during these same raids that practices like sati and jauhar came about; women knew that without their men to protect them they would be raped and taken as slaves, so rather than suffer the dishonor they took their lives.
This was at the turn of the first millenium, by this time Islam had conquered Egypt, northern Africa, Spain, and Turkey, it had even defeated the Chinese on it’s eastern borders. So let’s review what has happened so far..
- 562 BCE: Judaism comes to Bharat through trade
- 4th Century CE: St. Thomas arrives in modern Kerala, and (presumably) meets the settled Jews
- 630 CE: Muhammad takes Mecca
- 630 CE: Muslim traders reach Bharat and establish familial ties
- 633 CE: Persia falls to Khalid ibn Walid
- 644 CE: Sindh comes under attack
- 738 CE: Muhammad bin Qasim is defeated at the Battle of Rajasthan
- 1001 CE: Mahmud of Ghazni takes Afghanistan, Pakistan, and most of the north of modern India
The First Crusade was launched at the end of that century (1095 CE), and by 1099 CE Jerusalem had been sacked. Nearly a century later (1187), Saladin recaptures Jerusalem during the events of the Third Crusade. Meanwhile, constant raids were being made on Bharati land. From these raids the loot, and slaves (including women, and children) were taken back to the constantly advancing capitals. Muhammed of Ghori would again pillage Bharat, and in 1186 be the first Muslim ruler to strike an alliance with a Hindu ruler. This pattern would soon become quite common, as petty Hindu kinds gave up their brothers in culture so that they might gain some more land. Prior to Muslim invasion, Hindu kings had not rarely fought over land or treasure, rather battles were only engaged in when one felt that another was acting in an adharmic manner. Mohammed of Ghori’s successor would be the first Sultan of Delhi, it’s at this point that Muslim power in the subcontinent solidified. The Sultanate would impose sharia law on their subjects, and forced all kafirs (non believers of Islam) to pay the jizya tax. The jizya itself would be a big factor in the conversion of Hindus.
In 1293 Marco Polo visited Bharat as part of his marine journey, on returning back to Italy he dictated his travels. In an apt foreshadowing of events to come, he says that “..Indians, and a score of others defile before us..” This mindset would be the main factor for missionaries’ zealous attempts at converting the Hindu population. As Muslim rulers vied with each other for Delhi, Christian Europe slowly crept out of the Dark Ages, and went through it’s Renaissance period. It would be the colonialist attitudes that followed the Renaissance that would bring Christianity to Bharat. The Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama arrived in Bharat in 1498. This opened up the doors for direct trade to Europe, bypassing the frustrated Arab Muslims.
Akbar, the Mughal emperor who took power 1556 is looked on as a patron of art, and a seemingly secular Muslim ruler. However, at least one of his policies has been misunderstood: the revocation of jizya. Akbar revoked jizya because the expenses taken to collect the tax from far flung villages outweighed the amount gained from it. So it was a policy of keeping his treasuries full, not so much to satisfy his Hindu subjects. It was during Akbar’s rule that the first successful attempt at resistance to foreign rule came, in the form of Maharana Pratap Singh of Mewar. Pratap Singh was one of the few figures in recent Bharati history that retained their honor and noble bearing despite attempts to sway them to external rule. Akbar tried many times to woo Pratap Singh to join his court, but was rejected each time.
The Goa Inquisition would be established in the Portuguese colony in 1560. The Goa Inquisition, and its draconic measures ensure that the new converts to Catholic Christianity were indeed practicing Christianity. This is the same time that brainwashing of Hindus. Not only did the Inquisition target helpless Hindus, but it also went after Christians. The aforementioned Nasrani converts were also targeted. On the other side of the subcontinent, Akbar allowed Catholic missionaries into the Bengal in 1571. Thus, Goa and Bengal became the footholds of Christianity in Bharat. Europe was Christian, it was the state religion for every European country. Thus, when colonies began to spring up, missionaries were among the first to extend their reach to the Bharatis. The British East India Company set up a factory in India, with the French East India Company following suit some decades later (1612 and 1668, respectively).
Akbar’s great grandson, Aurangzeb (coronated 1659), was another of those hardcore Muslim rulers. His expansionist and anti Hindu policies were responsible for the emergence of the second spark in the dark days of Bharat. This spark, Chhatrapati Shivaji Bhosale, would ignite a bonfire across the entirety of the Deccan. Shivaji was responsible for the creation of the concept of Hindu nation, and self rule of said nation by Hindus themselves (Hindavi Swaraj). Not only that, but he was the first to employ guerilla tactics in warfare. His armies employed not only Hindus, but Muslims as well. There were Muslims in command of his armies, and though these Muslims were constantly being watched (for treachery) the same can be said of his Hindu commanders. He did not advocate forced conversion (of either Hindus or Muslims), and punished any who tried to impose it in his kingdom. The world is yet to see any individual who can match his administrative skills, political genius, or military brilliance.
Let’s review again what’s happened so far:
- 1186 CE: Muhammad of Ghori conquers northern India in one of his raids, establishes the Delhi Sultanate
- 1293 CE: Marco Polo visits Bharat and remarks that the Hindus defile Christian customs
- 1556 CE: Akbar is coronated as king of the Mughal Empire
- 1560 CE: Goan Inquisition is established
- 1571 CE: Missionaries allowed into the Bengal by Akbar
- 1612 CE: British set up their first factory in Bharat
- 1659 CE: Aurangzeb is coronated; reinstates jizya, perscutes Hindus
The final historical phase of the Christian and Muslim advent into Bharat is that of the British. The rebellion against the authority of the East India Company in 1857 would lead the British to political power of Bharat. Bharat’s borders were now reduced to the Panjab, Kashmir, and Burma. The British sought to control the predominantly Hindu population of Bharat, but found it a difficult task. To subjugate the populace the British Raj introduced skewed findings that were meant to justify the British presence in Bharat. One of these was the Aryan Invasion Theory, which has since been disproven; the premise of the theory was that Aryans (Indo-Europeans) came to ancient India and brought the Vedas with them. The British imposition was that if Europeans had invaded the subcontinent and brought the texts and culture that laid the groundwork for modern India, then there’s nothing wrong with the British (also European) coming and taking control of Bharat. This coupled with English medium schools that taught a filtered curriculum, lead to the general feeling of inferiority among Hindus. Many prominent members of the Indian freedom movement were taught in these schools, Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru among them.
The ongoing phase of all this is the evangelical Christianity, and the fundamentalist Islam. The former comes to India under the guise of helping the poor with clinics, schools, etc. Some missionaries undoubtedly do these things, they do their work for God and lead honest lives; but the majority of these missionaries, looking away from the increasingly apathetic European nations, arrive in India with the sole intention of converting. Fundamental Muslim preachers and leaders seek to either frighten the populace, or to misinform them (eg. Zakir Naik). With the spread of Marxist doctrines also comes the waves of Marxist scholars who also twist the truth and portray Hindu beliefs, practices, and texts through a heavily filter.
|Other Religions & Persuasions||6,639,626||0.6%|
|Religion not stated||727,588||0.1%|
Islam is now 13.4% of the Indian population, and Christianity is at 2.3%. Both are growing at rapid rates; the former due to high birth rates, and the latter due to conversion. Although the Mughal Empire is long gone and the British Raj done away with, Hindus continue to suffer due to discrimination by their own elected government. Though the government gives accommodations to minority religions, it does no such thing for the nearly one billion Hindus. Academia continues to be biased towards Hindus, and those who are not become outcast from the fields they specialize in; experts in their fields are ridiculed and blacklisted. Domestic media discrimination continues to paint groups and political parties that represent Hindus as fundamentalists and militants, and foreign media does the same.