Diwali, the festival

7 facts about Hindus around the world

October 30, 2022
3 mins read

Every year, Hindus around the world celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. The holiday lasts five days, and Indians mark it with gifts, prayers and many sources of light, including lamps, candles and fireworks. This Diwali, some Hindus also are celebrating the appointment of Rishi Sunak as the United Kingdom’s first Hindu prime minister.

With Diwali celebrations and Sunak’s transition underway, here are some facts about Hindus around the world, drawing on a Pew Research Center survey of India conducted in 2019-2020, our 2021 study of the religious composition of India, and other sources.

More than nine-in-ten of the world’s Hindus live in India. There are more than 1.1 billion Hindus in the world and roughly 94% of them live in India, according to Pew Research Center projections for 2020. Eight-in-ten Indians (79.8%) identify as Hindu, according to the country’s 2011 census. Far fewer Indians are of other religions, including Islam (14.2%), Christianity (2.3%) and Sikhism (1.7%).

The largest Hindu populations outside of India are in Nepal – the only other country in the world with a Hindu majority – and Bangladesh. In the UK, British government statistics show that Hindus make up just under 2% of the population in England and Wales. In the United States, they account for less than 1%, according to Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religion Landscape Study.

A chart showing that Indians of many religions celebrate Diwali.

Nearly all Hindus in India celebrate Diwali, but many also celebrate Christmas. More than nine-in-ten Indian Hindus (95%) celebrate Diwali, while roughly one-in-five (17%) say they participate in Christmas festivities and 7% say they celebrate Muslim Eid, according to Pew Research Center’s 2019-2020 survey. (In the U.S., 95% of Indian American Hindus celebrate Diwali, according to a 2012 survey.)

Diwali is among the most popular religious holidays in India and is also celebrated by large majorities of the country’s Jains (98%), Sikhs (90%) and Buddhists (79%), as well as by substantial minorities of Christians (31%) and Muslims (20%).

The vast majority of India’s Hindus believe in God (98%), including eight-in-ten who say they believe in God with absolute certainty. Even though Hinduism is sometimes referred to as a polytheistic religion, very few Hindus (7%) take the position that there are multiple gods, according to the Center’s 2019-2020 survey. The prevailing view, held by 61% of Hindus, is that there is one God “with many manifestations.” About three-in-ten Indian Hindus (29%) say simply: “There is only one God.”

The survey asked Hindus who say they believe in God which god(s) they feel closest to, seeking to measure the concept of ishta devata (“personal god”). The vast majority of Hindus selected more than one god or indicated that they have many personal gods. Hindus most commonly feel close to Shiva (44%). Roughly three-in-ten Hindus say they feel closest to Ganesha (32%) and Lakshmi (28%), and 17% of Indian Hindus feel closest to Lord Ram – three deities commonly honored during Diwali.

A chart showing that more Hindus feel close to Shiva than any other deity.

Many Indian Hindus regularly perform puja – a worship practice that often involves prayer and giving offerings to deities. Most Hindus in India perform puja at home daily (55%). Fewer Hindus perform puja at temples daily (20%). Hindu women are much more likely than men to perform puja in their home daily (64% vs. 47%), but there is no gender gap when it comes to performing puja at temples (20% vs. 21%). 

Four-in-ten Indian Hindus believe in reincarnation. Although reincarnation is a mainstream teaching in Hinduism, fewer than half of Hindus express belief in this teaching. College-educated Hindus are slightly less likely than others to say they believe in reincarnation (34% vs. 41%).

Hindus in the U.S. and Europe are among the most educated religious groups where they live. In the U.S., Hindu adults have an average of 15.7 years of formal schooling – a full year more than the next most highly educated U.S. religious group (Jews), and nearly three years more than the average American adult (12.9 years), according to a 2016 Pew Research Center analysis. Similarly, the average level of education among Hindus in the UK is greater than that of other British adults (13.9 years vs. 12.2 years). These differences reflect the fact that religious minorities often have more education, on average, than a country’s majority, particularly when the minority group is largely foreign born and comes from a distant country.

In India, Hindus are among the groups with the least education: 39% of Hindu adults have 10 or more years of schooling, compared with 48% of Sikhs and 47% of Christians, according to India’s 2019-2021 National Family Health Survey.

Nearly two-thirds of Indian Hindus (64%) say it is very important to be Hindu to be truly Indian. A majority of Hindus (59%) also say speaking Hindi is crucial to being truly Indian.

These beliefs about Indian national identity are strongly reflected in political views, and in levels of support for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is sometimes said to prioritize Hindu interests. Roughly half of Hindus who say they voted in the country’s 2019 election say they voted for the BJP (49%), but support for the BJP is considerably higher among those who say both being Hindu and speaking Hindi are very important to be truly Indian (60%). Although this group of Hindu BJP voters may see a special place for Hindus in India, they are just as likely as other Hindus to say respecting other religions is crucial to being truly Indian.

The Washington Inquirer Editor

20 years in media business

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