Religions of Ancient India

The major religions of the Indian Subcontinent that stretch back for millennia

The civilization of the Indian subcontinent is about 4000-years old, with a religious tradition stretching back through much of that period. There are 3 major religions of ancient India. Read more about them below.


Shiva. CC Flickr User alicepopkorn

Hinduism is a polytheistic and henotheistic religion with devotion to a pantheon of gods. Unlike the other two major ancient Indian religions, there is not one main teacher of Hinduism.

Important sacred writings of Hinduism are the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ramayana, and Mahabharata. The Vedas may come from some time between the 2-4 millennium B.C. The other writings are more recent.

Karma and reincarnation are important elements of Hinduism.


Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan
Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan. CC Carl Montgomery at

Buddhism is the religion practiced by the followers of Gautama Buddha, perhaps a contemporary of Jainism's Mahavira. Buddhism is described as an offshoot of Hinduism. It is one of the major religions of the world today, with probably more than 3.5 million adherents.

Karma and reincarnation are important elements of Buddhism, as they are also of Hinduism.

King Asoka was a convert to Buddhism and helped spread it.


Mahavira. CC Flickr User quinn.anya

A non-theistic religion, Jainism comes from a Sanskrit verb ji, 'to conquer'. Jains practice ascetism, as did the man counted as Jainism's founder, Mahavira, the last of 24 Tirthankaras. Mahavira is a possible contemporary of the Buddha; however, Jains trace their religious history back thousands of years earlier.

Karma and reincarnation are important elements of Jainism. Jains seek release from karma so that the soul can attain nirvana.

Chandragupta, the founder of the Mauryan empire, is supposed to have been a convert to Jainism.

Jainism practices a form of vegetarianism that doesn't allow practitioners to destroy the plant, so certain common root vegetables are off-limits.