Why Hindu Survived?

If we look at some examples of Central Asian Countries, many became Islamic in less than 100 years. Iran was initially a Zoroastrian country; similarly, Buddhists and Hindus were the rulers in Afghanistan till about the 9th century but were wiped out very quickly. When Islam arrived in Iran during Sassanid Caliphate, there was a steady shift in the religion in Persia. The reason for mass conversions was the Noble and elite. When the Nobles and Elites converted to Islam, the peasantry also turned towards the same faith. Zoroastrianism is a religion of books. The problem with the religion of books is that people are drawn towards the other book if a better argument is presented. Thus, the Muslim clergymen were highly successful.
I have always been baffled by the question of why the Muslim rulers and later British Empire could not convert all Hindus to Islam or Christian even after nearly 750 years of rule? If we dive back in history, Hinduism sustained even with widespread Buddhism during the Great Ashok in 232 to 268 BC. So what is the secret of this? What are the factors? What was different in India? 
Islam, Christianity arrived first in India through trade in Malabar Coast. These people were directly converted by the contact of Arab traders (not rulers). These lands were easy to conquer and rule. Other terrains were just too hard to control. Hence we find the majority of Muslims in plain regions of the Subcontinent, i.e. Indo Gangetic Plains and Coastal plains.
Contrasting Cultural differences
The reason for a minor success in India was the deep-rooted feeling of Indians towards Hinduism. They didn't believe in any particular book; their scriptures merely guided people to live an ideal life. There is no concept of blasphemy, only cautions not to go anti-nature. They didn't buy any argument from anywhere.
Islamic clergy realised India is the land of intense mysticism, hance, only Islamic mysticism (Tasawwuf/Sufism) appealed to Hindus and became successful as a method to gain some converts. However, they were not forced to give up upon their Hindu identity since this branch of Islam was highly Inclusive. You will find a lot of Muslims with Hindu surnames all over India. There were forceful conversions too, but they number significantly less percentage of the population. Hence overall, the conventional method failed.
Staunch Resistance
Indian Rulers were happy to accept a loss in battle, but accepting Islam was simply out of the question due to the ancient pride. There was hardly any Indian ruler who didn't resist Islam. When people saw the king not kneeling, they followed suit. Hindu rituals were numerous; a Hindu King felt personal humiliation when someone forced them to give up on these rituals. Women preferred to die than to accept Muslims as their life partners. It was simply so hard wired in our blood.
Cultural Shock
Muslims knew about Idol worship, but they didn't realise that Hindus didn't worship the Idol itself; they worshipped nature. If they broke the Idol, they prayed to the trees. They didn't know the Hindu concept of god. Food, clothes, Festivals, cultural activities have not changed even in Muslim or British ruled regions over the generations. Rice / Chapatis are typical food. Navaratri or Ganesh Chathurthi or Deepawali or Sankranti or Maha Sivaratri or Krishna Janmashtami still similarly follow throughout India in the last two thousand years. 
There were some other factors for Hinduism to survive foreign rule:
The Muslim Rule was limited to North India.
The Muslim Rule, for most of the time, was limited to north India. The Delhi sultanate, as well as the Mughal Empire, ruled from the region around Delhi. The control over states near the capital was easy, but states such as Bihar and Bengal, far away, were difficult to control. The Muslim Rulers had to fight battles over these states constantly. And the North East Region remained almost isolated from the Muslim Rule. Even when the rulers tried to invade the North East, they lost badly. Muslims seldom dominated South India. The Vijayanagara empire flourished in the South, while the Delhi Sultanate was ruling in the North. The Rajputs, even while living so close to Delhi, bravely opposed Muslim Rulers. Malwa and Gujarat also offered some resistance. The Marathas were constant trouble for the Mughals.
Decentralised Rule
Whether Muslim rulers or the British Rulers, none of them controlled India directly. Instead, they had their subordinate rulers, who were mostly Hindus. This was a compulsion due to limited communication infrastructure etc. So the society was not controlled directly by the Mughals or Britishers.
The primary interest of the Muslim Rulers and the British Empire was to rule and earn money. Most of the states conquered were brought under indirect control. It means that the state's ruler would continue to lead, but he had to pay an annual tribute to the Delhi Ruler and military support when needed. The welfare of the people was left entirely in the hand of the local rulers. This helped Hindus to continue to lead the life as they were living before. 
Separation of Religion and Politics
The initial invaders were religious fanatics, trying to convert the local population by force or coercion. But they soon realised that the vast expanse of this land mainly consisted of different tribes. However, civilisation, on the whole, was a well-knit unit. Hence the later rulers of the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire accepted that India was a predominantly Hindu state. Therefore, mixing religion with politics would be dangerous in the long run. They also realised that society was far more cultured than Central Asian countries, even if illiterate. The other factor which weighed heavily against the mass conversion was the Caste System prevalent in India. 
Hence even though some of the things such as Jizya (tax levied to non-Muslims for practising their religion) and pilgrim tax were oppressive, they were not that hard to delete the very existence of Hindus. Many rulers banned the construction of new temples, but old temples were allowed to exist and be repaired. Forced conversions took place but in times of war. Aurangzeb was the first Mughal Ruler to mix religion and politics on a deep level, which ultimately led to the Empire's fall.
Bhakti Movement
Saints also played a significant role in keeping Hinduism alive. The Rulers did not pay much attention to them as they were not a military threat. Hence they were able to play a passive but significant role to keep Hindus devoted. Bhakti movement could not be suppressed, and even Sufis practised Hindu bhajans. The stories survived across many regions, cultures, and languages. Music has another factor Hinduism became a common practice, and Muslims adopted a form of music, so-called Hindustani Music. Gita Govind by Jayadev or Meera Bhajans resurrected Hinduism wherever the destruction had happened.
The Bhakti movement originated in seventh-century south India and spread northwards. It swept over east and north India from the 15th century onwards, reaching its zenith between the 15th and 17th centuries CE. This coincides with the peak of Muslim rule in India.
Some of the principal names of this movement: 
  • Jayadeva (born 1170 CE) - Epic poem Gita Govinda. 
  • Purandara Dāsa (1484–1564) - widely referred to as the Pitamaha of Carnatic Music.
  • Meera Bai (1498-1546) - celebrated Bhakti saint. 
  • Kabir (15th century) - writings influenced the Bhakti movement. 
  • Tulsidas (1532–1623) - author of the epic Ramcharitmanas
  • Surdas (16th century) - blind poet and singer, his lyrics written in praise of Krishna.
  • Kancharla Gopanna (1620 –1680) - popularly known as Bhakta Ramadasu 
  • Bammera Pothanna (1450–1510) - translated the Bhagavata Purana in Telugu. 
  • Kshetrayya (1600–1680) - prolific Telugu poet and composer of Carnatic music. 
From the 5th to the 10th century, groups of Tamil saint poets, Nayanar and Alwar, spread the path of devotion.
Nayanars were devotees of Shiva, and Alwars were devotees of Vishnu, and the important thing is that people of all castes and tribes were part of these groups.
Maharashtra had a great tradition of Saints starting with Sant Dnyaneshwar (1275-1296), Sant Namdev (1270-1350), Sant Eknath (1533-1599), Sant Tukaram (17th century), Ramdas Swami (1608-1681), to name few notables. Through his Abhangs and Kirtans, Sant Tukaram converted the Bhakti movement as community-oriented worship by the Varkari tradition.
 This Bhakti movement was the key to strong uphold of HINDUISM in most Muslim ruled regions. 
Ramayan and Mahabharat
They are perhaps the greatest epics, bigger than any others, and were studied and discussed at thousands of villages across India where Muslims had very little influence, and the British did not bother. Most villages have a Shiva and a Vishnu Temple, so Hinduism resides at many remote places. The translations of Epic Mahabharat or Ramayana have had a profound effect on the preservation of Hinduism.
Pampa translated Mahabharata in Kannada in the 10th century. Atukuri Molla (1440–1530) was a Telugu poet who authored the Telugu-language Ramayana. Tulsidas wrote Ramayana in Awadh. 
The Ramayana has spread to many Asian countries outside of India, including Burma, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam and China. The original Valmiki version has been adapted or translated into various regional languages, often marked more or less by plot twists and thematic adaptations. Some of the important adaptations of the classic tale include the 12th-century Tamil language Ramavataram, 14th-century Telugu language Sri Ranganatha Ramayanam, the Khmer Reamker, the Old Javanese Kakawin Ramayana, and the Thai Ramakien, the Lao Phra Lak Phra Lam, and the Burmese Yama Zatdaw.
Sheer Numbers 
One needs to understand that for every Muslim, there were more than 100 Hindus. So personal life had not changed at all. Further, South India was never really battered by Muslim Kings, barring a couple of times, but preservation occurred soon.
Battle of Defiance
Vijayanagar Empire: This Empire stood so bold that none dared to challenge the Hindu Empire in Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh for over 400 years until the 16th century. The Vijayanagar Empire was established in 1336 by Harihara. The Empire is named after its capital city of Vijayanagara, whose ruins surround present day Hampi, now a World Heritage Site in Karnataka, India. The Vijayanagara Empire created an epoch in South Indian history that transcended regionalism by promoting Hinduism as a unifying factor. 
Maratha Empire: The Maratha kingdom was founded and consolidated by Chhatrapati Shivaji, who was determined to establish Hindavi Swarajya. Sir J.N. Sarkar described Shivaji as "the last great constructive genius and nation builder that the Hindu race has produced". The Marathas developed a powerful navy in the 1660s, also established its base at the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal. It would attack the British, Portuguese, Dutch, and Siddi Naval ships and check their naval ambitions. The Maratha Navy dominated till around the 1730s. Though the Mughal Empire reached the zenith of its territorial expanse during the reign of Aurangzeb, its terminal decline started in his power due to Maratha military resurgence under Marathas. Historian Sir. J.N. Sarkar wrote, "All seemed to have been gained by Aurangzeb now, but in reality, all was lost." In 1737, Bajirao of the Maratha Empire invaded and plundered Delhi. The Maratha empire at its peak stretched from Tamil Nadu in the South to Peshawar, modern-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan in the North, and Bengal in the east. 
Sikh Empire: This governed the North-Western Regions of the Indian subcontinent. The Empire, based around the Punjab region, existed from 1799 to 1849. On the Khalsa foundations, it was forged under Maharaja Ranjit Singh's leadership (1780–1839). He used his Sikh Khalsa Army that he trained in European military techniques and modern military technologies. Ranjit Singh proved himself to be a master strategist and selected well-qualified generals for his army. He continuously defeated the Afghan armies and successfully ended the Afghan-Sikh Wars. At its peak in the 19th century, the Empire extended from the Khyber Pass in the west to Kashmir in the North to Sindh in the South, running along the Sutlej river to the east till Himachal. 
British Rule
The British policy, sometimes summed up as Divide and Rule, was used to take advantage of the enmity between various princely states and social and religious groups. However, this Divide and Conquer policy did not change even ONE Percent of Hindus. British Crown, which began to administer most of India as several provinces. The Crown controlled the Company's lands directly and had considerable indirect influence over the rest of India, which consisted of the Princely states ruled by local royal families. There were officially 565 princely states in 1947, but only 21 had actual state governments, and only three were large (Mysore, Hyderabad, and Kashmir). After 1857, the colonial government strengthened and expanded its infrastructure via the court system, legal procedures, and statutes. The Indian Penal Code came into being. Hence the British were busy ruling and administering the vast land through the Princely states. 
Hindu Renaissance 
It rose to great heights, which preserved Hinduism. Raja Ram Mohan Roy is regarded as the "Father of the Hindu renaissance". The other important names are Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Satyendra Nath Bose, Lokmanya Tilak, Gopal Agarkar, Maharshi Karve and many others.

The Future of Hinduism:

Today, Christianity is the largest religion globally, with some 240 crore people claiming it as their official religion and is the official religion in 15 countries. One-third of the world's population belongs to this religion.


Islam is the second-largest religion globally with a population of 200 crore and is the official religion in 27 countries.

Although Hinduism is the third largest religion with 120 crores, it is mainly in India and Nepal.



However, India is not an official Hindu nation as it believes in interfaith harmony (secularism). Nepal has to be mentioned as the only Hindu nation. Hinduism has gone through major upheavals in the last two thousand years. Today the whole world is smouldering in the face of a religious volcano. It isn't straightforward to predict precisely what will happen in the future. Even if our next generation thinks that the Hindu religion should survive, that would mean a blessing.



कालाय तस्मै नमः!!

@ Yeshwant Marathe

Leave a comment

Prakash Bhave

3 years ago

There appears to be mistake in the population figures of christian and muslims. Probably it should be 240 & 200 crores instead of millions. Rest, very good information


2 years ago

Well researched and precisely analyzed. Thanks for your contribution.

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