Religions in Karnataka

Karnataka is a land of many religions. Every religion has contributed in its own way in shaping the life and activities of the people and promoting the culture of Karnataka. Majority of people in Karnataka are adherent to Hinduism and the other major religions of the State are Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism, Islam and Sikkhism. According to 1981 census the population and the percentage of the total population of different religions were as follows (The first figure in the bracket indicates the population and the second figure is the percentage of the total population): Buddhists (42,251;0.05); Christians

(7,73,500; 2.08); Hindus 3,18,52,029; 85.77); Jains (2,84,508; 0.77); Muslims (41,63,691; 11.21); Sikhs (6,401; 0.02); other religions and persuations (12,901;0.04) and religions not stated (433, negligible).

According to 1991 census the population and the percentage of the total population of different religions and religions not stated were as follows (the first figure in the bracket indicates the population and the second figure is the percentage of the total population : Buddhists (73,012 – 0.16), Christians
(8,59,478 – 1.91), Hindus (3,84,32,027 – 85.45), Jains (3,26,114 – 0.73), Muslims (52,34,023 – 11.64), Sikhs (10,101 – 0.02), other religions and persuations (6,325 – 0.01) and religion not stated (36,121 -0.08). According to 2001 census the population and the percentage of the total population of different religions are as follows (the first figure indicates the population and the second figure is the percentage of the total population) Buddhists 393300, 0.74; Christians 1009164, 1.90; Hindus 44321279, 83.86; Jains 412659,0.78; Muslims 6463127,12.23; Others 115460, 0.22; Religion not stated 120247, 0.23; Sikhs 15326,0.02.


Hinduism comprises of several sects and faiths. The Hindu Code denotes all persons who profess Hindu religion either by birth by Hindu parents or by conversion. All Indians who are not Muslims, Christians, Parsees or Jews, can be termed as Hindus. Hinduism according to Hindu Law includes followers of Vedic tradition, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Veerashaivas, Arya Samajists, Bramhos and the followers of aministic cults including Bhuta worship etc. There are a number of cults and religious practices, among Hindus. Gokarna is an important Shaiva centre of great antiquity. Pranaveshwara temple at Talagunda is one of the oldest among the Shiva shrines of India. Shankaracharya (circa 788-820) visited Karnataka and the Sringeri Peetha is one of the four mathas believed to have been founded by him in India. He preached the doctrine of Monism or Advaita, according to which Brahma or the Supreme Being alone is real and the universe is illusory or Maya. He advised people to worship any of the six deities, Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Kartikeya, Ganapathi or Surya. In addition to Sringeri, Shankara Mathas were also founded later at Kudali, Shivaganga, Avani and Sankeshwara in Karnataka. Many groups of Brahmanas like the Badaganadu, Mulukanadu, Babburakamme, Kota, Karade, Hoysala Karnataka, Uluchukamme, and Chitpavan are adherents of the school of Shankara in Karnataka.

Veerashaivism is a full blown offshoot of earlier Shaivism. Five Acharyas had earlier taught this cult. It was popularised by Basava (circa 1131-1167), the Treasurer of Kalachuri Bijjala of Kalyana. Basava and his contemporaries preached their religion in Kannada. The Veerashaiva teachers preached through Vachanas (poetic-prose) and they propagated the worship of Shiva and the leading of a life of morality and condemned social evils like caste differences and untouchability. Basava stressed the dignity of labour by his statement ‘Kayakave kailasa’ (‘worship through work’) and wanted every Veerashaiva to follow some useful profession to earn his rightful livehood. Jedara Dasimayya and Ekantada Ramayya, two saints who had preceded Basava and contemporaries of Basva like Allama Prabhu, Channabasava, Siddarama, Madivala Machayya (a washerman), Kakkayya (a cobbler), Hadapada Appanna (a barber) and women like Akka Mahadevi, Akka Nagamma, Neelambika and Muktayakka were among those who composed Vachanas and propounded this philosophy. The Veerashaivas are a major section in the section and are recognised by the Ishtalinga which they wear on their body. The practice of ‘dasoha’ led to the starting of free hostels by the Veerashaiva Mathas and in the long run to educational institutions. The Veerashaivas are rendering yeoman service in the field of education in the state. Natha Pantha, believed to be a blend of Mahayana Buddhism and Shaivism, was also popular in Karnataka. Natha Pantha Mathas are found in many parts 88 A Handbook of Karnataka

beginning from Handi Badaganath in Belgaum District to Kadri and Vittala in Dakshina Kannada. Adichunchangiri in Mandya was once a centre of this cult. Dattatreya worship (influenced by the Natha Pantha) is a popular cult in Karnataka. Narasimha Saraswathi (1378-1455) believed to be an ‘avatara’ of Dattatreya had visited Bidar and is described to have cured Bahamani Sultan, Allaudin of some serious sickness. Ganagapur in Gulbarga district, Kurugadda in Raichur District and Baba Budangiri in Chikamagalur district are a few notable centres of Dattatreya worship in Karnataka. Another form of Shaivism that was and is popular in Karnataka is the worship of Mailara and his consort Malachi (Malawa). Centres of this worship are found at Adi and Mangsuli in Bidar district, Mailara in Bellary district, Guddadaguddapur in Haveri district and Bellur in Mandya District. Promoters of this cult, wearing red robes and a cap made of bear skin are found even today and are called Goravas or Vaggayyas. Vaishnavism is another old religion in Karnataka. Some of the early Ganga rulers were also Vaishnavas. Ramanuja (1017-1137) who was born in Tamil Nadu, came to Karnataka during the beginning of the twelth century. Ramanuja taught alified monism or Vishishtadwaitha. Vishnu is the Supreme Deity, accompanied by his consort Lakshmi and she represents divine grace. Lakshmi is the mediator between God and men. That is why this religion is called Srivaishnavism. Ramanuja try to preach to all in the society and even admitted the ‘untouchables’ into the temples on specified days in a year. Many fine Vaishanava temples including the one at Belur in the Hoysalas style were constructed during this time. Melkote has the famous Cheluvarayaswamy temple and Mysore City has the famous Parakala matha of this cult. After Ramanuja came Acharya Madhwa (1238-1317) who was born at Pajaka near Udupi. He preached the philosophy of Dualism or Dwaita and worship of Vishnu, who is the Supreme Diety according to him. The teachings of both Ramanuja and Madhwa, who propounded Bhakti (devotion) gave an impetus to the Bhakti Movement of North India. He started eight Mathas to conduct
the worship of the Lord Krishna in turns. Uttaradi Matha at Hospet and Raghavendra Brindavana at Mantralaya in Andhra Pradesh are other noted centres of this sect.

Worship of Shakti or the Mother Deity is found in various forms in different parts of the state. Most of the villages have village deities who are believed to protect the villages. The epidemics like cholera, small pox, plague etc. are believed to be caused by the anger of the Mother Deities. These deities are
also called Gramadevatas under different names like Maramma, Malagamma, Yellamma, Renukamma, Durgamma, Dyamawwa and Kalikadevi in different parts of the state. A village deity is often represented by an image, a shapeless stone or some other symbol and in many places, She has shrines built in her honour. There can be wooden images also, some of them gaily painted. Blood sacrifice was also offered to these deities. Yellamma at Saudatti, People 89 Kolaramma at Kolar, Marikamba at Sirsi, Mayavva at Chincholi (Belgaum district) and Chandralamba at Sannati are some notable centres of such deities. The Jatra of Madduramma at Huskur (where the priests are from the Scheduled Castes) near Bangalore is attended by scores of thousands.


Buddhism was popular in Karnataka from the time of Ashoka. It is believed that Ashoka had sent Buddhist missionaries to Banavasi. Hiuen- Tsiang who visited Karnataka in about 640 says that Banavasi country had hundreds of Viharas. At Sannati and Kanaganahalli (Gulbarga district), remains of Stupas of Shatavahana times have been unearthed. There are Buddist monuments of Chalukyan times at Badami and Aihole in Bijapur district. Tharabhagavati images have been found at Belgavi (Balligave, Shimoga Dt.) and Koliwada (Dharwad Dt). Many Buddhist remains were unearthed in and around Hampi. Some of the centres of Buddhist worship as in Kadiri later were converted into centres of Shaiva worship and Manjushri at Dharmastala became Manjunatha. They came under the influence of the Natha Panthis. There are worderful 10th Century bronze images at Kadri which include Lokeshwara. There is a Mahabodi Society at Bangalore active both in social and spiritual activites, of late many SC’s have embraced Neo-Buddhism.

Jainism :

Jainism has been an important religion of Karnataka and it has contributed quite substantially to the culture of Karnataka. Bhadrabahu, the last Shrutakevalin, migrated to Karnataka with a large number of followers including a Maurya prince and spent his last years at Shravanabelgola. Banavasi Kadambas built Jaina basti at Halsi, the ancient Palashika in Belgaum dt. The Gangas highly patronised Jainism and famous Gomata monolith at Shravanabelagola was erected (Circa 982) by Chavundaraya noted scholar and Ganga general. Bastis were built at Shravanabelgola, Manne and Kambadahalli during the Ganga rule. There were Jaina scholars like Pujyapada (Devanandi) and Kundakunda in the Ganga court and Kannada authors Nemichandra and Chavundaraya were also Jains. The Kadambas, the Rashtrakutas and Chalukyas of Kalyana were the great patrons of Jainism. Great mathematician Mahavira, the earliest Kannada poets Srivijaya, Pampa, Ponna and Ranna were Jains. Gomata monoliths were erected at Gommatagiri in Hunsur Taluk (Mysore district), Karkala in Udupi dt. (1432), Venuru (1603)
and recently at Dharmasthala (1982) in Dakshina Kannada District. The Jains in Karnataka are mostly followers of the Digambara sect and Swetamabaras came in recent years from Gujarat and Rajasthan mainly to trade and are found mostly in commercial towns and cities.

Sikhism :

Sikhism also has left Its Imprint on Karnataka. Guru Nanak is believed to have visited Bidar and there is Guru Nanak Jhira Sahib in his memory. One of the close disciples (Panch Piyares) of Guru Govind, Bhal Sahib Chand (later known as Sahib Singh), a barber, was from Bidar and he was among the five who were initiated to the Khalsa. Considerable number of Sikhs took service under Hyder and Tipu and many have come and settled 90 A Handbook of Karnataka down in the cities of Karnataka in recent decades. There are Gurudwaras at Bangalore, Gulbarga and Hubli.

Islam :

Islam entered Karnataka soon after its propagation in Arabia as Arabs were trading at the ports of Karnataka. Some of the Arabs had settled on the West Coast and inscriptions speak of them as Tajjikas. As testified by Sanjan plates, the Rashtrakutas had a Tajjika Governor and Arab travellers also speak of Muslim settlement in the major commercial centres of Rashtrakuta empire. Their guild called Hanjamana (Anjuman) is mentioned in the records of the Kadambas of Goa, Alupas of Dakshina Kannada and of Vijayanagara. The Navayats and the Mapilles (Moplas) are the Muslims from Karnataka Coast, who follow the Shafi sect like the Arabs. The Afghan, Turks, Persians etc. are called Dakhni Muslims, who speak Urdu and belong to Hanafl sect. Islam introduced the Persian and the Arabic languages into Karnataka and Dakhni Urdu also developed in the South. Fine Indo-Sarsenic monuments at Gulbarga, Bidar, Bijapur, Sira and Srirangapatna have the pride of place in the history of the arts of Karnataka. The Sufi sect is also popular in Karnataka and the tomb of Bande Nawaz Gesu Daravaz at Gulbarga is higly venerated by all. The Sufi received royal patronage by Bahmani rulers and they were active at Gulbarga, Bidar and Bijapur. The Muslims introduced coffee, paper and agarbatti [joss stick) industry into Karnataka. Tipu introduced sericulture.


With the advent of the Portugese, Catholic Christians entered Karnataka. Portugese founded factories at Mangalore, Kundapura and Honavar where they also tried to secure converts to their religion in the days of Vijayanagara. Inquisition, epidemic and famine forced many Catholic Christians to leave Goa and enter Karnataka. Keladi rulers encouraged their migration as the Christians had acquired new techniques of agriculture and animal husbandry. Keladi Channamma granted a site to them to build a church at Mangalore. During the beginning of the 19th century, Protestant missions like the Basel Mission, the London Mission and the Wesleyan Mission entered Karnataka. The London Mission was first founded at Bellary in 1810 and from there they came to Bangalore in 1820. The wesleyans started their activites in princely Mysore from 1821 and the Basel Mission started its activity in Mangalore in 1834 and later spread to other places like Dharwad, Hubli, Haveri and Gadag. The Basel Mission started the first Kannada news paper, ‘Mangalura Samachara’ in 1843 and printed Kannada classics which were found written on palm leaves. Both Catholics and Protestants popularised English education in Karnataka by opening schools at Mangalore, Madikeri, Bangalore, Bellary, Dharwad and Belgaum. They also took up service in the field of healing and ran many hospitals. Modern Religious Movements: The modern religious movements like Brahma Samaj, Arya Samaj, Theosophical Society, Ramakrishna Mission, Chinmaya Mission and Prajapitha Brahma Kumari Ishwariya Vishwavidyalaya have influenced the life of Karnataka by starting their activities in the State.

The Theosophical Society started functioning in the State in 1886 with its first Lodge at Bangalore City followed by Bangalore Cantonment Lodge in the same year and subsequently started its branches in various places like Mangalore (1901) and Dharwad (1902). The Ramakrishna Mission was first started at Bangalore in 1904 followed by one at Mysore in 1927. Swami Vivekananda had visited Belgaum and Mysore in 1892 and the then Mysore ruler Chamaraja Wodeyar extended financial help to Swami Vivekananda for his journey to Chicago. A trusted follower of Swami Vivekananda, Alasinga Perumal (1865-1909) was from Chikmagalur and he founded the journal ‘Brahmavadin’ from Madras at the Swami’s instance. Brahma Samaj opened its first branch in Karnataka at Bangalore in 1866
followed by branches at Mangalore and Mysore. Kudmul Ranga Rao, who started Depressed Classes Mission at Mangalore in 1897 was influenced by Brahma Samaj. Sir Narayan Chandavarkar of the Prarthana Samaj hailed from Honavar in Uttara Kannada. Arya Samaj started functioning in Mysore State by early 1880s and a branch was opened at Mangalore in 1919 and at Bangalore in 1922. The modern religious movements have not only played an important role in social reforms such as work against untouchability and emancipation of women but also in promotion of moral education. Men like Sir Sheshadri Iyer, the Dewan of Mysore were
influenced by these movements and enacted laws aimed at social reform.

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