Major Religions in Nepal: Facts, beliefs and practices

Nepal is a multi-cultural, multi-religious, and multilingual country, giving rise to a highly diverse state. With the country only being the size of Arkansas in the United States, it shows how so many diverse communities can live together in harmony (curious about where Nepal is and what the country looks like? Check out my Where is Nepal blog.) Whereas, religion in Nepal, has never led to a religious war in its history. The majority of Nepalis are practicing Hindus (82%), which has given rise to unique festivals, major Hindu pilgrimage sites around the country, and distinct cultures.

However, the religion of Nepal has much more to offer as well, as the country reported 10 different major religious groups during the 2011 census. Moreover, Nepal also has one of the holiest religious sites in the world, Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha

Religion in Nepal has given rise to unity as well as exploitation and marginalization – more on this at the bottom of the article. However, to start the article off, I want to focus on the unity aspect and how the religion of Nepal has brought together a diverse country and created one of the most unique, interesting, and powerful countries to visit in the world. 

The 10 religions of Nepal reported in the 2011 Census, are as follows (in order of highest population proportion):

  1. Hinduism
  2. Buddhism
  3. Islam
  4. Kirat
  5. Christianity
  6. Prakriti
  7. Bon
  8. Jainism
  9. Bahai
  10. Sikhism

Before we get into the breakdown of the 10 major religions in Nepal as well as their history, cultural practices, and beliefs, I want to provide some quick facts about Nepal, as well as answer some of the most frequently asked questions about religion in Nepal:

Religion in Nepal and Nepal profile quick facts:

The following provides information about the diverse nature of Nepal, as well as the religious diversity of the country. Moreover, it will specifically look at the different ethnic groups of the country, the languages are spoken, culture and heritage monuments, and the overall breakdown of religion in the country.

Ethnic castes and groups of Nepal:

As per the 2011 census in Nepal, there are 126 ethnic communities in the country. The following list shows the top 10 reported ethnic communities in the country, in descending order of population proportion:

  1. Chhetri is the largest caste/ethnic groups having 16.6% or 4,398,053 total people
  2. Brahman-Hill (12.2%; 3,226,903)
  3. Magar (7.1% ; 1,887,733)
  4. Tharu (6.6% ; 1,737,470)
  5. Tamang (5.8% ; 1,539,830)
  6. Newar (5% ; 1,321,933)
  7. Kami (4.8% ; 1,258,554)
  8. Musalman (4.4% ; 1,164,255)
  9. Yadav (4% ; 1,054,458)
  10. Rai (2.3% ; 620,004)

Languages are spoken in Nepal:

As per the 2011 census in Nepal, there were a total of 122 languages and different dialects in Nepal. The top 10 different languages spoken in Nepal are:

  1. Nepali is spoken as mother tongue by 44.6% or 11,826,953 total people
  2. Maithili (11.7% 3,092,530)
  3. Bhojpuri (5.98%; 1,584,958)
  4. Tharu (5.77%; 1,529,875)
  5. Tamang (5.11%; 1,353,311)
  6. Newar (3.2%; 846,557)
  7. Bajjika (2.99%; 793,418)
  8. Magar (2.98%; 788,530)
  9. Doteli (2.97%; 787,827)
  10. Urdu (2.61%; 691,546)

If you are looking for more information about language in Nepal, then make sure to check out the blog! Additionally, if you are curious if Nepalis speak English, then have a look at my article covering: Visiting Nepal as an English speaker.

10 Major Religions of Nepal:

As per the 2011 census in Nepal, there were 10 religious categories reported. The 10 religions in Nepal are listed below in decreasing order:

  1. Hindu is followed by 81.3 percent or 21,551,492 total people
  2. Buddhism (9%; 2,396,099)
  3. Islam (4.4%; 1,162,370)
  4. Kirat (3.1%; 807,169)
  5. Christianity (1.4%; 375,699)
  6. Prakriti (0.5%; 121,982)
  7. Bon (13,006)
  8. Jainism (3,214)
  9. Bahai (1,283)
  10. Sikhism (609)

Nepal is a living testament to religion and cultural heritage:

As you can see from the data above, Nepal is a highly diverse country and not just in terms of religion. With unique languages, spoken by diverse ethnic communities throughout the country gives rise to different religious practices, beliefs, and ways to practice religion and culture.

Nepal has a vibrant and diverse culture full of religious heritage. Whereas, it is so dynamic, that Shamanism, Pan-animism, and even witch-craft are still practiced in remote regions of Nepal. Moreover, when visiting famous temples, shrines, monuments, and monasteries tourists will find them active with devotees burning butter lamps, burning incense, singing hymns, chiming temple bells, and playing drums. Finally, Nepal is the only country that has a living goddess “Kumari”, the prepubescent Hindu living goddess. 

Now I want to address a few of the most frequently asked questions regarding the religion of Nepal.

Religion of Nepal – The 10 religious categories in Nepal

The last official census data that has been provided by Nepal, is that of 2011. The most recent census was conducted in late 2021, in which we are still awaiting official data regarding the demographics and religious breakdown of the country. Therefore, for this article, I will focus on the most up-to-date official data that is available – the 2011 Nepali Census. Once the official census data regarding the Nepalese religion breakdown is released, I will update the article accordingly.

The top 10 religion categories that were recorded in the 2011 Nepali Census, are shown below. They are presented in descending order, with the religious group with the highest percentage of Nepalis being the first. 

1. Hinduism:

Hinduism is considered to be the oldest religion in the world, with its practices and customs dating back more than 4,000 years. Worldwide, Hinduism has over 900 million followers, with many of them living in South Asia – India and Nepal. In Nepal, 21,551,492 total people are practicing Hinduism, consisting of 81.3% of the total Nepali population. This makes it the most popular and practiced religion in the country.

Hinduism is a unique religion, it is a compilation of many different traditions and philosophies. Moreover, as it is a collection of many different ideas and religious actions, Hinduism is sometimes referred to as the ‘way of life’ or a ‘family of religions’. 

Hindus believe in the idea of samsara – a continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation – as well as karma – the universal law of cause and effect.  Moreover, these principles are guided by the idea that everyone has a soul, which is a part of the supreme soul or ‘atman’. Therefore, to be reunited with ‘atman’ the supreme soul, people must achieve salvation – moksha – which will end the cycle. In order to do this, people must be wary of their actions and thoughts, as, in the Hindu religion, it is believed these will influence this life and the chances of reaching moksha.

Hinduism is also closely related to Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, which are other major religions of Nepal.

Hinduism Beliefs:

  • Most people practicing Hinduism as a religion, only worship a single deity – Brahman. Even though they only worship Brahman, Hindus also recognize other gods and goddesses in the religion.
  • Hindus strive to achieve dharma during their lives. Dharma is a code that governs one’s life and focuses on good conduct and morality.
  • In Hinduism, the cow is considered sacred and all living creatures are respected
  • There are multiple sects of Hinduism. The religion can be divided into the following common sects: Shaivism (followers of Shiva), Vaishnava (followers of Vishnu), Shaktism (followers of Devi), and Smarta (followers of Brahman and all major deities)

Auspicious Hindu religious areas in Nepal:

The following are some of the most auspicious temples and areas in Nepal for people who follow the Hindu religion:

  • Pashupatinath
  • Muktinath Temple
  • Budhanilkantha
  • Manakamana
  • Janaki Temple

2. Buddhism:

Buddhism constitutes for only 9% (or 2,396,099 total people) of Nepal’s population. That being said, it is still the second largest practiced religion in Nepal. Nepal has a special tie with Buddhism, as Lumbini, which is located in the southern plains of Nepal is the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, some 2,500 years ago. 

In total Buddhism as a religion is practiced by about 470 million people around the world. As mentioned above, Buddhism has some overlap with Hinduism, and many people in Nepal, especially the Gurung community, practice a mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism.

In modern-day Buddhism, there are multiple forms of religion, which can be divided into three main types, and typically represent a specific geographical area. The three divisions of the religion include Theravada Buddhism: Prevalent in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma; Mahayana Buddhism: Prevalent in China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam; and Tibetan Buddhism: Prevalent in Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, and parts of Russia and northern India.

Although the religion is divided into three subsects, they have much overlap and are only slightly different when it comes to the various religious texts used, as well as the slightly different interpretations of the teachings of Buddha. Altogether, they believe and practice much of the same things, with the main idea being that of ‘dharma’. Moreover, ‘dharma’ encompasses five moral guidelines, including:

  • Killing living things
  • Taking what is not given
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Lying
  • Using drugs or alcohol

Buddhism Beliefs:

  • Followers of the religion don’t believe in a supreme god controlling everything
  • Therefore, Buddha is not a god, but an extraordinary being who reached enlightenment
  • People should avoid self-indulgence and self-denial
  • There are Four Noble truths: The truth of suffering (dukkha); The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya); The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha); and, The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)

Recommended Reading: Quotes of Buddha to live by

Auspicious Buddha religious areas in Nepal:

The following are some of the most auspicious temples and areas in Nepal for people who follow Buddhism:

  • Mayadevi Temple
  • Swayambhunath Temple
  • Boudha Stupa

3. Islam:

Islam is the third largest religion in Nepal and is practiced by 4.4% (or 1,162,370 people) of the total population. Additionally, it is the second most practiced religion in the world with about 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide. Muslim is also a relatively young religion compared to others. Whereas, many scholars attribute the creation of religion to the 7th century.

It is believed that the first Muslims arrived in Nepal sometime in the 15th century with the arrival of Kashmiri traders. These Muslim traders were Persian Afghans and Arabians. In addition to being traders, they also worked in Nepal as courtiers, counselors, and musicians for the Kings of Nepal, as well as manufacturers of guns and ammunition.

Many of the Muslims living in Nepal are concentrated in the Terai region. With many Tibetan Muslims seeking refuge in Nepal after the Communist takeover of Tibet by China, they settled in the Terai close to the Indian border. Tourists and travelers in Nepal can see different Mosques scattered throughout the lower plains of Nepal.

Muslim Beliefs:

  • Muslims believe in only one god, and therefore only worship the all-knowing God – Allah
  • Allah’s word was provided and revealed to the prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel
  • Respect is given to Allah when followers pray and recite the Quran (or Koran)
  • Followers of Islam work to live their life in submission to Allah, as they believe nothing can happen without Allah’s permission

Famous Mosques in Nepal:

The following are some of the most famous Mosques in Nepal:

  • Takia Mosque in Durbar Marg is the oldest.
  • Madatiya Mosque, Madatiya
  • Kashmiri Masjid, Kathmandu

4. Kiratism:

Kiratism in Nepal is a religion that has 3.1% (or 807,169 people) of the total population. Kiratism is a religion in Nepal that is indigenous to the Kirati ethnic groups of Nepal, Darjeeling, and Sikkim. It is a relatively small religion in the world and is mainly regulated in the geographic area of South Asia.

Kiratism is a Dharmic religious tradition that is a blend of Shamanism and an Animistic religion. Whereas they worship their ancestors, mother nature, the sun, the moon, wind, fire, the main pillar of their homes, and Gods like Sumnima-Paruhang and Tegra Ningwaphumang. The religion was established during the Kirat Dynasty which held control over present-day Nepal, before the Lichhavi period.

During the Kirat Dynasty, Kiratism was made the main religion of the region and the citizenry was instructed to follow it. Although Kiratism has a rich religious past and is even mentioned in Hindu scriptures as devotees of Lord Shiva, the religion is only practiced by the Kirat ethnic group now. Mainly by people living in the hilly and mountain regions of Nepal including Rai, Sunwar, Limbhu, and Yakkha ethnic castes.

Kirat Beliefs:

  • Sumnima, a female goddess who is believed to be the Mother Earth
  • Paruhang, a male god also known as the King Sky God

Famous Kirat Temples in Nepal:

The following are some of the most famous Kirat temples in Nepal:

  • Kirat Manghim Temple

5. Christianity:

Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in Nepal. Whereas, 1.4% (or 375,699 people) of the total population now identify as being Christian. This is a 140% increase since the 1950s when it was reported that zero people were practicing Christianity in Nepal. Moreover, Christianity is the most practiced religion in the world with over two-billion followers. 

Christianity is a relatively new religion in Nepal. Whereas, before the 1950s, Nepal was an isolated Kingdom that restricted people from visiting, or from missionaries entering the country. However, when the Kingdom of Nepal opened up to the world in the early 1950s, the first church was built. In Pokhara, in 1952, the first church in Nepal was constructed – The Ram Ghat church in Pokhara.

After the introduction of the first church in the country, Christianity did not gain popularity until the 1990s. Whereas, with prostelirization considered to be an issue, many of the politicians and community members pushed back against the church. However, when multiparty democracy was introduced to Nepal in the 90s, the door opened for religion to gain a footing in the country.

Christian Beliefs:

  • Christians are monotheistic, meaning that they believe in only one God
  • The Holy Bible includes scriptures outlining the teachings of Jesus as well as the most important prophets

Famous churches in Nepal:

The following are some of the most famous churches in Nepal:

  • Ram Ghat church in Pokhara

6. Prakriti:

Prakriti has a small religious following in Nepal, whereas 0.5% (or 121,982 people) of the total Nepali population follow Prakriti as a religion. Prakriti is highly related to Hinduism and is a key concept of the religion. Whereas, Prakriti is considered to be the original or natural form of anything, or is the original form of a primary substance.

Prakriti is also associated with the concept of ‘Maya’ (which can be translated to illusion or magic) within Hindu texts. Moreover, the religion believes in putting the purest form of things first, as it relates to ‘nature, body, matter, and the phenomenal universe’.

Prakriti also has a deep connection with the feminine aspect of existence and the Pancha Prakriti (five goddesses) personifies this idea. These five goddesses are Saraswati, Lakshmi, Durga, Gayatri, and Radha. These goddesses personify the purest form of everything, and Prakriti transforms this into worshiping the purest form of everything, with a special focus on nature.

Prakriti Beliefs:

  • Prakriti focuses on pure awareness and metaphysical consciousness of the purest forms of anything
  • Everything comes from the purest form, and what we see in nature and the world are the byproducts of these purest forms
  • Prakriti supersedes intellect, our ego, and our senses

Famous places of worship for Prakriti in Nepal:

The following are some of the most famous Prakriti temples in Nepal:

  • N/A I couldn’t fins in Prakriti temples in Nepal. If you know of any Prakriti temples or places of worship please do let me know!

7. Bon:

Bon is a small Tibetan religious tradition that is similar to Tibetan Buddhism. It is practiced by a small portion of the Nepali population <0.5% (or 13,006 people). Bon, or Yungdrung Bon, is a religion that was developed some time during the tenth and eleventh centuries.

Bon followers, see the world as a place of suffering and seek to reach a spiritual liberation from the cycle. Much like Buddhism, Bon believes that the only way to break the cycle of death and rebirth is to reach spiritual enlightenment. Moreover, the religion also follows the ideas of karma, rebirth, and the six realms of existence.

Although similar, Buddhism and Bon are distinguishable from each other for the following reasons. One reason is that Bon does not draw its authority or rituals from the Indian Buddhist tradition. Whereas, they receive their traditions from the Zhangzhung (in Western Tibet) and ultimately derive from a land called Tazik where Tonpa Shenrab lived. 

Moreover, the two differ as Bon contains various rituals that are not practiced in Buddhism, such as divination rituals, as well as funerary rituals that are meant to guide a deceased person’s consciousness to higher realms and appease local deities through ransom rituals.

Bon Beliefs:

  • Reality is perceived through a transcendent principle, which has a male aspect called Kuntuzangpo (All-Good)
  • The Female aspect of this transcendent principle is called Kuntuzangmo
  • In order to achieve spiritual liberation, you must have insight into the ultimate nature of things

Famous places of worship for Bon in Nepal:

The following are some of the most famous Bon temples in Nepal:

  • Triten Norbutse Bonpo Monastery

8. Jainism:

Jainism in Nepal has a very small following of <0.5% (or 3,214 Nepalis) percentage of the population. Jainism is Nepal as a religion that started long ago, with studies stating that it was brought to Nepal in 300 BCE. In 300 BCE Bhadrabhu, considered to be the last Jain ascetic to have full knowledge of Jain scriptures, came to Nepal for a 12-year penitential vow for the Pataliputea conference.

Jainism is an ancient Indian religion that follows the spiritual ideas of the succession of twenty-four Tirthankaras (supreme preachers of Dharma). It is believed that these Tirthankaras guide the time cycles throughout the cosmology, and the religion is grounded in eternal dharma.

There are three main pillars that drive the actions of the followers. Consisting of ahiṃsā (non-violence), anekāntavāda (non-absolutism), and aparigraha (asceticism). Moreover, Jain monks must follow these three principles while also taking the five vows of the religion after they have taken on the sublime state of soul consciousness. These five vows consist of ahiṃsā (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).

Jainism Beliefs:

  • The religious motto is: the function of souls is to help one another
  • Jainism is transtheistic and says that the universe evolves without violating the law of substance dualism
  • Jainism states that there are numerous souls, but all souls have three distinct qualities (Guṇa): consciousness (chaitanya, the most important), bliss (sukha), and vibrational energy (virya)

Famous places of worship for Jainism in Nepal:

The following are some of the most famous Jain temples in Nepal:

  • Bhagawan Adinath Jain Mandir

9. Baha’i:

The Baha’i religion in Nepal is extremely small with only 1,283 followers in total. Baha’i as a religion is the youngest independent religion, which originated in Persia (Iran) in 1844. Moreover, it is believed that the founder of the faith is only the most recent messenger of a long string of messengers from God. These messengers are said to date back before recorded time and of any other religious entity known, including Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad.

Globally roughly six million people are practicing. The driving theme of the religion is that humanity is but one single race and that we are living in the time period for the unification into one global society. Moreover, it states that earth is but one place giving rise to only mankind and that God has already set into motion the means of dismantling all barriers between people such as race, class, creed, and nation, and that will, in time, give birth to a universal civilization.

Bahá’ísm seems to be introduced to Nepal in the 1950s and has slowly gained a following. Even though there are only around 1,300 religious followers in Nepal, it is said that the community is extremely active in rural development programs and building schools as well as clinics.

Bahá’ísm Beliefs:

  • There is only one loving Creator, who is the absolute ruler of the universe
  • All religions of the world stem from one heavenly source and they only differ because of the time period and situation they were created in
  • There are two purposes of life, 1) to know and love God and attain His presence; and 2) to, carry forward an ever-advancing civilization

Famous places of worship for Bahá’ísm in Nepal:

The following are some of the most famous Bahá’í temples in Nepal:

  • Baha’i Temple Land, Thecho Lalitpur Nepal
  • Baha’i National Center

10. Sikhism:

Sikhism is the 10th religion category and is the smallest one in Nepal, with only 609 Nepalis identifying as practicing Sikhism. Sikhism was introduced to the country in 1516 when Guru Nanak Dev visited the country, to meditate and preach. As time progressed, additional Sikhs entered Nepal, while fleeing from the British in India.

Sikhs believe that there are three core components of the religion. One is to meditate and show complete devotion to the creator, living truthfully, and providing service to humanity. Moreover, the driving principles of Sikhism are, to be honest, compassionate, generous, humility, have integrity, provide service, and be spiritual. Which all need to be practiced and performed on a daily basis.

Sikhism also follows equality amongst people no matter their gender, race, or caste. Unlike other religions of South Asia, Guru Nanak believed that it is important to practice humility above all and therefore, should respect all no matter their circumstance. Therefore, Sikhs, in the truest form of the religion do not perpetuate or believe in castes.

Sikhism Beliefs:

  • Sikhs should avoid the five vices that make people self-centered and result in them building barriers to god in their lives. The five vices are: lust, covetousness and greed, attachment to things of this world, anger, and pride
  • Sikhs must find a balance between daily spiritual development and good moral conduct

Famous places of worship for Sikhism in Nepal:

The following are some of the most famous Sikh temples in Nepal:

  • Guru Nanak Satsang Gurdwara
  • Nanak Math in Kathmandu

FAQs: Major Religions in Nepal:

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to religion in Nepal. 

1. How many religions are there in Nepal?

Nepal’s 2011 census states there are 10 major religions: 1) Hindu 81.3%; 2) Buddhism 9%; 3) Islam 4.4%; 4) Kirat 3.1%; 5) Christianity 1.4%; 6) Prakriti 0.5%; 7) Bon <0.5%; 8) Jainism <0.5%; 9) Bahai <0.5%; 10) Sikhism <0.5%.

2. Is Nepal a Hindu country?

Nepal was declared a secular state on May 18, 2008, and therefore is not a Hindu country. Historically, Nepal was a Hindu country. Hinduism however, is the major religion of Nepal and is practiced by 82% of the population (2011 Nepali Census). 

3. Which religion is fastest growing in Nepal?

Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in Nepal. According to the Nepali Census, Christianity has gone from 0% of the population in 1951 to 1.41% of the population in 2011. A 141% increase, and a total of ​​375,699 followers.

4. Is Nepal a secular state?

As of May 18, 2008, Nepal became a secular state when the Shah Monarchy was abolished. On November 20, 2015, the new constitution was promulgated and Nepal legally became a secular state.

Although Nepal is a secular state, historically, the country has been under the rule of the monarchy making the country a Hindu Nation. However, that changed after the Royal Massacre in Nepal, and when Nepal officially became the Federal Democratic Republic. Even though the country is secular, there are still religious groups and various ethnic castes that control the majority of politics, resulting in certain religious communities and ethnic castes being marginalized under the guise of religion in Nepal.

5. What is the main religion in Nepal?

The main religion in Nepal is Hinduism. As per the 2011 Nepali census, 81.3% of the population is Hindu, 9.0% is Buddhist, 4.4% is Muslim, 3.0% is Kirat, 1.4% is Christian, and 0.9% follow other religions.

6. Is Nepal more Hindu or Buddhist?

Nepal is more Hindu than Buddhist. As per the 2011 census, 81.3% of the population is Hindu, while 9.0% is Buddhist.

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