Search for the Supreme Being

                       06 Dec 2007


In Mumbai, some say that there are 330 million gods … while others say there is NO god.  … Some say that people are not created equal … and others say that there is no caste and ALL are created equal. Some religious orders have many overlapping and complimentary beliefs  … and others are in stark conflict resulting in occasional serious social unrest.  



Look anywhere and there are Hindus.  … About 80% of the people are Hindus.  … They are businessmen, … taxi drivers, … tourists, … shoe repairmen, … and beggars on the street.  … They live in high-rise apartments of the city’s most exclusive district.  … They live in the alleyways.   … Wherever they live, all believe that the cow is sacred.  They also believe that people are not created equal; that they must forever remain in the caste to which they were born. 

 The people who came to be known as Hindus dug these caves located in the central part of the city 3000 years ago. This is one of the many sacred places of worship. Some of the original gods found in the caves are still worshiped today.  Many Hindus have a few favorite gods that they worship … gods that they choose from the millions available to them.  A shrine to the gods of their choosing is usually set up in their home as well as their place of work.

 The Hindus assimilate other religions within their belief system and, thus, are continually adding to their list of gods.  By being good in this life, the belief is that in the next life they will be reincarnated into a higher caste.



Jainism originated some 2500 years ago and incorporates much of what the Hindus believe, but they reject the caste system and they are strict vegetarians.  Special emphasis is placed on the sanctity of life.  They adhere to the concept of “ahimsa” or non-violence to all forms of life.  Many Hindu symbols are also incorporated in the Jain faith including the swastika, representing peace. 

 Jain temples are beautifully and intricately carved in white marble.  Before entering, visitors must leave things made of leather outside …  including belts and wallets.  Devotees cover their mouths with handkerchiefs to prevent germs from infecting the idols.  Worshippers will often look at the idols through a mirror, placing their own image with that of the idol. They worship each idol in a particular order.  Women gather together weekly to worship by singing songs of devotion, repeating the mantra and special prayers many times.

 The Jain people are devoted and proud.  Many are wealthy businessmen and play an influential role in the economy and social life of Mumbai and of India. Followers number about 4% of the population of Mumbai.



 Hare Kristna beliefs began about 500 years ago and were one of the early attempts to make Hinduism appealing to the masses. Kristna is the chief god, but the doctrinal system is similar to the Hindus.  There are about 10,000 members in America from which much of their wealth is obtained. However, there is only one Hare Kristna temple in Mumbai.

 This organization believes every individual must go through a series of successive reincarnations to rid themselves of the debt of their actions.  Salvation must be earned by performing a series of works.  One must practice disciplinary devotion by chanting, hearing and singing Kristna praises, meditating upon the divine play and deeds of Kristna and engaging in the rites and ceremonies of worship. 



Only about 12% of the people in Mumbai are Muslims.  Yet …their distinctive attire and the large number of mosques makes it appear that they are more numerous.  Islam is a very young belief system compared to Hinduism and originated only about 1300 years ago. It is based on the orations of their prophet, Mohammed. His speeches were copied to form their sacred book known as the Qu’ran. Unlike the millions of gods of Hinduism, they have only one god and they call him Allah.

 Other religious beliefs and practices of the Muslims are also markedly different than that of the Hindus.  The Muslim’s worship activity is much more ritualized with call to prayer 5 times daily as well as special times for sacrifices and fasting. The rejection of the caste system and the unity of mankind as one family exercised a powerful appeal to the lower cast Hindus. The Muslim view of modesty in dress and the belief that the woman is the property of the husband has been incorporated into much of the society of Mumbai at all levels.

  The Muslims and Hindus co-exist within the city of Mumbai, however they have occasional disagreements, which have clashed in violence.  There are many areas in Mumbai where followers of Islam are the overwhelming majority.  At the base of a Hindu holy peak  is a Muslim community with 13 mosques scattered among the residential and commercial buildings.  In downtown Mumbai, a Hindu temple is on one end of a street and a large mosque is on the other.  Both Hindus and Muslims worship at the Haji Ali, even though it is a Muslim Mausoleum.



Zoroastrians, … the religion of the Parsee people, … is one of the oldest religions in the world … perhaps older than Hinduism.  They, … like Islam, … believe in only one god and are often called fire worshippers.  Due to religious persecution, they fled Iran about 300 years ago and most of the remaining 85,000 members live in Mumbai.  The number is doomed to decrease since the rules of this religion bar a Parsee from marrying a non-Parsee.  The Parsees are found in the upper echelon of business, power, and influence.  “Tata” is a Parsee name and is one of the largest industrial organizations in India.



Buddhism, … founded some 2600 years ago, … discards all gods, ritualized worship, and the caste system. Buddhism is particularly appealing to the lower class because it totally rejects the Hindu concept of being unequally created.  For this reason, the Buddhist temples are located primarily in the poor districts of the city.  Their many stylized carvings of humans and animals easily identify the temples.  Japanese writing in this temple is illustrative of the non-Indian influence on the Buddhists here in Mumbai. The swastika, like that of the Hindus and the Jains, is used to represent peace.

 Buddhism encourages participation of other religions in their worship. These include Hindu, Samantu, Jain, Sikh, etc. Buddhists represent approximately 4% of Mumbai’s population.




Guru Nanaka founded Sikhism in the Punjab of India about 500 years ago and, … like Buddhism, … it has no god and also rejects all class distinction.  Sikh men with their distinctive turbans and beards can be easily identified throughout the city. 

 Their temple is called gurudwara.  The symbol of Guru Granth, … the sacred book, … is placed in the temple’s inner sanctuary.  Their worship is simple and consists of reading from THE BOOK. During the reading, devotees sit together on the floor of the large auditorium. THE BOOK is carefully cared for and worshipped.  At night, in some gurudwaras, it is put to bed in an air-conditioned room.

 The Sikhs, like the Parsees, … are successful businessmen and professionals.  Some are involved in the Bollywood movie production industry. The Sikhs represent about ˝  of one percent of Mumbai’s population.



Christianity may have been brought to southern India some 2000 years ago by St. Thomas, one of Jesus disciples.  In the mid-1800’s, Christianity in Mumbai was promoted by the British.  However, the Catholic and the Anglican churches today are sparsely attended.  The architectural style and furnishings are strictly British and not made to accommodate the Indian culture. Believers are few and symbols of Christianity are seldom seen in Mumbai. There are a few evangelical Christian churches located in the city as well as the rural areas. These small churches are reaching out into the community with their message of hope.

 Christian beliefs are … Salvation through grace … one God … and all who seek forgiveness of sin and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior become members of the family of God. Less than 1% of the population of Mumbai is considered Evangelical Christian.



Superstition is a strong force among most of the faiths in India.  Not only through their worship practices and rituals, but with other symbols such as this ornament commonly found attached to the auto rickshaw dash board, on a car bumper, on the rail of a hand cart, or painted on the back of a truck.  The medicine bottle hanging from the truck tailpipe is thought to reduce air pollution.  This young boy collects money for his spiritual cleaning work in the train station. Wristbands made of red yarn provide special blessings. Feeding cows and pigeons is believed to improve ones good karma. Twelve days after death, a food mixture is put on a post. If crows take the food then the departed one’s soul is at rest.  Many, at all levels of the society, consult Holy Men before attempting to do anything important.


Mumbai is called the Great City. … It is in Mumbai’s striving to become an economic powerhouse and a world-class city that a working relationship is formed among the various religious, cultural and ethnic groups.  It is a heterogeneous collection of 17 million people who live and work in an extremely close environment. But, … Mumbai is not a melting pot for these peoples.  Instead, … each group tenaciously forms a seemingly impenetrable cocoon around themselves, their beliefs, and customs. The Hindu concept of caste -- of being unequally born -- permeates all, whether Hindu, Muslim or other religious order.  The hard shells that have formed around these various groups makes it very difficult for them to understand the love of the one true God and that salvation comes by grace and not by works.


Pronunciation guide:

Marathi:                      Mar-ah-tee                        

Maharashtra:             Ma-ha-rash-tra                

Gujarat/Gujarati        Gooj-ah-rah-t/ Gooj-ah-rah-tee                  

Telugu             Tel-goo                            

Tamil                           Tah-ml                                   

Keralites:                    Carol-ites

Punjabis:                    Poon-ja-bees

Kashmiris:                  Kahsh-meer-ees

Nagas:                        Nah-gahs

Bengalis                     Bengal-ees

Assamese:                Assam-ees

Uttar Pradesh            Oo-tar-prah-desh








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