thousands of years Indians, especially the Hindus, have looked upon the
mighty Himalayas with awe and reverence. For them it is the abode of the
gods. There Shiva, the great god of destruction, sat in deep meditation
until 'Parvati', "the Himalaya-Putri" or daughter of the
mountains, succeeded in winning his love. Temples of Shiva and Parvati
abound in these mountains and thousands of pilgrims from the plains make
their arduous climb to them each year. Himachal
is dotted with quaint Pagoda-like or shikhara styled temples. Most of
these have fascinating legends attached to them. While festivals are
special occasions for celebration, worship is a part of daily life.
Hinduism was brought to these hills by the immigrant Rajput tribes of the
5th to the 15th century. But the Hinduism practiced here is in its more
lenient form - the caste system is less rigid than elsewhere in India. The
people have their own distinct flavour of the Hindu religion, especially
in the upper hills.
People have combined local legends and popular beliefs with the beliefs of Hinduism. The "Gram Devta" or the village god cult is a case in example. It is a curious mix of animism, demonism and Hinduism. The rugged landscape seems to have inspired such awe in the 'paharis' that they have deified the diverse manifestations of nature.
More than 95% of the population of Himachal is Hindu but Buddhism has also made inroads in to the state thanks to the nearness to Tibet and presence of the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala. The ashen valleys of Lahaul, Spiti and Kinnaur are made brilliant by the Buddhist way of life. At times the demarcation between Hinduism and Buddhism is very faint in these hill regions such as, the rituals of the Kinnauris are a mix Buddhist and Hindu practices. The hundreds of gompas and monasteries here serve as a veritable library for the student of Buddhism. No wonder Himachal Pradesh is said to be God's Own Country.
There are also several notable churches and Sikh gurudwaras in the state. Christianity came in with the British, of course, who dashed to these mountains whenever the heat of the plains got to them. Shimla, Kasauli and Dalhousie served as the most important British retreats, and so have the most well known churches of the state. St-John-in-the-Wilderness in Dharamsala is also quite an attraction.
Sikhism, too, is practiced in a few places in Himachal. Paonta Sahib in Sirmaur district is a major pilgrimage for Sikhs, and so is beautiful Manikaran in the Kullu Valley . The Sikhs played an important role in the history of Himachal and Guru Govind Singh, one of the ten founders of the religion, began his career on this very land.