Religion in Assam

Kamakhya Temple
Kamakhya Temple/Source: Chandrashekhar
According to 2011 Population Census, Hindus make up 61.47% of the total Assamese population. Muslims come at the second place with 34.22%. Christian makes up 3.74% and rest of other religions such as buddhism, jainism and tribal religions make up less than 1 percent of the total population.

Among Hindus, the population can be divided primarily into three sects: 1. Shakti, 2. Shiva and 3. Vishnu. Shaktism and Shavism are the older sects, and Vaishanism has only risen in past four hundred years as the response to the Bhakti movement. There is a minor sect which follows Surya (Sun) as the primary god. However, nowadays sun worshippers identifies Surya with Vishnu (Narayana).

Before, advent of institutionalized religion in Assam, the state was known for tribal religion of nature worshipping. Some of the element of tribal religions got assimilated into Hinduism and Buddhism, and it gave birth to Tantric forms of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Shavism in Assam
Shavism in Assam is the earliest form of institutionalized religion in Assam. Bodos used to worship a tribal form of Shiva known as Sivraj Bathau. Similarly, Kacharis used to another tribal form of Shiva known as Ghar Bura.

The temple of Jalpesvara (now in Jalpaiguri) finds mention in the Avantya Khanda of Skanda Purana. Similarly, Assam founds mention as the land of Sambhu in Kalika Purana.

It is said that Shiva as the titular diety of Kiratas also fought with Arjuna of the Mahabharata.

There are several other tribal legends associated with Shiva. In Kachari Buranji, it is written that Mahadeva co-habited with a deodhani who gave birth to a child, Bisarpatifa, who later founded the Kachari dynasty. Likewise, Biswa Sangha, the founder of Koch dynasty was born from the union of Mahadeva and a Harita woman.

In Assam, Shiva was known by several names such as Parameswara, Mahesvara, Isvara, Mahavaraha, Adideva, Sambhu, Sankara, Prajadhinata, Hatakuslin, Hara, Kamesvara, Pasupati, Gauripati and Somnath. He is also described using some of his weapons such as Khatvanga, Parasu, Pinaka and Sula.

Shiva is mainly worshipped in his phallic form "linga", which is erected on a pedestal known as "yoni". It is mentioned in Yogini Tanta, there are more than a million lingas in Kamarup (modern day Assam).

Shaktism in Assam
The base of Shaktism grew side by side with Shaivism. The tribals do not celebrate a male diety or a female diety alone. They worship them together. However, they give preference to one than another.

The Kacharis worshipped a tribal goddess named Moinou or Ghar-Buri, the consort of Ghar-Bura (Shiva) and said to bring the good harvest. Similarly, Rabhas (a subsection of Bodos) worshipped a female diety Charipak alongwith his male consort Rishi. Khasi worshipped a goddess named Kamoui or Kamet and Bodo worshipped a goddess named Kamakhi. It is assumed that Kamakhya is the Sanskritized version of Kamet or Kamakhi. Likewise Chutiya worshipped a goddess Kochaikhati with human sacrifice.

The Shakti cult is said to have concentrated around Kamakhya Temple. It can be assumed that Shakti cult was fully grown before 11th century before the composition of Kalika Purana. The Shiva-Shakti is worshipped as Hara and Gauri by Pala Kings and Shiva and Durga by Kochs.

Shakti is worshipped under various names such as Dasabhuja-Durga, Ugratara, Ugrachandra, Jayanti, Kouciki, Kameswari, Sivaduti, Tripura, Annapurna, Dirgheswari, Dipteswari, Byaghrashwari, Dakhyina Kali, Bhadra Kali, Tara Chandi, Mangal Chandi, Jogadhatri, Sitala and Manasa.

Vaishnavism in Assam
Vaishnavism in Assam is the result of efforts of Sankardeva and his disciple Madhavdeva in 16th century. However, in Kalika Purana indicates the worship of Hayagriva Madhva, Matsya Madhva and Vasudeva in different places of Kamarupa.

Buddhism in Assam
Buddhism existed in Assam alongwith other popular religions, but first major wave of Buddhism hits Assam during 8th century. In 8th century, a new form of Buddhism, Vajrayana Buddhism, rose out of Mahayana Buddhism. The first images of Buddhas alongwith female energy Boddhisattva became to appear during this century.

Other Minor Cults
There were several other minor cults of worship such as of Surya (Sun), Agni (fire), Ganesha and Manasha (snake) prevalent in Assam at times.

Religion Percentage
Hinduism61.47%
Islam34.22%
Christianity3.74%
Sikhism0.07%
Buddhism0.18%
Jain0.08%
Other0.09%
Not Specified0.16%

Islam
Islam entered Assam as early as the 13th century thanks to invasions of Turko-Afghans. First masjid was erected in Assam at Garurachal (Hazo). Later, it was called Poa Mecca. During repeated invasions in later centuries, many Muslims settled in the area. Around 17th century, Ahom Kings patronized Muslims by granting them rent free lands known as peerpals. Shihabuddin Talish, a chronicler of Mir Jumla, in his work, Taikh-i-Assam, marked that Muslims had nothing distinct but only the name 'Islam' and that their hearts were more with the non-Muslim indigenous inhabitants than with their co-religionists of the invading group.

However, the situation is completely reversed in past century. Assam is at the epicentre of several major and minor Hindu-Muslim riots in India.

Source: Bibha Borah (Society in medieval Assam with special reference to women)