Nepal Table of Contents
Stone sculpture of Ugrachandi Durga, with eighteen arms,
Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Courtesy Linda Galantin
Religion occupies an integral position in Nepalese life and society. In the early 1990s, Nepal was the only constitutionally declared Hindu state in the world; there was, however, a great deal of intermingling of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Many of the people regarded as Hindus in the 1981 census could, with as much justification, be called Buddhists. The fact that Hindus worshipped at Buddhist temples and Buddhists worshipped at Hindu temples has been one of the principal reasons adherents of the two dominant groups in Nepal have never engaged in any overt religious conflicts. Because of such dual faith practices (or mutual respect), the differences between Hindus and Buddhists have been in general very subtle and academic in nature. However, in 1991, approximately 89.5 percent of the Nepalese people identified themselves as Hindus. Buddhists and Muslims comprised only 5.3 and 2.7 percent, respectively. The remainder followed other religions, including Christianity.
The geographical distribution of religious groups revealed a preponderance of Hindus, accounting for at least 87 percent of the population in every region. The largest concentrations of Buddhists were found in the eastern hills, the Kathmandu Valley, and the central Tarai; in each area about 10 percent of the people were Buddhist. Buddhism was relatively more common among the Newar and Tibeto-Nepalese groups. Among the Tibeto-Nepalese, those most influenced by Hinduism were the Magar, Sunwar, and Rai peoples. Hindu influence was less prominent among the Gurung, Limbu, Bhote, and Thakali groups, who continued to employ Buddhist monks for their religious ceremonies.
Data as of September 1991