Kathmandu, Aug 3 : It is called the only Hindu kingdom in the world. But going by population statistics, Nepal might not qualify for that position any more in the near future.
The 2001 Census by the Central Bureau of Statistics shows a decline in the number of Hindus in the Himalayan kingdom, with more Nepalese opting to become Buddhists, Christians and other traditional religions.
In the 10 years between 1991 and 2001, while Hindus grew by 14.6 percent, Buddhist communities grew by 24.9 percent and the Kirats, a traditional animist community, grew by 28.1 percent.
Several communities that represent a medley of religions including Hinduism, such as the Tamangs, Gurungs and Thakalis, have shown a decline, with many switching over to Buddhism.
While Hindus constituted nearly 88 percent of the country’s population in 1961, their figures have dwindled to around 80 percent of the 25 million population of Nepal today.
Hinduism seems to have taken a toss especially among the Magar community, where there was a 76 percent decline in Hindus, with Buddhism making substantial converts.
One reason for the decline in the number of Hindus could be improved surveys. The earlier surveys were haphazard and the respondents were not aware enough to mention their exact religion.
The rise of Buddhism is not surprising in the land that was the birthplace of the Buddha.
Though the Pashupatinath temple, one of the holiest Hindu pilgrim sites, is located in Nepal, the country is also internationally renowned for Buddhist holy places like the Swayambhu and Boudhanath Stupas and the Muktinath temple, which is revered by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike.
Though Maoist insurgents have been waging an increasingly violent guerrilla battle since 1996 to establish a secular republic, the conflict has made more people turn to Buddhism, which preaches non-violence.
The government’s failure to eradicate the caste system has also made a large number of Dalits, a community regarded as being at the bottom of the social hierarchy, become Buddhists in search of a better way of life.
The data would come as a blow for Hindu outfits worldwide, which regard Nepal’s king as their liege by virtue of his being the monarch of the only Hindu kingdom in the world.