Mention Nepal and the picture that comes to mind is that of impossibly tall mountains viewed from a pass that is adorned with flapping, colorful Tibetan prayer flags. Photo journals from any of the variety of hikes are certain to include the flags along with prayer wheels and Buddhist stupas along the routes. With all of these being a big part of the image of Nepal, you could be forgiven for believing that Nepal is mostly a Buddhist country.
In fact, more than 80 percent of Nepalis are Hindu.
Hinduism and Buddhism Entwined
Hinduism and Buddhism have a bit of a shared history. The man who is most commonly known as Buddha was an Indian prince who practiced Hinduism, and as such a lot of the stories and practices from Hinduism are a part of many of the common practices of Buddhism. There’s also the interpretation that Buddhism isn’t so much a religion and more of a philosophy, so that you can be Hindu and Buddhist or Christian and Buddhist or Muslim and Buddhist at the same time. But it’s more accurate to say that Nepal is a Hindu nation.
Visiting Nepal will reveal the widespread nature of Hinduism that isn’t always captured in the pictures. There are linga and yoni shrines scattered about; linga are the representation of Shiva’s male energy while yoni are the representation of Shakti’s female energy. Bindis are worn by those who have visited various temples and rubbed the red powder used on various deities on their foreheads. It’s believed that Nepal’s flag was given to them by Vishnu.
However, you will not find religious tensions between Hindus and Buddhists in Nepal, and quite often you will find them sharing temples. And while Buddhism may not be the majority religion, Nepal has become one of the refuges for Tibetans to retain their practices in spite of persecution in their homeland.