New Delhi: Inaugurating the Bhakra-Nangal dam, India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru described large dams, steel plants and factories as temples of modern India. While India has made huge strides in building modern economic installations since its independence, religion still enjoys more importance than many other fields.
According to the census, there are more places of worship in India than there are schools or colleges, hotels, hospitals or factories. The Census of India gives data on houses (as it terms them) and the use to which they are put. A census house is defined as a building or part of a building having a separate main entrance from the road or a common courtyard or staircase, and recognised as a separate unit. A census house can be inhabited or vacant and be used for residential or non-residential purposes or both.
According to the 2011 census, India has 330 million census houses. A majority of these, around 216 million were simply residences. But there are around 3.01 million that are places of worship, more than the number of schools and colleges ( 2.1 million).
The data varies widely across states. In Himachal Pradesh, less than 50% of census houses are used for residential purposes. The share of census houses used as hotels, lodges, guest houses etc. in Goa is more than five times the all-India average, in line with the state’s reputation as a tourist destination. Delhi has two factories/workshops, sheds per 100 census houses. For Bihar, the number is 0.3.
A comparison of 2001 and 2011 data shows that in terms of proportions, vacant houses saw the most increase. An earlier Plain Facts piece had pointed out the abnormally high share of vacant houses in India. The residences category has seen the largest decline. To be sure, these changes are not of large magnitude.
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A district level analysis shows some interesting patterns. The Central district in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, which has areas such as Chandni Chowk and Karol Bagh, is the most commercialized in the country with highest share of shops/offices and factories/workshops. Bihar’s poor condition in health infrastructure can be gauged from the fact that the state has 12 of the 20 districts with lowest share of hospitals among census houses.
What explains such a large number of places of worship in India? Is it because Indians are religious or is it because there are many religions in India?
S.S. Jodhka, a professor of sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, says social processes might be at play. In India, the symbolism associated with building a place of worship is often used by a community to announce its presence or importance. For example, when a caste group gains affluence, it might build a separate temple or gurudwara. Migration might also have led to creation of a lot more places of worship in the country. With religion becoming an enterprise, and with the emergence of many religious gurus and god-men (and women), the trend may continue, Jodhka added.