The Most Famous

RELIGIOUS FIGURES from India

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This page contains a list of the greatest Religious Figures. The pantheon dataset contains 2,238 Religious Figures, 53 of which were born in India. This makes India the birth place of the 9th most number of Religious Figures behind Spain and Saudi Arabia.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Religious Figures of all time. This list of famous Religious Figures is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Religious Figures.

Photo of Ānanda

1. Ānanda (-600 - -500)

With an HPI of 73.88, Ānanda is the most famous Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 48 different languages on wikipedia.

Ānanda (Pali and Sanskrit: आनन्द; 5th–4th century BCE) was the primary attendant of the Buddha and one of his ten principal disciples. Among the Buddha's many disciples, Ānanda stood out for having the best memory. Most of the texts of the early Buddhist Sutta-Piṭaka (Pali: सुत्त पिटक; Sanskrit: सूत्र-पिटक, Sūtra-Piṭaka) are attributed to his recollection of the Buddha's teachings during the First Buddhist Council. For that reason, he is known as the Treasurer of the Dhamma, with Dhamma (Sanskrit: धर्म, dharma) referring to the Buddha's teaching. In Early Buddhist Texts, Ānanda was the first cousin of the Buddha. Although the early texts do not agree on many parts of Ānanda's early life, they do agree that Ānanda was ordained as a monk and that Puṇṇa Mantānīputta (Sanskrit: पूर्ण मैत्रायणीपुत्र, Pūrṇa Maitrāyaṇīputra) became his teacher. Twenty years in the Buddha's ministry, Ānanda became the attendant of the Buddha, when the Buddha selected him for this task. Ānanda performed his duties with great devotion and care, and acted as an intermediary between the Buddha and the laypeople, as well as the saṅgha (Sanskrit: संघ, romanized: saṃgha, lit. 'monastic community'). He accompanied the Buddha for the rest of his life, acting not only as an assistant, but also a secretary and a mouthpiece. Scholars are skeptical about the historicity of many events in Ānanda's life, especially the First Council, and consensus about this has yet to be established. A traditional account can be drawn from early texts, commentaries, and post-canonical chronicles. Ānanda had an important role in establishing the order of bhikkhunīs (Sanskrit: भिक्षुणी, romanized: bhikṣuṇī, lit. 'female mendicant'), when he requested the Buddha on behalf of the latter's foster-mother Mahāpajāpati Gotamī (Sanskrit: महाप्रजापती गौतमी, Mahāprajāpatī Gautamī) to allow her to be ordained. Ānanda also accompanied the Buddha in the last year of his life, and therefore was witness to many tenets and principles that the Buddha conveyed before his death, including the well-known principle that the Buddhist community should take his teaching and discipline as their refuge, and that he would not appoint a new leader. The final period of the Buddha's life also shows that Ānanda was very much attached to the Buddha's person, and he saw the Buddha's passing with great sorrow. Shortly after the Buddha's death, the First Council was convened, and Ānanda managed to attain enlightenment just before the council started, which was a requirement. He had a historical role during the council as the living memory of the Buddha, reciting many of the Buddha's discourses and checking them for accuracy. During the same council, however, he was chastised by Mahākassapa (Sanskrit: महाकाश्यप, Mahākāśyapa) and the rest of the saṅgha for allowing women to be ordained and failing to understand or respect the Buddha at several crucial moments. Ānanda continued to teach until the end of his life, passing on his spiritual heritage to his pupils Sāṇavāsī (Sanskrit: शाणकवासी, Śāṇakavāsī) and Majjhantika (Sanskrit: मध्यान्तिक, Madhyāntika), among others, who later assumed leading roles in the Second and Third Councils. Ānanda died 20 years after the Buddha, and stūpas (monuments) were erected at the river where he died. Ānanda is one of the most loved figures in Buddhism. He was known for his memory, erudition and compassion, and was often praised by the Buddha for these matters. He functioned as a foil to the Buddha, however, in that he still had worldly attachments and was not yet enlightened, as opposed to the Buddha. In the Sanskrit textual traditions, Ānanda is considered the patriarch of the Dhamma who stood in a spiritual lineage, receiving the teaching from Mahākassapa and passing them on to his own pupils. Ānanda has been honored by bhikkhunīs since early medieval times for his merits in establishing the nun's order. In recent times, the composer Richard Wagner and Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore were inspired by stories about Ānanda in their work.

Photo of Sathya Sai Baba

2. Sathya Sai Baba (1926 - 2011)

With an HPI of 71.17, Sathya Sai Baba is the 2nd most famous Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 55 different languages.

Sathya Sai Baba (born Ratnakaram Sathyanarayana Raju; 23 November 1926 – 24 April 2011) was an Indian guru. At the age of fourteen he claimed that he was the reincarnation of Shirdi Sai Baba, and left his home to serve his devotees.Sai Baba's believers credited him with miracles such as materialisations of vibhuti (holy ash) and other small objects such as rings, necklaces and watches, along with reports of miraculous healings, resurrections, clairvoyance, bilocation and was allegedly omnipotent and omniscient. Multiple studies have concluded that his acts were based on sleight of hand or had other explanations that were not supernatural, although his devotees believe them to be signs of his divinity.The Sathya Sai Organisation, founded by Sathya Sai Baba "to enable its members to undertake service activities as a means to spiritual advancement", has over 1,200 Sathya Sai Centres (branches) in 126 countries. Through this organisation, Sathya Sai Baba established a network of free super speciality hospitals and general hospitals, clinics, drinking water projects, a university, auditoriums, ashrams and schools.

Photo of Mahavira

3. Mahavira (-599 - -527)

With an HPI of 69.23, Mahavira is the 3rd most famous Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 74 different languages.

Mahavira (Sanskrit: महावीर) also known as Vardhamana, was the 24th Tirthankara (supreme preacher) of Jainism. He was the spiritual successor of the 23rd Tirthankara Parshvanatha. Mahavira was born in the early part of the 6th century BCE into a royal Kshatriya Jain family in ancient India. His mother's name was Trishala and his father's name was Siddhartha. They were lay devotees of Parshvanatha. Mahavira abandoned all worldly possessions at the age of about 30 and left home in pursuit of spiritual awakening, becoming an ascetic. Mahavira practiced intense meditation and severe austerities for twelve and a half years, after which he attained Kevala Jnana (omniscience). He preached for 30 years and attained Moksha (liberation) in the 6th century BCE, although the year varies by sect. Historically, Mahavira, who revived and preached Jainism in ancient India, was an older contemporary of Gautama Buddha. Jains celebrate Mahavir Janma Kalyanak every year on the 13th day of the Indian Calendar month of Chaitra.Mahavira taught that observance of the vows of ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity), and aparigraha (non-attachment) are necessary for spiritual liberation. He taught the principles of Anekantavada (many-sided reality): syadvada and nayavada. Mahavira's teachings were compiled by Indrabhuti Gautama (his chief disciple) as the Jain Agamas. The texts, transmitted orally by Jain monks, are believed to have been largely lost by about the 1st century CE (when the remaining were first written down in the Svetambara tradition). The surviving versions of the Agamas taught by Mahavira are some of Svetambara Jainism's foundation texts, but their authenticity is disputed in Digambara Jainism. Mahavira is usually depicted in a sitting or standing meditative posture, with the symbol of a lion beneath him. His earliest iconography is from archaeological sites in the North Indian city of Mathura, and is dated from between the 1st century BCE and the 2nd century CE. His birth is celebrated as Mahavir Janma Kalyanak and his nirvana (salvation) and also his first shishya (spiritual enlightenment) of Shri Gautama Swami is observed by Jains as Diwali.

Photo of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

4. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 - 1534)

With an HPI of 64.63, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the 4th most famous Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 48 different languages.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (IAST: Caitanya Mahāprabhu; born Vishvambhar Mishra) was a 15th-century Indian saint who is considered to be the combined avatar of Radha and Krishna by his disciples and various scriptures. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's mode of worshipping Krishna with ecstatic song and dance had a profound effect on Vaishnavism in Bengal. He was also the chief proponent of the Vedantic philosophy of Achintya Bheda Abheda Tattva. Mahaprabhu founded Gaudiya Vaishnavism (a.k.a. the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya Sampradaya). He expounded Bhakti yoga and popularized the chanting of the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra. He composed the Shikshashtakam (eight devotional prayers).Chaitanya is sometimes called Gauranga or Gaura due to his molten gold–like complexion. His birthday is celebrated as Gaura-purnima. He is also called Nimai due to him being born underneath a Neem tree.

Photo of Mahavatar Babaji

5. Mahavatar Babaji (1900 - )

With an HPI of 64.56, Mahavatar Babaji is the 5th most famous Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 28 different languages.

Mahavatar Babaji (IAST: Mahāvatāra Bābājī; lit. 'Great Avatar (Revered) Father') is the name given to his guru by Indian yogi Yogiraj Lahiri Mahasaya (1828-1895), and several of his disciples, who reportedly appeared to them between 1861 and 1935, as described in various publications and biographies. According to Yogananda's autobiography, Babaji has resided for at least hundreds of years in the remote Himalayan regions of India, seen in person by only a small number of disciples and others.

Photo of Mahākāśyapa

6. Mahākāśyapa (-550 - -549)

With an HPI of 63.35, Mahākāśyapa is the 6th most famous Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 29 different languages.

Mahā Kāśyapa or Mahākāśyapa (Pali: Mahākassapa) was one of the principal disciples of Gautama Buddha. He is regarded in Buddhism as an enlightened disciple, being foremost in ascetic practice. Mahākāśyapa assumed leadership of the monastic community following the paranirvāṇa (death) of the Buddha, presiding over the First Buddhist Council. He was considered to be the first patriarch in a number of early Buddhist schools and continued to have an important role as patriarch in the Chan and Zen traditions. In Buddhist texts, he assumed many identities, that of a renunciant saint, a lawgiver, an anti-establishment figure, but also a "guarantor of future justice" in the time of Maitreya, the future Buddha—he has been described as "both the anchorite and the friend of mankind, even of the outcast".In canonical Buddhist texts in several traditions, Mahākāśyapa was born as Pippali in a village and entered an arranged marriage with a woman named Bhadra-Kapilānī. Both of them aspired to lead a celibate life, however, and they decided not to consummate their marriage. Having grown weary of the agricultural profession and the damage it did, they both left the lay life behind to become mendicants. Pippali later met the Buddha, under whom he was ordained as a monk, named Kāśyapa, but later called Mahākāśyapa to distinguish him from other disciples. Mahākāśyapa became an important disciple of the Buddha, to the extent that the Buddha exchanged his robe with him, which was a symbol of the transmittance of the Buddhist teaching. He became foremost in ascetic practices and attained enlightenment shortly after. He often had disputes with Ānanda, the attendant of the Buddha, due to their different dispositions and views. Despite his ascetic, strict and stern reputation, he paid an interest in community matters and teaching, and was known for his compassion for the poor, which sometimes caused him to be depicted as an anti-establishment figure. He had a prominent role in the cremation of the Buddha, acting as a sort of eldest son of the Buddha, as well as being the leader in the subsequent First Council. He is depicted as hesitatingly allowing Ānanda to participate in the council, and chastising him afterwards for a number of offenses the latter was regarded to have committed. Mahākāśyapa's life as described in the early Buddhist texts has been considerably studied by scholars, who have been skeptical about his role in the cremation, his role toward Ānanda and the historicity of the council itself. A number of scholars have hypothesized that the accounts have later been embellished to emphasize the values of the Buddhist establishment Mahākāśyapa stood for, emphasizing monastic discipline, brahmin and ascetic values, as opposed to the values of Ānanda and other disciples. Regardless, it is clear that Mahākāśyapa had an important role in the early days of the Buddhist community after the Buddha's parinirvāṇa, to help establish a stable monastic tradition. He effectively became the leader for the first twenty years after the Buddha, as he had become the most influential figure in the monastic community. For this reason, he was regarded by many early Buddhist schools as a sort of first patriarch, and was seen to have started a lineage of patriarchs of Buddhism. In many post-canonical texts, Mahākāśyapa decided at the end of his life to enter a state of meditation and suspended animation, which was believed to cause his physical remains to stay intact in a cave under a mountain called Kukkuṭapāda, until the coming of Maitreya Buddha. This story has led to several cults and practices, and affected some Buddhist countries up until early modern times. It has been interpreted by scholars as a narrative to physically connect Gautama Buddha and Maitreya Buddha, through the body of Mahākāśyapa and Gautama Buddha's robe, which covered Mahākāśyapa's remains. In Chan Buddhism, this account was less emphasized, but Mahākāśyapa was seen to have received a special mind-to-mind transmission from Gautama Buddha outside of orthodox scripture, which became essential to the identity of Chan. Again, the robe was an important symbol in this transmission. Apart from having a role in texts and lineage, Mahākāśyapa has often been depicted in Buddhist art as a symbol of reassurance and hope for the future of Buddhism.

Photo of Guru Gobind Singh

7. Guru Gobind Singh (1666 - 1708)

With an HPI of 63.17, Guru Gobind Singh is the 7th most famous Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 53 different languages.

Guru Gobind Singh (Punjabi pronunciation: [gʊɾuː goːbɪn̪d̪ᵊ sɪ́ŋgᵊ]; 22 December 1666 – 7 October 1708), born Gobind Das or Gobind Rai was the tenth Sikh Guru, a spiritual master, warrior, poet and philosopher. When his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur, was executed by Aurangzeb, Guru Gobind Singh was formally installed as the leader of the Sikhs at the age of nine, becoming the tenth and final human Sikh Guru. His four biological sons died during his lifetime – two in battle, two executed by the Mughal governor Wazir Khan.Among his notable contributions to Sikhism are founding the Sikh warrior community called Khalsa in 1699 and introducing the Five Ks, the five articles of faith that Khalsa Sikhs wear at all times. Guru Gobind Singh is credited with the Dasam Granth whose hymns are a sacred part of Sikh prayers and Khalsa rituals. He is also credited as the one who finalized and enshrined the Guru Granth Sahib as Sikhism's primary scripture and eternal Guru.

Photo of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad

8. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835 - 1908)

With an HPI of 63.03, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is the 8th most famous Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 44 different languages.

Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad (13 February 1835 – 26 May 1908) was an Indian religious leader and the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement in Islam. He claimed to have been divinely appointed as the promised Messiah and Mahdi—which is the metaphorical second-coming of Jesus (mathīl-iʿIsā), in fulfillment of Islam's latter day prophecies, as well as the Mujaddid (centennial reviver) of the 14th Islamic century.Born to a family with aristocratic roots in Qadian, rural Punjab, Ghulam Ahmad emerged as a writer and debater for Islam. When he was just over forty years of age, his father died and around that time he believed that God began to communicate with him. In 1889, he took a pledge of allegiance from forty of his supporters at Ludhiana and formed a community of followers upon what he claimed was divine instruction, stipulating ten conditions of initiation, an event that marks the establishment of the Ahmadiyya movement. The mission of the movement, according to him, was the reinstatement of the absolute oneness of God, the revival of Islam through the moral reformation of society along Islamic ideals, and the global propagation of Islam in its pristine form. As opposed to the Christian and mainstream Islamic view of Jesus (or Isa), being alive in heaven to return towards the end of time, Ghulam Ahmad asserted that he had in fact survived crucifixion and died a natural death. He traveled extensively across the Punjab preaching his religious ideas and rallied support by combining a reformist programme with his personal revelations which he claimed to receive from God, attracting thereby substantial following within his lifetime as well as considerable hostility particularly from the Muslim Ulema. He is known to have engaged in numerous public debates and dialogues with Christian missionaries, Muslim scholars and Hindu revivalists. Ghulam Ahmad was a prolific author and wrote more than ninety books on various religious, theological and moral subjects between the publication of the first volume of Barahin-i-Ahmadiyya (The Proofs of Ahmadiyya, his first major work) in 1880 and his death in May 1908. Many of his writings bear a polemical and apologetic tone in favour of Islam, seeking to establish its superiority as a religion through rational argumentation, often by articulating his own interpretations of Islamic teachings. He advocated a peaceful propagation of Islam and emphatically argued against the permissibility of military Jihad under circumstances prevailing in the present age. By the time of his death, he had gathered an estimated 400,000 followers, especially within the United Provinces, the Punjab and Sindh and had built a dynamic religious organisation with an executive body and its own printing press. After his death he was succeeded by his close companion Hakīm Noor-ud-Dīn who assumed the title of Khalīfatul Masīh (successor of the Messiah). Although Ghulam Ahmad is revered by Ahmadi Muslims as the promised Messiah and Imām Mahdi, Muhammad nevertheless remains the central figure in Ahmadiyya Islam. Ghulam Ahmad's claim to be a subordinate (ummati) prophet within Islam has remained a central point of controversy between his followers and mainstream Muslims, who believe Muhammad to be the last prophet.

Photo of Maudgalyayana

9. Maudgalyayana (-568 - -484)

With an HPI of 62.90, Maudgalyayana is the 9th most famous Religious Figure.  His biography has been translated into 33 different languages.

Maudgalyāyana (Pali: Moggallāna), also known as Mahāmaudgalyāyana or by his birth name Kolita, was one of the Buddha's closest disciples. Described as a contemporary of disciples such as Subhuti, Śāriputra (Pali: Sāriputta), and Mahākāśyapa (Pali: Mahākassapa), he is considered the second of the Buddha's two foremost male disciples, together with Śāriputra. Traditional accounts relate that Maudgalyāyana and Śāriputra become spiritual wanderers in their youth. After having searched for spiritual truth for a while, they come into contact with the Buddhist teaching through verses that have become widely known in the Buddhist world. Eventually they meet the Buddha himself and ordain as monks under him. Maudgalyāyana attains enlightenment shortly after that. Maudgalyayana and Śāriputra have a deep spiritual friendship. They are depicted in Buddhist art as the two disciples that accompany the Buddha, and they have complementing roles as teachers. As a teacher, Maudgalyayana is known for his psychic powers, and he is often depicted using these in his teaching methods. In many early Buddhist canons, Maudgalyāyana is instrumental in re-uniting the monastic community after Devadatta causes a schism. Furthermore, Maudgalyāyana is connected with accounts about the making of the first Buddha image. Maudgalyāyana dies at the age of eighty-four, killed through the efforts of a rival sect. This violent death is described in Buddhist scriptures as a result of Maudgalyāyana's karma of having killed his own parents in a previous life. Through post-canonical texts, Maudgalyāyana became known for his filial piety through a popular account of him transferring his merits to his mother. This led to a tradition in many Buddhist countries known as the ghost festival, during which people dedicate their merits to their ancestors. Maudgalyāyana has also traditionally been associated with meditation and sometimes Abhidharma texts, as well as the Dharmaguptaka school. In the nineteenth century, relics were found attributed to him, which have been widely venerated. His female counterpart was Utpalavarṇā (Pali: Uppalavaṇṇā).

Photo of Radha

10. Radha ( - )

With an HPI of 62.68, Radha is the 10th most famous Religious Figure.  Her biography has been translated into 46 different languages.

Radha (Sanskrit: राधा, IAST: Rādhā), also called Radhika, is a Hindu goddess and the chief consort of the god Krishna. She is worshiped as the goddess of love, tenderness, compassion, and devotion. She is the avatar of goddess Lakshmi and is also described as the chief of the Gopis (milkmaids). During Krishna's youth, she appears as his lover and companion. Many traditions and scriptures accord Radha the status of the eternal consort and wife of Krishna. Radha, as a supreme goddess, is considered as the female counterpart and the internal potency (hladini shakti) of Krishna, who resides in Goloka, the celestial abode of Radha Krishna. Radha is said to accompany Krishna in all his incarnations.In Radha Vallabh Sampradaya and Haridasi Sampradaya, only Radha is worshiped as the supreme deity. Elsewhere, she is also venerated in the Nimbarka Sampradaya, Pushtimarg, Mahanam Sampraday, Swaminarayan Sampradaya, Vaishnava-Sahajiya and Gaudiya Vaishnavism movements linked to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Radha is also described as the feminine form of Krishna himself. Radha's birthday is celebrated annually as Radhashtami.She has inspired numerous literary works and her Raslila dance with Krishna has inspired many types of performance arts.

Pantheon has 61 people classified as religious figures born between 872 BC and 1996. Of these 61, 11 (18.03%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living religious figures include Mahavatar Babaji, Ravi Shankar, and Mata Amritanandamayi. The most famous deceased religious figures include Ānanda, Sathya Sai Baba, and Mahavira. As of April 2022, 8 new religious figures have been added to Pantheon including Matsyendranatha, Abbé Faria, and Prahlad Jani.

Living Religious Figures

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Deceased Religious Figures

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Newly Added Religious Figures (2022)

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Which Religious Figures were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Religious Figures since 1700.