Gautama Buddha is said to have lived in the 5th to 4th century BC and is revered as the founder of Buddhism. He is said to have spread his teachings for around 45 years based on his insights regarding suffering, nirvana and cycle of birth and rebirth. He had a large following. He obtained ‘enlightenment’ in India’s Bodh Gaya.
Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian polymath who contributed greatly to the fields of literature, art, and philosophy. Referred to as the Bard of Bengal, Tagore is credited with reshaping Bengali literature and music. The first non-European to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, Tagore is also credited with composing the national anthems of India and Bangladesh.
The founder of the Ramakrishna Mission and Ramakrishna Math, Swami Vivekananda was an Indian Hindu monk, philosopher, and spiritual leader. He is credited with introducing the Indian philosophies of Yoga and Vedanta to the Western world. He is also credited with elevating the status of Hinduism as a major religion in the modern world by raising interfaith awareness.
Chanakya was an ancient Indian philosopher, teacher, jurist, economist, and royal advisor. Widely regarded as the pioneer of economics and political science in India, Chanakya is believed to have played a key role in the formation of the great Maurya Empire. He authored the ancient Indian political treatise, the Arthashastra, which is considered as one of the seminal texts on statecraft.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was the second President of India and served from 1962 to 1967. He is regarded as one of India’s most eminent scholars and wrote extensively on Indian philosophy and religion. Lifelong he defended Hindu traditions and culture against criticism from the West. September 5, his birthday, is observed as Teachers Day in India, in his honour.
Kabir was an Indian saint and mystic poet whose works influenced Hinduism's Bhakti movement, which in turn played a key role in the formation of Sikhism, the fifth-largest organized religion in the world. Kabir is an important figure in both Hinduism and Islam and his legacy continues to live through a religious community known as the Kabir panth.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was an Indian social and religious reformer. He is credited with co-founding the Brahmo Sabha, a social-religious reform movement. Often referred to as the Father of the Bengal Renaissance, Roy has had an influential role in fields like politics, education, and religion. In 2004, he was ranked 10th in BBC's Greatest Bengali of all time poll.
Jiddu Krishnamurti was an Indian philosopher, speaker, and writer. Many years after his death, Krishnamurti's supporters oversee several schools based on his views and ideas. The Krishnamurti Foundation runs several schools in India and foreign countries. Among those who were influenced by his works were Toni Packer, Dada Dharmadhikari, and Achyut Patwardhan.
The widely revered Hindu religious leader and saint who had a large following was known for promoting the ancient Indian philosophy of Advaita Vedanta and Bhakti. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was a devotee of Goddess Kali who he worshipped as the universal mother. His marriage to Sharada Devi was never consummated. Swami Vivekanada was the most famous disciple of the Bengal-born mystic.
The recipient of Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award of India, Jaggi Vasudev is a mystic, yogi, and author. His spiritual program called inner engineering is famous all over the world, particularly in the Western world. Popularly known as Sadhguru, Jaggi Vasudev's yoga programs, environmental initiatives, and educational and social initiatives have earned him celebrity status in India.
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was an Indian social reformer and educator. He is best remembered for his efforts to modernize and simplify Bengali prose for which he is widely regarded as the father of Bengali prose. As a social reformer, Vidyasagar played a crucial role in enacting the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, which legalized the remarriage of Hindu widows in India.
Paramahansa Yogananda was an Indian Hindu monk, yogi, and guru. He is known for introducing the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga through his organization Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) / Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) of India to millions across the world. He authored the book Autobiography of a Yogi and is considered the Father of Yoga in the West.
Indian Hindu sage Ramana Maharshi had run away to Arunachala, a sacred mountain in Tamil Nadu, at 16, and had stayed there throughout his life. He propagated vichara, or self-enquiry, as the primary means of self-realization, instead of the study of scriptures as proposed by the Advaita Vedanta philosophy.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was an Indian politician and independence activist. He formulated the Hindu nationalist philosophy of Hindutva and was a leading figure in the Hindu Mahasabha. He was known for his strong oratory skills and was an eloquent writer. He was initially charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi but was later acquitted.
Osho Rajneesh was an Indian godman and mystic. Also known as Acharya Rajneesh and Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh, he was the founder of the Rajneesh movement. He preached the importance of meditation, mindfulness, celebration, love, courage, and creativity and called for a more open attitude to human sexuality, because of which he was considered a controversial new religious movement leader.
Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar, also known as Valluvar, had written some of the finest masterpieces of Tamil literature, such as his collection of couplets, Tirukkural. His towering statue adorns the coast of Kanyakumari, the southern-most tip of India. He is also known as the patron saint of bus drivers in Chennai.
Indian sage Vyasa, also known as Vedavyasa, is regarded as the author of one of the most significant Indian epics, the Mahabharata. Considered one of the seven immortals of Hinduism, he is also credited with dividing the Vedas into four parts and penned the eighteen Puranas.
Sri Aurobindo was an Indian philosopher, poet, yogi, teacher, and nationalist. He was one of the most influential leaders of the Indian independence movement before becoming a spiritual reformer, focusing on spiritual evolution and human progress. He is credited with founding the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, which continues to serve spiritual aspirants from all over the world.
Basava was an Indian poet, philosopher, social reformer, statesman, and saint who lived in the 12th century AD. He is credited with spreading social awareness through his poems. Although hagiographic texts and traditional legends claim that Basava founded Lingayatism, modern scholars believe that he refined and popularized the already existing religious tradition, which is popular in Karnataka, South India.
Islamic scholar and philosopher Abul A'la Maududi was born into an elite Aurangabad family. He grew up to be fundamentalist who believed Islam should be free of Western influences and launched the Jamaʿat-i Islami. Though an important figure in Pakistani politics, he was also imprisoned for a while for opposing the government.
Vinoba Bhave was an Indian social reformer and advocate of human rights and nonviolence. A close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, Bhave played an important role in the Indian freedom movement. In 1958, he became the first person to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. In 1983, Vinoba Bhave was posthumously honored with the prestigious Bharat Ratna award.
Jnanadeva was an Indian poet, philosopher, saint, and yogi who lived in the 13th century AD. He is credited with authoring Dnyaneshwari, the oldest surviving work in the Marathi language. He is also credited with co-founding the Varkari Bhakti movement tradition of Hinduism. Over the years, Jnanadeva's legacy has inspired several saint-poets, including Tukaram and Eknath.
Apart from being one of the co-founders of the Communist Party of India, M. N. Roy also established the Mexican Communist Party. Jailed for his political activities, he penned the nine-volume Prison Manuscripts in prison. He later joined the Indian National Congress but quit it soon after.
Keshab Chunder Sen was an Indian social reformer and philosopher. Although he was born a Hindu, Sen thought highly of Christian theology and wanted to incorporate the theology of Christian practice into the framework of Hindu thought. By the use of Christian missionary methods, Keshab Chunder Sen effected several social reforms in India.
Trained in Islamic education by his father, who established the Madrasah-i Rahimiyah, Shah Waliullah Dehlawi had memorized the Qur'an by age 7. He grew up to be a prominent Islamic theologian who modernized Islam with ideas such as taṭbīq and the practice of ijtihad. Asrār al-dīn remains his best-known work.
Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi was an Indian Islamic scholar. A member of the famous Naqshbandī Sufi order, Sirhindi was widely known as a reviver for his work in resurrecting Islam during Mughal Emperor Akbar's reign. He is also remembered for his contributions to Sufi practices and epistemology. There is a shrine named Rauza Sharif dedicated to Sirhindi in Sirhind, Punjab, India.
Aśvaghoṣa was an Indian Buddhist philosopher, poet, dramatist, and orator. Widely regarded as one of the greatest Indian poets of all time, Aśvaghoṣa was the most popular and important poet among a group of Buddhist court writers. He is credited with writing two of the most important Sanskrit-language poems held dear by the Buddhist community—Buddhacharita and Saundarananda.
Sant Eknath was an Indian Hindu saint, philosopher, and poet who lived in the 16th-century. A devotee of the Hindu deity Krishna, he is considered a major figure of the Warkari tradition. Hindu scholars often view him as a spiritual successor to the prominent Marathi saints Dnyaneshwar and Namdev. He wrote a variation of the Hindu religious text Bhagavata Purana.
Born to a Sanskrit teacher, Pandurang Shastri Athavale was taught as part of a separate school system set up by his father. The Padma Vibhushan-winning activist and spiritual leader later started his own Vedic movement known as the Swadhyaya Parivar. Shyam Benegal’s Antarnaad was based on his movement.
Abhinavagupta was a 1st-century philosopher, mystic, and aesthetician from Kashmir. He was also known as a musician, dramatist, theologian, and poet. Born into a family of scholars and mystics, he received his training from multiple teachers. His best-known work is Tantrāloka, an encyclopedic treatise covering a wide range of topics. Despite traveling widely, he was not a wandering monk.