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.
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.
Sai Baba of Shirdi was an important and influential Indian spiritual master. Identified both as a Muslim fakir and a Hindu saint, Sai Baba's teachings are still relevant among Muslim and Hindu communities around the world. While Shri Sai remains a common name for establishments in India, his temples are also located in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Australia, and Asia.
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.
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.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a 15th-century Indian saint. Some of his disciples consider him to be the combined avatar of Radha and Krishna. His mode of worship characterized by ecstatic song and dance rituals had a deep influence on Vaishnavism in Bengal. He expounded Bhakti yoga and founded Gaudiya Vaishnavism. His birthday is celebrated as Gaura-Purnima by his disciples.
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.
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.
Guru Nanak was the founder of one of the most popular monotheistic religions of the Indian subcontinent, Sikhism. Widely regarded as the first of the ten Sikh Gurus, Nanak contributed 974 hymns to the religion's sacred scripture Guru Granth Sahib. Guru Nanak is worshipped by Sikhs around the world and his birth is celebrated as Guru Nanak Gurpurab.
Nizamuddin Auliya was an Indian Sunni Muslim scholar and Sufi saint of the Chishti Order. He stressed love as a means of realizing God and believed that love of God implies love of humanity. He is considered one of the most famous Sufis from the Indian Subcontinent. His teachings were marked by an evolved sense of religious pluralism and kindness.
Guru Tegh Bahadur, the youngest son of Guru Hargobind Sahib, was the ninth Guru of the Sikhs. His 115 hymns find place in the Guru Granth Sahib. He tried to prevent forced conversion of Hindus and Sikhs into Islam, and was, as a result, executed by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
Indian guru and philanthropist, Sathya Sai Baba, was both a much-revered and controversial personality. He founded the Sathya Sai Organisation, through which he established a network of free hospitals, clinics, and educational institutions. His devotees believed in his alleged omnipotence and omniscience. His critics have accused him of sexual abuse, money laundering, and fraud.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dayananda Saraswati was an Indian social leader and philosopher. He is credited with founding an influential Hindu reform movement known as Arya Samaj. He is also credited with popularizing the term Swaraj which was used as a powerful tool by leaders like Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi during India’s freedom struggle. Saraswati influenced people like Bhagat Singh and Madam Cama.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was an Indian religious leader. He is credited with founding the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which is an Islamic revival movement. A prolific author, Ghulam Ahmad wrote over 90 books on various theological, moral, and religious subjects. He continues to be revered as a subordinate prophet by Ahmadi Muslims, which is often debated by mainstream Muslims.
Ravidas was an Indian mystic, social reformer, poet-saint, and spiritual figure. An influential personality, Ravidas taught his followers to disregard social divisions of gender and caste that were prevalent in India at that time. The Ravidassia sect, a religious sect of Vaishnavism, is based on Ravidas' teachings. Ravidas is revered even today as a saint by his followers.
Neem Karoli Baba was a Hindu mystic and devotee of Hanuman. Initially called Baba Lakshman Das, he became known as Neem Karoli Baba after he performed a miracle in the Indian village of Neem Karoli. An extensive traveler, he later gathered a large following, Baba Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) and singer Krishna Das (Jeffrey Kagel) were among some of his prominent disciples.
Gaur Gopal Das is an Indian lifestyle coach and motivational speaker. An alumnus of the College of Engineering, Pune, he worked as an engineer for several years before joining the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). He is the author of Life's Amazing Secrets and has millions of followers on YouTube.
Born in Travancore in India, Narayana Guru was the son of a teacher and studied in a gurukula. He grew up to lead a social reform movement against the caste system that he saw in erstwhile Kerala. He believed in the motto One Caste, One Religion, One God for All.
Swaminarayan, also known as Sahajanand Swami, was an Indian yogi and ascetic. He is credited to have revived several central Hindu practices of dharma, ahimsa, and brahmacharya. He was initiated into the tradition of Uddhav Sampradaya by his guru and later became the leader of the tradition. He also undertook reforms for women and the poor.
Namdev was an Indian saint and poet best remembered for his devotion to Lord Vitthal of Pandharpur. He is credited with popularizing the Vithoba faith, which first emerged in the 12th century. Along with Ravidas, Kabir, Hardas, and Dadu, Namdev is revered as a guru (teacher) in the Dadupanth tradition of Hinduism.
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.
Bodhidharma was a Buddhist monk who is believed to have started the physical training in China's Shaolin Temple and therefore is credited with the creation of Shaolin kungfu. Not a Chinese by birth, Bodhidharma is also believed to have transmitted Chan Buddhism to China.
Meher Baba, or the Awakener, is best remembered for his 44-year silence, during which he chiefly communicated through an alphabet board. Born into a Parsi family, he later came under the influence of spiritual leaders such as Hazrat Babajan, and started the Meher Baba Movement, in search of spiritual consciousness.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh is an Indian social group leader best known as the head of a group named Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS). Prior to his rape conviction in 2017, Ram Rahim was a famous religious leader, music composer, actor, singer, songwriter, writer, and director. In 2015, he was named among the 100 most powerful Indians by The Indian Express.
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.
It is believed Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had started reciting the Bhagavad Gita by age 4. After graduating in Vedic literature and physics, he propagated Transcendental Meditation with his guru Mahesh Yogi and later established the Art of Living Foundation, which organizes spiritual courses worldwide.