Religion Distribution in Myanmar

December 3, 2009

By Arakanese Indobhasa

Myanmar is situated in the Southeast Asia; its neighboring countries are Bangladesh in the West, India in the Northwest, China in the Northeast, Laos and Thailand in the East. It is well known as one of the Theravada Buddhist Countries in the world, and the population of Myanmar is over fifty million with 135 ethic groups of which the main national races are Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Chin, Bamar, Mon, Rakhing and Shan.

Among these national races, Rakhaing, Sham, Mon and Bamar are the majority of Buddhist believers, and also it is known as a free worship country. Because it is a freedom worship country, there are many different kinds of believers based on their beliefs. The main religion is Buddhism, and it is also the majority one. The Distribution of Religious Beliefs in Myanmar is as the following:-

(a) 90 percent Buddhist,
(b) 5.06 percent Christian,
(c) 3.78 percent Muslim,
(d) 1.21 percent Animist,
(e) 0.51 percent Hindu, and
(f) 0.16 percent other religious groups.

According to our historical records (Arakan Historical Records Side), during the time of Sandasuriya King of Danyawadi Kingdom, Rakkhapura, Theravada Buddhism was introduced into Myanmar during the life time of the Lord Buddha Himself. And due to other historical records of Bbmar, Tapussa and Bhallika, two merchants from Okkalapa, Mon Kingdom (modern Rangon) was the first Upasaka (Lay men), who took refuge in Dvisaranagamana (Two Gems i.e. Buddha and Dhamma). Therefore, we can see that almost all Myanmar people have believed in Theravada Buddhism for over 2500 years.

The majority of Buddhists population are Mon, Rakhaing, Bamar and Shan. The majorities of Muslim are Bengalis, in Arakan, Myanmar Muslim in other divisions and states. In Myanmar, Buddhism has been the main religion from the time of Kings’ ruling up to now. But there were many Animists in Myanmar. The governors could not make them to become Buddhists. Christians have also been for more than 700 years since Christianity (Nestorians) reached Myanmar in 1287 A.D. The Muslim stated reaching Myanmar during the time of Bagan Dynasty, by trading. But these religions were not believed by the people of Myanmar widely.

Yet, these religions except Buddhism were not the majority in ancient time and also up to present day. The governors didn’t support others religions, except Buddhism. They also could not persuade those people who were Animists. After Myanmar was under the British Rule, the British Ruler was able to make Animists to become Christians in Myanmar, after which the Christian Population increased more and more. Hence Christian is the second majority religion in Myanmar at the present time.

We can find that the first majority Christianities are Chin ethics, the second Karen and the third Kachin. The reasons why they are the majority of Christianities in Myanmar are that they were Animist almost all before; they live in the Hill. They were lack of knowledge. So the Christianities Missionaries from the beginning of British Colonial Periods to modern time can easily make them to become Christian by giving financial supports.

Despite that there were not such amounts of Muslim population as now before British Colonial periods, the British government allowed Muslims from India and Bangladesh to come into Myanmar and also they called them for the agriculture worker. That is why Muslims population increased more and more as the second majority religion in Myanmar, especially Arakan region. In the whole Myanmar there were 51187 Monasteries, 3265 Mosques, 2266 Churches, and 759 Madrasahs, according to the records of Ministry of Defence of Myanmar 1997.

There are the Buddhist Religious buildings, especially Monasteries in Mandalay Division, and the second Sagaing Division; and the least Buddhist Religious Buildings in Kayar State. The most of Churches belong to Chin State; second Karen State; and the least belong to Mon State. The biggest religious buildings of Muslim Mosques belong to Arakan (Rakhaing or Rakhine), and the least belong to Chin State and Kayar State, only one Mosque in Chin State and only two in Kayar State.

Why Arakan region which was the one introduced by Theravada Buddhism during the Life-Time of the Buddha Himself, is the biggest Muslim population and its religious buildings is that at first almost all Monasteries were destroyed by Bamar King, Bodawphayar during the time of his invasion to Arakan. And on the other hand, during the time of British ruling Arakan the British government called and allowed many Muslims from India and Bangladesh. Nowadays, the Ruling Bamar Government can’t solve these illegal migrants Muslims from Bangladesh properly.

The main reason why the most Christianities Religious Buildings belong to Chin State is that Chin ethics were Animist. On account of being aware of that reason, the British government was easily able to make them to become Christian by helping properties.
The main reason of the major Buddhist Religious Buildings belonging to Mandalay Division is because it is the last Kingdom of Bamar. Bamar Kings generation to generation supported Buddhist, and many religious buildings found by the Kings are still remaining now.

Conclusion: Every country conquered by other religious countries is influenced by its religion. In the same way, in Myanmar the main reason of increasing the population of Muslim and Christian is because Myanmar was under the British Colonial One. Therefore, it is the bad heirs of British Colonial Rule.


(a)The Mirror Newspaper, 04 Aug. 2000
(b)U Ba Khin, “Foreign Missionaries,” Hanthawadi Press, Rangoon: 09 March 1963

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