Several things come to mind when people think of India. These include the gorgeous Taj Mahal, the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, crowded streets, Bollywood dance and music, yoga, IT support, and much more. But wait, there is a whole lot more to India than just this. Though our world is changing every minute, India is adapting to the western lifestyle beautifully blended with its culture and values.
India is a land torn between mountains and oceans, with the snow-capped Himalayan ranges in the north to the beautiful beaches in the south. The desert keeps the west dry and hot while the east is mostly humid and rainy. The contrast is not just limited to the geography of the country. The culture, lifestyle, cuisine, and language change every few miles as you move from north to south or east to west. Indian culture and value system is among one of the oldest civilizations with a rich and ancient history. The rites and rituals followed by people are also very sought out backed by scientific reasoning.
Many invaders came and ruled India as early as the 4th century BCE, the most recent being the Mughals during the 15th century, followed by the British in the early 17th century. As a result of these invasions, Indian culture and lifestyle changed over the years. Therefore, one will notice people with various religious backgrounds living together in the same society. Let's look at why religion is the most important part of Indian culture.
Religions in India
Religion in India plays a very crucial part in shaping cultural, economic, and political scenarios. India is the birthplace of Hinduism, also known as Sanatana Dharma, which was established around 2000-1500 BCE. Three of the fastest-growing religions in today’s world came from Hinduism: Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Major religions like Islam and Christianity have also worked their way into the population of India.
But how does the country with a population of 1.37 billion people with different religions live in peace & harmony? The credit goes to the Constitution of India, which established religious tolerance and freedom of religion. About 80% of the total population follows Hinduism, whereas 14% are Muslims. This makes India the country with the second-highest Muslim population in the world. About 2.3% of the population identify as Christians, 1.7% as Sikhs, 0.7% as Buddhists, and 0.37% as Jains. Even the minority groups are substantial in number, though. For example, even though only 0.37% of the population is Jains, it is still about 4 million people.
Interestingly, one can find different places of worship like temples, mosques, or churches everywhere, and sometimes one of them close to the other. As Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world and the largest in India, below are some facts about it:
● According to scholars, Hinduism is the oldest religion, and its rituals and customs are dated back more than 4000 years.
● Hinduism teaches meditation, yoga, and ascetic practices to cultivate self-discipline and unity.
● The cow is considered a sacred animal and reveres every living creature.
● For Hindus, food is particularly important, and they respect every grain. Most Hindus are vegetarians and avoid eating beef and pork.
● Hinduism believes in Karma, the universal law of cause and effect. They also believe in the theory of reincarnation, life, and death.
● There are two holy symbols of Hinduism: Om and Swastika, which in Sanskrit mean “good fortune.” However, in the 1920s, the Swastika symbol was used by the Nazi party of Germany.
Let’s now look at how marriages take place in India.
Marriages are a big affair in India. They are celebrated like a festival, often lasting for more than a week. In the Indian marriage system, matchmaking is a common practice followed by many people. The customs may vary in different regions or religions. Regardless of these differences, most Indian parents prefer to get their children married to a person of the same community or religion. For this, they seek help from matchmakers, Indian matchmaking websites, or other trusted parties. One must understand that caste and religious considerations strongly influence arranged marriages. Therefore, endogamy in marriages remains a common practice in India. A recent Netflix series called Indian Matchmaking was based on the arranged marriage culture of India. It showed how matchmakers arranged marriages.
There were also some evil customs like child marriages, where children below 18 years of age were forced into marriage. The Dowry system was another evil practice. Within this system, the groom's family could demand a large amount of money or expensive gifts from the bride's family. These two practices are now criminal and considered crimes against women.
Before, it was not important to ask for an individual’s consent for marriage, and the parents of either the bride or the groom used to choose their partner for them. In these instances, the bride and groom saw their partner’s face for the first time on their wedding day. But now the scenario has changed; people choose their partner and prefer love-marriage over arrange marriage. Individuals are marrying either inter-caste or even inter-religion. Regardless of how one finds a spouse, the family is always consulted in the marriage process because marriage in India is not just a union between two individuals but a union of the two families.
Architecture and Art
India has some of the most stunning architectural structures and opulent art culture. During the Mughal era in India, the Mughals introduced their culture, which blended into Indian culture, art, and architecture. The best example of this amalgamation is the Taj Mahal, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to honor his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The marble mausoleum comprises Islamic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Indian architectural styles. However, India is not just about the Taj Mahal. There are many ancient temples, shrines, and palaces.
Hindu temples are especially old; some are dated back to the 5th to 6th century CE.Hindus consider the building of temples an extremely pious act, bringing great religious merit. All temples are made according to Vastu Shastra, a traditional and regional style of architecture. The temples are richly decorated with sculptures of gods, goddesses, murals, scenes, dances, and epic tales. Khajuraho temples in Central India are famous for their erotic and sensuous sculptures, which is also a UNESCO monument. The other famous ancient temples in India are the Ajanta and Allora temple and the Konark temple, while the Mahabalipuram temple and the Temples of Hampi are recognized as UNESCO world heritage site.
Other than temples, there are many forts and palaces such as the Red Fort, Agra Fort, Jaisalmer Fort, and Amber Palace which are some sites to visit and have lots of history. For Sikhs, there is a world-famous temple in the state of Punjab known as the Golden Temple, while the Haji Ali and the Ajmer Shareef are important pilgrimages for Islam followers.
MOVIES, MUSIC & DANCE
Movies in India play a vital role in the culture of the country, and they are also important for India's economy. The film industry of India is largely known as ‘Bollywood’ to the world, where large budget Hindi commercial movies are made. Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood is not a city but just a term for the Indian film industry. The movies of India are famous for their song and dance sequences and their different kinds of storytelling. The cinematic history of India began in 1846 when the Lumière brothers demonstrated the art of cinema in Mumbai, according to the Golden Globes. The most played movie in theaters was Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenge. It played in an Indian theater for more than 1200 weeks. Some of the famous movies that westerners must watch are Lagaan, Jodha Akbar, Queen, Article-15, Devdas, and Gully Boy.
If we talk about Indian dance, music, theater, or paintings, we have to discuss their links to religious and spiritual customs. There are several major classical dances: the Bharata Natyam, the Kathak, the Odissi, the Manipuri, the Kuchipudi, the Mohiniattam, and the Kathakali. These dances showcase the art of mythological storytelling and ancient literature. These dance forms have a fixed set of presentation rules which focus on facial expressions, body posture, and hand gestures called mudras. But unlike classical dances, folk (local) dances are simple and lively, and they focus on the celebrations in individuals’ society. Also, Indian music is influenced by its culture and traditions. There are two main classical music styles in India. The first is Carnatic music, which is played in the southern parts of India. The second is Hindustani music, which is played in the northern and western parts of India.
When an immigrant lands in the USA, they only have to focus on one language, most likely English. At ReDefiners World Languages, we also help people learn English, along with other languages like Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin (Chinese). But when a foreigner lands in India, he/she has to focus not just on one but multiple languages within the state or region.
With 29 states, seven union territories, and the oldest culture, there has been a profusion of language influences. That is why there is no one official language or a national language. As per the government of India, there are 23 languages and about 1000 dialects.
The highly spoken languages are Hindi 43.3%, Bengali 8%, Telugu 6.7%, Marathi 6.8%, Tamil 5.7%, Urdu 4.19%, Gujarati 4.5%, Kannada 3.6%, Malayalam 2.8%, Oriya 3.1%, Punjabi 2.8%, Assamese 1.3%, Maithili 1.2%, other 5.9%. English speaking people are about 0.02 % and used predominantly in business, as well as for economic and political purposes. Most of the schools in India have compulsory English language classes. All other subjects, except for regional languages, are taught in English.
As there is no official language, but Hindi is the official language of the Indian government. Around 43% of the population speaks Hindi, and the other major languages spoken are Bengali, Tamil, Marathi, and Urdu.
Many people write in Devanagari script, while Sanskrit and Tamil are the two ancient languages and the oldest in the world. Even Bollywood is known as the Hindi film industry since it makes mostly Hindi language movies.
So being multilingual in India helps you improve your memory, and it also makes you efficient in problem-solving and critical thinking.
How can the cuisine of India be left behind if we are talking about Indian culture? Indian food is something that you can find in any part of the world, but there is more than Butter Chicken, Chicken Vindaloo, and Samosas. The cuisine is highly influenced by century-old religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and its diversity.
Indian cuisine is all about spices and herbs, which is not very suitable for many foreigners. But these spices are proven to have many medicinal values, such as ginger, garlic, cumin, cloves, turmeric. Today, even coffee shops in America sell Turmeric Lattes as an expensive drink, but it is common in every Indian household.
The food varies from region to region. Examples of North and Central Indian staples include wheat Chapati (tortilla), Basmati rice, and Pulses. Dosas, Idlis, and Rasam are staple foods in Southern India. Every region has its distinct flavor, and the level of spiciness differs. Various settlers from also brought their foods and flavors to India and blended them with Indian food. For example, Arabs and Moghuls brought non-vegetarian cuisines like Kebabs and biryani, along with dates, melons, apricots, and other nuts.
Most of the religious groups are vegetarian and make use of every seasonal vegetable in different preparations. According to The Guardian, around 20-40 percent of the population is vegetarian. Some have limitations on the type of meat they can consume, but lamb and chicken are most common for those who eat meat. Even so, there are some religious groups like the Jains who avoid eating any root vegetable, such as onions and garlic.
Fun fact: Many Indians prefer eating their food with fingers instead of spoons and forks.
FESTIVALS & CLOTHING
India is a celebrated country there are many festivals which are celebrated here with great enthusiasm. Due to its diversity, there are festivals celebrated throughout the year. There are national festivals like Independence Day and Republic Day, where everyone celebrates the nation and its unity. There are other religious festivals like Diwali, the largest and most important festival in India, which is celebrated for five days. Other festivals are Holi (festivals of colors), Dussehra, Eid, and even Christmas, which are celebrated by people of all religions. Some festivals also celebrate the harvest, and there are festivals where people fly colorful kites.
America is a sport-loving country and celebrates Super Bowl or NBA matches enthusiastically. India enjoys sports as well. Its citizens are passionate about Cricket. Cricket is just like Baseball and is the most famous and favorite game of many citizens. However, the national sport is Hockey, and its most famous player is the Olympian Major Dhyan Chand.
Indian clothes are very colorful and differ from region to region. Most traditional women love to wear Saree, a five- to nine-yard-long piece of fabric wrapped around the waist and draped over the shoulder, often baring the midriff. Modern-day women wear these traditional dresses mostly on festivals or other special occasions. Similarly, traditional men either wear a Kurta (a long loose shirt with pants) or a Dhoti, an unstitched piece of cloth four to five yards long tied around the waist and legs. Even Mahatma Gandhi used to wear a Dhoti since he believed that it was his pride and dignity. For special occasions, men wear a Sherwani (long coat like shirt wore above pants with a stole) and women wear a Salwar-suit (a tunic called a Kameez with pants known as Salwar and a long scarf called a Dupatta) or a Lehenga (a long skirt normally embroidered or pleated that hangs from the waist paired with blouse and a long scarf).
Indian dancers were the first ones to wear Sarees since it allowed them to move easily. The Saree (or Sari) was first invented by Indian dancers. In some traditions, women have to cover their heads while wearing a Saree. They also wear earrings, bangles, and other jewelry. Bindi is one of the traditional elements in women’s makeup, which is worn on foreheads. Watch any Indian movie and you will know all the things which are talked about here.
There are always good and bad aspects of every country. Due to its size, India is dealing with some issues like rape, casteism, and poverty, among others. But apart from all of this, India is making its name in science and technology. India is now a technical hub with many big tech companies investing in the country. The country has proved its mettle in space by discovering supercluster and launching 104 satellites, which is the highest number any country has ever launched. India’s Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has also developed an atomic clock that will be used in navigating satellites.
Hence, someone has rightly said that “India is not a country, but an experience.”
If you are interested in learning more about other cultures, check out ReDefiners World Languages! We offer online and in-person classes, as well as group and individual classes, for kids and adults. Our classes are designed to teach you about the language, as well as the culture and influences. For more information about our classes, please visit www.redefinerswl.org or email us at email@example.com.