India is known as the land of culture and tradition and is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Indian culture is rich and unique in its own ways. In India manners and etiquettes, the style of communication, values and beliefs are vital components of the culture. Even though India has accepted the modern means of living and people have improved their lifestyle but the traditions and values are still the same. These traditions, customs and values together make India a very unique country. India is a secular country where many culture and religions are flourishing with peace and prosperity because the culture and tradition in India is deeply rooted within the minds and hearts of people which they have gained from their rich culture.
Introduction to Indian History
The Indus valley civilization saw its genesis in the holy land now known as India around 2500 BC. The people inhabiting the Indus River valley were thought to be Dravidians, whose descendants later migrated to the south of India. The deterioration of this civilization that developed a culture based on commerce and sustained by agricultural trade can be attributed to ecological changes. The second millennium BC was witness to the migration of the bucolic Aryan tribes from the North West frontier into the sub continent. These tribes gradually merged with their antecedent cultures to give birth to a new milieu.
The Aryan tribes soon started penetrating the east, flourishing along the Ganga and Yamuna Rivers. By 500 BC, the whole of northern India was a civilized land where people had knowledge of iron implements and worked as labor, voluntarily or otherwise. The early political map of India comprised of copious independent states with fluid boundaries, with increasing population and abundance of wealth fueling disputes over these boundaries.
Unified under the famous Gupta Dynasty, the north of India touched the skies as far as administration and the Hindu religion were concerned. Little wonder then, that it is considered to be India’s golden age. By 600 BC, approximately sixteen dynasties ruled the north Indian plains spanning the modern day Afghanistan to Bangladesh. Some of the most powerful of them were the dynasties ruling the kingdoms of Magadha, Kosla, Kuru and Gandhara.
Known to be the land of epics and legends, two of the world’s greatest epics find their birth in Indian settings – the Ramayana, depicting the exploits of lord Ram, and the Mahabharta detailing the war between Kauravas and Pandavas, both descendants of King Bharat. Ramayana traces lord Ram’s journey from exile to the rescue of his wife Sita from the demonic clutches of Ravana with the help of his simian companions. Singing the virtues of Dharma(duty), the Gita, one of the most priced scriptures in Indian Mythology, is the advice given by Shri Krishna to the grief laden Arjun, who is terrified at the thought of killing his kin, on the battle ground.
Mahatma Gandhi revived these virtues again, breathing new life in them, during India’s freedom struggle against British Colonialism. An ardent believer in communal harmony, he dreamt of a land where all religions would be the threads to form a rich social fabric.
“Unity in diversity” – these are not just words, but something that are highly applicable to a country like India that is incredibly rich in culture and heritage. A few quotations or statements cannot describe the pedestal that India holds on to the world map because of its colourful and unique culture. From the times of Mauryas, Cholas and Mughals to the period of British Empire, India has always been famous for its traditions and hospitality. The warmth in the relations and euphoria in celebrations make the country stand out distinctively in the global fraternity. The country’s liveliness and generosity attract a number of tourists to its vibrant culture which is an amalgamation of religions, festivals, food, art, crafts, dance, music and many other subtle things. Everything, from the culture and values to customs, rituals and traditions, is ‘special’ in this ‘Land of Gods’.
Indian Values-Subtle, Apt and Eternal
“The Indian way of life provides the vision of the natural, real way of life. We veil ourselves with unnatural masks. On the face of India are the tender expressions which carry the mark of the Creator’s hand”. …..George Bernard Shaw
The canvas of India’s culture is vast and has hues and vibrancy of all sorts. The country itself has been a living example of tolerance, cooperation and non-violence over so many centuries and continues to do so even today. Some of its various hues can be found in its different ideologies:
Tolerance and Non-Violence: India is one country in the world that has the distinction of being tolerant and not resorting to arms and ammunition in the first place. Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha movement is a testimony to this. Swami Vivekananda also aptly enunciated this fact in his speech delivered at Chicago on 11 September 1893, “the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance…”
Secularism: India has also been at the forefront of being a secular country. Freedom of worship and practice of religion is the manifestation of harmonious existence of diverse cultures in India. No religion is looked down upon or uplifted either. In fact, all religions, despite their cultural differences, come together in the times of calamity to show their ‘unity in diversity’.
Cultural and Social Bond: India’s history is replete with instances of cooperation and brotherhood. In spite of having suffered oppression from different foreign conquerors at different periods of history, its culture and oneness has not taken a beating and continued to remain intact.
Indian Culture – Traditional yet Contemporary
Culture plays a pivotal role in the development of any country. A culture of a nation represents its values, goals, practices and shared beliefs. The Indian culture has never been rigid and that’s why it is surviving with pride in the modern era. It timely imbibes the qualities of various other cultures and comes out as a contemporary and acceptable tradition. That is what is unique about the Indian culture, it moves on with the time. There are certain things about India that are famous worldwide, like:
Ways of Greeting
India is a land with varied greeting customs. Different religions here have different ways to express their greetings to others. For instance, in major Hindu families “Namaste” is the most common way of greeting the outsiders and elders. Both palms placed together and raised below the face not only show the respect for others but also makes the greeter feel the affection in return. Similarly, Muslims greet by saying “Adab”, which involves raising of right hand towards the face in such a manner that the palm is inwards and is in front of the eyes with the finger tips almost touching the forehead. It is for sure that no ‘hello’ or ‘hi’ can create that magic.
Indian people are also famous for welcoming with flower garlands. In Indian marriages, the exchange of garlands between the bride and the groom is a ritual in itself. People also offer flower garlands to Gods and Goddesses during their prayers.
Time has changed but the lavishness has always been an integral and indispensable part of Indian marriages. In India, marriage is still taken as an institution where not two people but two families get united. So, it always calls for boisterous celebrations full of music and dance. Within India, every caste and community has its own way of performing the rituals of marriage. In Hindu marriages, while Punjabis perform the ‘Roka’ ceremony in weddings, Sindhis perform the ‘Berana’. But most common of all is the ritual of Hast Milap ceremony popularly called PaanigrahanSanskaar.
Muslims also have their own special way of celebrating the marriage ceremony, popularly called Nikaah. During the auspicious occasion, the groom’s family gives mehar (nuptial gift) to the bride. Parsis plant a young mango tree in a pot during the marriage ceremony. This ceremony is famous as ‘Madhavsaro’ ceremony. Every state has its own special way of celebrating the marriage ceremony.
Beauty of Indian woman lies in the clothes she wears. Very traditional and ethnic yet contemporary Indian saris are famous worldwide. It is worn with a blouse that covers the upper part of the body. In rural parts, an outfit called ghagara-choli is very much popular. Choli is like a short blouse that covers the upper part of the body and ghagara is like a long skirt. In order to have a graceful and complete look, women folk carry a duppatta that is a soft and delicate material of reasonable length thrown over the shoulder.
Though with slight variations, salwar kameez is a dress that is famous in every part of India. This attire contains two pieces – kameez, which is like a long top covering upper part of the body, and salwar is like trousers. Like ghagaracholi, salwar kameez is also complemented by a dupatta.
For men, there is no dearth of variety. From dhoti kurta to shirt pants, an Indian man prefers everything that fits well and looks good. But, traditionally you can see north Indians wearing kurta pajama, dhoti kurta or sherwani on formal celebrations whereas south Indian men prefer lungi with shirt.
Wearing jewellery has a long tradition in India. No doubt it reflects in the fact that jewellery is purchased in India not only for personal use but also for gifting purposes on many auspicious occasions. Besides, it is also passed from generation to generation in the Indian society, thus exemplifying the importance and uniqueness of Indian jewellery in Indian culture.
The unique designs, artistic looks and creativeness of Indian jewellery make it represent the culture and tradition of India. In rural India, a resinous incrustation called lac is used for the personal ornamentation. Specialty of Gujarat and Rajasthan, the lac bangles and bracelets are worn and liked by the women of all states.
Jewellery is an important accessory for every Indian woman. From earrings, nose-rings, armlets, necklaces to anklets and bracelets, Indian jewellery give a woman everything that she needs to enhance her beauty. Some form of jewellery such as mangalsutra, nose and toe rings is also associated typically with married women in India, who also get jewellery as ‘stridhan’ on their marriage.
In Indian marriages, especially in the north, a special night is celebrated before the day of marriage in which mehndi or henna-a kind of paste-is designed on the palms of bridegroom and is followed by some colourful dance and music. It is also designed on the palms of women on some special occasions like their engagement and marriage. The paste is applied for a few hours or overnight and washed when it gets dried completely. This gives reddish-brown colour to the palms. In certain parts of India, mehndi is a special kind of ancient folk art as well.
Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jain or Zoroastrian; one can find people of all religions here in India. India is a secular state and every citizen enjoys an equal right of choosing and following a particular religion. More than three fourth of Indian population belongs to Hindu religion and you can find Hindu pilgrimages in every part of the country.
In Northern part of India, you can visit various sacred religious places like Vaishno Devi, Amarnath, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Haridwar and Varanasi and in the Southern part of the country you can take the blessings of God at the Sabrimala, Sringeri, Dakshineshwar-belur math, and Rameshwaram. If you are in the Northeast, you can go to the Kamrup temple that is located on the outskirts of Guwahati on the Nilachal hills. If you are roaming somewhere around Gujarat and interested in knowing about Lord Krishna, then you must visit Dwarkanath temple that is built at the site where Meera Bai gave up the world. You can also visit Somnath temple that comprises one of the twelve jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.
The Muslims have their pilgrimages like Dargah Sharif of Ajmer at Rajasthan and Dargah of AjanPir in Assam. In Northeast, there is Poa Mecca. It is believed that here a faithful Muslim can gain one fourth of the spiritual enlightenment that could be gained at Mecca.
In Punjab, there are a number of pilgrimages for Sikhs like Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, Tarn Taran in west of Amritsar, Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib in Anandpur, Talwandi Sabo in Bathinda and Dera Baba Nanak in west of Gurdaspur. Hemkund Sahib, which is situated at an altitude of 4329 meters, is the highest Gurudwara in the world. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, mediated here for years in the mountains and ultimately left his body here to get united with the Almighty.
Another pilgrimage of Sikhs is ManikaranGurudwara that is situated in Himachal Pradesh and is famous for its hot springs. It is believed that these springs carry uranium and other radioactive materials. TakhatSachkhand Sri HazurAbchalnagar Sahib in Maharashtra is another sacred religious place of Sikhs. In India, you can also find a number of churches in every state. If you are in south, you can visit Medak Church and Gundala Church in Andhra Pradesh, Santa Cruz Basilica in Kochi, Kerela. Northern India also has famous churches like St. Joseph’s Church in Uttar Pradesh and Church of the Sacred Heart in New Delhi. If you are enjoying the valleys of Himachal Pradesh, then you can get Jesus’ blessings in Christ Church and St. Michael’s Cathedral at Shimla.
In spite of presence of so much diversity in practice of religion, people still stay united here. It is just the Indian values that bind people together.
Normally, a day in India starts with Surya Namaskar. In this people offer water to the sun and chant mantras and prayers. Indians worship nature and this is unique about its culture. In Hindu religion, trees and animals are worshipped like Gods. People believe in God and keep fast (‘vrata’) on many festivals. They offer morning’s first fresh meal to cow and night’s last meal to dog. Nowhere in the world can one come across such generosity.
All the religions here start the day with morning hymns, and these rich values are inculcated into the kids since childhood. Morning prayers and moral education is also a very important part of the education system in India. Here people are not judged by caste, colour or creed but by their values and this is what makes India a unique place to live.
Everything is Artistic here!
The great variety in performing and visual arts could not be found anywhere else in the world except for India. From a roadside show to a highly sophisticated drama in the theatre, you can find anything and everything here.
Indian art can be categorised into two main forms- performing arts and visual arts.
Dance, drama, theatre or music, every art is unique in itself. In India, religions, mythology and classical literature form the basis of most of the performing arts:
Indian classical dances like Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Kathak, Manipuri, Odissi and Kuchipudi mainly follow the codes of natyashastra, mythology and classical literature and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharta.
Another kind of performing art is theatre. Though the folk theatre prevails in each and every language and region, the professional theatre is popular only in big urban areas or metropolitan cities. Puppet shows were a unique form of Indian theatre. For centuries, puppet shows have been popular in creating awareness about social issues in masses and inculcating the moral values of truth and honesty in the kids.
For Indians, music is to soul what food is to body. Since Vedic period, it has been capturing the heart and mind of every Indian. In the classical Indian music, there are basically two types of schools- the Hindustani Music (North) and the Carnatic Music (South). ‘Raga’ arrangement of musical notes is the key in the classical music. The Indian villages also have their special kind of music that carries colours of folk tradition. Music of Indian movies is also liked by the masses.
Films are another kind of performing arts for which India is quite popular in the world. The country produces more than 1000 movies every year, which not only are popular in the domestic market but also have a wide viewership especially in the Asian and European countries. Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali or Marathi, India produces movies in every language. Worldwide, Indian film stars are loved and liked in similar ways as Hollywood actors.
Beauty lies in the eyes of beholder. But, if you look at the sculptures and paintings in India, you cannot live without saying that the beauty lies in the hands of Indian artists.
India’s history in the paintings is prominently visible in the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, Buddhists palm leaf manuscripts and Jain texts. Either it is free form of Ajanta paintings, leaf paintings or glass paintings; India has always been famous for this kind of visual art. The creativity and use of colours has always been graceful and unique in the Indian paintings. Keeping their culture and tradition in mind, Indian artists also imbibe the qualities of other European artists and this gives a contemporary look to the Indian paintings with a traditional touch. Well-known Indian painting schools are Rajput, Deccan, Kangra and Moghul.
From the Cholas dynasty to the present era, India has been ranked on top in the sculpture, another form of visual art. The Deccan temple in Kanchipuram, Madurai &Rameswaram, the Sun temple of Odisha and the Khajurao temple in the Madhya Pradesh, all of these sacred places are the resultants of sophisticated craftsmanship of Indian artisans. The sculptures at Sanchi Stupa throw a light on the life of Buddha and various folk deities. Sculptures of Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda with architectural touch show the social life of Buddha and counterparts. Temples of Ellora and Elephanta caves are the important evident of mastery of Indian sculptures. Flora and Fauna, Deities and various mythological characters; all these form the basis of designs in this beautiful form of visual art.
A very ancient and aesthetic kind of visual art in India is pottery. In this form of art, lumps of clay are hand-molded to form toys and deities of worship. Terracotta and blue gaze are the two main varieties of pottery that are famous in India. Pottery also has a great religious significance. On Durga Puja and Ganesh Chathurthi the beautiful idols of MaaDurga and Lord Ganesha show the confluence of pottery, sculpture and painting.
It Calls for Celebrations!
The ‘Land of Gods’ never needs a particular reason to celebrate. Celebration is a fundamental part of every Indian’s life.
Fairs and Festivals
From January to December, every month comes with a particular fair or festival. Makar Sakranti, Basanti Panchami, Holi, Ram Navami, Janamashtami, Diwali, Eid, MahavirJayanti, Buddha Purnima, Guru Purab and Christmas; the festival of every religion has a significance and it is celebrated in a boisterous way.
Here people don’t need a floor to dance. Celebrations on streets during Durga Puja, Ganesh Chathurthi, Janamashtmi and Holi show the real dancing talents of Indians.
Not only this, the country is famous everywhere for the handicrafts melas and fairs that it organises during particular intervals. Surajkund Craft Mela that is held every year in February in Haryana attracts a large chunk of masses and foreign tourists. In such fairs and festivals, you can find the real India. Such theme melas and festivals unite the whole nation. People come to know about each others’ cultures and traditions and their active participation shows how much they love to know about each other.
It Doesn’t Have Just One-Cuisine!
A number of religions, a number of states and hence, number of cuisines. If North India has cholebhature, tandoori chicken, rajma chawal, kadhichawal, dhokla, daalbaatichurma and biryani to relish, South India is not behind in the race. From masala dosa, ravauttpam, rasam, sambar-lemon rice to toran, appam, meen; the South Indian cuisine has a great variety to offer.
The concept of Thali is very famous in India. A thali is served in a very traditional form and in this you can enjoy the complete variety available in a particular cuisine. In small restaurants, thali is the cheapest way of getting your mouth full. If you have stepped into a hotel, then you can enjoy the variety in the form of combo meals.
The variety in Indian spices like black pepper, coriander seeds, cardamom, saffron and cumin seeds not only enhance the flavour of the food but also add nutritive value to it. The Indian food is incomplete if you don’t get something sweet in the end. Having a bowl full of kheer or a little mithapaan, etc. can add sweetness and freshness to your mouth.
Despite so many diversities, people in India are united and feel proud of their culture and tradition. On the world stage, either through international film festivals or through beauty pageants, India regularly displays its talent and culture. Many rulers came but none could cause any harm to its culture, rather Indians preserved the good values of their cultures. The flexibility and movement with time make Indian culture fashionable and acceptable too.