India, known for unity in diversity, offers an awesome, creative burst of culture – a potpourri of religions, races, and languages. The roots of Indian culture and civilization can be traced back to more than 5,000 years ago with an unbroken continuity of traditions, customs and world-renowned schools of philosophy. Amongst the world’s oldest, richest and most diverse cultures, India represents an amazing confluence of different creeds, religions, faiths and belief systems, further divided among castes, sects, and sub-sects.
For times immemorial, India has remained a meeting ground between the East and the West, a treasure house of knowledge and wisdom. The Vedic culture and Vedic way of life have struck deep roots in India and are followed by people even today. Apart from the Vedas, other important scriptures composed during Vedic times include the Upanishads (enlightening commentaries on the Vedas), the shrutis and the smritis (storehouses of heard and remembered erudition and learning).
India believes in Sarva dharma samabhava, which means respect for all belief systems. This has allowed not just tolerance towards religions and beliefs, but the freedom to propound one’s ideas and philosophies.
After assimilating and nurturing an incredible diversity of people and cultures for millennia, India culture remains an object of fascination for people the world over. The objects of ethnic interest like unique Indian dresses, delectable Indian food recipes, sonorous Indian music and exotic Indian names evoke global interest on a continuous basis.
ReligionIn India, religion is not simply a belief system but a journey of self-exploration. All the major religions of the world like Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam and Christianity including their sects, are found and practiced in India with complete freedom.
Religions have co-existed and evolved together for many centuries in the country and are very central to the lives of the people, who have a remarkable openness to even foreign religions. Judaism was one of the first foreign religions to arrive in India about 2500 years ago;
Christians are equally at home in India. Christian saints came to India many centuries ago and preached the doctrine of Christianity. It is believed that St Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Christ, came to India in the first century AD, and spent the rest of his life in India preaching. His tomb, St Thomas Mount in Chennai, Tamil Nadu has become a place of pilgrimage for Christians in India. The Spanish Catholic missionary, St Francis Xavier, also spent the greater part of his life in Goa. His body, in a glass casket, has been kept in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Panjim, Goa. Every ten years, his relics are exposed to the public, and people from all over the world throng Goa to receive the benediction.
FestivalsThe tradition of celebrating festivals goes back to the Vedic period. The scriptures and works of literature of this era are replete with references to festivals. These were the celebrations in honour of gods, rivers, trees, mountains, and seasons like spring, and monsoon. These were the times for prayers and meditation, and also for spectacle and procession – occasions to express pure joy with performances comprising music, dance and drama, and conducting fairs.
The Constitution of India has guaranteed the freedom of worship and way of life to all its citizens. This has ensured the rich kaleidoscope of festivals that are celebrated throughout the country.
The Dussehra the battle between Ravana and Rama and the latter’s victory are celebrated as Dussehra in many parts of India, 20 days before Deepawali. Dussehra is the day when the effigies of Ravana, his brothers Meghnath and Kumbhakaran, are burnt.
It is preceded by the enactment of the story of the Ramayana by amateur groups of people in what is known as Ram Lila where all-night performances of the Ramayana from the beginning to the end are enacted; the actors are mainly young boys who perform the role of male as well as female characters.
Durga Pooja and Ganesh ChaturthiIn Bengal, the worship of the Goddess Durga precedes Deepawali. While Goddess Durga is worshipped with great devotion in West Bengal,
Lord Ganesha – acknowledged as the remover of obstacles – is the central figure in the celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra. characters.
Guru Nanak Jayanti and Baisakhi birth anniversaries of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last of Gurus, are very important days and are celebrated with religious fervour and devotion. Processions are taken out, the scriptures are chanted, without a break, and the Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) are illuminated.
The Indian calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian, starts in April. New Year’s Day is April 13, celebrated as Baisakhi, which coincides with the harvesting of the wheat crop in Northern India, especially in Punjab. People wear new clothes, sing and dance in joy. In Eastern India, the New Year begins on April 14 and again it is a joyous occasion with singing and dancing by young men and women who don their best silken mekhalas (sarongs) and chaddars (an overwrap) and dance to the beat of the drum. This festival is known as Rangali Bihu in Assam.
The festival of Eid is celebrated at the end of a month-long fasting. Christmas, the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, transcends the barriers of faith to become an occasion for celebration of joy across the country.
There are also numerous glittering fairs held in the country. The gem in the crown is, of course, the Kumbha Mela held at Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad), Nashik and Ujjain. Pushkar Fair and Urs at Ajmer are some other famous examples. So are the Nauchandi Mela, held on the second Sunday after Holi in Meerut; and Sonepur Cattle Fair – Asia’s biggest cattle fair, held on Kartik Poornima in Bihar’s Sonepur, on the confluence of river Ganges and Gandak.
LanguagesThroughout history, Indian languages, and literature have exercised a great deal of influence on other great civilizations and intellectual development of the world at large. To know the real India, languages of different regions must be acquainted with, which can afford a great deal of information on India culture, traditions, history and folklore.
Although Hindi and English are the major languages in India, there are 22 official languages and countless other dialects. Apart from producing numerous masterpieces of literature, India has taken rapid strides for promoting all branches of education. Right from ancient times, India has enjoyed the unquestioned reputation of being the centre of excellence in education.
In the past, the Takshila University flourished in the northwest and Nalanda University in the east of India. The tradition of quality education is carried forward by modern Indian universities such as Delhi University (DU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Jamia Millia University, Allahabad University, Visva-Bharati University and Vanasthali Vidya Peeth, to name a few. More…
Spiritual IndiaThe spirit of India has fascinated the world with its very mystique. Spiritual India, rich in holy places, traditions and beliefs, offers much for those seeking knowledge and awareness of the inner world.
Indians engage themselves in spiritual pursuits to strike a balance between the needs of the body and of the soul. India has always been a votary of peace and non-violence as exemplified by the teachings of Buddha, Mahavira, Guru Nanak of Mahatma Gandhi in the recent past.
In India, spirituality is part of everyday life. While religion is more about rituals, spirituality is more to do with one’s self, or the spirit. To understand Indian spirituality, it is essential to understand the basic tenets of Hinduism.
A rich, complex and deeply symbolic religion, Hinduism is called Sanatana Dharma or the eternal truth, tradition or religion. It is the world’s oldest religion or rather a way of life.
Arts (Handicrafts, Paintings, Music, Dances, Cuisine, Films)The birthplace of great epics – Mahabharata and Ramayana – India has a veritable wealth of literature including the fascinating stories of the Panchtantra; Raghuvamsha, Shakuntala, Meghaduuta, written by Kālidāsa; Pāṇini’s Ashtadhyayi which standardised the grammar and phonetics of Classical Sanskrit; Chanakya’s Arthashastra ( a treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy) and Vatsyayana’s magnum opus on the art of love-making – Kamasutra.; Geeta Govinda by Jayadeva and the famous Akbar-Birbal stories.
Lord Krishna love for Radha has been the inspiration for miniature painters of the Kangra or Pahari school of Painting, as also for the elaborate style of painting embellished with gold, known as the Tanjore styles from South India.
In ancient India, a kitchen was considered as a place of worship where the fire God resided and nourished the whole family. The exotic Indian cuisine has never failed to attract natives as well as foreigners, perhaps for the reason that India has an unending variety of Indian recipes known for their unique flavor.
Contrary to the popular perception, in traditional India, girls were placed under the guidance of learned Gurus, where, along with various s, they were also made to learn and practice varied forms of Indian music and dance to develop their artistic skills. Especially after marriage, Indian women were supposed to wear intricate Indian jewelry, which is considered an auspicious symbol for their marital happiness.
Before Independence, many village crafts languished as the British implemented the policy of lop-sided industrialization. Post-Independence, there is a definite revival in general of traditions and of craft traditions, in particular. Crafts are an intrinsic part of the religious and ritual traditions as craftsmen often worked for the temples and for providing the appurtenances necessary for worship.
In the modern context, India occupies a special place as the home to Bollywood, one of the largest film industries around the world which represents a unique cultural identity of the nation. Indian movies have been making waves across the world, besides doing well within the country. An expansion of commercial cinema and a number of cross-over Indian movies have created a global craze for Indian actors and superstars. The emergence of a whole new generation of Indian models in the India fashion industry has also made a great impact on the global media. Indian talents have showcased their potential by winning a number of international beauty pageants.