India's culture is among the world's oldest; civilization in India began about 4,500 years ago. Many sources describe it as "Sa Prathama Sanskrati Vishvavara" — the first and the supreme culture in the world, according to the All World Gayatri Pariwar (AWGP) organization.
Western societies did not always see the culture of India very favorably, according to Christina De Rossi, an anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London. Early anthropologists once considered culture as an evolutionary process, and "every aspect of human development was seen as driven by evolution," she told Live Science. "In this view, societies outside of Europe or North America, or societies that did not follow the European or Western way of life, were considered primitive and culturally inferior. Essentially this included all the colonized countries and people, such as African countries, India, and the Far East."
However, Indians made significant advances in architecture (Taj Mahal), mathematics (the invention of zero) and medicine (Ayurveda). Today, India is a very diverse country, with more than 1.2 billion people, according to the CIA World Factbook, making it the second most populous nation after China. Different regions have their own distinct cultures. Language, religion, food and the arts are just some of the various aspects of Indian culture.
Here is a brief overview of the culture of India.
India has 28 states and seven territories, according to the World Health Organization. There is no official language in India, according to a Gujarat High Court ruling in 2010, though Hindi is the official language of the government. The Constitution of India officially recognizes 23 official languages.
Many people living in India write in Devanagari script. In fact, it is a misconception that the majority of people in India speak Hindi. Though many people speak Hindi in India, 59 percent of India residents speak something other than Hindi, according to The Times of India. Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil and Urdu are some other languages spoken in the country.
Sanskrit, an ancient Indo-European language usually referred to in action movies, came from Northern India. How the language started has been a point of argument amongst linguists. It shares many similarities with English, French, Farsi and Russian languages. New DNA research in 2017 found that an Aryan invasion may have introduced the beginnings of Sanskrit. "People have been debating the arrival of the Indo-European languages in India for hundreds of years," said study co-author Martin Richards, an archaeogeneticist at the University of Huddersfield in England. "There's been a very long-running debate about whether the Indo-European languages were brought from migrations from outside, which is what most linguists would accept, or if they evolved indigenously." [Aryan Invasion May Have Transformed India's Bronze-Age Population]
India is identified as the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism, the third and fourth largest religions. About 84 percent of the population identifies as Hindu, according to the "Handbook of Research on Development and Religion," edited by Matthew Clarke (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013). There are many variations of Hinduism, and four predominant sects — Shaiva, Vaishnava, Shakteya and Smarta.
About 13 percent of Indians are Muslim, making it one of the largest Islamic nations in the world. Christians and Sikhs make up a small percentage of the population, and there are even fewer Buddhists and Jains, according to the "Handbook."
The CIA cited similar figures. According to its World Factbook, around 80 percent of the population is Hindu, 14.2 percent is Muslim, 2.3 percent is Christian, 1.7 percent is Sikh and 2 percent is unspecified.
When the Moghul Empire invaded during the sixteenth century, they left a significant mark on the Indian cuisine, according to Texas A&M University. Indian cuisine is also influenced by many other countries. It is known for its large assortment of dishes and its liberal use of herbs and spices. Cooking styles vary from region to region.
Wheat, Basmati rice and pulses with chana (Bengal gram) are important staples of the Indian diet. The food is rich with curries and spices, including ginger, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, dried hot peppers, and cinnamon, among others. Chutneys — thick condiments and spreads made from assorted fruits and vegetables such as tamarind and tomatoes and mint, cilantro and other herbs — are used generously in Indian cooking.
Many Hindus are vegetarian, but lamb and chicken are common in main dishes for non-vegetarians. The Guardian reports that between 20 percent and 40 percent of India's population is vegetarian.
Much of Indian food is eaten with fingers or bread used as utensils. There is a wide array of breads served with meals, including naan, a leavened, oven-baked flatbread; and bhatoora, a fried, fluffy flatbread common in North India and eaten with chickpea curry.
Architecture and art
The most well-known example of Indian architecture is the Taj Mahal, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to honor his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It combines elements from Islamic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Indian architectural styles. India also has many ancient temples.
India is well known for its film industry, which is often referred to as Bollywood. The country's movie history began in 1896 when the Lumière brothers demonstrated the art of cinema in Mumbai, according to the Golden Globes. Today, the films are known for their elaborate singing and dancing.
Indian dance, music and theater traditions span back more than 2,000 years, according to Nilima Bhadbhade, author of "Contract Law in India" (Kluwer Law International, 2010). The major classical dance traditions — Bharata Natyam, Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam and Kathakali — draw on themes from mythology and literature and have rigid presentation rules.
A study published in April 2016 in the Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology found that some Indian horns have many similarities with horns made in Ireland. This research may suggest that the two countries may have exchanged ideas and techniques in making musical instruments during the Bronze Age. "Some horns are frankly shockingly similar, to the point where it is like witnessing time travel," study author Billy Ó Foghlú, an archaeologist and doctoral student at the Australian National University in Canberra, told Live Science. "If I were to find one of these modern Indian instruments in an Irish archaeological excavation and I didn't know what I was looking at, I would likely assume it was a Late Bronze Age Irish artifact." [Surprising Echo of Ancient Irish Horns in Indian Instruments]
Indian clothing is closely identified with the colorful silk saris worn by many of the country's women. A traditional piece of clothing for men is the dhoti, an unstitched piece of cloth that is tied around the waist and legs. Men also wear a kurta, a loose shirt that is worn about knee-length. For special occasions, men wear a sherwani or achkan, which is a long coat that with a collar having no lapel. It is buttoned up to the collar and down to the knees. A shorter version of a sherwani is called a Nehru jacket. It is named after Jawaharlal Nehru, India's prime minister from 1947 to 1964, but Nehru never wore a Nehru jacket. He preferred the achkan, according to Tehelka, an Indian newspaper. The Nehru jacket was primarily marketed to Westerners.
Customs and celebrations
Diwali is the largest and most important holiday to India, according to National Geographic. It is a five-day festival known as the festival of lights because of the lights lit during the celebration to symbolize the inner light that protects them from spiritual darkness. Holi, the festival of colors, also called the festival of love, is popular in the spring. The country also celebrates Republic Day (Jan. 26), Independence Day (Aug. 15) and Mahatma Gandhi's birthday (Oct. 2).
Additional reporting by Alina Bradford, Live Science Contributor.
Culture is basically defined as the totality of arts and other various manifestations of human intellectual achievements regarded in a collective manner. Culture is an idea, a value, a belief any particular civilization holds closely to its roots or foundation at any given period in time. It is generalized as a “State of Mind”.
It is the way we interact with one another, the way we behave and react to our environment and certain other things. Culture interprets the manner in which a society perceives abstract entities and by which such a society is perceived. It is established as the diverse manifestations resulting from the basic principles, behaviours and ethics of a specific group of individuals.
To limit the definition of the word “Culture” to the above stated few lines would be doing great injustice to a concept that is a system which encompasses the totality of everything we have come to know today. It is a systematic emancipation, which continuously and consistently absorbs and passes back to society, all that is initiated by different religions, beliefs and races, who are in extremely close proximity with one another, giving the cultural concept a new dimension and meaning as time proceeds.
Culture is an integration of diverse entities, music, family, social norms, fashion, food and attitude. It is an existing, vibrant and ever changing activity which completely takes over and absorbs our way of life in any certain period of time. This is what generates the whole visual perception, or picture of the social and psychological fabric of society.
The Indian culture, a majority of historians would confirm is one of the richest, most dynamic and intriguing cultural heritages ever to be known by man. India is blessed with such a rich cultural tradition. There is such a delightful and balanced blend of philosophy, art and religion within the context of Indian culture and history. Each entity is so aesthetically interwoven in the values and fabric of the Indian way of life, customs, thought and values that they are inseparable.
The Indian culture is fundamentally a result of a never ending synthesis that has taken in a variety of numerous superficial influences in the advancement of its journey through time and history (Aurobindo, 20). The first evidence of civilization took place among the Indian people some four thousand years prior to the birth of Christ.
Unarguably, one of, if not the oldest of traditions, the Indians have been exposed to a series of never ending, uninterrupted and unbroken sequences of civilizations. Yet, the flexibility and dynamism of the Indian cultural heritage has enabled its people survive these alien invasions and still significantly hold on to the traditions and originality even after it had inculcated the most beneficial of these outside influences.
The Indians by nature possess a submissive mental attitude towards culture or tradition, born out of a philosophical doctrine that all events are predetermined in advance for all time and human beings are powerless to its inevitability. Thus, the Indian mind has assimilated, to a rather large extent, the context of the diverse cultures, hence the wealthy heritage and uniqueness. Today, it is that buoyant uniqueness that attracts the western world to the Indian culture. Disenchanted from their worldly and bourgeois way of life, westerners turn to India to find peace and solace.
The Indian culture and history can certainly boast of the stimulating and mind opening wisdom found in the ancient epics such as the likes of Ramayana and Mahabharata that serve as beacons of enlightenment and awareness to the seekers of truth and spiritual bliss. Lord Krishna speaks, in the Bhargava Gita of how each and every individual can come to abide in the subtle philosophical principles embedded in the scriptures in ones day to day activities. Lord Buddha equally teaches the principles of followership of the “Middle Path” by exercising and exerting authority over passions. It should be clearly admitted that Indian sages or mentors in spiritual and philosophical issues renowned for their profound wisdom hard started analysing and deducing hypothesis on life’s issues for more than decades of centuries, the west only recently began pondering on such issues.
Influenced and induced by the philosophical trends of history, as well as religious and moral beliefs, Indian art from the caves of Ajanta, Khajuraho, Ellora and the temples of the south are living witnesses and testimonies to the satisfying aesthetic standards and sensibility of perfection achieved by Indian sculptors, architects and artists in the ancient times. Westerners have claim of intense spiritual enlightenment and awakening on visitations to such temples.
In music as well as dance, are two other significant entities that characterize the rich and dynamic culture of the Indians. The Indian cultural music is strikingly extraordinary due to its continuity in development and growth. Prior to the Christian historic period, Indian music had propagated not only definite rules of practical theory, but an even depth of insight and understanding of appreciative measure. Having been built on the foundations and concept of ragas and fast, Indian music and dance are established as appropriate in depicting diverse emotions and moods.
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Hindustani and Karnataka, two significant schools of classical music, whose rules are derived from the Sangeet Ratnakarby Sarangdeva and Natya Shastra of Bharata are well established in Indian history. These forms of classical music have had a great impact as well as having influenced to a large account, western music. Zakir Hussain, Pandit Ravi Shankar and a host of other notable Maestros have made tremendous contributions to the growth and development of Indian classical music to the western world.
The backdrop and foundations of Indian dance, comes with a diverse and wealthy essence. Historians lay claim to the notion that Indian dance is as diverse as the culture and the land itself. Undoubtedly, it still holds unto the implicit bond that binds the Indian people together. From a range of classical, to folk, the dances of India are an articulate and eloquent blend of expressions of an ancient civilization, whose erudition continuously evokes the desired search of humans for a conscious identity and self-discovery within one’s self and with his creator.
The beauty of Indian dance is in its ability to convey the people’s sense of rhythm and abandon as well as their jocularity. Often said, the origins of these dances can be linked to Hindu temples, where they were first birthed and nurtured until they attained maturity and their full stature, hence the impulse of such dances to have or exhibit some religious context to it. Four systems of classical dance are accounted for in Indian culture, though other prominent ones exist. But as in all performing arts within the context of the Indian history and traditions, the concept of “rasa” advocates a central position. This essence of the rasa is conveyed via the “Bhava” or the “expression”, through the emulation of Abhinaya.
Hinduism is said to be the earliest form of religion in Indian history and dates back to several millenniums. Hinduism’s earliest records can be found in the Indus valley civilization. Owing its core values to Vedas and the Hindu culture, it lays its focus and reference from the Holy Scriptures in the sacred language of the Sanskrit. Laying its projection on the belief in god in a variety of forms and on the emphasis on rituals, which are said to be practical in the unity of spiritual togetherness and kinship, other essentially notable features are the belief in the Guru Shishya tradition of learning and a divided structured caste system.
Apart from the Hindu Religion, Indian culture and history boast of the Jains, who claim, and have presented scholarly reports and documentation to prove that their religion is the most ancient of religions.
Another very critical and historically famous religion notable in the Indian history is Buddhism. Based on the teachings and practises of Gautama Buddha. Many say Buddhism, rather than a religion is more of a system of morality and ethics.
Through forceful coercion and conversions, Islam was introduced into India by invaders, who set up religion and rule in the country. Today it is one of the largest religions amongst the Indian community. The Greeks and Indian civilizations came into close proximity and thus the influences of such civilizations rubbed off on each culture, this was as a result of Alexander’s prominent invasion on India, which opened up a land route from Europe to the India. The impact of civilization was further felt, as the French, Portuguese and to a larger extent the Brits, whose influences of Christianity played a minimal but enduring role on Indian civilization and cultural heritage as well as its religious beliefs.
In recent times, Indians have demonstrated a deep interest in further encouraging and promoting its cultural and unique historical values and heritage. This revivification of India’s national identity has been greeted with a boost of larger awareness in the sectors of Indian classical music and dance and the realm of indigenous folk arts the world over
Educational institutions are beginning to ensure that future generations are inculcated and imbibed with the values of the buoyant cultural and historical heritage of its people for the world to see. Cultural Festivals of India have been a huge success in the west in recent times, so has the government’s effort in promoting Indian heritage and cultural values domestically been met with huge and enthusiastic response.
The Indian culture is one of philosophical dynamism. Throughout history and time, no other civilization nor cultural heritage has been known to produce deduced hypothetical philosophy that has transcended into the future from the past. Be it in the sciences, medicine, astronomy as well as astrology, the Indian culture has bordered it all. Ancient and modern India has produced some of the world’s greatest minds and thinkers, this phenomena can be easily associated to the vast knowledge that lies within the underlying layers of the Indian heritage. As William Durant, the great American historian put it, “India is the motherland of our race.”
- Aurobindo, Sri. The Renaissance in India: On Indian Culture and Other Essays. Arya: Aug 1918. Print.
- Amartya, Sen. The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity. Picador 1st Edition: 2006. Print.
- “Arts and Culture.” National Portal of India. n.d. Web 10 June 2013. Retrieved from http://india.gov.in/india-glance/culture-heritage
- Elwin, V. The Religion of an Indian Tribe. Bombay: Oxford University Press. 1943. Print.
- Muller, Max. F. Sacred Books of the East: The Zend Avesta, Vol 1: The Vendidad. 1910. Web. 10 June 2013. Retrieved from http://www.holybooks.com/the-sacred-books-of-the-east-all-50-volumes/
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