‘Unity in Diversity’- A phrase that has been used to describe the Republic of India ever since we solidified our foundation as a nation. India is known to be a land of culture and heritage of multitude of communities.
The stark variation in the ethnicity, language, traditions, customs, food and lifestyle of an Indian citizen does not fail to grab attention of the world. With such a diversified culture, united under the banner of the tri-colour, India is a home to composite culture where every religion, language and practice is looked upon with respect.
But what is composite culture? Before we define the term, we first take a look at the meaning of ‘culture’. Culture has been described as “a sense of ultimate values possessed by a particular society as expressed in its collective institutions, by its individual members in their dispositions, feelings, attitudes and manners as well as insignificant forms which they give to material objects.”
Cultural practices and traditions are an important part of an Indian lifestyle. In fact, it is our culture which sets us apart from other countries of the world. Right from the Indus Valley civilisation, across the Vedic age, followed by medieval conquests into the modern era, India has been historically vibrant when it comes to showcasing its heritage.
With inputs from the different communities that came to this country, settled down and spread their ideology of living, we gradually exchanged and inter-mixed our views. And over the course of time, new religions, societies and cultures had arisen in the region.
This led to the birth of composite culture, a heterogeneous mixture of multiple cultures meeting and co-existing in one single region. And they have co-existed for millennia today, which is a pointer towards how tolerant the country is towards accepting everyone with a warm heart.
This vastness has attracted the attention of many inquisitive minds around the globe. This is reflected by the fact that India ranked 9th in terms of natural and cultural resources as per the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report. It is thus important for us to comprehend the Indian way of life and how a composite culture has thrived in India, to help us understand our nation better.
Religious culture in India
India has been the birth-land of a dozen of religions. There is a whole family of religions that find its origins in India and have been aptly named as ‘Indic religions’. Of these, only few are of prominent stature- Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Other religions are endemic and limited to tribal practising.
The teaching of each religion is based on the concept of dharma (moral duty) and karma (action). Another famously preached concept is that of Ahimsa, which is better known as non-violence. Until the 7th century AD, the country was yet to be exposed to foreign religions, most importantly the Abrahamic religions that had influenced the Western as well as the Arabian populace. The first Arabian traders set up their business along the Gujarat and Malabar Coast on the Arabian Sea.
But it was not until the Turkic invasions that Islam was introduced in India and ingrained in its heritage. The constant and powerful influence of the Sultanate as well as the Mughal Empire enjoyed in India, helped the Islamic art and literature to grow. With time, the advent of Islam spread across the peninsula via media like Sufi saints and forced conversions.
As of present, Islam is the second largest religion in India. By 2050, as stated by a report in The Khaleej Times, India will be home to Muslim population equal to 311 million, which will make the country as the one which possesses the highest number of Muslim population in the world, subsiding Indonesia.
Christianity was introduced by apostles Thomas and Bartholomew, once again arriving on the Malabar Coast. The actual influence had to wait till Britain took over the reins of India. In the 19th century, a flurry of Christian schools of traditions- Catholics, Protestants, jacobites, traditionalists, Methodists, etc.
The extent of the religion has covered 27.8 million as per the 2011 census. That is approximately equal to 2.3% of the Indian population and is the third largest religion in the country.
Religious conversions had occurred around India. A lot were forced, especially in the medieval era, under the Turkish and the Mughal rule. The Christian missionaries utilised promises of shelter and food to many tribal communities and were able to convert them into their religion. But there have been voluntary conversions too.
The important factor to note here is that as a democracy, India provides the right to choose whichever religion its citizen wants to follow and change into other religions that suit themselves at that point of time. Unlike many other countries, no single religion is enforced or promoted amongst the masses.
Additionally, the general tolerant nature of the society which finds its roots in the concept of secularism makes it easier to accept each other’s religion and live in peace and stability. There have been multiple occasions of unrest caused by communal disturbances that were raised in the name of religion.
But such provocations were a condemnable tool that was used to gain political influence and instil fear and distrust amongst the communities. But in the end, the secularity of our nation prevailed as it still stands united and grows into a large economy.
Religions give rise to festivals as occasions of celebrations. That is another merit that attracts tourist and social researchers to the country. There are dozens of festival ranging across different religions and regions. As a part of healthy fraternal practice, Indians often inter-mix the festivals of separate religion and celebrate it together.
A Muslim will as willingly play with colours in Holi when a Hindu would be bowing in prayer to celebrate Eid. Christmas is celebrated with as much enthusiasm as Baisakhi. Even though lots of the festivals are supposed to be state-endemic, but with the extent of transport, communication and migration led to the expansion of these festivals across India and can be found in most of the parts of the nation.
Family structure of Indian Society
A man’s first interaction with the world begins at his home, with his family. The family lays the foundation of our personality and helps build our perspective towards the world. In India, the longest running model of family is the joint-family system. The household consists of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and most of the first relatives of an individual. The oldest member is considered to be the head of the family.
The support system that a person living in a joint family gets is very firm and lasting. It helps in developing a pro-social mind set which makes the person become more outgoing and socially adaptable. Living in a bigger family, he is exposed to multiple opinions about any given subject.
But traditional joint families are more bound to be old-fashioned, hence nurturing the ideologies of the past. This is mostly due to the elders’ influence amongst their succession generations. This may also cause lack of decision making qualities in the younger individuals as they get used to the habit of letting the elders take the decision.
In modern ages, after the advent of urbanisation and increase in employment opportunities around the country, more and more individuals are opting to stay in a nuclear family. This culture had begun to grow almost 60 years ago as more and more joint families were fragmented.
It has been reported that joint family households made up only a small part of the Indian households and had comparatively lower per capita income than nuclear families. But the statistics vary from rural to urban households. It has been observed in the rural and semi-urban areas that the tradition of joint family persists.
The socio-economic factors and disparity in urban and rural parenting ideologies are the prime reasons for this. But as the spread of education widens and out economy grows, more and more joint families are disintegrating into nuclear families and the attitude towards working woman have changed too.
Institution of Marriage
The occasions of marital engagements and marriages in general are a widely celebrated occasion in India. The whole process lasts for days together and involves extravagant decoration using colourful flowers and clothes. There is a huge feast and depending upon the religion, many musical and dance events highlight weddings across the nation.
The concept of arranged marriage is predominant in the country. It has existed along the history of the nation and even today, individuals readily accept marriages planned by their parents and families. Over the years, more tolerance has developed in families and they have started to accept love marriage as well as inter-state and inter-caste marriages.
Yet, there do exist a lot of conservative families which still prefer arranged marriage. Mostly observed in Hindu marriages, is the practice of dowry, a sum of money or assets gifted by the bride’s family to her in-laws for her upkeep and welfare. While this system has been controlled to a lot extent, especially after the enactment of the Dowry Act, 1961, it is still under practice even today, more visibly in the rural and semi-rural areas.
But the plus point of the marriage system is that there are very few cases of divorce per year. India has only 1% divorce rate as compared to 40% of the US married couples. Although this survey did not take into account either of the couple’s satisfaction, mental health and stress into account which makes it very incomplete, but still the couple try to solve their differences, and stay with each other for the better cause.
Clothing and Apparel
One of the departments in which the diversity of our country is showcased in a wholesome manner is the clothes that we wear. From north to south and east to west, each ethnicity that resides within the boundaries of the Indian sub-continent has its own taste of fashion, which makes the wearer look smart and confident. Our choice of clothing has never violated public decency.
Men usually wear kurtas matched with a range of bottom wears like pyjamas, dhotis, churidaars and lungi. In woman, sarees are very fashionable, and are available in various prints and colours. Every state has its own way of wearing the sarees which makes this clothing very unique.
With the beginning of globalisation, more and more jeans, shirts and trousers have crept into the wardrobes of the Indians. Many of them wear their ethnic clothing pared with a western outfit to give their appearance a twist. This kind of outlook towards their apparel portrays that we Indians are not only accepting foreign thoughts and ideas, but are also keeping their traditional spirit alive.
Various organisations like colleges, workplaces, etc. celebrate ethnic day to celebrate these traditions. In the fast paced urban lifestyle, less and less people are opting for the traditional wear and are choosing to don the western clothing. Hence efforts like observing ‘ethnic day’ is an important activity to remind the urban class about their own culture and teaches them to be proud of it.
Indian food and beverages have been grabbing attention across the world. The Arabs and Europeans have been trading with Indian kingdoms throughout the history. Spices have been an important commodity of trade and one of the most sought after goods.
Today, the irresistible delicacies that our chefs have cooked up, from gourmet dishes to comfort food, they have been a centre of appraisal by the international community.
Once again, the Indian cuisine varies from state to state. Every region has developed its unique combination of food articles and spices. Maccher Jhol is a dish endemic to West Bengal, while daal baati is a dish originating from Rajasthan. Kashmir has graced the world with phirni, while Tamil Nadu gives us a taste of payasam.
Yet, every region enjoys the dishes of other regions. Indian food is a result of planning and experiments. It provides the consumer a wholesome culinary experience as it not only has the taste in it, but also is healthy and balanced.
Literature, Music and Art
Language and culture always go hand in hand. India is home to 22 different languages written in 13 different scripts and spoken in 720 varieties of dialect. Once again, such a broad spectrum of communication is a direct indication of the diverse cultures that are practised throughout the nation.
Historically, India has produced world’s finest philosophers and scientists. Aryabhatta, Varahmira and Shushruta are a few classic examples of prominent ancient scholars who have contributed to the knowledge box of India. What is more intriguing is the first ever university of the world- Nalanda, had been established in Taxila, India.
Our literature treasures are overflowing with works of the most exquisite wordsmiths. The two most famous epics- Mahabharata and Ramayana are classics amongst the common folk of India.
Music and art are another aspect of our culture that has gained popularity. Indian classical music has existed for centuries together and has inspired sub genres of Indian music like ghazal, light music, folk music and modern Bollywood beats. We also have indigenous instruments, unique to India and suit almost all kinds of music.
While music entertains our ear, our artists and sculptors have captured our visual senses with their imagination that have been expressed in the form of portraits, statues, etc. From the ancient cave paintings of bhimbetka to the marvellous Taj Mahal and of recent, the statue of unity, Indian artists have never failed to create awe by their works.
The heterogeneity of the profusion of aspects that are involved in the formation of Indian culture is evidence enough to call our culture a composite one. Though our perspective upon the composite culture of our country is of pride, there are many factors, both intrinsic and extrinsic which constantly try to undo the ‘unity’ in the diversity of our nation.
For a country of 1.32 billion citizens, it is a daunting challenge to upkeep the harmony and maintain a peaceful relationship between the communities that exist within the boundaries of India. So far, India has been able to successfully thrive as a nation, unifying its states and growing as a stable economy.
Communal disharmony has often tried to strike a discord amongst our people but it has never been able to break our country. As long as the people respect their own cultural identities and that of other communities, we can defeat every uninvited attack on our integrity. This is also due to the fact that we as the citizens of India are bound together by our national identity.
We all share the legacy of our forefathers who have struggled for our independence and built our nation to what it is today. Hence, it is important for a citizen to respect each other’s cultural identity as well as share the pride of national identity. The composite culture has flourished in our secular democratic republic, and will continue to do so as long as we hold onto these morals.