India – The treasure house of rich cultural heritage and traditions
When one pronounces the word “India,” one is draped in the smell in spices, sarees, the smell of pickles and rain, the loud music and dances, the happy faces of innocent people quite untouched by the evolving westernization. India encapsulates all of those emotions and more. India thrives on love, languages, religion, and culture due to the diverse race of people living in the country.
It can be hands down referred to as one of the world’s most culturally enriched countries. The people of India have different customs and traditions and different ideologies. They wear different clothes, worship different gods and goddesses, and eat different types of food. All this aims at making India such a culturally diverse and interesting country to explore.
Being a country that is the home to such diverse cultures and traditions, religion plays a very significant role. Various religions founded and followed in the country include Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, etc. Apart from these, there are also huge majorities of people having Islamic faith, following Christianity or Buddhism and various other religions which do not have an Indian origin. Most of the religions founded in India are based on the concept of non-violence.
The theory and practice of non-violence and tolerance form the basis of Indian Civilization. People of India have always been recognized as peace-loving and tolerant individuals who are acceptant and appreciative of any and every person no matter what their origin, religion, or place of birth might be.
According to the 2011 census, 79.8% of the population of India practice Hinduism. Islam (14.2%), Christianity (2.3%), Sikhism (1.7%), Buddhism (0.7%) and Jainism (0.4%) forms the major religions of the country. Apart from that, there are also several other religions practiced in the heart of the country.
According to the early marital rituals of India, back in the 1950s, Indians primarily lived in large joint families where the parents, children and the next generation on offspring lived together under the same roof. However, in the more recent times due to modernization creeping into the society and western cultures being quickly inherited, joint-families are almost rare and non-existent.
Nucleated families are more common as children decide on separating from their parent’s houses to afford to have more independence and privacy. The system of arranged marriages is also highly prevalent to this day in the country. This is when the bride’s and groom’s families decide upon their marriage. However, modernization has crept into this custom as the two parties meet and form a bond before they decide on confirming the marriage.
Child marriage was a social evil that was prevalent in India and led to huge amounts of torture and child abuse in the country. Now termed to be illegal, the average age for marriage for girls has gone up to 21years according to the 2011 census, as opposed to an earlier age of 16 to 18 years.
The custom of dowry or gifts to the groom’s family by the bride’s family, which was prevalent in the early days has reduced manifold after it was banned and given an illegal status. The custom is still practiced in village areas where modern customs and traditions have not yet found acceptance.
Marriage is a huge thing in India. A typical Indian marriage is one with a lot of pomp and show, extravagant clothing, music and food, bright lights, and lots of rituals. In Hindu weddings, the three main rituals include Kanyadaan, Panigrahana, and Saptapadi. Kanyadaan is the giving away of the bride by her father to the groom as his wife. Panigrahana is the oath taken before the holy fire to respect forever and obey the bond of marriage and togetherness.
Saptapadi includes walking around the holy fire making seven complete circles, each of which signified a vow taken by both the marital parties regarding each other. Similarly, in Sikh weddings called Anand Karaj, the couple walks around the holy book of the Sikhs, Guru Granth Sahib, in four complete circles while is Islamic wedding called Nikah, the couple looks at each other through a mirror and says the words “Qubool Hain” three times to seal the bond of marriage.
Suffice to say that festivals form an important part of Indian culture and heritage. Due to the varied religions practiced here, the festivals are also different for each section of people. Popular religious festivals include the Hindu festivals of Navratri, Janmashtami, Diwali, Maha Shivratri, Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja, Holi, Rath Yatra, Ugadi, Onam, Vasant Panchami, Rakshabandhan, and Dussehra.
Other than these, there are also several harvest festivals celebrated by farmers such as Makar Sankranti, Sohrai, Pusnâ, Chapchar Kut, Pongal, and Raja Sankranti. Islam forms a major part of the religion dynamics in India and festivals which are observed as a public holiday in India are Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Adha (Bakri Eid), Milad-un-Nabi, Muharram and Shab-e-Barat.
Other than these popular ones, other Islamic festivities further include Arba’een, Jumu’ah-tul-Wida and Shab-e-Qadar. Christianity is also practiced by people of India and important days for Roman Catholics such as Christmas, and Good Friday has been declared as national holidays in the Republic of India as well.
Just like its religion and festivals, the cuisine in India is also equally diverse. Foods are influenced by people belonging to different parts of the country, their way of living, the environment, and availability of goods. Atul Kochhar, one of India’s most well known chefs being acclaimed worldwide for his skills had once quoted:
“I travel to India at least three to four times a year. It’s always inspirational. There is so much to learn from India because each and every state is a country by itself, and each has its own cuisine. There are lots of things to learn about the different cuisines – it just amazes me.
I keep my mind open and like to explore different places and pick up different influences as I go along. I don’t think that there is a single state in India that I haven’t visited. Indian food is a cosmopolitan cuisine that has so many ingredients. I don’t think any cuisine in the world has got so many influences the way that Indian food has. It is a very rich cuisine and is very varied. Every region in the world has its own sense of how Indian food should be perceived.”
It is imperative that Indian food is primarily influenced by the diversity of people living in it. Hindu cuisine includes rice, chapatti, vegetable curry, fish, parathas, etc. Islamic cuisine includes Biriyani, Raita, Haleem, Kheema, etc. In the South Indian states, people generally cook food using coconut oil as opposed to the common mustard oil or sunflower oil. This is because coconuts are so easily available in large quantities in the South. South Indian food includes Idli, Sambar, Dosa, Vada, etc.
Traditional clothing is the essence of Indian culture. Clothes depend on the place of origin, climate, and heritage of the particular place. In the state of West Bengal, and also in several southern states such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka the authentic clothing for women is the Saree that is a single, long piece of fabric draped around the body.
For men, the authentic Bengali clothing in Dhoti and Kurta. In the state of Punjab, salwar kameez and Kurti form the traditional clothing for women while men wear headgear or turban known as the Dastar. The Bindi, Mehendi, bangles, and earrings are a part of the attire for women.
The Sindoor, which is a scarlet or Vermilion powder worn by women in the parting of their hair, signifies a symbolic for marriage. All married women in India wear sindoor.
The first ever literary work created in India was the Rigveda, in the 19th Century. Written in Sanskrit, the Rigveda laid the foundation of several religious scriptures and literary works in later years. Written by the Aryans, the Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda also soon followed. Other popular literary works created in ancient India are Ramayana by Rishi Valmiki and Mahabharata by Rishi Vyasa.
Biographies of kings such as Babarnama ( biography of Babur; founder of Mughal Empire) and Akbarnama (biography of Akbar, the greatest king of India) are also priceless literary pieces that give us information about the era. Apart from this certain scripture written by foreign travelers such as Fa Hein and Huein Tsung gives us information about the traditions and lifestyles of people in India.