For an individual, traditions play a crucial role in providing cultural identity. Every religion has festivals, rituals and mythologies that are part of the country’s tangible and intangible heritage. Thus, faith contributes to the preservation of this heritage and adds to the country’s diversity. Indian culture and traditions now have become renowned across the world. We all refer to the culture of India as something which is very much diverse and unique. India’s culture is one of the oldest in the world.
India has 28 states and 23 official languages, which is not the case anywhere in the world. Many people live in India wire in Devanagari script. In fact, it is a misconception that most people in India speak Hindi. Though many people speak Hindi in India, 59 percent of India residents speak something other than Hindi. Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil and Urdu are some other languages spoken in the country.
India is socially, culturally, and linguistically very diverse. Hindi and English are widely spoken and recognised for official purposes. Other than than, there are 22 scheduled languages recognised by the constitution of India. However, more than 400 languages and dialects in India are still not known. Dialects change even with a few kilometres of travel in the state. Over the years, about 190 languages have become endangered due to very few surviving speakers.
There exist thousands of traditions and culture in India, and quite a few of them would leave outsiders rather curious. But the crux of Indian society and culture has always been to be well mannered, polite, respect others, and progress together.
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. 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.
The Indian traditions and scriptures contain various signs and symbols which have multiple meanings. For example, the usage of the Swastika, in the Indian context, does not point towards Adolf Hitler or Nazism. It is the symbol of Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. The arms of the Swastika have various meanings. They signify the four Vedas, the four constellations, or the four primary aims of human pursuit.
Indian food and cuisine not only form an integral part of the culture of India but are also one of the critical factors of India’s popularity worldwide. The style of cooking varies from region to region, though unanimously, Indian food has a significant reputation for its extensive use of spices and herbs. Just like dances, religious practices, language and clothes, you will also find a wide variety of food throughout the country. Almost every region is known for a signature dish or ingredient.
The staple, however, throughout the nation consists mostly of rice, wheat and Bengal gram (Chana). While vegetarian food is an integral part of Gujrati South Indian and Rajasthani cuisines, non-vegetarian dishes form a central part of Mughlai, Bengali, North Indian and Punjabi cuisine. It is also interesting to note that specific cuisines like that of Kashmir have also been influenced by foreign cooking styles from Central Asia, Persia and Afghanistan.
When the Moghul Empire invaded during the sixteenth century, they left a significant mark on the Indian cuisine. 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.
ARCHITECTURE & 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. Indian dance, music and theatre traditions span back more than 2000 years. 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.
Indian clothing is closely identified with the colourful 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.
The Namaste is one of the most popular Indian customs and isn’t just restricted to the Indian territory anymore. You have Barack Obama, who has been seen doing it on various occasions, or you had Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General, greeting everyone with a namaste at the Times Square in New York on the first International Yoga Day. The Namaste, or namaskar, or ‘namaskar’ is one of the five forms of traditional greetings mentioned in the ancient Hindu scriptures, the Vedas. It translates to ‘I bow to you’, and greeting one another with it is a way of saying ‘May our minds meet’, indicated by the folded palms placed before the chest. The word Namaha can also be translated as ‘na ma’ (not mine), to signify the reductions of one’s ego in the presence of the other.
India also sees a large number of festivals, mainly because of the prevalence of diverse religions and groups. The Muslims celebrate Eid, the Christians have Christmas and good Friday, the Sikhs have Baisakhi (harvesting of crop), and the birthdays of their Gurus and the Hindus have Diwali, Holi, Makar Sakranti, the Jains have Mahavir Jayanti, the Buddhists celebrate the Buddha’s birthday on Buddha Poornima, and quite honestly, the number is endless.
SYMBOLS – FASTING
Fasting is an integral part of Hindu Culture. Fasts or Vrats or Upvas are a way to represent your sincerity and resolve or express your gratitude to the Gods and Goddesses. People throughout the country observe fasts during various religious occasions. Some people also observe fast on different days of a week in favour of a particular God or Goddess associated with that specific day. It is widely believed that by doing so, you are depriving your body of a necessity and thus, punishing yourself to cleanse off the sins that you have committed until the day of fast.
The rules and regulations of a rapid are in accordance with the particular occasion. The origin of fast probably comes from the Vedic ritual of kindling the sacrificial fire for sacrifice purposes. Since the word ‘upvas’ has been used for denoting both fasts and kindling sacrificial fire, it can be thought that people observed fasts when they had to kindle or rekindle the domestic fires kept in their homes to perform daily sacrifices.
MARRIAGE-ARRANGED MARRIAGE SYSTEM
The concept of arranged marriage in India traces its origin to as early as the Vedic times. For royal families, a ceremony known as the ‘Swayambar’ would be arranged for the bride. Suitable matches from all over the kingdom were invited to either compete in some competition to win over the bride, or the bride would herself choose her ideal husband. Even today, the concept of arranged marriage remains a favourite among Indians and is an integral part of ‘Indian Traditions’.
TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS – ATITHI DEVO BHAVA
In India, the saying ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah’ is also integral. It means ‘the guest is equivalent to god’. It is a Sanskrit verse taken from the Hindu scriptures, which later became a part of the ‘Code of conduct for Hindu society since the guest has always been of supreme importance in the Culture of India.