The culture of India is among the world’s oldest, reaching back about 5,000 years. Many sources describe it as “Sa Prathama Sanskrati Vishvavara” — the first and the supreme culture in the world. India is a very diverse country, and 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.
Major determinants of social and political organization in India today are:
Religion, Caste, and Language.
There are more job opportunities in the private sector and better chances of upward social mobility now, hence India has begun a quiet social transformation in this area.
The government has recognized 18 official languages; Hindi, the national language, is the most widely spoken, although English is a national lingua franca.
About 80% of the population is Hindu; India is the home of more than 138 million Muslims, the third largest Muslim population in the world. India’s population also includes Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, and Parsis.
The Caste System
The caste system is based on occupational and socially defined hierarchies. – There are 4 castes:
1) Priests (Brahmin),
2) Warriors (Kshatriya),
3) Traders/artisans (Vaishya), and
4) Farmers/laborers (Shudra). – These categories are generally understood throughout India.
The caste system does not include the tribal people and those outside the caste system formerly known as “untouchables”, or dalits.
In reality, Indian society is divided into thousands of jatis–local, endogamous groups based on occupation–and organized hierarchically according to complex ideas of purity and pollution.
Discrimination based on caste is officially illegal, but remains prevalent, especially in rural areas. Government effort, expanding education, land reform and economic opportunity through access to information, communication, transport, and credit are helping to lessen the harshest elements of the caste system.
The Hindu Worldview
Concept of dharma – following one’s duty; being duty bound
Karma – action and consequence (as we sow, so we reap)
Samsara – cycle of life
Moksha – release from the successive cycles of life, death and rebirth
Hindu weddings are a sacrament.
Generally, they last a few days.
They are highly ritualized.
Fire is a sacred and central element of the Hindu wedding.
Weddings are very festive, with lots of music, dancing, food, sweets, gifts, and include many family traditions.
Black or plain white is NEVER worn at a wedding as both are the colors of sorrow, mourning or widowhood.
Not all Hindu weddings are ostentatious, noisy, and long. Many factors affect wedding customs: – Region – Caste – Socio-economic standing – Education level – Urban versus rural – Family make-up
Labor force: 487.6 million (2011 estimate)
Labor force – by occupation:
Unemployment rate: 9.8% (2011 estimate)
Classified as a “low income” country by the World Bank with a GNI (gross national income) of $450.
Great inequality in the distribution of wealth: the richest tenth of households hold 33% of wealth, while the poorest tenth only hold 3%.
29% of the population lives below the poverty line; 70% of these people reside in rural areas; 86% of the population lives under $2 per day;
44% lives under $1 per day;
25% of the population does not have enough money to eat adequately.
Dos and Don’ts in India
1) Do drink bottled water only.
2) Don’t offer bribes to get any job done. Bribe-taking and bribe-giving are a common practice in India but they are intended to speed up things or win a favor that non-Indians are not entitled to. Plan well in advance. Use consultants or trade and industry associations. If you expect favors, let them come free or not at all. Warn anyone (even in government) who asks you for a bribe that you would report him to the Anti-Corruption Bureau or the nearest police-station.
3) Don’t show amusement at Indian English, accents or choice of words. The fact remains that many Indians speak and write better English than many native English speakers.
4) Do pay attention to the Indian nod. Many Indians are in the habit of shaking their head in the course of conversation or taking instructions. The nod generally means I hear you. Namaste. This is a greeting done with joining of your palms as during prayer.
5) Do say namaste, folding your hands together, as if praying. This is a common greeting well understood across India, in spite of linguistic differences.
6) Don’t shake hands with women if they do not extend their hand out first. Many women may not wish to shake hands when met, so a ‘Namaste’ greeting is appropriate, followed with a Kaise hai? (How are you? in Hindi.)
Wide regional variation
- A variety of spices and nuts add delicate flavor to the food
- Vegetarian food is very common in India
- There are many types of curries (vindaloo, Madras, etc.)
- Do not confuse curry with gravy.
- No beef! (Cows are considered holy in India.)
- Chicken and lamb/mutton are common meats, as is fish.
- Indian pickles are served with every meal; they are made with oil, spices and a variety of vegetables (mango, lemon, chilies, and carrots.)
- Plain yogurt is consumed with almost every meal.
The biggest film producing industry in the world is the Mumbai-based Bollywood.
It is also called Hindi Cinema, since many regional language films are also produced in India. Melodrama and romance are common ingredients of Bollywood films.
India has a history of music that spans millennia. Music serves as spiritual inspiration, cultural expression and pure entertainment. Types of music:
- Folk – rural, ethnic, regional music
- Popular – Bollywood and regional cinema music
- Classical music – two branches: Carnatic) Southern India) and Hindustani (Northern and Central India)
Galaxy of Musicians by Raja Ravi Varma depicts Indian women dressed in regional attire playing a variety of musical instruments popular in different parts of the country.
In Hindu mythology, dance is believed to have been conceived by Brahma, who inspired the sage Bharata Muni to write the Natya Shastra, a treatise on performing arts, from which a codified practice of dance and drama emerged. The best-known of Hindu deities—Shiva, Kali and Krishna—are typically represented dancing. Shiva’s cosmic dance, Kali’s dance of creation and destruction, and Krishna’s dance with the gopikas (cow-herd girls)—Rasa Lila—are popular motifs in Hindu mythology.
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To conclude with, there are different aspects of the Indian culture. Each aspect is practiced by people but not everyone believes in the different aspects. As you can see it is a very traditional culture, everyone has their opinion towards it, positive and negative. Therefore the Indian Culture is a very unique culture and has various practices. Although the youth do not believe in the traditional aspects, the culture will vary with time and will not be traditional anymore because of the modern world. All in all the aspects are frequently practiced but tomorrow’s generation are going to change it.
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