The Indian People - Cultures of the World

Actually more of a heterogeneous collection of beliefs, peoples, and traditions, the culture of India is united in its variety.


Indian culture is often considered as a collective from a shared group of distinct cultures that had originated in the Indian subcontinent in close connection with one another, rather than as a homogeneous cultural tradition. The origins of these cultures, which developed in the riverine plains of what are today the independent countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal date back to as far as the 2nd Millennium BC. Today, the diaspora of peoples of Indian ancestry is to be found spanning across all corners of the world.

Language and the Arts

The ancient Indian classical language, called Sanskrit, was one of the earliest Indo-European languages to be developed. The epics of Mahabharata, Ramayana, the classical plays written by the court poets of early first millennium AD, the grammatical treatises of Panini, as well as countless works of lyrical poetry, tracts on statecraft and the performing arts, and also what was perhaps the world's first sex manual (the 'Kama Sutra') were all written in Sanskrit. The modern Indian languages, such as Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Urdu, and Manipuri, each have their own unique and significant literary traditions which go back for many centuries as well. The census of India 2001 notes India has 122 'Major' languages, in addition to 1599 'Other' languages.

India has one of the earliest scholastic traditions of systematic study of performing arts. Natyasastra, a 2,000-year-old Sanskrit text, describes five systems of classifying musical instruments. The oldest preserved examples of Indian music are the melodies of the Samaveda, written in the early years of the first millennium BC. The intricate 'frescoes', murals found in the various ancient structures down the length and breadth of the country, testify to the superb technical expertise of the sculptors and artisans of India through the years.

Philosophy and Religion

Numerous significant religious traditions that developed within India have become globally important today. These include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism. Meanwhile, Christianity and Islam, with their Middle Eastern origins, have deeply influenced the development of Indian cultural practices. In fact, both of these foreign religious traditions have been extensively practiced in the region for many centuries now. As such, they can scarcely be considered as being less integral than the indigenous religious traditions of the subcontinent to the culture as a whole.

Numerous philosophical traditions had developed in India. Notably, the 6 schools of Vedic philosophy and 4 schools of 'Heterodox' philosophy, of which the most reputed is Buddhism, are included among them. India has a very ancient tradition of atheistic thought as well. One of the most famous of these is the materialistic philosophical school called Carvaka, which was developed in the 6th Century BC.

Indian Cuisine

The cuisine of India varies considerably across its various regions and ethnic communities. Some significant culinary traditions are the Mughlai, Rajasthani, and Kashmiri cuisine in the north. Wheat-based bread is the main staple in the north and west of the country, while rice predominates as the main starch in the south and east. Udupi and Chettinad cuisine are specialities of the south. Eastern India is noted for comparatively more non-vegetarian dishes, especially those incorporating freshwater fishes. In fact, every constituent state of the Republic of India has its own distinct culinary practices, and many share a lot in common with the foods of the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. To illustrate the situation, the food of West Bengal and Assam is more akin to the food of Bangladesh than to the food of North or South India. Similarly, Kashmiri food has more affinity with dishes in Pakistan and Iran than it does to cuisine from other parts of India.

India has an elaborate range of variation when it comes to milk-based desserts. The region is not very well known for having much of a 'cheese culture', but a particular sweet cream preparation, called 'Kheer', has been venerated through generations. Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, on the other hand, are famous for their specialty 'sweetmeat' preparations. Due to religious taboos, alcohol production in India is not so widely prominent as are other features of its cuisine. However, almost all regions have their own particularly local alcoholic varieties, such as Mahua of Bengal, Chhang of Meghalaya, and Bhaang of Northern India. India has the largest population of vegetarian nationals in the world, and a number of culinary traditions have developed which pride themselves in their strictly vegetarian status. These include the Udupi cuisine of the western coast of South India, and the Jain food of Northwestern India.

State of the Culture

Indian culture can in no way be termed as a culture in threat. In fact, in spite of its heterogeneity, it is one of the most aggressively expanding and dominant cultures in all of South Asia. However, many threats lie from within, and the very heterogeneity of Indian culture is at stake by the rise of certain majoritarian fascist forces, who desire to introduce and dictate a certain monolithic variety of Indian cultural practices. The rise of an ultra-traditionalist, right-wing Hindu organization. called the 'Sangh Parivar', in the early 1990s placed the proverbial diversity and tolerance among Indian culture under great threat. Among a host of sensationalist agenda items, some of their most significantly ambitious programs include efforts to convert all non-Hindu Indian citizens to Hinduism, to conquer and institute a 'reunited' mythical India, and banning any text or cultural production that they deem to be against Hinduism. Such projects are against the ethos of Hinduism or Indian culture per se, as Hinduism had never traditionally been a unified and rigidly bounded religion, but rather signified a shared spiritual pantheon.

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