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Indian Culture

Culture and Civilization are used synonymously but there is a difference between the two words. While Culture connotes the beliefs, arts, mores, values, traditions, customs, food habits, religious beliefs and various behavioral traits needed to survive in a given geographical environment. In other words, the the environmental, social, and political forces shape the responses of a group of individual and the sum total of all the responses is defined as culture. On the other hand, Civilization represents the level of materialistic, intellectual and scientific achievements which the people of a given culture have acquired. However, both are interrelated and one leads to other.

The soil of India saw the growth of one of the oldest culture in the world – the Harappan Culture. Since then, number of incursion from northwestern part of the land took place. While many of the invaders came as looters and plunderers, others made India their home. All of these historical events had a deep impact on the Indian culture. The present culture of India reflects a collective heritage of the past. Undoubtedly, Indian culture is varied, rich and diversified with its own uniqueness.

Behaviour, communication styles, level of importance given to the people etc are in integral part of the culture. These habits, beliefs and behavioural traits are passed from one generation to the other as value system. These value systems remain unchanged for generations to come as they are deeply ingrained in ones cores. One of such Indian values is the treatment given to the guests in India. In Indian culture, guests are treated as gods and are served with great respect and reverence. Even a poor family offers food and drinks available at their home at the cost of passing the night hungry themselves. Similarly, elders especially mother and father are treated with great love and respect. Their presence is considered blessing on the family. And all these respect is not enforced upon the younger generations but culturally ingrained in their hearts and souls. The verses taken from Taitriya Upanishad describes everything about the treatment of guest, parents and elders - : matrudevo bhava, acharyadevo bhava, pitrudevo bhava, atithidevo bhava. The literal translation of the verse would bring out the sense that an ideal person should strive to "be one for whom the Mother is God, be one for whom the Father is God, be one for whom the Teacher is God, be one for whom the guest is God."

In Indian culture, every human is respected irrespective of personal or professional relationship. Indians believe in “Jeev hi Shiv” or Life in any form is God.  Indians give and solicit respect equally from elders and youngers. This is not so in western cultures where there is equality in relationships and distinction in economic classes. Indians are known to be sensitive to other people’s problems. They are always eager to extend their helping hands to help to the people in trouble. Probably, this is the reason happiness quotient is higher in India in spite of economic challenges.

Religions

India has given birth to some of the greatest religions of the world namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. These religions which originated in India are collectively recognized as Indian religions. More than two billion people follow Hinduism and Buddhism and this fact qualify them to hold the position of third- and fourth-largest religions in the world respectively. The other religions like Jainism, Lingayats and Ahmadiyya faith also originated in India.

Hinduism is followed by almost 80% of the Indian people. Indian Muslims who practice Islam faith constitute another 13% of the population. This makes India abode of the world’s third largest Muslim population after Indonesia and Pakistan. Some of the religions which originated in India like Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism have truly become world religions in the sense that their followers are widespread across the different countries. The followers of other religions like Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and the Bahá'í Faith are also present in India but their population is small.

The History of India's Culture

The study of ancient history and culture shows how rich and diversified is Indian heritage. The facts about the ancient Indus Valley Civilization leave one awestruck in terms of the logical and rational thinking and scientific outlook of the people. A number of cultural elements have been taken from the ancient culture. Town planning, agricultural farming, cattle rearing and dairy farming, use of burnt bricks, building of check dams, script, paintings and terracotta figurines, dressing and ornaments etc everything could be found in the ancient culture and many of them are in continued use till today. Similarly, religious beliefs, god worship, rituals and dances find their roots in ancient Indian tradition.

Indian culture is known for family values, societal bonding and respect for elders. India represents a colorful mosaic of number of people with their own culture, traditions, customs, values, languages, religious beliefs and cuisines. It is a melting pot of different cultures and the concoction produced henceforth is more beautiful than the individual cultural ingredients. This has been made possible because of high level of tolerance among the people which in turn is taught and transferred through Indian culture. Indian value system welcomes cultures from all the direction and gives complete freedom to propagate themselves on the Indian land. Indian cultural ethos believes in influencing other cultures and getting influenced at the same time from different cultures. The present India is a synthesis of all the good elements taken from everywhere which had the capability to influence and appeal to the logical and rational mind for peaceful coexistence. 

Attires in Indian Culture

Attires and dressings depend upon the climatic condition of a place and the cultural beliefs on the land. India lies mostly in tropical climatic zone and so the traditional outfits also reflect the dressing well suited to the climatic conditions. Cotton fabric is extensively used in India. They are not only light and soft but also comfortable for most part of the warm and humid climatic condition. Indian muslins are world famous for their lightness and comfort. Of late, cotton fabric is being mixed with others to give extra shine and durability. The fabric made of viscose, terry cotton; polycot and cotton silk are being extensively used in production of fabrics in India. In the temperate zones like the Himalayan region, wool and woolen fabrics are mostly used. A woolen costume called ‘feran’ locally is like blanket wrap worn over the normal dressing. The outfit is loose enough to keep a vessel containing burning charcoal inside it. The other winter wear in the northern hills of India are woolen shawls and cardigans. These are hand-woven in the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.

The attire that marks India apart from other cultures are Indian sarees which is the most elegant and versatile form for draping. Regional variation could be found to a great extent in the design, fabric and colors of sari. Bandhi printed sari of Gujarat are very famous for their radiant colors and small prints. In the south India, such prints are called ‘chungari’ sari. In some of the states, designs are made by doing embroidery works.

The saris from Kerala have their own unique designs. These sarees have beautiful prints in golden color and cream color and could be used with blouses of various colors. Similarly, navvari sari of Maharashtra is full nine yards in length and is generally based in green-leaf color. The color is symbolizes newlywed bride.  Rajasthan and Punjab are also famous for their gota and zari works which are sewn to saris and dupattas.

While saris are the traditional wear of the grown up women, the younger girls wear ghagra-cholis or its variations. In the south India, ghagra-choli are called ‘padavai’. The girls wear them generally with gold jewelry like neck-chains and earrings. The ghagra-cholis have been modified for bridal wear as lehenga-choli-dupatta. These look very beautiful and elegant in the brides and many designers have tried their hands in designing and decorating the attire with their imagination. However, the use of salwar kameez in women is most popular in India. These are not only comfortable but also looks very elegant as it covers whole body of women.

Values in India

Indian culture teaches many values which are passed from one generation to other through the process of enculturation. Lessons on human values, family values, societal values and values required for sustainable development is taught through customs, traditions, legends, folk tales, epics and is intricately interwoven in the religion. Some of the values which transcends the regional boundaries are respect for individual, women and elders. There is a value system which teaches to live in an environmentally sustainable condition. Probably it is India only where plants, trees and animals are worshipped. Indian people are god loving and god fearing people. They follow religion but at the same time create space for other religions to penetrate, grow and propagate. The values of tolerance, peace and co-existence make the core of Indian value system.  India has always been open to new ideas, innovations, scientific viewpoint, logics and rationality. Modern India believes in democratic values and equality of mankind.

Family Culture of India

In India joint family system is still prevalent especially in villages. A large family with number of relationships resides and eats at one place. The work responsibility is divided among the elders and the young ones in the family. There is an hierarchy in the family and the words of the elders are treated as commands. In return, the elders shower love and blessing to the young ones. However, due to urbanization taking place at a quick pace, the joint family system is gradually giving way to nuclear family where the husband, wife and their children live. However, the values and relationships remain the same in nuclear family also. The bond is maintained howsoever the distance is between the parents and the children.

Marriage is considered very important in the Indian family system. The whole family and society participate on the auspicious occasion to give blessing to the newlywed couples. India generally has patriarchal set up and so the bride comes to husband’s place after marriage. The love, affection and respect that she gets soon make her adapt to and adopt the new family. In India marriage does not take place between two individuals but between two families.

The festivals in India are a complete family affair. The rituals and customs to be followed are made in such a manner that the whole family participates in the celebration. On every festival praying and offering to god is customary. The family elders are respected and their presence is considered very auspicious for the family.  

Folk Dance and Music in India

India has a tradition of music and dance since historical periods. It is no wonder that Indian tradition of music also called Classical music is shaped by different gharanas and styles based on specific place of their birth or the originator of the style. Two of the most important styles of classical music are Carnatic and Hindustani music which has an historical continuity of thousands of years.  The classical music in India is the soul of all the art forms as it not only manifests the cultural heritage but is also spiritually alleviating. The other music forms prevalent in India include various folk songs, pop music, popular songs etc. The modern globalization process has definitely affected the Indian music and today all styles of music, both in vocal and instrumental, could be seen in India.

Similarly, Dance forms in India have also an historical root and so it covers a wide range of classical dances which started as temple dances in India. Later, representations in theatres helped in modifying these dance forms to a great extent. The modern interaction with the world has brought to India various other dances styles from different parts of the world.

Bharatnatyam is the most renowned dance-form of the South India. This dance had been kept alive by the great endeavours and efforts of gurus and the disciples. This traditional dance is respected as a religion and the followers do a lot of ‘sadhana’ to achieve mastery over it. The particular dance is usually performed with knees bent in a forward direction and uses various facial features to express the nine emotions of human beings or ‘Nav’ Ras. The face makeup and the attire used in the dance-form is very typical of this dance and supports the desired expressions by the artists.

Kuchupidi is a another form of dance from the South India. Kathakali of Kerela and Oddissi from Orissa are other very important traditional dance forms in India.

Indian music and dances are attached with the religion and the gods and goddesses. For example, Sarswati, the goddess for ‘learning and enlightenment’ is depicted as holding Veena, an Indian music instrument. Similarly, Lord Krishna is believed to be the best player of ‘Baansuri’ or flute. In the Hindu mythologies deities like Shiva and Kali are depicted to dance in utter anger which resulted in the demolition of all the demons. These themes became the basis for the Indian classical dances. Later various life events connected with Lord Rama, Lord Krishna and other gods and goddesses are the themes on which most of the Indian classical dances are based. There are other dance forms also practiced and danced at the local or regional levels. These are called folk dances. A few of the popular folk dances are Bhangra of Punjab, Garba of Gujarat, Ghumar of Rajasthan and Lavani of Maharashtra. In the recent times, the Indian film industry, popularly known as Bollywood, has adopted and modified a variety of global dance forms in India.

Drama and Theatre

Theatre and Drama has been traditionally an integral part of Indian culture. The plays like Abhigyan Shakuntlam and Meghdootam were written thousands of years back by the famous writer, poet and playwriter Kalidasa's. Kutiyattam of Kerela is credited with oldest remarkable theatre traditions which are still survived in India. Kutiyattam follows the rules of Natya Shastra strictly. The tradition was given a new lease of life by Nātyāchārya Māni Mādhava Chākyār who revived this tradition of drama from the point of extinction. Known to have mastery over Rasa Abhinaya, he also started Kutiyattam with ancient plays written by Kalidasa, Bhasa and Harsha’s like Vikramorvaśīya, Abhijñānaśākuntala, Mālavikāgnimitra, Swapnavāsavadatta, Pancharātra and Nagananda.

Painting

Rock paintings found in the caves of India from the pre-historic times are the earliest specimens of paintings in India. Some of the finest paintings could be found in the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, Bagh and Sittanavasal. Similarly, with the construction of temples to worship their deities, temple paintings also started. The themes of the paintings were mainly the religious beliefs, life events related with their gods, goddesses and deities. The love for nature also was made the basis for the paintings.

Similarly, paintings could be found on the walls of the houses, later, when the Indians started practicing agriculture and started a settled life. This could be found in the villages of India even till present times.

The continuation and reminiscent of the tradition is the custom of making ‘rangolis’, designs made by applying colored flours. Rangolis are a very common sight during the times of festivals. They are made outside the homes at their doorsteps, especially in South India.

Some of the beautiful genres of paintings in India are Madhubani painting of Bihar, Mysore painting, Rajput painting of Rajasthan, Tanjore painting and Mughal painting. Apart from this worli paintings of Gujarat and Orissa has also made its place in the recent times.

Sculpture

Probably sculptures discovered from the ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization are the earliest sculptures found in India. During the period, a number of figures carved out of stone and bronze haven excavated. With the temple buildings, sculptures got a new impetus and some of the most intricate and beautiful sculptures were made during period. Figures of gods, goddesses and Buddha and Mahavira were sculpted and placed in the temples. During the same period temple carvings were done and huge temples were built with figure and themes carved on them. In some of the shrines like Ellora, the sculpture were not made on blocks and then joint together but were carved out of solid rocks only.

The northwestern part of India had a close contact with the Central Asian cultures. In fact, almost all the foreign incursions were made from that direction only and so a number of foreign settlements remained around the place. The settlers influenced the Indian sculptures to a great extent. There was strong presence of blend of Indian and Hellenistic influence. Greco-Roman influence could be seen on the eyes, forehead and the hairstyles of the sculptures produced during the period around the place. It was exactly the same period that Mathura style of sculptures evolved which used pink sandstone as the base material for making sculptures. Gupta period in the Indian history in 4th c. to 6th c. A.D. was the golden period in Indian sculpture making. Some of the finest pieces of sculptures and temples were made during this period.

Architecture

Architecture in India is the result of both self-expression as well as imbibing of elements from other cultures. Historical developments had the direct impact over the architectural style in India. The settlers from new culture brought their own architectural style with themselves. They mostly mixed their own style with the existing Indian style to give birth to an altogether new style of architecture. And this holds true for all the period. Thus, what is evident in India is the phenomena of continuity and evolution. The earliest architecture is evident in the ruins of the Indus Valley Civilization (2600–1900 BC). There was a perfect planning for the town, the streets cutting at an angle of 90 degrees as is followed till today, use of rectangular bricks in making houses and a well developed drainage system. While these elements were continued in the following periods, new ideas regarding planning and building of houses were introduced in the later times.

During the Gupata and Mauryan period, the India saw not only the summit of political expansion but also pinnacle of cultural development including art and architecture. During these periods, a number of Buddhist structures like Ajanta and Ellora caves and Sanchi Stupa were built. These architectural monuments are masterpieces of their times. South India also developed their own architectural styles which could be especially seen in the various temples of the time. Belur’s Chennakesava Temple, Halebidu’s Hoysaleswara Temple, and Somanathapura’s Kesava Temple, Thanjavur’s Brihadeeswara Temple, Konark’s Sun Temple, Srirangam’s Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, and Bhattiprolu’s Buddha Stupa are the speaking proofs of the designs, minute carvings on the stones and awesome human endeavour in building expressive of their grand architectural thoughts. The influence of religion and architectural styles on the foreign lands of South East Asia could also be seen in the temples situated at Angkor Wat, Borobudur and other Buddhist and Hindu temples built on their land.

The influence of Mughal and British style of architecture was immense in India. While the minarets and dome shaped took over the building structures and new style resultant of combination with the Hindu style gave rise to monumental forts as seen in Rajasthan. Similarly, the forts at Fatehpur Sikri, Taj Mahal of Agra, Gol Gumbaz, Delhi’s Qutub Minar, and Red Fort of Delhi are sculptures of this era reflect the overtowering architectural specimens of the time. With the Britishers came the Indo-Saracenic and European Gothic style. Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial, the Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, CST) at Mumbai along with number of buildings in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai examples of British style of architecture.

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