Cultural History of India13th February 2020
India is one of the most populated countries in the world, officially referred to as the Republic of India. It is located in Southeast Asia, and by area is actually the seventh largest country, occupied by well over 1 billion people. On one side is the Indian Ocean, and on the others are the Arabian Sea with the Bay of Bengal to the southeast. It is bordered by many different countries included Burma, Nepal, and China, and shares the maritime border with Indonesia and Thailand. Within this country is a very unique and vast culture, one that extends thousands of years in the past. This was the original home of what is called the Indus Valley civilization, a culture that is thought to have originated 30,000 years ago
The culture of India refers collectively to the thousands of distinct and unique cultures of all religions and communities present in India. India’s languages, religions, dance, music, architecture, food and customs differ from place to place within the country. Indian culture, often labeled as an amalgamation of several cultures, spans across the Indian subcontinent and has been influenced by a history that is several millennia old. Many elements of India’s diverse cultures, such as Indian religions, philosophy, cuisine, languages, dance, music and movies have a profound impact across the Indosphere, Greater India and the world.
Indian-origin religions Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, all of which are based on the concept of dharma and karma. Ahimsa, a philosophy of nonviolence, is an important aspect of native Indian faiths whose most well known proponent was Mahatma Gandhi who through civil disobedience brought India together against the British Raj and this philosophy further inspired Martin Luther King, Jr. during the American civil rights movement. Foreign-origin religion, including Abrahamic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are also present in India, as well as Zoroastrianism and Bahá’í Faith both escaping persecution by Islam have also found shelter in India over the centuries.
India has 29 states with different culture and the second most populated country in the world. The Indian culture, often labeled as an amalgamation of several various cultures, spans across the Indian subcontinent and has been influenced and shaped by a history that is several thousand years old. Throughout the history of India, Indian culture has been heavily influenced by Dharmic religions. They have been credited with shaping much of Indian philosophy, literature, architecture, art and music. Greater India was the historical extent of Indian culture beyond the Indian subcontinent. This particularly concerns the spread of Hinduism, Buddhism, architecture, administration and writing system from India to other parts of Asia through the Silk Road by the travellers and maritime traders during the early centuries of the Common Era. To the west, Greater India overlaps with Greater Persia in the Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains. Over the centuries, there has been significant fusion of cultures between Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs and various tribal populations in India.
India is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and other religions. They are collectively known as Indian religions. Indian religions are a major form of world religions along with Abrahamic ones. Today, Hinduism and Buddhism are the world’s third and fourth-largest religions respectively, with over 2 billion followers altogether, and possibly as many as 2.5 or 2.6 billion followers. Followers of Indian religions – Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists make up around 80–82% population of India.
India is one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse nations in the world, with some of the most deeply religious societies and cultures. Religion plays a central and definitive role in the life of many of its people. Although India is a secular Hindu-majority country, it has a large Muslim population. Except for Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Lakshadweep, Hindus form the predominant population in all 28 states and 9 union territories. Muslims are present throughout India, with large populations in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Kerala, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam; while only Jammu and Kashmir and Lakshadweep have majority Muslim populations. Sikhs and Christians are other significant minorities of India.
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%) are the other major religions followed by the people of India. Many tribal religions, such as Sarnaism, are found in India, though these have been affected by major religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and the Bahá’í Faith are also influential but their numbers are smaller. Atheism and agnostics also have visible influence in India, along with a self-ascribed tolerance to other faiths. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, India will have world’s largest populations of Hindus and Muslims by 2050. India is expected to have about 311 million Muslims making up around 19–20% of the population and yet about 1.3 billion Hindus are projected to live in India comprising around 76% of the population.
Atheism and agnosticism have a long history in India and flourished within Śramaṇa movement. The Cārvāka school originated in India around the 6th century BCE. It is one of the earliest form of materialistic and atheistic movement in ancient India. Sramana, Buddhism, Jainism, Ājīvika and some schools of Hinduism consider atheism to be valid and reject the concept of creator deity, ritualism and superstitions. India has produced some notable atheist politicians and social reformers. According to the 2012 WIN-Gallup Global Index of Religion and Atheism report, 81% of Indians were religious, 13% were not religious, 3% were convinced atheists, and 3% were unsure or did not respond.
Where It All Began
According to historians, this culture began many millennia ago, evidenced by Mesolithic rock art that has been found. Neolithic settlements appeared in western Pakistan and other locations, but the interesting period of time was when it transitioned into the Iron Age. It was during this time, just prior to 500 BCE, that the Vedas were actually written. This is written documentation about the Indian history and culture depicting a civilization made up of warriors, traders, and priests. There may have been political organizations at that time as well, and traces of irrigation tanks used for agriculture. It is also during this time that an individual by the name of Siddhartha Gautama began to spread the message of what would later be known as Buddhism.
Medieval Culture in India
It was over 1000 years later that culturally diverse city in India began to transition into the creation of temples ruled by kings. Although there were many rulers, there was no one particular empire that was in full control of the entire region. It was also then that the caste system began to be more prominent, and also diversify. It was based on the religion of Hinduism, and was a way of ranking people not only in life, but in regard to what position they had achieved in life through the process of reincarnation. It is from all of this that modern India began to develop, creating traditions based upon philosophy, family, and marriage.
Indian Philosophy and Family Concepts
There are many traditions that still remain in India, although they were founded centuries ago. Traditions involving what are called Yoga, Vedanta and many others, along with different religious practices which include Buddhism. The structure of family and marriage usually required family members to spend most of their lives together. The oldest male would be the head of the household, and make all of the important decisions and rules, ideas that still persist today. Arranged marriages are still a very prominent part of Indian culture, although it is outdated in modern times. There is a very low rate of divorce in comparison to places like the United States, with most of the divorces in India being initiated by women. There are many wedding rituals which include dance, music, and extensive decorations which may include costumes that people wear. It is taken very seriously, and may continue to do so into the future despite Western cultures influence on their society.
Indian Cuisine and Clothing
Another part of Indian history and culture that continues to remain, despite originating centuries ago, is the use of particular types of food which are almost always spicy, usually consisting of rice, bread, and milk based desserts. Clothing in India, especially for women, has remained very consistent. There is a definite discouragement of women wearing clothing that show very much skin. The clothing that they wear is very unique, decorated with jewelry and bangles, something that is identifiable with this culture in particular.
Much of the Indian history and culture of the past has been recorded on parchment that was written in the Sanskrit language. Despite the difference in characters, and the way that it is written, it shares many similarities in structure to classical languages in Europe, specifically in regard to vocabulary and grammar. It is a culture that continues to grow, one that is populated by diverse and unique individuals. It is a waste where the origins of mankind can be traced back, and is continuing to evolve in part due to the influence of Western culture. Those that study Indian culture and history find it to be one of the most unique and colorful of all ancient civilizations that are studied. It continues to be of great interest from traditions passed down through generations, to the writings of the Vedas, and will also continue to write what will soon become history through the accomplishments of this unique people.