Volunteer Programs,Travel and Work in India

Indian Culture



India with over 1.2 billion people currently forms the largest democracy in the world. Rightly called the Indian sub-continent, this vast country which is spread over 1.2 million miles and is made up of approximately 4,636 separate communities, speaking 461 different languages and over 2,000 dialects contains within itself a world of diversity. Gitanjali Kolanad in her book Culture Shock! India rightly remarks “If you lay a map of India over a map of Europe, it covers the area from Denmark to Libya and from Spain to Russia. As different as these European countries are, so are the different parts of India…. each area of India has its own distinct culture, and Uttar Pradesh is as different from Tamil Nadu as Finland is from Italy.”

However difficult it may be to comment on the culture of country as big as this without stereotyping sections of it there are certain values held that seem to be common across the country irrespective of religious beliefs, regions and caste barriers. Apart from this the diversity found in the languages, religions, art and architecture, cuisine, music and dance forms contribute towards making this a truly rich and great nation.

DSC_4498Family values: A very strong emphasis is placed on the family. Indians usually live as part of the family or the extended family which may at times include grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins living under the same roof. Most of the country except for one small community in the North-east of India follows a patriarchal system where the oldest living male forms the head of the household and property, titles and wealth passes down from father to son and in most cases to the eldest son, with other members getting a lesser share.

In many cases the family plays a large part in one of its members getting married. Marriage is viewed as the union of two families rather than two people and as such decisions regarding marriage are taken jointly with older members of the household and other people, contributing to the arranged marriage system. Marriages do not take away from the size of the family but add to it as wives are expected to live with and become an active part of the family they marry into. This is however slowly changing as more people are opting to live apart from the larger family. This does not constitute a breakdown in family values as elder members are still respected and consulted upon for important decisions.

Respect for parents and elders: This is another common value held to throughout the country. Age is equated with experience and wisdom and as such respect is always shown to older people. Another common trait is the generic use of the words ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunty’ used to address people who are older than you and does not necessarily refer to a biological relationship. People are very rarely referred to by their first names unless personally asked to do so by them and doing this may be considered very disrespectful in certain circles. Also the use of the terms ‘Sir’ and ‘Madam’ are widely used within a business context.

Religious Tolerance: As a country that has a representation of every major world religion, India is very tolerant of other religious beliefs and practices. People of different communities and religions usually get together and partake in feasts and festivals. There are open invitations for friends and other people to eat with and celebrate various religious festivals together.

SAM_4472It would be easy to assume that one country comprising of 28 states and 7 union territories would speak a single unified language. But this is far from the truth, the number of spoken and officially verified languages within the country number to 461 and apart from this there are over 2000 dialects that are spoken. Each state speaks its own language and you have several languages and dialects spoken within a particular state. Hindi is the official language of the country and is spoken widely throughout parts of the country. There is a common prevalent misconception referring to the language ‘Hindi’ as ‘Indian’ but this is only used to refer to the people of the country and not the language spoken there. English is also widely used and understood in many parts of the country, especially in major cities.

12012008019India is predominantly a Hindu country with over 80% of the country practicing Hinduism. Apart from this it is also the birthplace of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Every major world religion finds a representation here including Islam,Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Animism, the Bahai faith and several new age religions and off-shoots of traditional religions. It is a highly religious nation, with over 93% of Indians associating themselves with a religion. In several places religious practices and rituals are merged with practices from other local beliefs and may look completely different to what it is in other places.

IMG_3826India has a long history of art and architecture, frescoes found in caves like Ajantha and Ellora date back to the BC period. One of the earliest civilizations with fully planned towns i.e. the Indus valley civilization is estimated to have existed as far back as 3200 BC. Most historical architecture from Hindu periods consists of rockcut temples and idols sculpted out of stone. Muslim architecture adds to this with big, elaborate dome shaped buildings in the form of mausoleums, mosques and palaces which are devoid of any sort of sculptures within, but do contain certain carvings and inlay work. The British, Dutch, French and Portuguese invaders have also contributed architecture-wise in certain parts of the country. Apart from this there are forts and palaces built by rulers and kings over time. Excavated sites have found various fragments providing evidence that supports the existence of skilled craftsmen in the fields of jewelry, brass work, pottery, metallurgy, handicrafts, etc. A lot of these skills and handicrafts are carried on to this day.

74982_105972146244003_1967329208_nLocal Indian cuisine to a large part revolves around the food grown and easily available in a particular area combined with various spices and other ingredients. This however changes as people travel and take with them recipes and knowledge of food and flavor. Tastes and flavors range widely from the north to the south and from the east to the west. Food generally sold around the world as Indian food comes from a very small part of north India although you may find south Indian cuisine in different parts of the world too. As a significant percent of the population is vegetarian you will find interesting and innovative takes on the way regular vegetables are prepared and cooked. Food in India is not all about curries and how pungent they are, though you may find some of the hottest dishes in the world here. For the most part it is about combining flavors, marinating meats and creating culinary experiences that are seemingly unknown in many parts of the world.

PCS (6)Though modern musical instruments and western music is very popular in India, it has a long history of wind, string and percussion instruments. Classical musicians usually use these instruments combined with their knowledge of ancient Indian classical music to create traditional music and rhythms which are quite distinct in style and sound. Dance forms in India range from classical dance forms to folk dances. There are traditionally eight classical dance forms and several folk dances exist throughout India.