Indian Culture: Religion and Languages, Custom & Traditions
Indian Culture is a tree with many roots that have no ends. Each one depicts different faces of India, tailing through all eras and time – history, present, and future. The birth of Indian Culture’s customs and traditions go way back to the beginning of the Indus Valley Civilization and following the Vedas.
Being the oldest civilization on earth, Indian Culture has gone through many reforms and adjustments. If we talk about customs and traditions, there have been drastic changes in them, after passing through generations after generations. But still, Indian Culture never lost its real touch – it’s still there, somewhere.
Indian traditions and customs exhibit an overwhelming surfeit of divine mythologies and ancient beliefs. It can take years for a person to perceive the in-depth knowledge of Indian traditions and customs, but for an overview, you can first go by understanding the base of India, from where it all starts. And that is its diversity from state to state.
Religion and Languages
India is an epitome for diversity. IIn India, there is no one official language as it comprises 28 states. Although Hindi is used most commonly in the country, the Constitution of India officially recognizes 23 official languages.
Religion in India is the pillar of most aspects of life for individuals and families. Around 80 percent of Indians are Hindus, and about 13 percent are Muslims. Minorities like Jainism, Christian, Sikhs, and Buddhists balance the rest percentage.
Custom & Traditions
Every state in India has its own custom and traditions that have been followed by people since ages and is still on. From festivals to clothes, to even food, everything changes at every turn of road.
Festivals : India is a home of festivals, with having more festivals than anywhere in the world. For every occasion, celebration, happiness, there is a festival. Be the arrival of any seasons of the year, or the time of harvest or rain, or full moon or new moon, every event is celebrated with enthusiasm. Then there are some religious festivals to celebrate the birth of divine lords or saints, or to celebrate some tales that teach the win of good over evil.
Some of the festivals are common to most of the states or cities in India, though they still can differ by names or way of celebrating. Apart from that, there are some cities or states which are especially known for some festivals.
The common festivals which are celebrated in India are listed below:
This festival is to celebrate the occasion of incarnation of Lord Vishnu as Krishna on earth. According to mythologies, Krishna was born to end Mathura’s bad omen Kansa, brother of his real mother, Devki. People celebrate this festival by fasting, decorating Vishnu or Krishna temples, preparing special food and dishes like butter and sweets. Around midnight, people celebrate the arrival of Krishna by bathing a small idol of his with five essentials like curd, honey etc. and then they break their fast.
This festival is to celebrate the occasion of Lord Ganesh descending from Kailash Parvat to the earth with his mother Goddess Parvati. Although this is a main festival in Maharashtra, still many other parts in India celebrate it too. It is celebrated by installing a ganesh clay idol in home and taking care of him as a guest before immersing the clay idol in the sea after 10 days.
This festival is to celebrate the bond between brothers and sisters. On this occasion, sisters tie a rakhi on their brother’s wrist to protect them from negative and bad influence and wish for a long happy life. In return brothers swear to protect their sisters from any harm.
This festival celebrates the return of Lord Ram ( one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu) to his kingdom Ayodhya after his 14-year exile, also to celebrate the victory of goodness over evil. It is celebrated by lighting diyas outside home and by decorating houses with lights, rangoli and flowers. Also people burn effigies of Ravana, the king who kidnapped Lord Ram’s wife Sita and was killed by Lord Ram.
Though in some places in India, people do not burn the effigies of Ravana, as they worship or respect him for being a true devotee of Lord Shiva.
Id-ul-zuha ( or bakr-Id):
It is a festival for celebration of sacrifice. This festival of muslims is marked by exchanging gifts and greetings, also it is an occasion of total happiness and prayers. In Id-ul-zuha, “Id” means “festival and “zuha” means “sacrifice”. Also because of the tradition of sacrificing a goat, in Indian continental it is known as “bakr-id ”.
This festival celebrates the arrival of spring. It is a celebration of playing with colors. It is the main celebration in Northern India. It is said to be an imitation of a game played by Lord Krishna with gopis and Radha in the celebration of spring.
A day before Holi, Holika is celebrated with a bonfire, that represents the burning of demoness Holika. There is a legend in Hindu mythology behind the celebration of holika. Holika was asked by her brother, Hiranyakashipu, to kill his son Prahlad because of his son’s unbreakable devotion to Vishnu. Holika sat above a bonfire with Prahlad on her lap, because she was gifted with an ability to not be burnt.
But Prahald’s true devotion to Lord Vishnu saved him and holika got burnt in that fire. The burning of Holika is something worshippers reminisce on eve of holika to remember how Vishnu (in the form of a lion-man, Narasimha) attacked and killed Hiranyakashipu, freeing Prahlad from the clutch of evil.
Christmas originates from the word ‘Christ’s Mass’. It is celebrated on 25th December all over the world to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is regarded as one of the most important of all Christian festivals.
Some of the unique festivals in India by states are:
Hemis festival, Shikara festival (Jammu and Kashmir)
It’s a land of enchantment and mesmerism. With it’s serene ethnicity and ethereal sceneries, it is said to be the heaven city on earth. To add up the charm, the city has its own joyous and religious festivals.
Hemis festival is a declared holiday in the city for the celebration of the birth anniversary of Padmasambhava (founder of tibetan Buddhism). This is a two day celebration and all Lamas perform “Chaam” dance form to enjoy this occasion.
Shikara festival is basically an activity to promote tourism in Kashmir. Shikaras are a prime attraction of Dal lake, kashmir and during this occasion they are painted and decorated beautifully.
Baisakhi, Lohri festival (Punjab)
A state full of enthusiasm and energy, where people are always active and spiritive. Thus this city has festivals, just like it’s natives – full of life and passion.
Baisakhi is a sikh festival of dance and prayers, celebrating sikh new year. There are more than one religious and historical reasons behind celebrating this festival. It also embarks the spring harvest time for Sikhs and commemorates the formation of Khalsa panth of warriors under Guru Gobind Singh.
Lohri festival traces the end of winter season, celebrating with dhols, dancing and singing religious songs. This festival is full of vigour and life.
Bihu Festival (Assam)
This state is known for its wildlife habitats and tea, silk production. It’s vibrant and colourful festivals reflect the bond, belief, and faith among the all diverse heritage tribes living within the borders. All the celebrations mark the rich culture and colourful heritage of this state.
Bihu is the most colourful and cheerful festival in Assam, also it’s a main and important celebration in the state. This celebration comprises three festivals Rongali, Kati, and Bhogali Bihu. This festival gathers people of Assam together, breaking the norms and prejudice of cast, religion or race.
Teej, Pushkar Camel festival (Rajasthan)
Being the largest state in India, Rajasthan does have many royal, regional, and elegant festivals. The state is known for its wise history, royalty and vibrant culture. Although every city in the state has one of their own festivals, there are some festivals in which people around the state visit to take part in.
Teej is a festival celebrated by women, welcoming the commencement of the monsoon season. This festival is celebrated with lots of dancing, singing and visiting fairs.
Pushkar Camel festival is a five day fair in Pushkar city, celebrated with great enthusiasm and joy. Lots of international travellers visit with keen interest to enjoy the celebration.
Onam, Kerala boat festival (Kerala)
A tourist’s paradise also known as God’s own country is famous for its cuisine and rich culture and lots of tourist historical spots. The diverse culture of Kerala comprises of Hinduism, christanity and Islam. The festivals here are distinct by fragrance and music and history.
Onam is the most famous and important festival of Kerala. Another name for this festival is Thiruonam. In Kerala, this festival is way bigger than Diwali, which is an important festival across India.
Kerala boat festival is similar to Shikara festival in the tourism sense. The backwaters of Kerala are a famous tourist spot and during this festival a magnificent boat race is held here.
For a country famous for spices and rich diverse cuisine, sure it has a wide variety in food according to preparation method or taste. Some dishes are influenced by history and some are a carry forward recipes of ancestors. The Indian cuisine has some desi touch and some international tempering too. In India at every turn of road, the cuisine or dishes changes. Every household has their own way of cooking, preparing and they mostly use homemade spices.
In food too, every state in India has their own specialities and dishes. Whether it would be Vada pav of Mumbai, Dal bati churma of Rajasthan, Dosa-Idli sambhar of South India, Dhokla of Gujarat, etc. Some states have their own cuisine too.
South Indian cuisine : (Vada, Dosa, Idli, Uttapam, Appam, Kaapi)
Rajasthani cuisine : (Dal-bati, Kadhi, Pyaaz kachori, Gatte, Ghevar, Bajre ki ravri)
Himachal cuisine: (Chana madra, Dham, Chaa Gosht, Bhey, Aktori, Kully trout fish, Tudkiya bhat)
North Indian Cuisine: (Rogan josh, Murg makhani, Lacha paratha, Paneer dishes, rajma)
Punjabi Cuisine: (Makki di roti, Sarso saag, Chole bhature, Amritsari Kulcha, Lassi, Butter or Tandori chicken)
And so on…..
In the early days of the youngest civilization of India, clothing was mainly influenced by caste and race, then gender and geography. The people ranked at top in society used to wear properly stitched clothes with high quality cloth named munin or gold ornaments, while those ranked at last are forced to be considerably more refined. Over time, upon exterior influences like the silk industry brought by british colonialism, the clothing industry of India took a huge leap and a great turn.
Some of the indian clothing styles that are still in common are :
Saree: A women’s clothing, full of vibrant colors and design influenced by traditions and places. Saree is actually a long piece of cloth that is worn by draping around a woman’s body in a fashion. The design might vary according to occasions too, like for household wear there are simple and serene styles and for events like weddings and festivals there are heavy and worked designs.
Kurta-Dhoti: A men’s wear clothing, a replacement for shirt-pants respectively. A style worn in Rajasthan or Northern India.
Sherwani: Another men’s clothing, mostly worn in weddings and festivals.
Lehenga: Another women’s clothing, mostly worn in weddings and festivals.
Lungi: A men’s clothing, a replacement for pants. It is worn mostly in Southern India.
Indian customs and traditions don’t end here, there is more to it that might be hard to explain in a page or two. There are so many histories, influences over period and time, that it took ages for one to know all about Indian culture, but for a general knowledge that’s all you can know and understand.