Culture of India

Culture of India is a complex phenomenon. In its broadest sense, it includes everything a society does. It can also be limited to a particular social class (working class culture) or genre (literature, music). Still it’s always near to impossible to define what exactly a popular culture constitutes. Contrary to what may appear from outside; to Indians, there is no such thing as Indian culture in sense of a uniform manner of doing something. There is little common between the Punjabi culture with its emphasis on having fun and the Bengali culture with its emphasis on intellectualism. In the south, a person from Kerala finds the food from Andhra too spicy for their tongue. The seven states in the northeast are home to thousands of tribes and regions, each boasting of a rich history and unique culture. So the term ‘culture of India‘ has little meaning, unless it’s used an amalgamation of a score of different cultures within the country. Nonetheless, it is thought that the culture of India stems from its ancient history from the amalgamation of the Aryan nomads that migrated from the Central Asia through Afghanistan and settled in India with the natives of the valley of the Indus River of Dravidian descent.

Naga Sadhu Culture of India
Naga Sadhu: India's holy men

Food of India

Curry is probably the most popular Indian cuisine in the west. But its connoisseurs mostly live in the south. Curry is not as special for Indians from other parts of the country, as it is to the people in the south. A Punjabi, who loves their chapattis and a dish made from spinach, often cringes at the sight of dhokla, which is another popular dish in the south specially Gujarat. The cuisine of the omnivorous people in the north east is yet to spread to the rest of the country. The Bengalis love fish and rice, but Gujaratis prefer to stay mainly vegetarian. In Bihar, people are particularly fond of a dish called “litti chokha” stuffed with “sattu” (roasted gram flour). The South Indian “masala dosa” is cherished all over India. The point I want to emphasize is that there is no uniform Indian cuisine; there is much variety to be found here.

Here’s a list of the most popular chicken dishes of India.

The top 10 foods to try when in India

Traditional chicken curry
Traditional chicken curry

Indian Cinema

Nothing mirrors a society better than its literature or cinema. It may seem to foreigners that Indian cinema is all about Bollywood and Bollywood is all about Hindi films. Nothing could be far from truth. Of the more than 1,200 films annually produced in India, a little over 200 are in Hindi. Tamil, which also accounts for around 200 films a year, gives a tough competition to Hindi cinema. There is vibrant culture of cinema in other Indian languages too. And it’s not only about Indian languages. Each year, several dozen movies come out in English.

Indians love movies, a source of popular entertainment. They love to go out with their friends or family and could easily watch a Hindi movie for 3 hours. Life in India would be quite boring without these the colourful movies.

Here’s a Bollywood “item song”

Festivals of India

India is often dubbed as the land of festivals. Rarely there is a week when there isn’t a festival to celebrate. With the exception of a Diwali and a couple of others, India doesn’t even have national festivals. Onam is a popular festival in Kerala, very few people in the north are even aware of it. Similarly, Chhath puja is celebrated by only a few outside Bihar. My grandparents are ardent Chhath enthusiasts and every year, it’s an occasion where the whole family from all over India would gather.

Ganesh Chaturthi, another popular festival, has yet to cross Maharastra’s borders. Gurupurabs are a public holiday in Punjab, rarely a person from West Bengal is even aware of their existence.

The Durga Puja (the nine day worship of goddess Durga) is one of my favourites  It is a festival of good versus evil. In Bihar my home state, we celebrate this festival with great devotion and enthusiasm.

Culture of India
Me taking part in the Durga Puja celebrations with family and friends. Can you spot me in the picture?

Clothes of India

The clothing in India varies from region to region depending on climate and ethnicity. Both South and North Indian women wear the saree that is draped around the body in various formats. The salwar kameez is also very popular in India especially in Northern India. In general unmarried girls wear the salwar kameez while married women wear the saree. However today, the distinctions are less and no such format exists these days. The traditional clothes of men include the kurta pajama, the dhoti, sherwani (mostly worn during weddings and formal occasions, lungi (mostly worn at home), and sarong.

How to wear the sareeWhat do Indians wear

National symbols of India

The national anthem of India is the “Jana-gana-mana” composed by poet Rabindranath Tagore. More than 60 years of Independence from the British, we Indians still take pride in singing the national anthem.

The national animal of India is none other than the king of the jungle, the tiger. Ever since the launch of the “Project Tiger” in 1973 by the government of India, tiger population has showed a gradual increase in numbers. Currently there is a ban on tiger tourism in major tiger habitats. More about the wildlife in India.

The national bird of India is the peacock. The peacock has religious significance and supposed to represent grace, joy, beauty and love. The lotus is the national flower, mango the national fruit, while the banyan tree is the national tree.

The culture of India is more than 3000 years old that has enumerated from several civilizations, religions, philosophies, invasions and influence. To conclude, the culture of India is a broad term which doesn’t refer to some Indian way of doing things or looking at the world. As shown above, it’s a sum total of the numerous cultures that are found in this part of the world.

Indian Culture by Ami Vitale as captured by her journeys as a photojournalist

Places to visit in India

Back to Shalu’s guide to India homepage

You may like these posts:

Namaste World. I am Diya. My life in India: (Multiculturalism for Children). Teach kids about India

India for kids