The culture of India has been formed by an amalgamation of several cultures for thousands of years. Many elements of India’s diverse cultures, such as Indian religions, language, food and customs differ from place to place within the country.
Religions: India is the birthplace of many religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Afterwards, Islam and Christianity entered with the ruling force in India. Today India is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world and religion still plays a vital and definitive role in India.
Family Structure: For generations, India has got the tradition of the joint family system where parents, children, grandpa, grandma, etc. live together. Usually, the oldest male member is the head of the family, and other members abide by him. However, urbanisation and economic development have caused a breakup of the traditional joint family into nuclear families nowadays.
Marriage System: Arranged marriages have been the tradition in Indian society for a long time. In most marriages, the bride’s family provide a dowry to the bridegroom, though dowry is now legally banned. And since 1956, Indian laws treat males and females equal in matters of inheritance. In India the divorce rate is low—around 2% compared with about 45% in the United States, though urban divorce rates are much higher.
Wedding Rituals: Weddings are festive occasions in India with extensive decorations, music, costumes and rituals that may vary on the religion and culture of the bride and the groom and their families up to their capacities. Typical Hindu families spend significant effort and financial resources on preparing and celebrating weddings. There are a few key rituals common in Indian weddings—Kanyadan, Panigrahan, and Saptapadi, i.e. gifting away of daughter by father or any guardian, voluntarily holding the hand of the bride to signify the impending union, and taking seven steps by the couple before the sacred fire with each step having a set of mutual vows. Then there is a wedding feast.
Sikhs marry through a ceremony called Anand Karaj. The couple walks around the holy book—Guru Granth Sahib—four times. Indian Muslims celebrate a traditional Islamic wedding, following customs similar to those practised in the Middle East. The rituals included Nikah and Mahr i.e. payment of financial gift by the groom to the bride, and signing of the marriage contract, following a reception party. Indian Christian wedding follows customs similar to those practised in the Christian countries in the West.
Festivals: Being a multi-cultural and multi-religious country, people celebrate some festivals according to their own tradition. Popular religious festivals include the Hindu festivals of Durga Puja, Dussera, Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi, Holi, etc. Several harvest festivals such as Nabanna, Pongal and Onam are also fairly popular. Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains celebrate Buddha Purnima, Guru Nanak Jayanti and Baisakhi with full fanfare. Muslims, the second-largest populace in India, observe Id-Ul-Fitter, Muharram and Shab-e-Barat. Christianity is the third largest religion in India, and the country celebrates Christmas and Good Friday as public holidays.
Cuisine: Food is an integral part of every human culture. Indian food is as diverse as Indian society. Indian cuisines have numerous ingredients and spices, and a wide range of food preparation styles. No country can match India for sheer inventiveness with the milk itself as the primary ingredient of different types of sweets.
Clothing: Traditional clothing in India greatly varies in different parts of the country and is influenced by local culture and climate, and rural or urban settings. Popular styles of dress include draped garments such as Sari for women and dhoti or lungi for men. Stitched clothes are also popular, such as churidar or salwar-kameez with dupatta thrown over shoulder for completing the outfit for women. In urban and semi-urban areas people can often be seen in jeans, trousers, shirts, suits of European style and variety of other fashions.
Language and Literature: The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is wonderful, more perfect than Greek, more copious than Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a strong affinity. However, the evolution of the language within may be distinguished over three phases: Old, Middle and Modern Indo-Aryan—from Sanskrit through Pali-Prakrit Apabhransa evolving to modern provincial languages in most of the northern countries, such as Bengali, Oriya, Ahamiya, etc. Hindi is mutually intelligible with Urdu, both languages being standardised forms of Hindustani. However, Hindi is often associated with Hinduism while Urdu is generally associated with South Asian Muslims.
Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, the major classical languages in South India, descends from a proto-Dravidian language.
In addition to Indo-European and Dravidian languages, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman languages are in use in India.
As for literature, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are the oldest preserved and well-known epics of India. However, medieval and modern literature in almost all provincial languages has flourished until now. Rabindranath Tagore is a Nobel Laureate for his song offerings translated into English from original Bengali.
Performing Arts: Indian drama and theatre has a long history alongside its music and dance. There are Kalidasa’s plays like Sakuntala, following those of Bhasa. Kutiyattam of Kerala is one of the oldest surviving theatre traditions of the world. India possesses a long romance with the art of dance. Chatham of Uttar Pradesh, Kathakali and Mohiniattam of Kerala, Kuchipudi of Andhra Pradesh, Manipuri of Manipur, Odishi of Odisha are famous dance forms in India. In addition to the formal arts of dance, there are some folk dance traditions in different regions of India. Some of the notable folk dances include the bhangra of Punjab, the bihu of Assam, the seliang of Nagaland, the chaos of Jharkhand and Purulia of West Bengal, the ghoomar of Rajasthan and Garba of Gujarat.
Music is an integral part of India culture. The Natyashastra, a 2000-year-old Sanskrit text, describes five systems of taxonomy to classify musical instruments. Moreover, there are two distinct styles of music—Carnatic and Hindustani. Both the Carnatic and Hindustani music systems are based on the melodic base (known as raga), sung to a rhythmic cycle (known as tala). The current music system of India includes varieties of religious, classical, popular, folk and pop music.
Visual Arts: Cave paintings in Ajanta and Ellora, and temple sculpture at Konark testify to a love of naturalism. Madhubani painting, Mysore painting, Rajput painting, Tanjore painting and Mughal painting are some notable genres of Indian Art. Abanindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, MF Hussain are some prominent modern painters.
The first sculptures of India date back to the Indus Valley Civilization where stone and bronze figures have been discovered. Later, as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism developed further, India produced some extremely intricate sculpture. In the course of time, Indian architecture has influenced eastern and southeastern Asia—due to the spread of Buddhism. A number of Indian architectural features such as stupa (the temple mound) or pagoda (the temple tower) have become famous symbols of Asian culture. The temple gate or gopuram in South India is noted for its intricacy and majesty.
Indian architecture encompasses a multitude of expressions over space and time, constantly absorbing new ideas. With the advent of Islamic influence, Indian architecture was adopted to allow the new styles. Fatepur Sikri, Qutub Minar, Red Fort and Taj Mahal are creations of this era. The colonial
rule of the British empire developed the Indo-Saracenic style by mixing of the European-Gothic. The Victoria Memorial is a notable example of this era.
Contemporary Indian architecture is more cosmopolitan. Recent creations, such as the Lotus Temple in Delhi, are notable for modern architecture.
Sports: Sport is the culture of India. Though Hockey is the official National Sport, Cricket is the most popular sport in India. Other games which continue to remain popular include Football, Kabaddi and Kho-Kho. Traditional South Indian games include Snake boat race and Kuttiyum Kolum.