Indian cultural history spans more than 4,500 years. During the Vedic period (ca. 1700 – 500 BC), the foundations of Hindu philosophy, mythology, theology and literature were laid, and many beliefs and practices that still exist today, such as dhárma, kárma, yóga and mokṣa, were established. India is characterised by its religious diversity, with Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity and Jainism among the country’s major religions. The dominant religion, Hinduism, has been influenced by various historical trends, such as the Upanishads, the Yoga Sutras, the Bhakti movement and Buddhist philosophy.
Art and architecture of India
Much of Indian architecture, including the Taj Mahal, other works of Mughal architecture and South Indian architecture, mixes ancient local traditions with imported styles. Vernacular architecture is also strongly regional. Vastu Shastra, literally “science of construction” or “architecture” and attributed to the Mamuni Maya, explores how the laws of nature affect human dwellings; it uses precise geometry and directional alignments to reflect perceived cosmic constructions. As applied to Hindu temple architecture, it is influenced by the Shilpa Shastras, a set of foundational texts whose basic mythological form is the Vastu Purusha Mandala, a square that embodies the “Absolute”. The Taj Mahal, built in Agra between 1631 and 1648 by order of Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, is described in the UNESCO World Heritage List as “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the world’s most admired masterpieces of world cultural heritage”. The Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture, developed by the British in the late 19th century, drew on Indo-Islamic architecture.
Literature in India
The earliest literary writings in India, written between 1700 BC and 1200 AD, were in the Sanskrit language. Prominent works of this Sanskrit literature are epics such as the Mahābhārata and the Ramayana, the dramas of Kālidāsa such as the Abhijñānaśākuntalam (The Recognition of Śakuntalā) and poems such as the Mahākāvya. The Kama Sutra, the famous book on sexual intercourse, also originated in India. The Sangam literature, consisting of 2,381 poems, which originated in South India between 600 BC and 300 AD, is considered the forerunner of Tamil literature. From the 14th to the 18th century, India’s literary traditions underwent a period of drastic change due to the emergence of devotional poets such as Kabīr, Tulsīdās and Guru Nānak. This period was characterised by a diverse and wide range of thought and expression; as a result, medieval Indian literary works differed significantly from the classical traditions. In the 19th century, Indian writers showed a new interest in social issues and psychological descriptions. In the 20th century, Indian literature was influenced by the works of the Bengali poet and novelist Rabindranath Tagore, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Performing Arts in India
Indian music spans various traditions and regional styles. Classical music comprises two genres and their various popular offshoots: the Northern Hindustani and Southern Carnatic schools. Regionalised popular forms include filmi and folk music; the syncretic tradition of bauls is a well-known form of the latter. There is a wide variety of folk and classical forms of Indian dance as well. The more well-known folk dances include the Bhangra of Punjab, the Bihu of Assam, the Chhau of Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand, Garba and Dandiya of Gujarat, Ghoomar of Rajasthan and the Lavani of Maharashtra. Eight dance forms, many with narrative forms and mythological elements, have been classified as classical dance by the Indian National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama. These are: Bharatanatyam from the state of Tamil Nadu, Kathak from Uttar Pradesh, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam from Kerala, Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh, Manipuri from Manipur, Odissi from Odisha and the Sattriya from Assam. Theatre in India combines music, dance and improvised or written dialogue. Indian theatre is often based on Hindu mythology, but also borrows from medieval romances or social and political events and includes the Bhavai of Gujarat, the Jatra of West Bengal, the Nautanki and Ramlila of North India, Tamasha of Maharashtra, Burrakatha of Andhra Pradesh, Terukkuttu of Tamil Nadu and the Yakshagana of Karnataka.
Motion pictures, TV in India
The Indian film industry produces the most widely watched cinema in the world. Well established regional cinema traditions exist in Assam, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Odia, Tamil and Telugu languages. South Indian cinema attracts more than 75% of the national film revenue.
Television broadcasting began in India in 1959 as a state communication medium and expanded slowly for more than two decades. In the 1990s, the state television monopoly ended and since that time satellite channels have been increasingly influencing the popular culture of Indian society. Today, television is the most pervasive medium in India; industry estimates indicate that there were over 554 million TV consumers in 2012, 462 million with satellite and/or cable connections, compared to other forms of mass media such as the press (350 million), radio (156 million) or the internet (37 million).
Cuisine of India
Indian cuisine comprises a variety of regional and traditional cuisines, often depending on a particular state (e.g. Maharashtrian cuisine). Indian cuisine basic foods include pearl millet (bājra), rice, wholemeal flour (aṭṭa) and a variety of lentils, such as masoor (mostly red lentils), toor (pigeon peas), urad (black chickpeas) and mong (mung beans). Lentils can be used whole, peeled – for example dhuli moong or dhuli urad – or split. Split lentils, or dal, are used extensively. The spice trade between India and Europe is often cited by historians as the main catalyst for Europe’s Age of Discovery.
Society in India
Traditional Indian society is sometimes defined by social hierarchies. India’s caste system represents most of the social classifications and much of the social restrictions found on the Indian subcontinent. Social classes are defined by thousands of endogamous, hereditary groups, often referred to as jātis or ‘castes’. India declared untouchability illegal in 1947 and has since enacted further anti-discrimination laws and social welfare initiatives. In the workplace in urban India and in international or leading Indian companies, caste-based identification has all but lost its meaning.
Family values are important in Indian tradition, and patriarchal multi-generational joint families are the norm in India, although nuclear families are becoming more common in urban areas. A large number of Indians get their marriages arranged by their parents or other elders in the family, with their consent. Marriage is considered lifelong and the divorce rate is extremely low. In 2001, only 1.6 per cent of Indian women were divorced, but this figure is rising due to their education and economic independence. Child marriages are common, especially in rural areas; many women marry before they reach the legal age of marriage of 18. Female infanticide and female foeticide in the country have caused a discrepancy in the sex ratio; as of 2005, it was estimated that there were 50 million more men than women in the nation. However, a 2011 report showed an improvement in the gender ratio The payment of dowry, though illegal, is still prevalent across all class lines. Deaths due to dowry, mostly from bride burnings, are on the rise.
Many Indian festivals are religious in origin. Among the most famous are Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi, Thai Pongal, Holi, Durga Puja, Eid ul-Fitr, Bakr-Id, Christmas and Vaisakhi. India has three national holidays celebrated in all states and union territories – Republic Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti. Other holidays, varying from nine to twelve, are officially celebrated in each state.
Clothes in India
Cotton was domesticated in India around 4000 BC. Indian traditional clothing differs in colour and style from one region to another and is dependent on a number of factors, such as climate and beliefs. Popular styles of clothing include draped garments such as the sari for women and the dhoti or lungi for men. Sewn garments, such as the shalwar kameez for women and kurta-pyjama combinations or European-style trousers and shirts for men, are also popular. A 5,000-year-old tradition is the use of delicate jewellery modelled on real flowers worn in ancient India; gemstones are also worn as talismans in India.
Sport in India
In India, several traditional indigenous sports remain quite popular, such as Kabaddi, Kho Kho, Pehlwani and Gilli-Danda. A number of the first forms of Asian martial arts, such as Kalarippayattu, Musti Yuddha, Silambam and Marma Adi, have their origins in India. Chess, which is generally believed to have originated in India as chaturaṅga, is regaining popularity with the increasing number of Indian grandmasters. Pachisi, from which Parcheesi is derived, was played by Akbar on a huge marble court.
Improvements in the performance of the Indian Davis Cup team as well as other Indian tennis players during the early 2010s have led to the growing popularity of tennis in India. There is a strong Indian presence in shooting sports with several Olympic, World Shooting Championships and Commonwealth Games medals. Other sports in which Indians are internationally successful are badminton (Saina Nehwal and P. V. Sindhu are two of the top ranked badminton players in the world), boxing and wrestling. Football is very widespread in West Bengal, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and North-Eastern states. In India, the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup is being hosted.
Hockey in India is managed by Hockey India. The Indian national hockey team won the 1975 Hockey World Cup and is the sport’s most successful team at the Olympics, with eight gold, one silver and two bronze medals (as of 2016).
India has also played a major role in popularising cricket. Cricket, for instance, is by far the most popular sport in India. The Indian national cricket team won the Cricket World Cup in 1983 and 2011, the ICC World Twenty20 in 2007, shared the ICC Champions Trophy with Sri Lanka in 2002 and won the ICC Champions Trophy in 2013. Cricket in India is administered by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI); the Ranji Trophy, the Duleep Trophy, the Deodhar Trophy, the Irani Trophy and the NKP Salve Challenger Trophy are national competitions. BCCI is also responsible for organising the annual U-20 tournament known as the Indian Premier League.
India hosted or co-hosted several international sporting events: the 1951 and 1982 Asian Games, the 1987, 1996 and 2011 Cricket World Cups, the 2003 Asian-African Games, the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy, the 2010 Hockey World Cup and the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Major international sporting events held annually in India include the Chennai Open, the Mumbai Marathon, the Delhi Half Marathon and the Indian Masters. The first Formula One Indian Grand Prix was held in late 2011, but has not been included in the F1 season calendar since 2014.
Traditionally, India had been a dominant nation in the South Asian Games. An example of this dominance is the basketball competition, where Team India has won three out of four tournaments so far.
The Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and the Arjuna Award are the highest forms of government recognition for sporting achievement; the Dronacharya Award is given for excellence in coaching.