Culture and Religion
The culture of India has been shaped by its long history, unique geography, diverse demographics and the absorption of customs, traditions and ideas from some of its neighbors as well as by preserving its ancient heritages, which were formed during the Indus Valley Civilization and evolved further during the Vedic age, rise and decline of Buddhism, Golden age, Muslim conquests and European colonization.
India's great diversity of religious practices, languages, customs, and traditions are examples of this unique co-mingling over the past five millennium. The various religions and traditions of India that were created by these amalgamations have influenced other parts of the world too.
Throughout the history of India, religion has been an important part of the country's culture. The vast majority of Indians associate themselves with a religion, and religious tolerance is reflected by the wide variety and numbers of different religions practiced in the nation. Indian census has established that Hinduism accounts for 80% of the population of India.
The second largest religion is Islam, at about thirteen percent of the population. Stating the hospitality of Hinduism towards all other religions, John Hardon writes, "However, the most significant feature of current Hinduism is its creation of a non-Hindu State, in which all religions are equal;..." Other native Indian religions are Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism. Ancient India had two philosophical streams of thought, the Shramana religions and the Vedic religion, parallel traditions that have existed side by side for thousands of years. Both Buddhism and Jainism are continuations of Shramana traditions, while modern Hinduism is a continuation of the Vedic tradition. These co-existing traditions have been mutually influential. About two percent of Indians adhere to Christianity. Zoroastrianism and Judaism also have an ancient history in India and each has several thousand Indian adherents.
Though inter-religious marriage is not widely practiced, Indians are generally tolerant of other religions and retain a secular outlook. Inter-community clashes have never found widespread support in the social mainstream, and it is generally perceived that the causes of religious conflicts are political rather than ideological in nature. India's religious diversity extends to the highest levels of government. The Constitution of India declares the nation to be a secular republic that must uphold the right of citizens to freely worship and propagate any religion or faith (with activities subject to reasonable restrictions for the sake of morality, law and order, etc).
India, being a multi-cultural and multi-religious society, celebrates holidays and festivals of various religions. The three national holidays in India, the Independence Day, the Republic Day and the Gandhi Jayanti, are celebrated with zeal and enthusiasm across India. In addition, many states and regions have local festivals depending on prevalent religious and linguistic demographics. Popular religious festivals include the Hindu festivals of Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga puja, Holi, Rakshabandhan and Dussehra. Several harvest festivals, such as Sankranthi, Pongal and Onam, are also fairly popular. Certain festivals in India are celebrated by multiple religions. Notable examples include Diwali which celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains and Buddh Purnima which is celebrated by Buddhists and Hindus. Islamic festivals, such Eid ul-Fitr, Eid al-Adha and Ramadan, are celebrated by Muslims across India. Adding colours to the culture of India, the Dree Festival is one of the tribal festivals of India celebrated by the Apatanis of the Ziro valley of Arunachal Pradesh, which is the easternmost state of this country.
Namaste, Namaskar or Namaskaram is a common spoken greeting or salutation in the Indian subcontinent. Namaskar is considered a slightly more formal version than namaste but both express deep respect. It is commonly used in India and Nepal by Hindus, Jains and Buddhists, and many continue to use this outside the Indian subcontinent. In Indian and Nepali culture, the word is spoken at the beginning of written or verbal communication. However, the same hands folded gesture is made wordlessly upon departure. In yoga, namaste is said to mean "The light in me honors the light in you," as spoken by both the yoga instructor and yoga students. Taken literally, it means "I bow to you". The word is derived from Sanskrit (namas): to bow, obeisance, reverential salutation, and respectand (te): "to you". When spoken to another person, it is commonly accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest. The gesture can also be performed wordlessly and carry the same meaning.
India is the largest country in the Indian Subcontinent and shares borders with Pakistan to the west, China and Nepal to the north, Bhutan to the north-east, and Bangladesh and Myanmar to the east. Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia lie to the south-east in the Indian Ocean. It is the seventh largest country in the world by area and, with over a billion people, is second only to China in population. It's an extremely diverse country, with vast differences in geography, climate, culture, language and ethnicity across its expanse, and prides itself on being the largest democracy on Earth.
for diverse maps.
India is administratively divided into 28 states and 7 union territories. The states are broadly demarcated on linguistic lines. They vary in size; the larger ones are bigger and more diverse than some countries of Europe. The union territories are smaller than the states—sometimes they are just one city—and they have much less autonomy.
These states and union territories are grouped by convention into the following regions:
• Himalayan North
Mountainous and beautiful, a tourist destination for the adventurous and the spiritual. This region contains some of India's most visited hill-stations and religious places. Also includes the exquisitely scenic states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir.
• The Plains
The country's capital New Delhi is here. The river Ganga and Yamuna flows through this plain. Many of the events that shaped India's history took place in this region.
• Western India
Miles and miles of the Thar Desert. Home to the colorful palaces, forts and cities of Rajasthan, the country's most vibrant and biggest city Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), wonderful beaches and pristine forests of Goa and Bollywood (Indian film industry in Bombay).
• Southern India
A strong bastion of indigenous culture, South India features famous and historical temples, tropical forests, backwaters in Kerala, beautiful hill stations in Tamil Nadu, beaches and cosmopolitan cities in Pondicherry, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and the wonderful lush island groups of Andaman & Nicobar (on the east) and Lakshadweep on the west.
Eastern India, India's mostly rural region, its largest city is Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta), the temple cities of Puri of Lord Jagannath fame and Bhubaneswar are both in Orissa.
• North-Eastern India
Remote and sensitive, the country's tribal corner, with beautiful landscapes and famous for Tea Gardens. Consists of seven tiny states (by Indian standards, some of them are larger than Switzerland or Austria) popularly nicknamed as the Seven Sisters.
• Capital: New Delhi
• Government: Federal Republic
• Currency: Indian Rupee (INR)
• Area total: 3,287,590 km2
• Land: 2,973,190 km2
• Water: 314,400 km2
• Population: 1,147,995,898 (2008 est.)
• Language: Hindi, English and 21 other official languages
• Religion: Hindu 81.3%, Muslim 12%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.9%, other groups including Buddhist, Jain, Parsi 2.5% (2000)
• Electricity: 230V/50Hz, Indian (Old British)/European plugs
• Calling Code: +91
• Internet TLD: .in
• Time Zone: UTC+5.5
India has many outstanding landmarks and areas of outstanding beauty. Below is a list of nine of the most notable:
• Bodh Gaya — the place where the Buddha Sakyamuni attained enlightenment.
• Ellora/Ajanta — spectacular rock-cut cave monasteries and temples, holy place for the Buddhists, Jains and Hindus.
Goa — an east-west mix, beaches and syncretic culture.
• Golden Temple — Sikh holy site located in Amritsar
• Hampi — the awesome ruins of the empire of Vijayanagara
• Khajuraho — famed for its erotic sculptures
• Lake Palace — the Lake Palace of Octopussy fame, located in Udaipur
• Meenakshi Temple — a spectacular Hindhu temple in Madurai
• Taj Mahal — the incomparable Taj Mahal in Agra
Befitting its size and population, India's culture and heritage are a rich amalgam of the past and the present: From the civilizations, fascinating religions, variety of languages (more than 200!) and monuments that have been present for thousands of years to the modern technology, economy, and media that arises as it opens up to a globalized world, India will never cease to awe and fascinate the visitor.