|Photo: Lord Ganesha
(c) Bijon Chatterji
Religion is treated very seriously in India. Buddhist, Sikh, Punjabi, Christian, Jain, Islam and Hinduism being the most popular (80% of the total population). From early mornings to wee hours at the night Gurudwaras, Mosques, Temples are open to people of all caste, creed and race. Reciting or singing the corresponding scripts, prayers and hymns is a daily practise. Ceremonies, food habits, education, festivities and cremation rights largely depend upon religious beliefs.
The silence and peace created by the prayers of the devotees is much felt and belief in god is surely seen live. Is it an inner desire or a thanking spirit that gives enough strength to people? Tough to decipher but this is a live proof that “faith heals.”
Holy scripts of each religion describe clear dos and don’ts of each belief system. Ceremonial acts of marriage, birth and death are all diverse much depending on the cultural heritage and family orientation.
Land of Festivals: “Celebrated with splendour”
Throughout the year, historical events marked as National Holidays are celebrated with splendour.
Dussehra marks the Victory of good over evil. Dance and Musical events make this festival special. Diwali a fest full of prayers and historical richness is celebrated with fireworks, diyas and oil lamps. Ode is paid to Goddess Lakshmi (symbol of wealth) and Lord Ganesh (symbol of wisdom). Gurupurab the birthday of first Sikh Guru is also a day of much thanksgiving to gods and liveliness. Lohri an ode to agni (fire) is a day of culmination of winter celebrated by bonfire. The end of evil demon Holika is Holi, a day of colours and sweets, is one of the most cherished ones. Mahavir Jayanti, Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh Chaturthi are others that bring all round happiness and a message of unity in Indian families. The focus is on bringing peace, cheerfulness and harmony all year round.
Culture: “Unity in diversity”
India is a land of culture and tradition which is depicted to the world through scripts, music, ceremonies, arts, languages, attires and the people.
Languages: Government of India has given 22 languages the status of official languages with Hindi as the main and English as the subsidiary language. Individual mother tongues range in 100s. With such diversity in languages, India also has unique written scripts. While northern India languages are derived from Indo Aryan, the southern are derived from the Dravidian system of languages. Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil are some commonly spoken languages with widely published text and news magazines and well heard at T.V. channels worldwide.
Cuisine: Indian cuisine is distinguished from that of the world by its aroma and the spices. Vegetarianism is much popular in many parts while meat/chicken and seafood are part of daily meal especially in coastal regions. While the Hindu philosophy of ahimsa categorised food as vegan and non vegan, Ayurveda classified food as Raajasic, Saatvic and Taamsic.
A typical north Indian meal would comprise of wheat chapattis, rice, lentils, fresh vegetables/chicken/lamb in gravies with various kebabs and sweets. Fish is a key ingredient of a healthy meal in Eastern India. A typical south India meal would be Idli, Dosa, Sambhar, Biryani, Pulao to name a few. It is common to savour the food with hands without using cutlery in southern part of India. The most popular Western Indian Food is Goan, with Chicken Vindaloo and vegetarian gravies available in most parts of the world. Fish, coconut and rice are the chief ingredients.
To go with main meals are the finest of teas including Darjeeling, Assam and the much powerful Masala Chai. Lassi, Fresh lime, India beer and wine are liked too occasionally with Bhang being a festive Drink much preferred in North India on the occasion of Holi. Goan Pheni is not any less popular amongst tourists and locals.
Attire: Traditional Indian women dress up very esthetical and are very feminine. Sarees in different styles and fabrics like cotton, silk, crepe to Salwar Kameez in different forms depending on status, age, occupation and region are the most common dresses. Ghagra or Lehengas are popular amongst women in Rajasthan. Male attire constitutes of Dhoti, Kurta, Sherwani to name a few.
Almost all cultures prefer a Sari or a Lehenga as Bridal attire nationwide with colours depending on region, religion and fashion.
Modern Indian women and men however do prefer western attire at several occasions to keep up with changing times according to personal preferences and comfort.
People: “India has given birth to talent in all fields of life”
Painters (MF Hussain), musicians (AR Rahman, Zakir Hussain, Ravi Shankar), NRI Entrepreneurs (Lakshmi Mittal, Indra Nooyi, Arun Sarin), writers (Anita Desai, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth), reformers (Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Kiran Bedi, Swami Vivekananda) and singers (Lata Mangeshkar, Alka Yagnik), India has given birth to talent in all fields of life.
These Indian heroes have battled in all situations and have reached the pinnacle of success by their bravery, willpower and diligence. Their lives have motivated a whole generation of Indians and continue to encourage millions of Indians and others all around the world.
A sense of responsibility is instilled in students since early years of school to become competent citizens of the world. There are Government schools (until 12th grade) where education is imparted free to students. Higher Education may be government subsidised or private. Modern Indian men and women have chosen and excelled in several career paths which were not so popular in traditional India.
Most people are light hearted and have a good sense of humour but can be sarcastic at times. While professional seriousness is much appreciated, most Indians like to celebrate and enjoy themselves with family and friends at festivities, marriages and other ceremonies.
Entertainment: “Tinsel town Bollywood”
As popular as Bollywood is, there are almost all reasons for India to be popular for all reasons in music, acting and performance too. Mainland Mumbai is much appreciated for Indian movies which are liked all over the world.
Fresh talent is introduced in Bollywood every year in the form of new artists, actors and new concepts in themes too. With globally winning performances, India has made a niche for itself.