India is by far one of the most diverse and unique cultures on the face of the earth. While some of their traditions and practices may appear strange, they are regarded very highly by the people and have their origin in ancient Indian scriptures and texts. Here are the six most intriguing parts of Indian culture and traditions.
You have probably heard this phrase before, perhaps even outside India. Notable people such as the former UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and former US president, Barrack Obama, have used this phrase on particular occasions. What exactly does it mean?
The Namaste, otherwise known as namaskar, or ‘namaskaara,’ is among the five forms of traditional greetings in the ancient Hindu scriptures, the Vedas. It literally translates into ‘I bow to you.’ It is a way of saying ‘may our minds meet’ as illustrated by the folding of the palms and placing them on the chest. Namaha, translated as ‘na ma’ (not mine), also implies the reductions of one’s ego in the presence of others.
2. Holy Cow
Different cultures have different beliefs concerning revered animals. For Indians, the cow is a sacred animal. The holy cow symbolizes the vast wealth of mother earth. Lord Krishna, who also goes by ‘Govinda’ or ‘Gopala,’ meaning ‘friend and protector of cow,’ grew up as a cow herder and is said to have made cows and Gopis dance to his flute. As such, cows are of great significance in Indian culture and religion.
What’s more, Nandi, the sacred bull, is Lord Shiva’s trusted vehicle, and the Vedas goes further to emphasize the need to protect and care for cows. This is why the people of India are keen on feeding cows or making contributions to cow shelters. Cows are also considered a source of life-sustaining milk, while their dung is used as an efficient source of fuel. Consuming cow meat and killing the cow is, therefore, a sin, and several states in India have gone as far as banning the slaughter of cows.
Indian culture and traditions are commonly celebrated in the most elaborate festivals. For starters, there is the largest and most important holiday in India called Diwali. The five-day celebration, or the festival of lights, as it is popularly known, symbolizes the inner light that protects the people from spiritual darkness. Holi, on the other hand, also called the festival of colours, is a festival of love celebrated during spring to signify the end of winter and the victory of good over evil.
On the night before Holi, people perform religious rituals to cleanse themselves of past transgressions. As dawn breaks, people run wild and free as they play together by throwing coloured powder at each other.
4. Indian Dances
Dancing is a huge part of Indian culture and traditions. Indian dances, whether folk or classical, can be classified differently depending on the particular region they originate from. The dances listed in the Hindu text of performing arts include Oddisi from Odhisa, Kathakali from Kerela, Kathak from North, Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh, Bharatnatyam from Tamil Nadu, West and Central India, Mohiniyattam from Kerela, Manipuri from Manipur, and Sattriya from Assam.
These dances tell the stories of the rich mythology of India passed from one generation to the next. Folk dances also seek to depict the day-to-day life of rural inhabitants. Next time you are in India, be sure to bring your dancing shoes to try these different dances.
5. Indian Clothing
If there is one thing you should know about the Indian culture, it is their style of dressing for both genders. Women are most often seen wearing colourful silk saris while men tend to wear a lungi, dhoti (an unstitched cloth worn around the waist and legs), the more functional Kurta-pyjama and sherwani or achkan, which is basically a long buttoned-up coat with a lapel-less collar, which is worn on special occasions.
The shorter version of the sherwani, known as the Mehru jacket, is named after Jawaharlal Nehru who served as India’s prime minister from 1947 to 1964. The saris are easy to make and comfortable to wear. Though they initially started out as a Hindu tradition, they have been embraced by other people across religions.
India is also known for its diverse clothing styles and designs; one of them being sheesha/Shisha embroidery, meaning little glass, which originates in Haryana, Northern India.
6. Architecture and Art
Taj Mahal is one of the most well-known examples of Indian architecture. Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in honour of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, it brings together elements from Ottoman Turkish, Persian, Islamic and Indian architectural styles.
With so many different facets of the rich Indian culture to take in, exploring the country can be a bit overwhelming, especially for tourists travelling to India for the first time. However, there is no need to worry; just relax and allow yourself to get lost into the magnificent beauty of the Indian culture. Namaste!