Indian culture can be compared to a rapid river, which takes source from a little well high in the Himalayas and flows down among blossomy valleys and thick forests, beautiful gardens and farms, small villages and big cities. Many tributaries join it, and the mainstream becomes stronger and more powerful. There is a great variety of ethnic groups and communities with their beliefs, languages and culture living in India. However, numerous aspects of exclusive traditional Indian culture can be easily spotted everywhere. For centuries, the country lived through a lot of changes, assimilated various elements of other cultures, but it successfully preserved its ancient traditions and legacy.
The progression of Indian culture started from the early civilizations. Historical records of Hrappa and Brahmanic epochs (5000-800 B.C.) prove that a great deal of traditions and cultural elements (such as Sanskrit, yoga, early Hinduism, etc.) were practiced in those times. Buddhism and Jainism emerged in the 5th century B.C. The epoch of Mautya and Gupta Empires is called “Golden Age” of Indian culture. The Emperors of Gupta dynasty loved arts and favored the development of literature, music and early plastic arts, mostly dominated by religious motifs. As a result of European and Oriental colonization, Indian culture absorbed the elements of Greek, Roman, Chinese and other cultural traditions.
Muslim conquests in the 11th-15th centuries had a great impact on Indian social and cultural life. In particular, Hinduism adopted many philosophical ideas of Sufism, and the influence of Islamic artistic traditions can be seen in Indian architecture (Gol Gumbaz, Taj Mahal), literature (the works of Amir Khusrau Dehlavi and Kabir) and music. In the 16th-18th centuries, Indian culture was again influenced by European domination that resulted in adoption of English educational system and other progressive social standards. Since Christian missionaries started changing religious and social awareness of Indian masses to a great extent, in the end of the 18th century a great reformatory movement for cultural and spiritual revival of the nation (known as Brahmo Samaj) was initiated (Henderson).
Modern India has a complex ethnic composition and very diverse linguistic lines. Over 400 languages and 1,100 various dialects are spoken. Southern ethnic groups use Dravidian languages, including Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada, which are among the 15 official languages of the country. Indo-Aryan languages, such as Hindi, Marathi, Gujatari, Bangali and others, are used in the northern regions. These languages take source from ancient Sanskrit and are used by almost one third of Indian population.
Indian social culture is one of the most conservative and rigid in the world. Such traditions as cast system or arranged marriages are still widely practiced. On the other hand, local social environment is connected with everything relaxing, joyful and colorful. Traditional Indian clothing (sari, Lungi, Dhoti, etc.) has a plethora of styles and colors. Also, India is known as a land of celebrations, fairs and festivals (Diwali, Ganpati, etc.), crowded ceremonies, communication, dancing and other social leisure activities.
Religious practices are central in the life of every Indian and people spend a lot of time in Hindu temples, where they socialize, listen to music and dance. Indian cultural environment is a cradle of Buddhism, one of the most influential philosophical concepts and a seed bed for human rights. At the same time, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Zoroastrism and other world’s religions are quite popular in modern India as well.
Indian visual arts have a great range of forms and motifs, starting from intricate architecture of Hindu shrines and ending with traditional decorated textiles. Such crafts as stone work, wood work, metal works and glass products are very popular in today’s India. Indian painting has been flourishing for centuries, and there are a number of traditional artistic schools (such as Pahari, Kalighat, Kangra, Tanjore, Rajput, etc.). Modern Indian art is dominated by social, philosophic and humanitarian motifs.
Cinema industry in India has more than 100 years of history and is extremely successful and lucrative. Indian movies are being watched in many countries of the world, and they have a tremendous influence on domestic economy and cultural life. The movies portray political and social aspects, and some are based on local folklore. Indian literature and poetry take source from ancient Sanskrit, Vedic and epic texts (Ramayana, the Mahabharata) and embrace a lot of schools (Bengali, Punjabi, Urdu, Manipuri, etc.). R. Tagore is the most known Indian writer and poet, who got the Noble prize for literature in 1913.
In modern Indian culture, music is mostly associated with cinema, because Indian movies are filled with songs and dancing. However, there are a lot of people who are fond of classic Indian music styles (Hindu devotional dhrupad, khayal or raga). Such music is played with traditional Indian folk instruments, such as sitar and surbahar, as well as with flute, violin, tabla, veena, etc. Indian dance culture is very diverse and unique. Its roots go back to ancient epochs and have clear spiritual, expressive and cosmic elements, symbolizing human emotions (9 rasas of emotions) and unity with Gods.
The contribution of Indian culture and science to the world is unprecedented. Chess, the decimal system and the concept of “zero”, significant innovations in astronomy, new medical approaches and therapeutic techniques, the first university in the world are among the most valuable and precious gifts of the Indians to the humanity. India has a unique and rich cultural heritage, which can be characterized by unity and diversity, traditionalism and innovations. Taking into account all these numerous achievements of Indian nation, it is impossible to question the opinion of Will Durant, who wrote that “…Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all”.