A five-thousand-year-old civilisation that has been deeply touched by invaders and explorers from all over the world, more than twenty regional languages. The presence of most major religions such as Hinduism, Christianity, Muslimism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism, in addition to various indigenous faiths, thousands of celebrations and countless festivals, you know you’re in for a treat when you’re exploring the length and breadth of the India.
India’s physical features and geological structure had a great influence on its culture, as did the country’s diverse flora and fauna. North India and its deep-rooted Aryan influence gave birth to an incredibly unique culture which feels so distinct when compared to the Dravidian influences of the South. Each state managed to carve out its own identity while the Northeastern parts of the country enjoyed their own cultural beliefs and festivals. India has rightly been described as a Mini World, an ethnological museum that is fierce in its beliefs, proud of its unique way of life.
Indian classical music boasts of a long-standing tradition, an accumulation of centuries of heritage dating all the way back to the 4th century AD. Music in India can be divided into the Carnatic Sangeet of the South and the Hindustani music of the North. While the Hindustani music was deeply influenced by the west and countless civilisations who invaded the country, Carnatic Sangeet still holds regional influences and a single, unabashed style. The musical instruments used in the country also vary from one region to the other. The tabla and sitar are immensely popular in the northern parts of the country while the veena and violin are still favoured in the South.
Many believe that the dance forms of Northern India adapted to the Muslim invasion, but the dances of the South managed to retain their ancient originality. India was one of the first societies to see dance as a form of expression, and even though the country boasts of approximately 111 forms of dance, they all follow one principle: they’re immensely colourful and incredibly expressive. Some of the common dance forms of the North include Kathak, Manipuri, Chhau and Odissi while Bharatanatyam and Kathakali are the two main superstars of the South.
To experience the true culture of India, one has to become a part of its many festivals. Festivals play a huge role in the Indian culture, with each region, every religion and most communities having their own festivals. Each festivity is marked by pomp and colour and exotic cuisines, music, dance and dressing up in traditional attires are integral ingredients of any celebration.
Regional fairs are a common feature in the country as well. The grand Pushkar fair of Rajasthan which hosts the largest market on the planet needs no introduction, its legendary charm and appeal attracting tourists from far and wide. A similar, yet incredibly different, celebration is the Sonepur Mela of Bihar, the largest livestock fair in Asia.
Diwali, Eid and Holi are celebrated in most parts of the country, but there are regional superstars such as the Vaisakhi celebrations of Punjab, Navaratri in Gujarat, Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra, Pongal in the South and Durga Puja in Bengal as well! No matter which month of the year you choose to visit India, you’re sure to come across a grand celebration that boasts of modern influences but rigorously holds onto its ancient beliefs and rich heritage.
The Tribes of India
India is also home to as many as 84.4 million people who remain untouched by modern-day lifestyles. It has the largest tribal population on the planet, most depending on agriculture, fishing and hunting for their daily existence. Each tribe has its unique lifestyle, dressing, traditions, beliefs and culture. Some of the most popular and culturally beautiful tribes include the Santhals of Bengal and Bihar, Mundas of Jharkhand, Khasis of Meghalaya, Angamis of Nagaland, Bhils of Rajasthan and Gujarat, Gonds of Madhya Pradesh, Drokpas and Dards of Ladakh and the Maldhari tribe of Kutch.
The Banni Tribes of Kutch
Kutch has become synonymous with the word embroidery largely due to the Rabari and Harijan tribes who manage to inspired works of art that are full of gorgeous colours and minute designs in their free time. These tribes migrated from Marwar 500 years ago and lived in houses made of wood, dried mud and grass. The men wear simple pathani clothes and blue turbans while the women enjoy their lavish, beautifully embroidered hues and huge nose rings.
The Santhal Tribe of the East
Santhals are the 3rd largest tribe in India who belong to the pre-Aryan period. They speak Santhali, a language belonging to the Austro-Asiatic language family and are known for their love of music and dance. Santhals are great dancers and skilled tirio (a bamboo flute with seven holes) players. They believe in using music and dance to de-stress after a long day at work and are also skilled in making baskets and mats out of plants, a talent that has largely been passed down from one generation to the other.
The Bhil Tribe of Rajasthan
Bhils are famous as the bowmen of Rajasthan. They also belong to a pre-Aryan race and comprise of as much as 39% of the state’s total population. Bhil women wear traditional embroidered sarees and brass ornaments while the men can be seen in long frocks and pyjamas. Ghoomar is a famous dance form of the Bhils and they are also talented in making stunning elephants, deities, tigers and horses out of clay. The Baneshwar fair is the main festival of the Bhils. They sing traditional songs and dance by the fire, and the fairs are full of animal shows, acrobatic feats and cultural events.
The Angamis of Nagaland
The Angami tribe is one of the 20 tribes from the state of Nagaland, a tribe that is known for its beautiful attires and fascinating ornaments. Angamis are famous for their artwork and woodwork and can create magnificent shawls, cane furniture and bamboo work. They love playing the flute and the drum and most fathers believing in passing down their skills with musical instruments down to their sons. Women practice pottery at home and are expert basket makers. The 10-day festival of Sekrenyi held in February is particularly special as it witnesses beautiful ceremonies as well as the ritual of Thekra Hie, where the young ones gather around to sing and dance to traditional music.
The Tribes of Ladakh
Ladakh is one of the remotest parts of India, one that has literally been allowed to develop in isolation over the centuries. As a result, its people are quite dissimilar from the rest of the country, both regarding their culture as well as their physical appearance. They are a part of the Dard tribe, an Indo-Aryan race that belonged to the Gilgit and Indus area. Polo and archery are famous celebrations, and just about every village has its own polo ground, and both sports attract huge crowds each Sunday, with people dressed in their best and brightest dresses singing, changing and enjoying the local barley beer which also flows freely. This really is unlike most other parts of India. The village of Chiling is also famous for its metal works; an ancient tradition passed from father to son, known to bring out the best of brass, copper and silver. Hookah bases, teapots, teacups and chang pots are some of the souvenirs you should look out for a while visiting the village.
Modern India isn’t just a country; it’s a way of life. It is a belief that joins a billion people having different religions, dissimilar languages, individual beliefs, conflicting cultures, unique ways of living, a million gods and inconsistent cuisines. It is an ideology that makes all these communities and cultures live together in peace and harmony, proud of their rich diversity and harmonious existence.