India, the land of seven rivers, the famous spices, a lot of diversity and a country where all barriers are broken to celebrate the feeling of togetherness. The country has nourished many a civilization and kingdoms since before the Aryans hailed in India after migrating from Central Asia. The arrival of the Aryans influenced many practices of the Dravidians about which there is no record at all. But soon after their arrival, the Aryans went expanded their area of settlement, forcing the Dravidians to shift more towards the south of the country. Their culture and customs became wide-spread as they shifted around the country settling at different places. But the Aryans were not the only foreigners to come to India.
The Mughal rule was established in the country during the time of Humayun, while the Islamic culture was intermingled in the old Aryan customs. Soon these customs and culture, and the culture that came in during the British Raj on India was accepted and inter-mixed that people forgot that they are any bit different from one another. The impact these cultures made was not only seen in the way the behavior of the general population changed but also some very beautiful (even tasty, for that matter) heritages were left to us to enjoy and feel proud of too. Here, we try to speak about some of the very large number of heritages that our ancestors left for us. Lets have a look at them.
Customs, religion and daily life
If we go by the Aryan culture, then the development of religion is a kind of amusing story. The Aryans were people who worshiped the natural forces, since they were very scared of nature and could not make any sense of the natural phenomenon that took place, be it lightning or thunder. This had them believing in a force that they could not understand, a force that was omnipotent. This lead to them naming all the natural forces and worshiping them, asking them to keep calm and bless them. All the dominating forces, such as rain, wind, thunder even the creator, protector and destroyer of the Earth was a male, whereas the protecting forces which imparted knowledge, wealth and protection were the female forces. They were called Gods and Goddesses and since then almost everything, from the food we eat to the land on which we walk became a powerful force. With the evolution of religion, the nature worshipers named their religion, calling themselves Hindu. Hindu was the word they took the help from to name the language they spoke, calling it Hindi.
But Hinduism was not the only religion that prevailed in the country. After the Mughals arrived in India, they brought Islam with them. Islam too became one of the primary religions of the country. Islamic culture was adapted and soon it mixed so well with the existing culture that it was difficult to say that India initially started as a nature worshiping country.
Thinking of that, you might have heard of the other religions which originated here too. Buddhism and Jainism are two such religions. Other religions, like Christianity, too came here from foreign countries but impacted in a big way.
All these religions have their own different customs leading to the people forming their own believes depending on their religion and even the area on which they grew up and are currently living. Hindus would have a big book if they started writing about their rituals and rites, but this doesn’t mean that the other religions are far behind.
Keeping in mind what our elders taught us we lead our lives, whether be it that tasting dahi shakkar on a big day is lucky or praying to a certain God on a certain weekday leads to the desire of an individual being fulfilled, we follow it all.
In our daily life too these customs that our elders left to us are followed. The next time you stop when a black cat crosses the road on which you are walking, try to recall who really told you about that, and you might just find out that almost every other person has told you about the cat and the jinx it carries.
Oh! And did I just tell about the number of festivals we celebrate? From Holi to Muharram, everything is on the list of an Indian, religion no barrier. Usually the first festival celebrated at the beginning of a Catholic year is Barawafat, a Muslim festival celebrated in January. Then comes Guru Gobind Singh Jayanti followed by Lohri, both a Punjabi festival. Next up is Makar Sankranti followed by other festivals such as Pongal celebrated in January and Thaipusam celebrated in February. Other main festivals are Maha Shivratri, Holi, Hazrat Ali’s birthday, Mahavir Jayanti, Id-ul-Fitr, Raksha Bandhan, Id-ul-Zuha, Janmashtmi and Diwali. Guru Nanak Jayanti, Guru Parab, Deep Diwali, Good Friday, Easter and Christmas are also celebrated with full charm.
These festivals form a part of that cultural heritage that forms an integral part of us and our recreation. This us a cultural heritage that all the Indians enjoy together, participating in each other’s happiness.
Dresses that we don
Have you ever thought of the reason behind a Bengali wearing a dhoti kurta and a Kashmiri wearing a pheran. There could be multiple reasons, the availability of material in a region, the temperature of the place, the style sense of the people living there or even our ancestors who decided what would suite the place and the people belonging there best, making even the dresses a cultural heritage of India.
India has all its different states having different, though a little similar, kind of dress code. Let me tell you about some of the dresses to clarify what I mean when I say different and similar, both at the same time.
The famous Kashmiri dress is the pheran which is actually a very large, loose shirt worn till below the knee. A trouser is worn underneath. The men wear a head gear while the women wear a head dress. The women here are specially fond of silver ornaments, from bracelets to anklets.
A few states away, Gujarat has it’s women wearing a long skirt like dress decorated with beautiful embroidery and small glass pieces. It is called chaniyo and choli here. The men on the other hand are seen sporting chorno and chediya. Both the genders, living in Gujarat, love putting on lavish jewellery. In Rajasthan the women who wear the long skirt attires, call it ghaghra and choli, making the odhni (the viel used, also known as dupatta) a compulsory addition.
Towards the south women like wearing sarees while young and unmarried girls wear the same kind of long skirts with short blouses, though here it is worn without a dupatta and the work on it is usually very less. The men wear dhotis, shirts and angavastram, which is white cloth kept o the shoulder.
In a state like Assam, a place situated towards the east, men wear dhoti and shirt with eri chaddar, a cloth hung around the shoulder. The women wear saree, naming it mekhla chador.
If you look at these dressing styles you will find that they are very closely related to each other together with having a variety of names. Suiting to the weather the material of the clothing varies too. Like in Kashmir, the most used material is wool. Shawls made of wool too are very famous. Pashmina shawls are most famous shawls which are made in Kashmir. They are also known as ring shawls since a pashmina shawl can easily pass through a ring, no matter the size. These shawls, bearing the name of Kashmir, are so famous that you can consider it a cultural heritage of India. But apart from the dresses even the performing arts form a part of India’s cultural heritage.
Performing Arts- from dance to drama
India has a treasure trove of art with many great artists having made a name for their exceptional talent. You might have possibly heard of the paintings at the cave of Ajanta and Ellora. The paintings at the Ajanta cave speaks mostly the language of religion, taking us through a journey involving Lord Buddha’s life and deeds. The paintings at Bhimbhetka rock shelters are supposedly the oldest cultural heritage of India. Not only does the rock shelter speak of some really enchanting art works but it also carries the oldest paintings of the country, some even claiming to be around thirty thousand years old.
Indian paintings evolved in the first century itself when the six limbs of painting or Sadanga, was created. The Sadanga outlined the main principles of art. It was displayed by Vatyayana in his Kamasutra after he was able to extract it from more older works.When Mughals invaded India, they not only brought in their religion and culture, but also their style of painting which further enriched the Indian art works. The Mughals paintings became a mixture of Persian and Indian styles. A distinguishing Mughals style of painting are the Murals. However, murals are also found at the Kailasanath temple, the rock shelters of Ravan Chhaya and also the caves of Bagh, Sittanavasal, Armamalai and Ajanata. The Palas of Bengal became experts at murals. Later when the British established their rule over India they too founded painting schools that had British style infused into the work.
Bengal school of arts rose during the 1930s. Also famous was the Rajasthan schools of art such as Mewar, Marwar, Kishangarh, Jaipur and Bundi. Company paintings of Rajasthan made paintings especially for the British. These different styles of paintings coming from different regions and eras are now being revived. These are considered to be a important part of the culture of India, giving a unique identity not only to the country but also to the works of Indian artists on an international forum.Indian performing arts is a large part of the cultural heritage of India. Natya Shastra was written in the second century. Written in Sanskrit the book covers music and drama. Dance in India is not just a performing art, it is worship. The major dancing styles that developed in India are the classical ones, including Manipuri, Bharat Natyam, Kathakali and Kathak.
Kathak, which was developed in North India, focuses on synchronised footwork which responds to the beats of the tabla. In Kathakali the dancers have their faces painted, looking like masks. This dance is
focused on eye expression and mime to act out a story. Manipuri, which came from Manipur, compromises of graceful turning movements. Based on Natya Shastra evolved Bharat Natyam, which is one of the most prized dance form of the country. It has graceful movements of hands and facial expressions, expressing different emotions involved in the story that is being acted out.
Theatre also developed in India alongside dance. Sanskrit drama bloomed during Gupta era. The best of the surviving dramas, since it’s existence of over a thousand years, is Shakuntala. Drama too was influenced by Natya Shastra, that inspired a beautiful and romantic relationship between dance and drama.
Another very important part of the cultural heritage of India is music. Since the beginning of time music has been the medium through which the soul communicates with the outer world. In India two types of music developed which were both classical; they were Carnatic from south India and Hindustani from north India. These forms of music were influenced by the advent of Bhakti movement. The Muslims too made an impact on the Hindustani music. These two forms of music, although belonging to different parts of the country, have the same heritage and ideologies. But their ragas and the manner of
presentation are different.
In India music is to be the gift of the sage Bharata. He lived probably during the first or the second century AD and taught about the 9 emotions or the nava rasas which were important to be incorporated in music. These nava rasas were love, anger, disgust, humour, pathos, heroism, terror, wonder and serenity. He considered music to be a form of meditation and worship, an idea which has continued till this age in the country. He also spoke about ragas, talas and shrutis in the Indian classical music.
The seven ragas are the basic element of any musical note, each one having it’s own different flavour. The tala is a fixed time cycle for every different music piece, repeating itself after each cycle gets over. It allows for between-the-beat improvisation and complex variations in different cycles. Shrutis are the micronotes that one hears in each piece. These elements of music vary in different manners from each other evoking different kinds of emotions in the audience.
India has the privilege of giving birth to some of the most important connoisseurs of music such as Amir Khusro who lived during the 13th century, Tansen who performed in the court of the Mutual king Akbar and Shyama Shastri. India boasts of having different schools of music, better known as the Gharanas, like the gharanas of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Thus, we see the rich musical heritage intermixing with the cultural heritage of India.
The Tastes of the country
Every country has its own legacy of food with many different stories underlining them. India, which was famous for its spices some centuries back, is still famous for the huge variety it can offer on the dining table. To begin with, there is the modest Bhappa aloo of Bengal, with which your taste buds can rejoice in the local flavor of paanch phoran and coconut paste together with the taste of the humble potato.
The Rajasthani flavour Banjari Gosht, is also there with its recipe of mutton in yoghurt mixed with every day spices in a way to make your taste buds tingle. And familiar to every Indian is the taste of Punjab originated butter chicken complete with soft chunks of chicken cooked with spices like chilly powder, topped with cream and ghee. Hopefully, you have tasted the Kashmiri Rogan Josh, which is a delicious dish comprising of chunks of meat cooked in fennel seeds, garam masala, bay leaves and turmeric. A simply mouth-watering sight is that of Hyderabadi Biryani, where chunks of chicken are cooked together with rice, onions, and mint and served with raita. The Parsi dish of Sali Boti is a recipe where the mutton is cooked in tomato, onion, jaggery, and vinegar perfected to the taste buds of a Parsi and anyone else who loves to have a combination of sweet and tangy food. Kerala too offers a recipe of Chicken stew and Appam, where the chicken chunks are cooked in thick coconut gravy with soft appam. Not to forget are the famous idli- sambhar and dosas from the south which are good for the stomach apart from being good for your taste buds. Served with coconut chutney and a hot bowl of sambhar it forms a complete breakfast. And if you like sweets then you would also know about the fame of Bengali rosogollas, made from cottage cheese dipped in sugar syrup. Not far from the rosogollas in the sweet list is the rasmalai, made from cottage cheese but with a difference of being dipped in milk instead of sugar syrup. Yet the ladoos always steal the show, being liked by all, the old and the children, alike.
Oh, and of course, there is the mouth-watering taste of the tandoori chicken tastes! Marinated chicken with a small hint of spices, this forms a special favorite among all the chicken lovers. And if you ever happen to visit the Nawabi Lucknow, then do taste kakori kebab. Coming from the city of Kakori, it has lamb meat rolled into kebabs with a host of regular spices.
Apart from the above mentioned cultural heritage that forms not only a part of the country but also a part of our identity, there’s also the architectural heritage which needs no introduction really.
From the Taj to the Sun temples
While talking about Indian architectural heritage, the first thing that hits upon our mind is, of course, the Taj Mahal. Declared one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj forms the pride of the Nation. Built by Shah Jahan for his beloved Mumtaz, the monument displays a beautiful blend of Persian and Mughal architectural designs. It impacted the Indian architecture in a major way and attracts millions of tourists every year.
Another famous building attracting tourists is Qutub Minar. Constructed during the Tughluq dynasty, it served as a symbolic monument during and the reign of the dynasty. Yet another symbolic building is the Red Fort, also built by Shah Jahan in old Delhi. The Hindu kings too gifted us some of our very precious heritage. The Chandela kings of the south turned the town of Khajurao in a temple town. Eighty-five temples were constructed initially, out of which only twenty-five Khajurao temples have survived till now beating down the vagaries of time, which could have threatened its existence.
The Ajanta Caves too form a famous tourist spot, with paintings of Buddhists, Jain and Hindu faiths painted on the Ajanta rock-cut walls of the caves. The caves are probably 5 centuries old, while the Ellora caves date 10 centuries back. The caves describe the life of Lord Buddha in detail.
Talking about rock-cut caves demands a mention of the Elephanta cave which is totally dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are varieties of stone representations of the several moods of the lord.
Also depicting the mood of joy is the Charminar, or the Arc of Triumph of the East. Built to mark the end of an endemic, it was constructed a few years after Hyderabad itself was founded. It is a beautiful monument with its four minarets showing off the grace with which it was built. The Agra Fort is also a graceful monument, although it might have lost some of it’s fame to the Taj. Fatehpur Sikri, situated near Agra is a historic city, the capital city rather, built by Akbar. Also famous are the Konark Temple in Orissa, Mysore Palace in Karnataka, Rock Memorial in Tamil Nadu, Shore temple and shrines of Lord Shiva in Mahabalipuram and the Badami caves.
Having such a rich cultural heritage India is one of those countries which deserves respect from all its citizens. And now that you know much about it, you can too feel proud of being an Indian, an individual belonging to one of those countries which have a lot to boast about.