11 diversities of Indian culture from the land of diversity
In a temple in Andhra, where a number of Kannadigas visit, I observed a family singing Hanuman Chalisa, which is written in Gujrati by Tulsidas. Everyone present in the temple was enjoying listening to the song with devotion. After singing, when the family stepped out of the temple, curious about their whereabouts when I tried to overhear them speaking, I learned that they were a Tamil speaking family. A land that is as diversified as it is united.
The above incident clearly proves a point. There was no enforcement, whatsoever on anyone. Each one had happily accepted diversity as part of their lives. The acceptance was not confined to acceptance, it had grown on to become a part of every Indian’s life.
Well, diversity in India can be classified into many. Before that, let us try to understand, why is this nation full of diversity?
To answer this question, if we understand the geography of this country, it is equally diversified. The geography that starts from the oceans from down south to the Himalayas at the top. The land that is in between these two is what is called Bharat or India, and we are talking about the diversity that prevails in this very area.
Moreover, there is a beautiful sloka explaining this fact in Sanskrit.
उत्तरं यत् समुद्रस्य हिमाद्रेश्चैव दक्षिणं |
वर्षं तत् भारतं नाम भारती यत्र संततिः ||
So, within this boundary, if you observe, it is altogether a world in itself, that has every kind of forests, mountains, desert, rivers, water bodies, snow-clad mountains, seashores, parts where it rains most of the time, parts with extremely cold weather, parts having an extreme cold weather in winter and an extreme hot weather in summer, parts that have a moderate weather, tropical weather so on and so forth.
In summary, India, with all its diversity can be considered a heaven on earth as a poet narrates his opinion in the form of the below sloka.
गायन्ति देवाः किलगीतकानि धान्यास्तु ये भारत भूमि भागे
स्वर्गापवर्गास्पदमार्ग भूते भवन्ति भूयः पुरुषा सुरत्वात्
Even the gods and goddesses praise this place, revealing that the people who reside in this very place are the lucky ones and that they themselves if given an opportunity would be more than willing to stay here.
This geographical diversity along with the broad-mindedness of the residents of the country have contributed to the birth of diversity in almost every other field that we can think of.
Let us start to list the categories starting from time.
It is a well-known fact that right from the beginning of the universe, the only thing that has come along is what we call as time or Kaal in Sanskrit.
So, in a sense, diversity starts off with time, as time has recorded everything in history and is still doing so. The fascinating thing about India is starting from measuring time, everything is diversified.
The biggest unit of time is Brahma’s age. According to the Indian time system, every new thing starts from the birth of Brahma and ends at Brahma’s hundredth year, which will be his death. But if you try to arrive at this measuring unit, there are a lot of other units which we might have to visit in order to reach this unit.
Let us briefly learn about the Brahma’s age through our, as in human’s years. There are four yugas that have the following time span in human years.
Satya Yuga is 1.728 million human years
Treta Yuga is 1.296 million human years
Dwapara Yuga is 0.864 million human years
Kali Yuga is 0.432 million human years
The summation of all four yugas in total will give us one Maha Yuga.
One thousand such maha yuga cycles are one day for Brahma which is called Kalpa. His night consists of the same number of yuga cycles, making it one day and one night, which is also called an Ahoratra, two Kalpas. During his day, life exists in the universe and during the night there is no life.
Brahma’s one year consists of 360 Brahma days and nights. This period of time is Maha Kalpa.
A very brief explanation brings us to such big numbers in Indian units of time, where the Brahmas life span, which is a hundred years is equivalent to 311,040 billion human years.
We have explored the upper limits of the time, now let us talk about diversity.
There are mainly two calendars for the years that we spoke about in our previous paragraphs.
- Solar Calendar
- Lunar Calendar
As rightly guessed by you, unlike the English calendar, these two calendars are scientific and seasonal based on the Sun and the Moon.
Since everything is calculated from earth’s perspective, the motion of the sun and moon are observed and based on these observations, days are created into fortnights, fortnights to months, and months inturn to years.
The earth comes back to the same position every year when the moon’s position will be in the exact same point, though the moon would have revolved around the earth thirteen times.
Apart from this, there are many years used as a reference point based on kings and great people. The ones that are being followed are:
Vir Nirvana era
Culture in India is time immemorial. The beauty of India, unlike any other nation, is the way it evolved here and how it is still evolving. With all the evolution, this is the only civilization that has been able to retain its roots from the past.
The main attribute of India is culture. Cultural diversity is so different from place to place. Each culture has its own ways of dealing with situations. This is reflected in many ways.
If you consider a festival, the way southern parts of India celebrate is in total contrast with how northern parts of the country celebrate the very same festival.
Let us, for example, consider the festival Sankranti, which, in the southern parts of India is celebrated more like an indoor festival confining to people distributing the sesame mixed with coconut and jaggery to the others, while in Gujarat the same festival is celebrated by flying kites, in addition to which distribution of sesame Chikki (a kind of solid cuboid-shaped sweet prepared with boiled liquid jaggery).
The way cultures have evolved is by many parameters that have affected and helped in strengthening them. These kinds of differences are noticeable in numerous such practices.
The concept of god in India was not confined to religion. In fact, religion had no place here since its inception. People had the choice of selecting their own God (Ishta Devata). Though there could be in certain cases that there would be a fight among the believers of different Gods, that has never been the concept of anything that took birth in this sacred place and was a mere exception.
Just like how every person can create or select their own god, each village has their version of gods, which is called Grama Devata.
A step further, not worshipping any god has been openly accepted in this country. In fact, the people who did so, have not been electrocuted like our western counterparts. They have been honored and revered, like the one by name Charvaka.
The concept of God here is totally different and each person has their opinion about their philosophy of god.
The most common philosophy of God is God is everywhere, in everyone and everything. There were many forms of god, which is called as multi-theism, the festivals like Ayudha Puja (worshipping the machines or devices that help us) and worshipping of trees were the same concepts that are a part of the unity and integrity across the country.
There were two main concepts of God which gave birth to many other sub-concepts.
Non-duality, which was conceptualized by Adi Shankaracharya in recent times, which did not separate god from humans. It proposed that both are the same. God who is omnipresent, obviously has to be present in humans too and that god will not be any different in any human.
Duality, as opposed to Advaita, this philosophy stresses on lord – slave relationship. While God is the lord, humans are just slaves, also called in Sanskrit as Dasa. Following this came Dasa Parampare with innumerable songs.
Perhaps, like in very few countries in the world, even in India, God has female forms, for Knowledge, Prosperity, and Strength. What science calls as cosmos, we, here in India, having understood the concept, have called it God.
In India, every day is a festival and the concept of a festival is not the same as the rest of the world. While all over the world it is a holiday at a festival, here it is either something to do with god or work. There is no merrymaking as everything in India is divine and happiness is not something that we look for outside of us.
Consider the same festival, which we spoke about in the previous section that coincides with the English calendar and arrives either on Jan 14 or 15. This festival is celebrated in most parts of the country in a different way. This is localized and blended so well that the celebration at each place has a significance and does not have anything to do with just a god of religion. It is a festival of harvesting to welcome a great change in the weather.
Consider in Karnataka, cows are worshipped, the harvest is celebrated. Along with that, due to the change in the direction of the sun, to prevent further from damage to the skin that will be taken care of by the ingredients along with the sesame seeds to overcome that problem.
This festival is called in different names from different parts of the country like:
- Sankranti in Karnataka
- Pongal in Tamilnadu
- Lohri in Punjab
- Poush Parbon in Bengal
- Uttarayan in Gujarat
Similarly, there are many such festivals that could be common across the country or just specific to a place.
To give you an idea of a localized festival, a groundnut festival is celebrated in Bengaluru in winter, which is only confined to a part of Bengaluru, all started when it was a village, still continuing, called Kadalekai Parishe.
Needless to say that a lot of gods invite a lot of temples, similarly many devotees of different gods have come forward in building temples, which was also a center for social service then. Temples were not just a place where the deity is placed, but instead, it is a place where positive vibrations and peace prevail.
Each part of this country has a different style of architecture when it comes to building temples. Though there is so much diversity in building temples, there are some things that remain the same, with the following essential features.
- Inner Sanctum (Garbha Griha)
- Primary Murti (main idol of the deity)
Keeping diversity in mind, we can find below a list of architectures used to build temples. They are all still a part of this culture and witness lots of devotees to date.
- South-East Asian Hindu temples
- Dravida and Nagara architecture
- Badami Chalukya architecture
- Gadag architecture
- Kalinga architecture
- Indonesian architecture
- Khmer architecture
- Champa architecture
When it comes to rituals, Sanskrit is the main language to most of the sects pertaining to this country. Still, there are places and certain sects that have opted for local languages.
The rituals have been mostly performed to nature from one of these:
- Heavenly bodies
- Helpful Objects
The differences are seen in a way that:
- the Steps Performed
- Ingredients used
- Time when performed
- Dress codes
- Places where performed
The next prominent and easily observable category is the language. There are a lot of languages than we think there are. Such was the effect of localization here. Just like food, that we will be covering soon in the coming sections, the same language has different flavors or slang.
Languages had nothing to do with Kingdoms because in many cases one kingdom here would encourage several spoken languages and literature.
As a case study, we can take up the kingdom of Sri Krishnadevaraya. In his kingdom literature was given so much importance that the poets from different places were frequently honored. You can read about one of his jesters, Sri Tenari Ramakrishna here. Poets from different languages such as
enjoyed the patronage of the king. It was perhaps inbuilt into the human beings here to honor everyone irrespective of their languages, true to the Sanskrit phrase, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam“, World is my family.
Even today, we consider every other language as the national language. If you consider Karnataka alone, people still speak the following languages, that were derived from old Kannada:
- Tulu (A mixture of Kannada and Malayalam)
- Konkani (A mixture of Kannada and Marathi)
- Sanketi (a mixture of Kannada and Tamil)
- Various other dialects of Kannada like Mysore Kannada, Mangalore Kannada, Uttara Karnataka Kannada, Bengaluru Kannada, etc.
For an outsider, food is broadly categorized in India into north Indian and south Indian. But, if you dig deeper into it, places that are 100 km apart have different versions and tastes of the same food. If you further dig deeper, every house has a different taste.
This is again due to the geographical factors and of course, the broadmindedness of the people. People here have always given respect to localization. Food is something that we consume and that which gets into us becoming one with us. It is common sense having to be careful in selecting what we eat.
What is available closer to us is what will be good for us. Plants grow based on the climatic conditions of a particular place. In addition to that, they grow seasonally too. Besides, different places might have different variations available. For instance, there are two flavors of red chili available in the southern part of the country.
- Guntur – this chili is extremely spicy, with dull red color, and is available in a place called Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. This is best to be consumed in that place as it grows this way in that place
- Byadagi – Though this is known for its bright red color, it is not as spicy as that of the Guntur chili. This is available in parts of Karnataka
As a matter of fact, it is obviously advisable to consume that is available at the shortest distance to us. Same case with tamarind.
- Used extensively in hot regions where they are grown
- Used moderately in not so hot locations, after dilution
- Not used in cold places as they are not good for health in cold temperatures
These reasons gave birth to diversity. Food’s tastes vary in India due to the following differences
- Different ingredients used: In certain cases, the food will be completely different and there will be no traces of similarities at all. Places that are a lot of distance apart, at least about 500 km. The food changes drastically
- Different recipe: The same item will be prepared using a slight deviation in the recipe. This happens mostly for every 100 km. The name of the same item changes making it look like a new dish
- Different proportions: In some cases, recipes will be the same, with just a little variation in the proportions used to prepare them. In India, every house has this taste difference, as there will certainly be a difference in the proportions, no matter that
To know more about street food and food culture in Bengaluru, please visit this link. The article even talks about the old Bangalore (so it was called) and its famous eateries from 1924.
It all started as a protecting layer, in a few centuries, to become fashion wear. Just like food diversity, clothes are diversified based on location due to geography and climatic conditions. But what unites is the simplicity in clothing.
It does not matter which part of the country you pick. Clothes have always been kept simple and nature-friendly. The specific type of clothing, especially among women, is the saree. This changes so much as you travel. We will get an idea as to how diversified the country’s clothing is just by analyzing the types of sarees a set of women tie.
Sarees are worn based on
When I was sitting in a cultural sensitivity class, the trainer came up with a beautiful analogy. Why do women in Kerala tie white or light-colored sarees as opposed to the colorful sarees tied in Tamil Nadu?
Regional climatic conditions and geographical influences play a major role in such scenarios.
Most parts of Tamil Nadu are drylands due to the scorching sun, its position in the country and the climatic conditions. In contrast, these women there wear colorful sarees. On the contrary, in Kerala, also called as god’s own country, ninety percent of the state is full of greenery, reflecting nature’s very own beautiful colors. So, Kerala women have the habit of tying sarees that contrast this beauty, wearing subtle white sarees.
If you observe in Tamilnadu and other southern parts of the country, the materials used are from what is available in the neighborhood. What is grown in nearby fields is what people used to wear. The materials came from a very short distance, promoting nature-friendly clothing, minimal shipment costs and minimum wastage.
As a case study, if you observe in the north due to invasions, when women were abused by the invaders, to avoid this either the women were not let out or if they were, they used to cover their faces and move, just to avoid terrific situations.
For more information on sarees, please visit this link. It talks about 90 different types of sarees and their different styles materials etc.
Music is as important for the mind as food is important for the body. More than the genres, here there are different types based on the region.
Classical music is divided largely into two
Shankar Mahadevan has clearly explained the difference in the below video. Please view it, it is really interesting.
This kind of music is famous in the northern part of the country, especially in Maharashtra and Bengal.
This is indeed famous in the southern states of the country, mainly in the four southern states,
Though both of them had a divine touch in their initial days, when Hindustani went into the hands of the invaders, there was a lot of manipulation that it came under and has spread itself into the luxurious genre too.
Villages, each one as different and unique as the other, had their own versions of folk songs, in their native languages that were pertinent to a place. These songs were sung on one of the following occasions:
- Before an event
- Festival days
- At work
If you observe there is no standardization or documentation of music. The true nature is left and there is a lot of liberty left to the musician performing in any form of music.
One more important part of the art form is dance. Dance is more of a combination of science and arts put together. In addition to the form of entertainment, it also makes the audience understand the meaning of the song associated with the dance better.
The different forms of dances from various parts of the country are as follows:
- Bharatanatyam, from Tamil Nadu
- Kathak, from Uttar Pradesh
- Kathakali, from Kerala
- Kuchipudi, from Andhra Pradesh
- Odissi, from Odisha
- Sattriya, from Assam
- Manipuri, from Manipur
- Mohiniyattam, from Kerala
While performing in any type of the above-mentioned dance forms, the classical dancer pays attention to five aspects.
- Angika (gestures and body language),
- Vachika (song, recitation, music, and rhythm),
- Aharya (stage setting, costumes, make-up, jewelry),
- Sattvika (artist’s mental disposition and emotional connection with the story and audience, wherein the artist’s inner and outer state resonates).
- Abhinaya draws out the bhava (mood, psychological states).
To conclude, being happy to learn more about diversified India is the necessity of the day. Let us do this and see the change in the betterment of the nation naturally.