Chand Baori, Abhaneri, Rajasthan

Indian Culture by a local guide

A lot of things can be said about India, but to me India is the land of unity in diversity. There are 22 recognized languages and 29 states, but on top of that there also is a huge religious variety. Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism, they all coexist.

The country is divided geographically into four regions: North, South, East and West. In the north we can find the Indian capital: Delhi. Maybe you already know all this about India, but there is a lot more. Read on and get inspired by different festivals, food recommendations per region and a brief introduction to India’s rich culture.

Festivals

Photo by Debashis Biswas

If you are going to India, keep your eyes open! You might just be visiting during one of the two major festivals celebrated in India: Holi and Diwali.

Maybe you have heard of Holi, it’s the Hindu festival of colors. This title refers to the tradition smearing colored powders and water on each other. Aside from the fact that it brings joy and color to the streets, the festival also signifies the triumph of good over evil and of the end of winter. Do you want to come and celebrate it in India? It usually falls in the second half of March every year. And if you want a tip on where to go experiencing the festival, Haridwar and Rishikesh in the Uttar Pradesh state of India are the place to be.

Diwali, on the other hand, is the Hindu festival of lights. The festival is about placing light over darkness, hope over despair. People’s houses are lit, crackers are burst and you enjoy treats together with your family and friends. It is takes place in the first half of the month of November and is a celebrated largely in parts like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

During the harvest season, differing between regions and diverse cultures, it is celebrated with different names like Bihu in East India, Baisakhi, Lohri, Basant Panchami in North India, Onam and Pongal in South India and Makar Sankranti in West India. The festivals are celebrated with food actually prepared by the harvested crops of the season and there is dancing, kite flying, and many more merriments.

Other major festivals celebrated in the country are Eid, Christmas, Easter and Navroz

Food

Spices are a major part of Indian food. Homegrown spices like (here we go) Chilli, turmeric, coriander, cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, mustard seeds, nutmeg and mace, fenugreek and saffron threads are essentials for everyday cooking in India.

Rice is a staple in many parts of the country but also the Indian flatbreads like roti, chapati or naan are popular. They’re made from wheat flour and are a major accompaniment with gravies, curries and veggies in most parts of India.

Oils also vary according to cooking in different regions of the country. Whilst South Indian food tends to be cooked mostly in Coconut Oil, East Indian food is cooked in Mustard Oil. The West Indian cuisine prefers Groundnut Oil and North Indian Food is cooked in Ghee or other oils.

What interesting foods should you try out while in the country? If you are in South India try Dosa or Idli. Staying in Mumbai? Try Pav Bhaji and Vada Pav. If you are however in Delhi try Butter Chicken and Kulche Chole or if you’re traveling through north India give Jalebi and other sweets a try. Lastly go for Rasgulla, a sweet curd whilst in Kolkata, and Momos in Guwahati.

A very interesting item to try out is Paneer or Indian fresh cheese. Furthermore India is a treat for vegetarians because a large part of the population eats vegetarian food.

India also boasts of Biryani. Biryani is made differently in different parts of the country, but the most popular versions being the Hyderabadi Biryani and the Lucknowi Biryani. Indian street food has a popular variety of spreads. Chaats/Golgappa/Pani Puri are a must try out.

Drinks made from milk like lassi or buttermilk are a high recommendation and best served in places like Delhi or Punjab.

Culture

The Indian culture is diverse as its house to a variety of races, religion, and traditions. The most significant aspects:

Namaste!

This is how people are greeted in India by saying Namaste and joining both their palms together and fingers pointing upwards.

Tika or Tilakis

A mark worn on the forehead during important occasions

Sindoor

A vermillion mark worn by married Hindu women along their hair partition.

Yoga

A popular part of the culture, with it being practiced in the length and breadth of the country.

Ayurveda

India is the land of Ayurveda, a system of healing or treating illness using herbs, traditional medicines, and oils.

Aside from the significant aspect named before, classical dancing is also a part of the culture and history. India has many classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Kuchipudi. The main aspect in most of them is Ghungroo, a musical metallic anklet. The Ghungroo adds a musical rhythm to the classical Indian dances, and it’s definitely worth it to visit a performance!

Furthermore there are a few more reasons people want to visit and explore India. Temples are found all across the country and idol worship in the majority of them is followed. Tip/advice: A tradition is leaving shoes outside a temple before entering! It is respectful to follow this tradition. Special to witness too, and must-visits in India are the Bengal Tiger in the Sundarbans Sanctuary of West Bengal and the One-Horned Rhinoceros of Kaziranga National Park in Assam.

Lastly, one of the wonders of the world that many have heard of, but not everyone has had the opportunity to actually visit her. The Taj Mahal: a white marble mausoleum commissioned for the wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Anyone coming in its vicinity should definitely go there.

I hope you have learned more about the country named after the Indus river, and please don’t hesitate paying us a visit. अलविदा!

Written by Kripalini Kalita from India

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