India is the second largest country in Asia with an area of 3,287,240 km²and 7th largest in the world. This is the second most populous country in the world just after the China. The total number of the population estimated in 2019 is 1,387,037,000. It’s frontier, which is roughly one-third coastline, abuts six countries. It is bounded to the northwest by Pakistan, to the north by Nepal, China, and Bhutan; and to the east by Myanmar. Bangladesh to the east is surrounded by India to the north, east, and west. The island country of Sri Lanka is situated some 65 km off the southeast coast of India across the Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar. Much of India’s territory lies within a large peninsula, surrounded by the Arabian Sea to the west and the Bay of Bengal to the east; Cape Comorin, the southernmost point of the Indian mainland, marks the dividing line between those two bodies of water.
After the independence from the British empire on 15 August 1947, India was partitioned along religious lines into two different countries; India for Hindu majority and Pakistan with Muslim majority in 1949. Later, Eastern Pakistan was split off to form Bangladesh. Mahatma Gandhi is a well-known figure of India who followed the path of nonviolence to liberate India from British. Jawahar Lal Nehru was the first prime minister of independent India. The country is a federal republic with 29 states and six union territories. It has a parliamentary democracy which operates under the 1950 constitution. There is a bicameral federal parliament: the Rajya Sabha or council of states (upper house) and the Lok Sabha or house of the people (lower house). Narendra Modi from Bharatiya Janta Party is in his second term as the Prime Minister since 24 may 2014.
India’s history is observed as one of the world’s ancient civilizations known as Indus valley civilization. This is the terrain where Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism originated, Buddhism flourished and Islamism, Christianism and Pearse were well penetrated. In the time of Buddha, India was divided in 16 different Janapad and multiple small countries. One of the biggest Janapad was Magadha. In 3rd century B.C., during the period of Maurya dynasty Magadha began grand kingdom and Patna was its capital. One of the kings of this dynasty, Ashoka, flourished Buddhism in the whole country and beyond. Later it was divided and again unified in the northern part during the period of Kushan dynasty around the 1st century. Kanishka was a remarkable king of this dynasty and during his period Gandara was a summer capital and Mathura was a winter capital of his kingdom. Another notable dynasty of India was the Gupta dynasty who was Hindu in religion but gave equal emphasis to Buddhism. This was a golden era in the history of India with a lot of development in the arts sector. Then during the Chauhan dynasty, a Muslim ruler started to attack in India and in the beginning of the 13th century established a Sultanate. In 1526, Babar, the Mughal empire defeated Sultan of India and established Mughal Dynasty until British invasion. Then British ruled India until 1947 when finally, India gained independence. Once again, India was divided into two countries and in 1949 modern India was established.
The country consists of 29 states, each with a substantial degree of control over its own affairs; 6 less fully empowered union territories, two of which are composed entirely of islands: Lakshadweep, in the Arabian Sea, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that lie between the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea; and the Delhi national capital territory, which includes New Delhi, India’s capital. The fertile Indo-Gangetic plain occupies most of northern, central and eastern India, while the Deccan Plateau occupies most of southern India. To the west of the country is the Thar Desert, which consists of a mix of rocky and sandy desert. India’s east and northeastern border consists of the high Himalayan range. The highest point in India is disputed due to a territorial dispute with Pakistan; according to India’s claim, the highest point is K2, at 8,611 m. The climate ranges from equatorial in the far south, to tundra in the Himalayan altitudes.
India is a colorful canvas portraying a unique assimilation of ethnic groups displaying varied cultures and religions. Thus, the administrative division of the country is generally based on the most populous ethnolinguistic groups of the country, in which different off shoots exist. Some of them are briefly explained.
The people of Assam state are a broad racial intermixture of Mongolian, Indo-Burmese, Indo-Iranian and Aryan origin. This broad racial intermixture is the native of the state of Assam, called their language and the people “Asomiya” or “Assamese” which is also the state language of Assam. The state has the largest number of tribes within their variety in tradition, culture, dresses, and exotic way of life. Most tribes have their own languages; some of their traditions are so unique and lively that these cause wonder to others. Boro (or Kachari), Karbi, Kosh-Rajbanshi, Miri, Mishimi and Rabha are also among these tribes exhibiting variety in tradition, culture, dresses, and exotic way of life. Assamese is the principal language of the state and is regarded as the lingua franca of the whole northeast India.
Most of the native population of Assam is Vaishnavite Hindu. Villagers generally associate on the basis of membership of a local center of devotional worship called “nam ghar” or “the house of names” (of God), whose members describe them as “one people” or “raij”. Villages are usually made up of families from a number of distinct castes. The caste system, although it exists, is not as prominent as in other parts of India. Among the Assamese, caste and sect exist with two contrasting emphasis in a form of Hinduism. The most important social and cultural celebrations are the three Bihu festivals; Bohag Bihu in mid-April, Magh Bihu in mid-January and Kangaali Bihu in mid-October, observed with great enthusiasm irrespective of caste, creed and religious affinity.
Bengalis are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group native to the Bengal region in South Asia, specifically in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent presently divided between Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam’s Barak Valley, who speak Bengali, a language from the Indo-Aryan language family. Bengalis are the third largest ethnic group in the world, after Han Chinese and Arabs. They are believed to have emerged from the convergence of several ethnic groups that entered the Bengal area over the course of numerous centuries. The Vedda people were the first community to inhabit the region, followed by the Mediterranean community. The Persians, Arabs and Turkish started entering the area in the eighth century, and eventually, these communities merged and became the Bengalis. They have four major religious subgroups: Bengali Muslims, Bengali Hindus, Bengali Christians, and Bengali Buddhists.
Bengalis are known for their cuisine of fish prepared in varieties often served with rice as their staple food. They are also known for sweets like rasogolla, Sandesh, rashmalai etc. Their favorite festival is Durga Puja observing victory of goddess kali over the demon Mahishasura. Bengali women traditionally wear a white sari with red border, draping the ‘pallu’ in a special manner that is exclusive to the state of West Bengal. The men used to wear dhoti kurtas in olden times but now do so only during some special occasions like during festivals or marriages.
The Gujarati people or Gujaratis are Indo-Aryan ethnic group native to Gujarat who speak Gujarati, an Indo-Aryan language. The nonviolence activist Mahatma Gandhi who played a vital role to achieve India’s independency, is a Gujrati. Gujaratis are prominent entrepreneurs, industrialists, and Indian independence activists. The sheer simplicity and amiability of Gujaratis have made them a flourishing community. Due to many religions coexisting in the state, Gujaratis believe in various Gods and Goddesses. Embracing different religious faiths, Gujaratis demonstrate a vibrant mix of Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, and Buddhism. This amalgamation of cultures is quite evident in their beliefs, customs, traditions, institutions, and practices. The majorly celebrated ceremonies of Gujaratis include birth, thread ceremony, marriage and death. All the rituals are performed by the highly ranked Brahmans. The Rann Utsav is a major festival and witnesses an exquisite carnival of music, dance and natural beauty. A traditional and authentic Gujarati meal consists of dal, roti, rice, vegetables, salad, chaas, farsan followed by a sweet dish. Gujarati cuisine is quite similar to that of Maharashtra, and most of the Gujaratis are vegetarian. Some of the famous Gujarati delicacies include dhokla, fafda, khandvi, dhal Dhokli, Undhiyu, handvo, Ganthia, dal Wada, khakhra, and Thepla. Patola Silk or popularly known as ‘Queen of all silks’ forms a major part of traditional Gujarati attire. Gujarati brides are adorned with silk and zari woven sarees of Gharchola and Panetar. Kutch has a distinctive traditional outfit adorned by women known as Abhas. Chania Cholis are a popular choice of outfit during the festive season of Navratri Mahotsav. Men also wear unique attire known as Kediya dress during the Navratri season.
The Marathas are an ethnolinguistic group mainly living in Maharashtra and the bordering districts such as Karwar and Belgaum in Karnataka and the state of Goa. There are approximately 83 million Marathi people in India and another 7 million in the diaspora such as Fiji, Guyana, South Africa, Jamaica, Suriname, and Mauritius. During the Islamic rule, the Marathas (Marathi People) were in charge of revenue collection and were considered a source of economic power and pride. Since most of the people in Maharashtra were Hindu and spoke Marathi, the language was adopted by several sultans as the court language. In the 17th century, the Marathi Empire was founded by Shivaji Maharaj.
The Marathi people are distinct from other ethnic groups in terms of language, religious practice, culture, social structure, history, and art. They have a long tradition of caste hierarchy that predates the arrival of the British. Traditionally, the Brahmin caste is considered the upper caste and consists of Marathi Brahmin, Prabhus, and Saraswat Brahmins. The majority of the Marathi Hindu either belong to the Bara Balutedar or Maratha-Kunbi castes. Other castes include Agri, Bhandari, Bhoi, Dhangar, Dhobi, Lonari, and Ramoshi. The different castes have been involved in different activities and are different status in the community. For instance, the Dhobi have traditionally washed clothes while Dhangar has been nomadic shepherds. The non-Hindu communities include the Marathi Christians, Marathi Buddhists, and Marathi Jains. The Marathi Hindu people, like most Hindus, have shrines in their homes called “devaghar,” decorated with pictures, symbols, and idols of deities for daily devotions. In some families, the deities are first offered food before family members and guests are served. Each family has its own family patron known as “neivedya.”
The Marwaris are an Indian ethnic group that originate from Marwar, in south-west Rajasthan lies mostly in the Thar Desert. The term Marwar denotes barren and deserted land. Even though, its arid environment, its people have given birth to one of India’s richest cultures, known for its treasure trove of wall paintings, miniatures and architectural marvels. Their language, also called Marwari, comes under the umbrella of Rajasthani languages, which is part of the Western Zone of Indo-Aryan languages.
They have been a highly successful business community, first as inland traders during the era of Rajput kingdoms, and later as investors in industrial production and other sectors. Although spread throughout India, historically they have been most concentrated in Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Nagpur and the hinterlands of central and eastern India. The Marwar festival, held annually in October, showcases folk songs and dances that eulogize the valor and courage of the rulers of the region. Perhaps the ideal of valor spilled into the daily lives of the citizens of Marwar as well, explaining the courage of the Marwari business community venturing into new enterprises. The majority of Marwari are Hindu in belief but there are also Muslim and Jain communities in this ethnic group.
India’s second largest religion is Islamism which represents 14.2% of total population of the country. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world just after Indonesia. Most of them are Sunni in belief and minority are Shia. The Barwada Mosque in Gujarat and Cheraman Juma Mosque in Kerala are the two of the first mosque in India dated back to the 7th century AD. Muslim people are spread all over India but most of them live in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Maharashtra, Assam, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan. Their language is Urdu and they use Urdu alphabet which is a modification of the Persian alphabet. However, Islam doesn’t recognize the caste system. In Muslim communities of India, there is a system of social stratification. They are categorized as Ashraf (noble), Ajlaf (non-Ashraf) and Arzal (degraded) in India. They are very rich in art, architecture and culture. The splendid Mughal art and architecture and Sultanate architecture are examples of their richness in architecture.
Punjabi people are an Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic group associated with the Punjab region. Their language, Punjabi, is descendant from Indo-Aryan language. The combination of different castes, tribes and inhabitants exists in this group. Prior to that, the sense and perception of a common “Punjabi” ethno-cultural identity and community did not exist, even though a majority of the various communities of the Punjab region had long shared linguistic, cultural and racial commonalities.
Traditionally, Punjabi identity is primarily linguistic, geographical and cultural. Its identity is independent of historical origin or religion and refers to those who reside in the Punjab region or associate with its population and those who consider the Punjabi language their mother tongue. Integration and assimilation are important parts of Punjabi culture since Punjabi identity is not based solely on tribal connections. More or less, all Punjabis share the same cultural background.
Historically, the Punjabi people were a heterogeneous group and subdivided into a number of clans called biradari (literally meaning “brotherhood”) or tribes, with each person bound to a clan. However, Punjabi identity also included those who did not belong to any of the historical tribes. With the passage of time, tribal structures are coming to an end and being replaced with a more cohesive and holistic society, as community building and group cohesiveness form the new pillars of Punjabi society. In relative contemporary terms, Punjabis can be referred to in three most common subgroups; Punjabi Muslims, Punjabi Sikhs and Punjabi Hindus.
The term Rajput derives from the Sanskrit words Raja and Putra which denotes King and Son respectively. They believe that they are descendants from Suryavamsa (the Sun dynasty) and Chandravamsa (the Moon dynasty). They are mostly inhabited in the state of Rajasthan. They are known as the warrior caste. Their glorious history also makes them proud to be Rajput. Even though there are some Muslim and Buddhist followers, most of them are Hindu in belief and they don’t recognize other non-Hindu communities as Rajput. They worship Shiv’s wife Shakti as their chief goddess. They conduct pilgrimages to various holy places like Haridwar, Varanasi and Gangotri in Uttar Pradesh. To immerse the ashes of the dead in the holy Ganges River at Haridwar is considered a religious duty by the sons of the deceased.
Traditionally Rajput live in joint families but in urban areas, nuclear family is also adapted. The purdah (veil) system is commonly practiced in the rural area whereas city girls are slowly denying this tradition. Monogamy is the prevalent form of marriage, though polygamy is allowed and in aristocratic families is quite common. Rajput women love jewelry. The symbols of matrimony are ivory bangles, bor (conical forehead ornament), a nose stud, sindoor (bright vermilion mark) in the middle hair-parting and the bindi – a colourful dot in the middle of the forehead.
Traditionally, the Rajputs have village caste councils to settle matters arising out from social disputes. The Rajput are also referred to as Thakur and play a dominant role in local as well as national level caste politics.
Tamils are one of the communities descended from Dravidian ethnic group. Most of the Tamils live in the state of Tamil Nadu in India which represent 5.9% of total population of India. Large numbers of Tamils are also found in northern Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore etc. Their language is known as Tamil which is one of the world’s longest surviving classical language. Although most Tamil people are Hindus, a sizeable number are Muslims and Christians. Many Tamils, especially those in the rural areas practice what is considered to be Dravidian folk religion, venerating a plethora of village deities . A small Jain community survives from the classical period as well. The most of the traditional art related to the religion, specially Hinduism. Tanjore painting is a the most important form of painting among Tamils. There are a lot of dances performed in tamil culture, ex. Bharatanatyam, Kummiyattam, Koothu, Karakattam etc. Traditionally Tamil people serve food on a banana leaf. The popular foods of Tamils are Idli, dosa, vadai etc. that served with sambar or chutney.