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Culture of India
Nearly one sixth of all the human beings
on Earth live in India, the world’s most populous democracy. Officially
titled the Republic of India, it’s 1,269,413 sq. mi. lie in South Asia,
occupying most of the Indian subcontinent, bordered by Pakistan (W); China,
Nepal, and Bhutan (N); and Myanmar (E) and Bangladesh forms an enclave
in the NE. Its borders encompass a vast variety of peoples, practicing
most of the world’s major religions, speaking scores of different languages,
divided into thousands of socially exclusive castes, and combining the
physical traits of several major racial groups (Compton’s).

The modern nation of India (also known
by its ancient Hindi name, Bharat) is smaller than the Indian Empire formerly
ruled by Britain. Burma (now Myanmar), a mainly Buddhist country lying
to the east, was administratively detached from India in 1937. Ten years
later, when Britain granted independence to the peoples of the Indian subcontinent,
two regions with Muslim majorities–a large one in the northwest (West
Pakistan) and a smaller one in the northeast (East Pakistan)–were partitioned
from the predominantly Hindu areas and became the separate nation of Pakistan.

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East Pakistan broke away from Pakistan in 1971 to form the independent
nation of Bangladesh. Also bordering India on its long northern frontier
are the People’s Republic of China and the relatively small kingdoms of
Nepal and Bhutan. The island republic of Sri Lanka lies just off India’s
southern tip (New World Encyclopedia).

Much of India’s area of almost 1.3 million
square miles (3.3 million square kilometers–including the Pakistani-held
part of Jammu and Kashmir) is a peninsula jutting into the Indian Ocean
between the Arabian Sea on the west and the Bay of Bengal on the east.

There are three distinct physiographic regions. In the north the high peaks
of the Himalayas lie partly in India but mostly just beyond its borders
in Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. South of the mountains, the low-lying Indo-Gangetic
Plain, shared with Pakistan and Bangladesh, extends more than 1,500 miles
(2,400 kilometers) from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal (Compton’s).

Finally, the peninsular tableland, largely the Deccan, together with its
adjacent coastal plains, makes up more than half of the nation’s area.

In general, India’s climate is governed
by the monsoon, or seasonal, rain-bearing wind. Most of the country has
three seasons: hot, wet, and cool. During the hot season, which usually
lasts from early March to mid-June, very high temperatures are accompanied
by intermittent winds and occasional dust storms (Concise).

Strong, humid winds from the southwest
and south usually lasts from early March to mid-June, very high temperatures
are accompanied by intermittent winds and occasional dust storms.

Most of the far northeast (north and east
of Bangladesh), northern West Bengal, and the west coast from Cochin to
somewhat north of Bombay get more than 80 inches (200 centimeters) of rainfall
annually. This is usually enough to keep the soil moist throughout the
year. The natural vegetation associated with these regions is an exceedingly
varied, broadleaf, evergreen rain forest, typically tall and dense. Much
of the rain forest, however, is in hilly regions that have been repeatedly
burned over and cleared for slash-and-burn agriculture, a type of farming
particularly associated with India’s tribal population. As a result, the
soil has become less fertile. Where the forest has grown again, it is generally
lower and less open than the original vegetation (New World Encyclopedia).

It is not certain which racial group first
occupied India. The assumption is often made that the first inhabitants
had characteristics in common with the small-statured, dark, aboriginal
population of Australia, as well as with other tribal groups still found
in isolated, forested regions of Southeast Asia. Therefore, the term proto-Australoid
has been applied to the racial type represented by a number of tribes still
living in India, mainly in the states of Bihar, Orissa, and Madhya Pradesh.

Other early arrivals were the ancestors of the peoples, now living mainly
in southern India, who speak languages of the Dravidian family. The Mongoloid
peoples have also been in India a long time. Their present-day descendants
include several tribal groups living along the frontiers with Myanmar,
China (Tibet), Bhutan, and Nepal.

Linguistic differences are much clearer
than those of racial groupings. Two linguistic groups, the Indo-Aryan and
the Dravidian, account for all but a tiny proportion of the population
(Compton’s). Of the Indo-Aryan languages, Hindi, the official national
language, is the most important. In its standard form and its many dialects,
it is spoken by about 43 percent of the population and is understood by
a large number of others. It is predominant in the northern and central
regions. Included among the Hindi variations is Urdu, referred to until
1947 as Hindustani or Khari Boli, which is recognized as a separate “official”
language in the Indian constitution. Urdu is also the official language
of Pakistan and is spoken by most Indian Muslims (except in the far south
and east).

Other important Indo-Aryan languages are
Bengali (the official language of the state of West Bengal and also of
Bangladesh), Panjabi (the official language of the state of Punjab and
the most widely spoken language of Pakistan), and Marathi, Gujarati, Oriya,
Assamese, and Kashmiri (respectively, the official languages of the states
of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa, Assam, and Jammu and Kashmir). Two other
languages of the Indo-Aryan family are among the 15 regarded as official
languages by the constitution: Sanskrit, a classical literary language,
and Sindhi, spoken largely in the Sind province of Pakistan and also by
Hindu refugees who came to India after partition in 1947. The list of official
languages includes four Dravidian tongues: Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and
Kannada, which predominate, respectively, in the southern states of Andhra
Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka (Compton’s).

English is understood by most educated
persons. While it is not one of the 15 languages, it is officially recognized
and is used, for example, for correspondence between Hindi-speaking and
non-Hindi-speaking states. It is also the language shared by the Dravidian-speaking
south and the Hindi-speaking north. Of the scores of languages not officially
recognized, many are spoken almost exclusively by tribal peoples, known
collectively as Adibasis (New World Encyclopedia).

Though a number of religions flourish in
India’s tolerant social climate, four fifths of the people are Hindus.

Hinduism evolved from Vedism, the religion of the early Aryan invaders.

While it recognizes innumerable gods, they are widely regarded as diverse
manifestations of one great universal spirit. Hinduism has no standard
orthodox form. It is, in effect, what people who call themselves Hindus
do in carrying out their dharma, or religious obligations. This varies
considerably from one region and social group to another.

The social groups with which Hindus identify
most strongly are their jatis, or castes. A caste is a hereditary group
whose members intermarry only among themselves. Each has its own origin
myth, traditional occupation, rules relating to kinship, diet, and various
forms of behavior. Castes are graded in a social and ritual hierarchy in
which each expects respect from inferior groups and gives respect to superior
ones. While obviously creating disparities, the caste system is not regarded
by most Hindus as unjust. According to generally accepted beliefs associated
with reincarnation, or rebirth after death, the caste into which one is
born depends on one’s karma–that is, one’s accumulated good and bad deeds
in previous existences. The way to achieve higher status in future incarnations
is to accept one’s station in life and live accordingly. This is the path
that may eventually lead to salvation, called moksha, freedom from the
continuous round of rebirths (New World Encyclopedia).

Muslims, who constitute 11 percent of the
population, are the largest religious minority. Many of these followers
of the monotheistic faith of Islam are descendants of invaders from the
Middle East and Central Asia who began entering the subcontinent as early
as the 8th century. Most, however, are descendants of converts from Hinduism
and other faiths. The majority belong to the Sunnah branch of Islam, though
the Shi’ah sect is well represented among Muslim trading groups of Gujarat.

Although Islam, unlike Hinduism, stresses
the equality of people, the institution of caste is so strong in the subcontinent
that it has affected the communities professing Islam and most other faiths.

Thus, most Indian Muslims intermarry within graded, castelike groups, many
of which have traditional occupations. Muslims form a majority of the population
in Jammu and Kashmir and substantial minorities in the states of Uttar
Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, and Kerala.

Sikhs, with 2.6 percent of the population,
are predominant in the state of Punjab. Their faith, which dates from the
early 16th century, combines aspects of Hinduism, such as belief in reincarnation,
with ideas borrowed from Islam, in particular strict belief in only one
God. A militant brotherhood, they are recognizable by their distinctive
beards and turbans. Sikhs form a prominent part of India’s army and are
influential in many professions and in government (Concise).

Households often consist of more than one
married couple. These joint families are usually headed by a senior male,
whose wife, mother, or another related senior female assigns domestic chores
to the women and girls. Generally the extended family may include his unmarried
children, his younger brothers and their wives and unmarried children,
his unmarried sisters, and his married sons and grandsons and their wives
and unmarried children. In practice, however, brothers commonly separate
and form new households soon after the death of their father.

Over most of India (though not in the south
or northeast), a girl marries outside her village, usually while still
in her teens. Even where a female marries within the village, she moves
to the husband’s household. Widow remarriage is frowned upon. Married couples
display a marked preference for male children. Boys are desired not only
because of their anticipated contribution to the family income but also
because sons are needed to perform certain rites at a parent’s cremation.

Girls, on the other hand, are seen as a liability because they require
expensive dowries when they are married. Various state governments have
tried to discourage this practice, but often families still go into debt
to provide dowries; a family with several daughters and no sons may face
financial disaster. Boys are expected to help in the fields and girls in
the home. The freedom that girls enjoy is restricted after they reach the
age of puberty; in northern India, even among the Hindus, female seclusion
is common (New World Encyclopedia).

Most villagers are farmers. The majority
own some land, usually in scattered parcels, but a substantial number must
rent all or part of the land they farm, either for cash or for an agreed-upon
share of the harvest. The amount depends on whether the cultivator or the
landlord pays for seed and irrigation water, and on who provides the animals
for plowing. Shares typically range from one third to one half the harvest.

Many families, especially among the scheduled castes, have no land at all,
and both adults and children must sell their labor to the larger farmers.

The simple tools used by most Indian farmers
are generally made in the villages. Plows are wooden, with short iron tips.

They furrow but do not turn the soil. Draft animals are mainly oxen in
the drier regions and water buffalo in the wetter, rice-growing areas.

Both cattle and water buffalo are milked, but yields are low. Transport
is still largely by oxcart or buffalo cart, though the use of trucks is
gaining as a result of road improvement. Tractor cultivation is rare except
in Haryana and the Punjab (Compton’s).

Goods and services that are not available
locally are obtained from nearby villages, at weekly outdoor markets, in
towns and cities, and at fairs, usually held in connection with religious
holidays. Payment for goods and services provided within the village may
be either in cash or in kind. The latter type of payment, usually a portion
of grain at the time of harvest, used to be the customary rule. Most specialized-caste
families catered to a particular set of patron families, known as jajmans,
with whom they were linked by hereditary ties. This jajmani system is breaking
down over most of India, but patron-client alliances among various castes
remain a common feature of village life.

Most villages have at least a primary school
offering up to six years of instruction. Some also offer adult education
classes in the evening. While few villages can support a well-trained doctor,
many have practitioners of traditional medicine. Government-aided dispensaries
are increasingly common.

For entertainment men join their fellow
caste members or those from castes at levels close to their own to pass
the evening hours smoking and chatting. Women and girls talk at the village
well and may join groups to sing religious songs. Male youths sometimes
form sports clubs or drama groups. Village-owned radios set up in public
spaces are common, but television is rare. Traveling storytellers, musicians,
acrobats, and snake charmers relieve the drabness of life, as do weddings,
religious celebrations, trips to local fairs, and occasional religious

India’s present constitution went into
effect on Jan. 26, 1950. At that time, the nation changed its status from
a dominion to a federal republic, though it remained within the Commonwealth.

The governor- general, appointed by the British Crown, was replaced by
a president, chosen by an electoral college. The president is the official
chief of state, but the office is largely ceremonial.

Village government is in the hands of a
democratically elected council, known as a panchayat, presided over by
a village headman. In former days virtually all panchayat members were
men of the upper castes, usually those who owned the most land. Now many
states require that a certain number of women and members of scheduled
castes be included. Increasingly, elections are held by secret ballot.

The panchayats are expected to work closely with the government-sponsored
Community Development Program, which has divided the entire country into
community development blocks, averaging about a hundred villages each.

Village-level workers within each block are the chief links between the
government and the villagers. They bring news to the villagers of developments
that might benefit them and report back the sentiments of the people (Concise).

The artistic and literary heritage of India
is exceptionally rich. Probably most renowned are the country’s architectural
masterpieces. These date from many different ages. The ancient Buddhist
domed stupa, or shrine, at Sanchi was probably begun by the emperor Asoka
in the mid-3rd century BC. The Kailasa Temple at Ellora was carved out
of solid rock in the 8th century. The enormous, elaborately sculptured
Sun Temple at Konarak dates from the 13th century, and the Minakshi Temple
in Madurai, with its striking outer towers and inner Hall of 1,000 Pillars,
from the 16th century. The sublime Taj Mahal at Agra was built in the 17th
century by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favorite
wife. Every major region and religious group of India has produced works
of extraordinary merit. Hindu and Jaina temples are usually richly embellished
by sculpture. Because of the Islamic opposition to representative art,
mosques are comparatively austere and rely for adornment largely on inlaid
stonework, decorative tiles, geometric designs in stone, plaster, or wood,
and ornate calligraphy (Compton’s).

Painting is relatively less developed,
and much of the work of the past has fallen victim to weather. However,
the well-preserved, sensuous cave paintings at Ajanta, dating from the
1st century BC to the 7th century AD, demonstrate great technical proficiency
at an early date. Altogether different is the lyric and romantic style
of the various schools of miniature painting that flourished in the courts
of the Mughals and the Rajput princes in the 16th and subsequent centuries.

Modern painting, inspired by both European and Far Eastern models, has
had several internationally recognized exponents.

Classical Indian music, dance, and drama
are closely linked. Their roots go back nearly 2,000 years. Their mastery
calls for great discipline and intensive practice. Each has a conventionalized”language” that demands considerable sophistication on the part of the
audience. As with architecture, a number of regional styles have developed.

Folk music and dance also show wide regional variations (Compton’s).

The literature of India covers many fields
of knowledge, but religious and philosophical texts are particularly numerous.

The oldest religious texts, the Vedas (beginning with the ‘Rig-Veda’ around
1500 BC, were transmitted only by word of mouth for many centuries before
being committed to writing. For most Hindus the two best-known texts are
the great epics, the ‘Ramayana’ and the ‘Mahabharata’, composed roughly
2,000 years ago. The former recounts the adventures of the god-king Rama
and provides models of proper conduct for both men and women. The latter,
the longest poem ever written, relates a great mythical war involving all
the peoples of ancient India. The most important portion of that epic,
the ‘Bhagavadgita’, is the principal Hindu tract on morality and ethics

Indian Muslim literature covers a wide
range of practical subjects. However, the authority of the Koran, Islam’s
holy book, leaves little room for religious speculation. Poetry is particularly

Works Cited
India. Compton’s Encyclopedia Online. 1
November 1999’fastweb?getdoc+viewcomptons+A+3993+35++India’.

India. Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia,
Third Edition. 1 November 1999.

India. New World Encyclopedia. New York:
Pelican, 1995.

MLA. Modern Language Association. 23 October

Fact Summary
Official Name: Republic of India.

Capital: New Delhi.

India: Indus, from Sanskrit Sindhu referring
to Indus River.

National Emblem: Adapted from Sarnath
Lion Capital of Asoka in 1950. Four lions (one of which is hidden from
view) standing back to back with wheel in the center of the abacus; a bull
on the right, a horse on the left, and the outlines of the other wheels
on the extreme right and left. The words Satyameva jayate (Truth Alone
Triumphs) are inscribed below the wheel in the Devanagari script.

Anthem: ‘Jana Gana Mana’ (Lord of the
People, of Society, and of the Mind).

Borders: Coast, 3,533 miles (5,686 kilometers);
land frontier, 9,425 miles (15,168 kilometers).

Natural Regions: Himalaya; Indo-Gangetic
Plain; Deccan.

Major Ranges: Himayalas, Karakoram, Vindbya,
Aravalli, Satpura, Western and Eastern Ghats.

Major Peaks: Nanda Devi, 25,646 feet (7,817
meters); Kamet, 25,447 feet (7,756 meters); Anai Mudi, 8,842 feet (2,695

Major Rivers: Ganges, Yamuna (Jumna),
Brahmaputra, Narbada, Mahanadi, Godavari, Kaveri.

Notable Lake: Wular.

Major Islands: Andaman, Nicobar, Lakshadweep.

Climate: Three seasons for most of the
country–cold season from November to February; hot season from March to
June; rainy season from June to October.

Population (1996 estimate): 952,969,000;
733.1 persons per square mile (288.8 persons per square kilometer); 26.8
percent urban, 73.2 percent rural (1995 estimate).

Vital Statistics (estimated rate per 1,000
population): Births, 26.5; deaths, 9.8.

Life Expectancy (at birth): Males, 58.7
years; females, 59.8.

Major Languages: Hindi (official), English
(official), Telugu, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam,
Kannada, Oriya, Punjabi, Assamese.

Major Religions: Hinduism, Islam, Christianity,
Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism.

MAJOR CITIES (1991 estimate)
Bombay (9,925,891) Major port and financial
and commercial center of India; capital of Maharashtra state; well known
for cotton-textile, film, and printing industry; Victoria Gardens, Brabourne
Stadium, and Marine Drive.

Delhi (7,206,704) Capital of India; political,
educational, cultural, and transportation center; Red Fort, Central Secretariat,
Parliament House, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Qutab Minar, and the National Gallery
of Modern Art.

Calcutta (4,399,819) Major port, capital
of West Bengal state; cultural, commercial, religious, educational, and
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Madras (3,841,396) Major port and capital
of Tamil Nadu state; educational, transportation, cultural and traditional
handicraft center; the Indian Institute of Technology, University of Madras,
the Madras Government Museum, Napier Park, Marina beach, and the Corporation

Bangalore (3,302,296) Capital of Karnataka
state; leading cultural, educational, industrial, publishing, and transportation
center of south India; Vidhana Saudha, Mysore Government Museum, Lal Bagh,
and Hesaraghatta Lake.

Hyderabad (3,145,939) Capital of Andhra
Pradesh state; educational, cultural, industrial, commercial, and handicraft
center; the Char Minar, Mecca Masjid, Salar Jung Museum, and racecourse.

Ahmadabad (2,954,526) Industrial, commercial,
financial, and educational city; major cotton-textile center, Lake Kankaria,
Gandhi Ashram, Jama Masjid, Tin Darwaza (Three Gates), and the Tomb of
Ahmad Shah.

Kanpur (1,879,420) Industrial and commercial
city; rail and lead junction; Kanpur University, the Indian Institute of
Technology, and a Hindu glass temple, cantonment, and Sati Chaura.

Nagpur (1,624,752) Transportation, industrial,
educational, agricultural, and cultural center; British Fort, Ambajheri
Tank, Bhonsla Palace, Kasturchand Park, and Secretariat.

Lucknow (1,619,115) Capital of Uttar Pradesh
state; transportation, commercial, educational, cultural, and handicraft
center; Hazratganj, Great Imambara, Rumi Darwaza, Residency, botanical
and zoological gardens.

Pune (1,566,651) Educational, cultural,
commercial, and industrial center; Empress Gardens, Wellesley Bridge, Deccan
College, Statue of Shivaji, and Shanwar Wada (Saturday Palace).

Chief Agricultural Products: Crops–sugarcane,
rice, wheat, corn (maize), sorghum, millet, mangoes, bananas, oranges,
lemons, limes, apples oilseeds, pulses, coconuts. Livestock–cattle, goats,
water buffalo, sheep.

Chief Mined Products: Limestone, iron
ore, bauxite, manganese, chromium, zinc, copper, lead, gold, diamonds,
coal, crude petroleum, natural gas.

Chief Manufactured Products: Cement, finished
steel, steel ingots, refined sugar, fertilizers, paper and paperboard,
bicycles, motorcycles and scooters, cotton cloth.

Foreign Trade: Imports 59 percent, exports
41 percent.

Chief Imports: Fuel oil and refined petroleum
products, chemicals, fertilizers, iron and steel, machinery, vegetable
oils, rough diamonds, transport equipment, electrical machinery, foodstuffs.

Chief Exports: Handicrafts, engineering
goods, tea, fish, fruits and vegetables, coffee, textile yarn and fabrics,
clothing, leather, precious and semiprecious stones, iron ore, road motor
vehicles, works of art, tobacco, iron and steel.

Chief Trading Partners: United States,
United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia.

Monetary Unit: 1 Indian rupee = 100 paisa.

Public Schools: Lower primary (age 6-10)
is free throughout India; secondary (age 11-17) is free in most areas.

Compulsory School Age: From 6 to 14 in
all states except Nagaland and Himachal Pradesh.

Literacy: 52 percent.

Leading Universities: More than 100; Calcutta,
Bombay, Madras, Allahabad, Benaras Hindu, Mysore, Patna, Osmania.

Notable Libraries: Central Secretariat
Library, New Delhi; National Library, Calcutta; Indian Council of World
Affairs Library, New Delhi, Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna.

Notable Museums and Art Galleries: Prince
of Wales Museum of Western India, Bombay; Birla Industrial and Technological
Museum, Calcutta; Indian Museum, Calcutta; National Gallery of Modern Art,
New Delhi; Government Museum and National Art Gallery, Madras.

Form of Government: Republic.

Constitution: Effective Jan. 26, 1950.

Chief of State: President; elected by
electoral college, 5-year term.

Head of Government: Prime Minister.

Legislature: Parliament: Council of States
(Rajya Sabha) consists of not more than 250 members elected for 6 years;
House of the People (Lok Sabha) consists of not more than 545 members elected
for 6 years.

Executive: President, vice-president,
and Council of Ministers headed by the prime minister to advise the president;
supreme command of the defense forces is vested in the president.

Judiciary: Supreme Court; final authority
subject to the provisions of the constitution; a chief justice and not
more than 17 other judges appointed by the president; members hold office
until age 65. Others–High Courts, Courts of Session, Courts of Magistrates.

Political Divisions: 25 states; 6 union
territories; 1 national capital territory (Delhi).

Voting Qualification: 21 years of age.


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