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Indian Cultures Across The World: Indian Culture Today The Impact They Had In Other Countries

Indian Cultures Across The World
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Indian culture is among the world’s oldest as the people of India can track their civilisation back as far as 4,500 years ago.

Today, India is very diverse, with over 1.3 billion people.

But how has Indian culture changed over the years and in different countries?

India Culture Today

Holidays

Diwali, the largest and most significant holiday in India, is a five-day festival known as the festival of lights. 

It symbolises the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness. Another popular festival is Holi, celebrated in spring as the festival of colours and love. 

India also observes important national holidays such as Republic Day on January 26, Independence Day on August 15, and Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on October 2.

Clothing

Indian clothing is notably vibrant, with women often wearing colourful silk saris that trace their origins back to Ancient India. 

Over time, these garments have evolved to incorporate more expensive fabrics and adornments. 

For men, traditional attire includes the dhoti, an unstitched piece of cloth tied around the waist and legs, and the kurta, a loose shirt worn about knee-length. 

On special occasions see men in sherwanis or achkans, long coats without lapels that button up to the collar and down to the knees. 

The Nehru jacket, a shorter version of the sherwani, gained fame in the West, popularised by The Beatles, The Monkees, and various James Bond villains.

Architectures And Art

The Taj Mahal stands as the most renowned example of Indian architecture, built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to honor his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. 

This iconic structure combines elements from Islamic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Indian architectural styles. India is also home to many ancient temples, showcasing its rich architectural heritage.

Indian Film Culture

India’s film industry, commonly known as Bollywood, began in 1896 with the Lumière brothers’ demonstration of cinema in Mumbai. 

Bollywood films are famous for their elaborate singing, dancing, and action sequences. 

The tradition of Indian dance, music, and theatre spans over 2,000 years, with major classical dance forms like Bharata Natyam, Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, and Kathakali drawing from mythology and literature, adhering to strict presentation rules.

Indian Cuisine

Indian cuisine, influenced by various cultures, prominently features a fusion introduced by the Mughal Empire, blending Turkish and Persian flavours with ground spices for unique tastes. 

The diverse culinary landscape includes staples like wheat, Basmati rice, and pulses, rich with curries and spices such as ginger, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, dried hot peppers, and cinnamon. 

Chutneys, thick condiments made from assorted fruits, vegetables, and herbs, are a common accompaniment. 

Many Indians are vegetarian, a tradition that may date back to the ancient Dravidian civilisation, with about 20 to 40 percent of the population adhering to vegetarianism today. Non-vegetarian dishes commonly include lamb and chicken.

Indian food is often eaten with fingers or bread, such as naan, a leavened, oven-baked flatbread, and bhatoora, a fried, fluffy flatbread typical in North India. 

These breads serve as utensils, enhancing the tactile experience of dining. The influence of Indian cuisine extends globally, reflecting the country’s rich history and cultural exchanges.

Historical Connections and Cultural Exchange

From the 2nd century B.C. onward, India maintained vibrant commercial and cultural connections with China, Central Asia, West Asia, and the Roman Empire. 

Central Asia, bound by China, Russia, Tibet, India, and Afghanistan, was a crucial hub where traders traversed the Silk Route. 

This route not only facilitated trade but also became a conduit for the exchange of culture, religion, and philosophy. 

Indian culture significantly influenced Central Asian kingdoms, with places like Kuchi becoming prominent centres of Indian cultural diffusion.

Central Asia: A Confluence of Cultures

The Silk Route, splitting into Northern and Southern paths, linked numerous Central Asian kingdoms to India. Khotan, on the Southern route, was a significant outpost with a rich history of Indo-Khotanese cultural exchanges. Monasteries, stupas, and temples discovered in this region underscore the profound impact of Indian Buddhism and other cultural elements. Khotan was renowned for its silk industry, dance, music, literature, and commercial activities, with archaeological finds like coins bearing bilingual inscriptions attesting to a composite culture.

East Asia: India’s Cultural Footprint

China: 

The cultural interaction between India and China began around the 2nd century B.C., with scholars like Kashyapa Martanga and Dharmarakshita playing pivotal roles. Buddhism, carried along the Silk Route, deeply influenced Chinese thought, blending with Confucianism to shape Chinese intellectual and spiritual life. The establishment of Buddhism as the state religion during the Wei Dynasty accelerated this exchange, leading to the translation of thousands of Sanskrit texts and the creation of grand Buddhist cave complexes at Dunhuang, Yungang, and Longmen.

Korea

Indian cultural elements reached Korea through China, with early Buddhist monks like Sundo and Acharya Mallananda introducing Buddhist philosophy and practices. By the 8th and 9th centuries, yoga and meditation were integrated into Korean society, influencing not only religious practices but also the training of warriors and royalty.

Japan

 Indian culture made its way to Japan primarily through Korea. In A.D. 552, the Korean Emperor sent Buddhist gifts, which catalyzed the spread of Buddhism in Japan. Sanskrit became a sacred language, and Indian monks were revered. The philosophy of ‘dhyana’ (meditation) introduced by Bodhidharma evolved into ‘Zen’ Buddhism, which remains integral to Japanese culture.

Tibet: A Fusion of Scripts and Spirituality

Tibetan culture was profoundly influenced by Indian Buddhism. The Tibetan script, devised by Thonmi Sambhot, was based on the Indian Brahmi script. 

Tibetan kings and scholars translated numerous Sanskrit texts into Tibetan, fostering a deep spiritual and cultural bond that lasted for centuries. 

This exchange not only influenced Tibetan script and literature but also its religious practices and philosophical foundations.

South Asia: Deep-Rooted Connections

Sri Lanka

The cultural ties between India and Sri Lanka date back to ancient times, with Buddhism playing a central role. 

Emperor Ashoka’s missionaries, including his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra, introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka, leading to the establishment of monasteries and the flourishing of Pali literature. 

The artistic styles in Sri Lankan cave paintings, like those at Sigiriya, show clear Indian influences.

Myanmar

 Indian culture influenced Myanmar starting from the 2nd century A.D. Indian traders, Brahmins, and artisans settled there, contributing to the spread of Buddhism. 

Pagan, a major centre of Buddhist culture, saw the construction of numerous temples and pagodas, reflecting strong Indian architectural and artistic influences.

Southeast Asia: India’s Cultural Legacy

Thailand

Indian cultural influence in Thailand began in the 1st century A.D. Thai kingdoms adopted Sanskrit names and Indian architectural and religious practices were integrated into Thai society. 

The remnants of Hindu and Buddhist temples in places like Ayutthaya highlight this enduring influence.

Malaysia 

References in ancient Indian texts indicate early cultural exchanges with Malaysia. 

Archaeological finds, such as Shaivite statues and Sanskrit inscriptions, reveal the extent of Indian influence. 

The presence of Indian words in the Malay language and Hindu motifs in local art testify to these historical connections.

Indonesia

Indonesia’s cultural landscape was profoundly shaped by Indian influences. 

The Prambanan temple complex in Java, dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, is a testament to this. 

The island of Bali remains a stronghold of Hindu culture, where Sanskrit hymns and traditional Indian rituals are still practised.

The diffusion of Indian culture across the world has led to diverse adaptations and manifestations in different regions.

While the core elements of Indian religion, philosophy, and art remain recognisable, local influences and interpretations have created unique cultural tapestries in each country. 

This interplay between Indian culture and local traditions highlights the dynamic nature of cultural exchange and the enduring legacy of India’s ancient connections with the world.

Related To:

5 Things To Note When You’re Invited To An Indian Wedding

Going for a Mixed Indian Wedding And Not Sure What to Do? Here’s How.

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