Social Customs And Traditions In India
Indian social, family and religious customs
Social Customs And Traditions, Books On Customs And Traditions
Customs in India
the festival of colors
and Harvest Festivals
and Jain Religion
in other Countries
Life is centered around family in India. Several generations may live in the same house as
an extended family.
When a woman marries, she leaves her birth family, and goes to her husband's village and
becomes part of his family.
Young girls are expected to help with the women's work, like fetching water, cleaning, and
caring for animals and their younger siblings. Cult of
domesticity is the norm.
Draped cloth called lungi or dhoti is the basic attire for many Indians. The women wear a
sari and some women will wear slacks and blouses.
Jain Dipavali: When Lord Mahavir died at
the age of 72 (527 B.C.), it is believed his purified soul left the body and achieved
complete liberation. On the night of his salvation, people celebrated the Festival of
Lights in his honor.
Hindus celebrate Deepavali (as it is called in South India) or Diwali (as it
called in North India) for different reasons:
Deepavali commemorates the killing of Narakasura, a demon king, by Krishna's wife
Sathyabhama. This happened in the Dwapara Yuga during the time of Krishna. There is also a
version that the demon king was killed by Lord Krishna himself.
Before Narakasura's death, he requested a boon that
everyone should celebrate his death with the lighting of lamps.
In the South, naraka chaturdashii is celebrated with firecrackers at the time of dawn. The
main festival is on Amavasya evening with Lakshmi Puja.
The goddess Shakti observed 21 days of austerity starting from eighth day of the waxing
period of moon to get control of half of Shiva's power, according to the Skanda Purana.
Deepavali is the completion day of this austerity. This is the day Lord Shiva accepted
Shakti into the left half.
In the North, Diwali is celebrated to signify the return of Rama, King of Ayodhya, after a
war in which he killed the demon king Ravana.
In the North India, the festival is held on the final day of the Vikram calendar and the
next day marks the beginning of the North Indian new year.
Deepavali is associated with the Daitya king Bali in Bramhavaivarta Purana. Vishnu
destroys Bali by deceit through his Vamana Avatar. Bali is granted a boon to return to
earth once a year.
festival of colors
In ancient scriptures and paintings holi has always been depicted as an occassion for
celebration with colors where men and women play pranks with each other. Now the men and
women don't mingle freely. Original idea might have been to offer an opportunity for men
and women to mingle with abandon.
Holi in North India
Men of Nandgaon and women of Barsana play 'latthmar Holi' in Braj. This is because Krishna
threw colors on 'Gopis' who resisted such pranks.
The story behind the festival
When Krishna was a young he wanted to know the reason for his dark color while Radha was
so fair. His mother suggested that he should smear color on Radha's face.
Holi and the Holika story
Hirnakashyipu asked the help of his sister Holika who had a boon to walk through fire
unharmed. The wicked aunt entered the fire with her nephew Prahlad. Blessed by Lord
Vishnu, the child Prahlad remained unharmed but Holika got burnt and died instantly. Holi
is celebrated to commemorate the death of the evil aunt after whom the festival is named.
Even today obscenities are shouted at the Holi fire at some places to insult Holika.
Holi in South India
Festival of Kamadeva or Kamanna
When Lord Shiva came to know of the demise of his wife Sati, he was sad and furious. The
world shook and went topsy turvy. Sati took rebirth as Goddess Parvati to try and win
Lord Shiva's heart and wake him up from his trance. Kamadava shot his love-arrow at
Shiva's heart. Disturbed, Shiva opened his third eye out of anger which, like the modern
lazer, instantly incinerated Kamadeva. Shiva granted Kamadeva immortality in invisible
form. After the burning ceremony, people offer mango blossoms and sandalwood paste to
Kamadeva as a balm for the burns.
Different Versions of Ramayana
Sridhara - 18th Century (Maharashtra)
Premanand - 17th Century (Gujarat)
Eluttacan - 17th Century (Kerala)
Balarama Das - 16th Century (Orissa)
Goswami Tulsidas - 16th Century (North)
Narahari - 16th Century (Karnataka)
Krittivas - 14th Century (Bengal)
Ranganatha - 12th Century (Andhra Pradesh)
Kamban - 11th Century (Tamil Nadu)
The great epic Ramayana was originally written by
The bowdlerized version of Tulsidas Ramayana known as Ramcharitmanasa is recognised as
authentic in North India.
Only in the 7th Utthara book which appears to have been added later, the Ramayana does not
refer to Rama as an incarnation of the god Vishnu. Goswami Tulsidas rewrote the Valmiki
version in Hindi in about 1574 in order to depict Rama as an avatara or incarnation of
Vishnu. In Goswami Tulsida's version, Sita had a duplicate, who was kidnapped while Sita
In Kamban Ramayana of Tamil Nadu in India Ravana's greatness is emphasized and he is not
portrayed as evil.
In Thailand, Ramayana is Ramakian with no religious significance. It is the story of
Rama's battle against the demon king Totsakan. Sita gives birth to only one son, who is
magically duplicated by Valmiki. According to some Theravada Buddhists, Rama was Buddha in
a former life.
In Indonesia, Ramayana is Rahwana with plot differences from the Valmiki version. Rama's
mother is paralyzed, there is no third brother Shatrugna. In Indonesia the Rama story is
not based on Valmiki Ramayana but on the Ravanavada Mahakavya or alternate Kavya called
In Myanmar it is called Rama Thagyam, in Cambodia as
Ramaker, and in Indonesia as Rama Kakavinin, in Thailand it is Ramakien.
Ravan was one and only king who decided his fate. His
fore grandfather was Bhramha God of Ultimate Knowledge. He was obsessed of his powers and
Ravana approached Lord Shiva to request moksha or release
from the bondage of endless rebirth. Shiva who had granted Ravana the boon of
indestructibility directed Ravana to seek moksha from Lord Vishnu. Ravana's battle with
Rama can be interpreted as a pretext to attain death.
Ravana is for many Hindus a legendary hero. Ravana's attraction to Rama's wife Sita was as
pure as a love of mother and child. Through out the haran of mata sita, ravan uses
salutation of Mata which means Mother.
Lord Rama killed Sambuka
Sambuka was killed, in accordance with Manu Smriti, for being well versed in
Vedas despite being a sudra. Sambuka was killed because he was performing tapasya or
ascetic exercises which Brahmins alone are allowed to perform. When Lord Rama asks the
sage his name and his caste, the sage tells Lord Rama that his name is Sambuka and he is a
sudra. Lord Rama chops off the head of Sambuka and promptly and Shiva, Indra, and other
Gods according to many versions of Ramayana shower him with flowers.
Jainism is a non-theistic religion founded in 6th century
BC by Vardhamana Mahavira as a reaction against the teachings of orthodox Brahmanism.
Salvation is attained by perfection of the soul through successive lives. Non-injury to
living creatures is its central doctrine. Mahavir was the twenty-fourth and the last
Tirthankara of the Jain religion. Tirthankaras are also known as Arihants or Jinas.
Mahavir was born in 599 B.C. as a prince in Bihar, India. He left his family and royal
household and gave up his worldly possessions and become a monk.
He preached to the people the eternal truth he realized. He organized his followers, into
a four fold order: monk, nun, layman, and laywoman. They later came to be known as Jains.
Mahavir gave equal status to humans, animals, birds, and plants. He went without food for
long periods. He avoided harming other living beings.
In the matters of spiritual advancement both men and women are on an equal footing. Many
women followed Mahavir's path and renounced the world in search of ultimate happiness.
Mahavir was successful in eradicating the concept of God as creator, protector, and
destroyer. He taught how one can attain the total freedom from the cycle of birth, life,
pain, misery, and death. He taught the idea of supremacy of human life and stressed the
importance of the positive attitude of life.
He explained that from eternity, every living being
(soul) is in bondage of karmic atoms, that are accumulated by its own good or bad deeds.
Karma causes of violent thoughts and deeds, anger, hatred ang greed which result in
accumulating more bad karma.
He preached that right faith (samyak-darshana), right knowledge (samyak-jnana), and right
conduct (samyak-charitra) together will help attain the liberation of one's self.
Jains do not ask for any favors or material benefits from their Gods, the Tirthankaras or
from monks and nuns. They do not pray to a specific Tirthankara or monk by name.
Mahavir died at the age of 72 in 527 B.C. He made religion simple and natural free from
elaborate ritual complexities. His teachings reflected the popular impulse towards
internal beauty and harmony of the soul.
His preached nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, celibacy, and non-possession. According to
him living body is not merely an integration of limbs and flesh but it is the abode of the
Sri Krishna is the eighth and most important avatar or
incarnation of Vishnu. Sri Krishna as the divine charioteer preaches to Arjuna on the
battlefield in the Bhagavadgita, which probably is the
earliest treatise on existentialism.
When the great warrior Arjuna loses courage as he finds
his teacher in the opposite camp Sri Krishna tells him "do your duty, the rest is not
yours". Even Bob Dylan's album "The Times They Are a-Changin" reminds one
Bhagavadgita is an independent poem that was incorporated
into the Mahabharata. Composed between the 2nd century BC and the 2nd century AD. The poem
Bhagavadgita is presented as a dialogue between Arjuna and charioteer Krishna, stresses
the importance of doing one's duty.
The Sikhs in
The Sikh founder, Guru Nanak (1469-1539), was roughly a
contemporary of the founder of Mughal fortunes in India, Babur. Nanak became a wandering
preacher before settling down at Kartarpur in the Punjab at about the time of Babur's
The Upanishads are Hindu sacred treatises based on the
Vedas in Sanskrit c.800-200 BC. In the Upanishads polytheism is superseded by a
pantheistic monism derived from the basic concepts of atman and Brahman.
The Vedas are sacred knowledge and the oldest and
principal Veda is the Rigveda.
Lohri, is celebrated every year on 13th of January to worship fire. At this time Earth
starts moving towards the sun marking the auspicious period of Uttarayan. People gather
around the bonfire and throw til, puffed rice & popcorns into the flames of the
bonfire singing traditional folk songs.
Lohri festival is also an annual thanksgiving day and an harvest festival in Northern
India. Farmers celebrate Lohri before the cutting and gathering of crops.
Apart from Punjab, people from other northern Indian states of Haryana, Delhi and parts of
Himachal Pradesh celebrate the harvesting of the winter crops.
Lohri is celebrated throughout the country in different forms as a harvest festival. It is
called Bhugali Bihu in Assam, Bhogi in Andhra Pradesh, Pongal in the South, and Sankranti
in the central part of the country.
Origin of Lohri
The bride and the groom were asked to take pheras of the
bonfire as Dullah sang this hilarious song.
Sunder Mundriye Tera Kaun Vichara! Dullah Bhatti Wala Ho!
Dullaeh Di Teeh Viahi Ho! Ser Shakar Payi!
Small groups of boys ring the doorbell of houses and
start chanting the Lohri songs related to Dulla Bhatti. People give them sweets as well as
money. Turning them back empty-handed is regarded inauspicious.
Dulla Bhatti is related to the central character of most Lohri songs. Dulla Bhatti, a
Muslim highway robber who lived in Punjab. He rescued Hindu girls being forcibly taken to
be sold in slave market of the Middle East. Dulla Bhatti arranged their marriages to Hindu
boys and provided them with dowries. Dulla Bhatti became a hero of all Punjabis.
Chhath Puja is an important festival of Bihar, Jharkhand and the terai regions of Nepal.
Dedicated to the Sun god. It is a festival of nature worship. In the epic Mahabharata,
Draupadi is depicted as observing similar rites. The festival is celebrated twice every
year, in summer during the Hindu month of Chaitra and then in winters during Kartik.
Vaisakhi (Baisakhi, Vaishakhi, Vasakhi) is an harvest, religious
and new year festival celebrated across world by all Punjabi people.
Sankranti marks the transition of the Sun into Makara Rashi
(Capricorn) on its celestial path. Sankranti festival takes place 21 days after the winter
solstice starting of 'northward migration of the sun' or Uttarayana.