Indian culture, Indian customs, and Indian traditions
Indian customs and Indian traditions vary in the different territories of the country. Customs and traditions in the Indian States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu are different from traditions and customs in the Northern or North-eastern Indian States. The Festivals and even the traditional dress is not the same in different territories of India.
Religious beliefs, customs and even scriptures are based on scriptures written at different times in 22 official languages in India and they are covered under the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution. Just as North America, and Canada each have their own Thanksgiving celebrations in October and November, in India around Spring, Makar Sankranti, Thai Pongal, Uttarayana, Lohri, and Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu, Holi, Vaisakhi, and Onam are a few important harvest festivals. Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism are the major faiths adhered to and practiced. Indian culture, Indian customs, and Indian traditions are generally based on these religions.
Family Customs in India
Deepavali And Diwali
Goddess Durga And Durga Puja
Holi, the festival of colors
Lohri and Harvest Festivals
Vaishakhi, Vasakhi, Baisakhi
Mahavir and Jain Religion
The Sikh Religion
Ramayana in other Countries
Shraad And Pind Dhaan
Social Customs And Traditions Of The World
Goddess Durga And Durga Puja
Simha-Vahini, Sherawali, Mahisha-Mardini and Mahishasura-Mardini are four different forms of Goddess Durga in India. Historical evidences of Goddess Durga stored in different museums across the globe are different. The Goddess Durga who rode the lion was well-known in the Middle East and the Mediterranean region for a millennia, as Ishtar in Mesopotamia, Astarte in Greece and Cybele in Troy. Cybele was so powerful that she was taken away to Rome in 204 BC from Turkey's Anatolia, and Roman emperors worshipped her as the "great mother of the gods" - Magna Mater Dei. Till the 4th century, her Magna Mater Dei temple or Goddess Durga temple was located where Vatican stands now in Vatican City. Her worship was known as "baptism in the blood of the sacred bull" which is similar to Indian belief of Durga spilling the blood of the buffalo.
Indra In Hindu Mythology
Indra, in Hindu Mythology is the king of the Gods. He is one of the main gods of the Rigveda and is the Indo-European cousin of the German Wotan, Norse Odin, Greek Zeus, and Roman Jupiter.
Vishnu Avatar And Darwinian Evolution
The Dashavatara refers to the ten primary incarnations of
Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation. The list of included avatars varies
across regions. Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, and Vamana are the
Panchavataras, accepted since ancient times. All avatars have appeared except
Kalki, who is expected to appear at the end of the Kali Yuga. 1st to 5th of the
Panchavataras on Udupi temple gopuram in Karnataka state of India is an example.
The order of the ancient concept of avataras has been interpreted to be reflective of modern Darwinian evolution, the theory of evolution told as a story. It describes the cycle of human evolution beginning in water as Matsya Avatara the fish, the amphibious Avatara as Koorma Avatara, the wild boar Varaha, and the Narsimha Avatara, half man, half animal, followed by Vamana Avatara. Rama Avatara, Krishna Avatara, and Buddha Avatara were added later as it suited the politics of the period.
The term Uttarayana indicates the northward movement of
the Earth on the celestial sphere. Uttarayana begins to occur a day after the
winter solstice in December occuring around 22 December and continues for a
six-month period through to the summer solstice occuring around June 21. The
solstices are continually precessing at a rate of 50 arcseconds per year due to
the precession of the equinoxes. This difference is the difference between the
sidereal and tropical zodiacs. The Surya Siddhanta bridges this difference by
juxtaposing the four solstitial and equinotial points with four of the twelve
boundaries of the rashis. The complement of Uttarayana is Dakshinayana, which is
the period between Karka sankranti and Makara Sankranti as per the sidereal
zodiac and between the Summer solstice and Winter solstice as per the tropical
Difference between Uttarayana and Makar Sankranti
Makar Sankranti marks the beginning of Uttarayana in the present times. At one point in time Sayana and Nirayana zodiac were the same. Every year Sidereal and Tropical equinoxes slide by 50 seconds due to Axial precession, giving birth to Ayanamsha and causing Makar Sankranti to slide further. When equinox slides it will increase ayanamsha and Makar Sankranti will also slide. There is not much difference between actual Uttarayana date which occurs a day after winter solstice when the sun makes the northward journey, and January 14. In 272 BC, Makar Sankranti was on Dec 21. In 1000 AD, Makar Sankranti was on Dec 31 and now it falls on January 14. After 9000 years, Makar Sankranti will be in June. Then Makar Sankranti would mark the beginning of Dakshinayana. Makar Sankranti holds importance in Hindu rituals. Most Panchanga makers use the position of the tropical sun to determine Uttarayana and Dakshinayana.
Life is centered around family in India, whichever religion they may follow. Several generations may live in the same house as an extended family. When a woman marries, she leaves her family of birth, and goes to her husband's village and becomes part of his family.
Young girls are expected to help with women's work, like fetching water, cleaning, and caring for animals and their younger siblings. Cult of domesticity is the norm.
Dress customs and traditions in India varies widely. The dress worn by women varies accross India, though saree is considered as traditional as bangles worn in the forehand and bindi worn on the forehead. The dupatta, chunari, odhani is a shawl-like scarf, which is women's traditionally essential clothing from the Indian subcontinent. These are used as part of the women's shalwar kameez outfit, and worn over the kurta and the gharara. Sharara is a pair of lose, flared and wide legged trousers mostly worn with straight kurti. The traditional dress for men also varies accross India, and include the Sherwani, Bandhgala, Lungi, Kurta, Dhoti and Pajama.
Shakha pola or bangles forms an integral part of the wedding trousseau. It is worn by the bride in the early hours on the marriage day along with rituals and customs. The ceremony is also called ‘Dodhi Mongol’. Shakha pola is gifted by the mother of the bride. The bangles are worn for a year after marriage and should be carefully taken care so that they don't break. Shakha is brittle, so it signifies the care that the bride has to take to build the new relationship along with the warmth of the red colour of the coral. Shakha pola are symbols of marriage and embodies husband’s existential state. They are broken post husband’s demise.
Manusmriti, the most dicussed law text, drew on other texts, and it reflects "a crystallization of an accumulated knowledge" in ancient India. The root of theoretical models within Manusmriti rely on at least two shastras that pre-date it: artha (statecraft and legal process) and dharma (an ancient Indian concept that includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and others discussed in various Dharmasutras older than Manusmriti). - Patrick Olivelle (2005), Manu's Code of Law, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195171464, pages 41-49.
Its contents can be traced to Kalpasutras of the Vedic era, which led to the development of Smartasutras consisting of Grihyasutras and Dharmasutras. The foundational texts of Manusmriti include many of these sutras, all from an era preceding the common era. Most of these ancient texts are now lost, and only four of have survived: the law codes of Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhayana and Vasishtha. - Patrick Olivelle (1999), Dharmasutras - the law codes of ancient India, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-192838822..
Deepavali And Diwali
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 and people have meat and dosa for breakfast. 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 also 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 is a Festival of Colors, and is the very Indian Spring Festival, when every face becomes Vincent van Gogh's canvas. Texts like the Purva Mimamsa-sutras, Narada Purana, and Bhavishya Purana—some of which date back to 200–300 BCE—have descriptions of a colorful springtime celebration with a general theme of good triumphing over evil.
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 young he wanted to know the reason for his dark or blue color while Radha was so fair. His mother suggested smearing blue color on Radha's face. The colors yellow, red, blue, and green used during holi have their specific meaning: yellow for turmeric, blue represents Krishna, red represents fertility, and green represents all that is new in nature.
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 remained safe.
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 Bhattaka.
Ramayana in other countries
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 could decide his own fate. His fore grandfather was Bhramha, the God of Ultimate Knowledge. He was obsessed of his powers and was egoistic. 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. According to many accounts, Ravana's attraction to Rama's wife Sita was as pure as love between father and child, and throughout the haran or kidnap of Mata Sita, Ravan uses the salutation Mata or Mother.
Mahavir and Jain Religion
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, 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.
Sri Krishna is considered 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 of Bhagavadgita.
The Ashtabharya, the eight principal queen-consorts of Hindu god Krishna in the Dvapara Yuga. The most popular list, found in the Bhagavata Purana, includes: Rukmini, Satyabhama, Jambavati, Kalindi, Mitravinda, Nagnajiti, Bhadra and Lakshmana. Variations exist in the Vishnu Purana and the Harivamsa, which includes queens called Madri or Rohini, instead of Bhadra. Most of them are princesses.
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 Punjab
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 and Harvest Festivals
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, and new year festival celebrated across the world by all the people of Punjab.
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.
Goddess Durga And Durga Puja
In the eastern and northeastern states of India, the Durga Puja is synonymous with Navaratri. In the northern and western states, the festival is synonymous with "Rama Lila" and Dussehra that celebrates the battle and victory of god Rama over the demon king Ravana.
The festival is associated to the prominent battle that took place between Durga and demon Mahishasura and celebrates the victory of Good over Evil. These nine days are solely dedicated to Goddess Durga and her nine Avatars. Each day is associated to an incarnation of the goddess.
Day 1: Shailaputri
Day 2: Brahmacharini
Day 3: Chandraghanta
Day 4: Kushmanda
Day 5: Skandamata
Day 6: Katyayani
Day 7: Kalaratri
Day 8: Mahagauri
Day 9: Sidhidatri
Onam is celebrated in the first month of the Malayalam calendar called Chingam. The Onam festivities last for ten days which sees enthusiastic celebration from people of all ages. Sravanmahotsav is another name for this festival. There also are post-Onam celebrations in Kerala which adds to the ten-day festival. The word Onam is said to have originated from the Sanskrit word Shravanam which means one of the 27 nakshatras or constellations. Thiruvonam is believed to be Lord Vishnu's nakshatra. He is said to have pushed King Mahabali into the underworld with his foot. Onam brings the colours, history, culture and its beliefs of Kerala together. Flower carpets called Pookalam, boat races, Puli Kali, and the Kaikottikkali dance are some of the major attractions of the festival.
Festival Of Ganesh Chaturthi
Unlike some other Hindu gods and goddesses, Ganesha is
nonsectarian. Worshippers, called Ganapatyas, can be found in all sects of the
faith. As the god of beginnings, Ganesha is celebrated at events big and small.
The biggest of them is the festival called Ganesh Chaturthi. Ganesha is
also known as Ganapati, Vinayaka, and Binayak. Worshippers also regard him as
the destroyer of vanity, selfishness, and pride, the personification of the
material universe in all its manifestations.
Ganesha's Symbolism: Ganesha's head symbolizes the Atman or the soul, which is the supreme reality of human existence, while his body signifies Maya or mankind's earthly existence. The elephantine head denotes wisdom and its trunk represents Om, the sound symbol of cosmic reality.
In Maharashtra, Gauri is Ganesha’s sister who comes to visit him. Like her brother, the arrival of Ma Gauri in one’s home represents health, wealth, happiness and prosperity. Gauri sthapna is done with two idols of Ma Gauri.
In Karnataka, Gauri is considered Lord Ganesha’s mother.
In West Bengal, Ma Saraswati and Ma Lakshmi are sisters of Lord Ganesha, and they are the children of Ma Durga.
Ganesh Chaturthi celebration was started by freedom fighter and social reformer Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the year 1893 in Pune, Maharashtra. A private festival at homes earlier was turned it into a public event after visualising its cultural importance for uniting Indians and enhancing a sense of belongingness amongst them. The 10-day Ganesh Chaturthi festival is celebrated across India. The festival is also celebrated across India, particularly in states like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, Telangana, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh. Lord Ganesha idols are brought home with a lot of pomp and splendour and worshippers chant his name and sing devotional songs. Visarjan is the ritual of giving a ceremonial farewell to Lord Ganesha as he embarks on his journey to his heavenly abode.
Throughout Ancient India and Medieval India, charnel grounds in the form of open air crematoria were historically located along rivers. Charnel grounds can still be found in India, especially near large river banks and areas where abandoned people (without family) are cremated or simply left to decompose. These areas are often frequented by Aghoris, a Kapalika sect, that follows similar meditation techniques, as those thought by the 84 Mahasiddhas. A typical Aghori sadhana (at the charnel ground) lasts for 12 years.
Shraad And Pind Dhaan
Shraadh Puja is an important custom and ritual in Hinduism. It’s that time of the year when people pay respect to their ancestors/dead by doing pind daanam. The Pitru Paksha period which spreads over 15 days is dedicated to performing Shraadha or Tarpanam rituals at holy places such as Gaya. After Karna breathed his last in the epic war of Mahabharata, his soul transcended to the heaven. But he was only served gold and precious gems to eat. After wondering why he was served the inedible gold, Karna sought an answer from Indra, the Lord of the Heaven. Lord Indra responded by saying, “You only donated all your gold and precious jewels while you were alive, but you never offered food to your ancestors or performed Shraadha ceremony.” On realising his folly, Karna wanted to rectify his mistake and sought help from Indra to undo it. Karna was awarded with 15-days of life on earth to perform Pind daanam. Thus the Pitru Paksha and Shraad Puja came into force.
Most Ancient Indian Cities are cosmopolitan in nature with the presence of all religious groupings.