Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Culture of India

The Jataka tales from Ajanta Caves.
The culture of India refers to the way of life of the people of India. India's languages, religions, dance, music, architecture, food, and customs differ from place to place within the country. The Indian culture, often labelled as an amalgamation of several cultures, spans across the Indian subcontinent and includes traditions that are several millennia old. Many elements of India's diverse cultures, such as Indian religions, yoga, and Indian cuisine, have had a profound impact across the world.

Rigveda (padapatha) manuscript
There are two major subcultural variations within India, which evolved mainly by contact with Muslim powers: North Indian States were influenced by the medieval Indo-Persian culture, exemplified by its musical, culinary and architectural designs such as the Hindustani classical music and the Taj Mahal, while the culture of South India developed largely independent of foreign influences — three of the four languages classified as classical languages of India belong to the Dravidian language family, namely Kannada, Tamil and Telugu.
India's diversity has inspired many writers to pen their perceptions of the country's culture. These writings paint a complex and often conflicting picture of the culture of India.

According to industry consultant Eugene M. Makar, for example, traditional Indian culture is defined by a relatively strict social hierarchy. He also mentions that from an early age, children are reminded of their roles and places in society.This is reinforced, Makar notes, by the way many believe gods and spirits have an integral and functional role in determining their life. Several differences such as religion divide the culture. However, a far more powerful division is the traditional Hindu bifurcation into non-polluting and polluting occupations. Strict social taboos have governed these groups for thousands of years, claims Makar. In recent years, particularly in cities, some of these lines have blurred and sometimes even disappeared. He writes important family relations extend as far as gotra, the mainly patrilinear lineage or clan assigned to a Hindu at birth. In rural areas & sometimes in urban areas as well, it is common that three or four generations of the family live under the same roof. The patriarch often resolves family issues.

Others have a different perception of Indian culture. According to an interview with C.K. Prahalad by Des Dearlove, author of many best selling business books, modern India is a country of very diverse cultures with many languages, religions and traditions. Children begin by coping and learning to accept and assimilate in this diversity. Prahalad - who was born in India and grew up there - claimed, in the interview, that Indians, like everyone else in the world, want to be treated as unique, as individuals, want to express themselves and seek innovation. In another report, Nancy Lockwood of Society for Human Resource Management, the world's largest human resources association with members in 140 countries, writes that in the past two decades or so, social change in India is in dramatic contrast to the expectations from traditional Indian culture. These changes have led to Indian families giving education opportunities to girls, accepting women working outside home, pursuing a career, and opening the possibility for women to attain managerial roles in corporate India. Lockwood claims that change is slow, yet the scale of cultural change can be sensed from the fact that of India's 397 million workers, 124 million are now women. The issues in India with women empowerment are similar to those elsewhere in the world

According to Amartya Sen, the India born Nobel Laureate in Economics, the culture of modern India is a complex blend of its historical traditions, influences from the effects of colonialism over centuries and current Western culture - both collaterally and dialectically. Sen observes that external images of India in the West often tend to emphasize the difference - real or imagined - between India and the West. There is a considerable inclination in the Western countries to distance and highlight the differences in Indian culture from the mainstream of Western traditions, rather than discover and show similarities. Western writers and media usually misses, in important ways, crucial aspects of Indian culture and traditions. The deep-seated heterogeneity of Indian traditions, in different parts of India, is neglected in these homogenized description of India. The perceptions of Indian culture, by those who weren't born and raised in India, tend to be one of at least three categories, writes Sen:
  • Exoticist approach: it concentrates on the wondrous aspects of the culture of India. The focus of this approach of understanding Indian culture is to present the different, the strange and as Hegel put it, "a country that has existed for millennia in the imaginations of the Europeans."
  • Magisterial approach: it assumes a sense of superiority and guardianship necessary to deal with India, a country that James Mill's imperialist history thought of as grotesquely primitive culture. While great many British observers did not agree with such views of India, and some non-British ones did, it is an approach that contributes to some confusion about the culture of India.
  • Curatorial approach: it attempts to observe, classify and record the diversity of Indian culture in different parts of India. The curators do not look only for the strange, are not weighed by political priorities, and tend to be more free from stereotypes. The curatorial approach, nevertheless, have an inclination to see Indian culture as more special and extraordinarily interesting than it actually may be.
The curatorial approach, one inspired by systematic curiosity for the cultural diversity of India within India, is mostly absent.

Susan Bayly, in her book, observes that there is considerable dispute in India and Orientalist scholars on perceived Indian culture. She acknowledges that many dispute claims of pervasiveness of caste and strict social hierarchy in modern India. Bayly notes that much of the Indian subcontinent was populated by people for whom the formal distinctions of caste and strict social hierarchies were of only limited importance in their lifestyles.

According to Rosser, an American sociologist, Americans of South Asian origins feel the Western perception of the culture of India has numerous stereotypes. Rosser notes that the discourse in much of the United States about the culture of India is rarely devoted to independent India. People quickly make sweeping and flawed metaphysical assumptions about its religion and culture, but are far more circumspect when evaluating civil society and political culture in modern India. It is as if the value of South Asia resides only in its ancient contributions to human knowledge whereas its pathetic attempts to modernize or develop are to be winked at and patronized. Rosser conducted numerous interviews and summarized the comments. The study reports a stark contrast between Western perceptions of the culture of India, versus the direct experience of the interviewed people.


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