The Diversity of India
by Vikas Kamat
India is truly a complex nation -- that's why it is often referred to as a sub-continent. The diversity of India has posed tremendous integration problems since its formation, yet in the very diversity that her population finds enormous pride and joy.
The following is an introduction to the diversity of India in terms of geography, religions, races, food and living habits of her people.
Geographic DiversitySpanning an area of 3,287,263 square kilometers, India is a vast country and includes dry desert areas, evergreen forests, snowy Himalayas, a long coast, and fertile plains.
See: States and Regions of India -- Browse Kamat's Potpourri by geography; includes links to people, maps, and articles.
The unique geographic demographics also hosts a unique eco-system rich with vegetation, wildlife, rare herbs, and a large variety of birds.
Diversity of ReligionsVirtually every major religion has a strong connection with India (including Christianity -- some people claim Jesus Christ meditated in India in his early years). Buddhism was born in India (not China), so were Sikhism, Jainism, and of course Hinduism. The Zoroastrians, the Jews (living in India since 600 B.C.), the people of Bahai faith, all are found in India in substantial numbers.
God is Indian -- India is the most religious country in the world. A profile of India's great religions, and influence of some of the foreign faiths.
There are also numerous cults in India, each practicing their own ideologies and interpretations of the major religions.
Diversity of LanguagesThere is no such thing as the Indian language. By some counts there are over 200 languages in India (almost 1600, if you include dialects), with about twenty of them being very prominent ones. Imagine a nation where the population does not understand their national anthem or the President's address to the nation. That is India for you.
The Indian currency is printed in 15 languages.
Most forms (like job application, tax forms) in India are hence printed in three languages -- English, Hindi, and a prominent local language.
See: Languages of India -- A comprehensive list of languages of India arranged in alphabetical order. Yes, all four hundred of them!
Diversity of Clothing and AttirePerhaps India remains the only country where unstitched clothing is still popular. The Saree, Lungi, Dhoti, Turbans are all worn this way. It is the way of wearing is where the styles differ.
Tailored Indian clothing includes Salwar-Kameez, collarless jackets, Kurtas, and western attires for both men and women.
Many types of headgear are prevalent in India -- these include rumals, topis, and turbans.
Diversity in Food HabitsThe food habits of the one billion Indians varies by the availability of raw materials, cooking traditions, local spices, and interestingly their religious faiths. For instance, some Jain communities do not kill life to feed themselves -- including plants! This means they only consume fruits, milk and leaves only.
Many communities do not eat meats respecting the life on the animals.
Some communities define meat as "anything that moves" -- thus they consume muscles, but not fish!
Besides the staples, the spices play an important role in Indian food. There are so many spices to appeal to different parts of the body that the English language does not have adequate adjectives to describe them. For example, the hotness that touches the taste-buds is different than the hotness that makes your gums swell !
India also has a number of sweet dishes, mostly based on sugar, milk, and unbleached sugar (called jaggery in India). The Bengal is famous for its milk-based sweets.
In general Indian food is rich in oil and in spices. Rice and wheat are the primary bases for Indian food. The coastal areas fashion seafood delicacies, while the desert areas have mastered cooking with minimal use of water.
Cultural DiversityThe years of foreign rule, religious movements, and spiritual discoveries in the ancient land of India has given way to a rich potpourri of social habits, festivals, and customs. To appreciate the Indian culture, an introduction to the religious heritage of India is necessary. Please see topics on the Bhakti Movement, Hinduism, Festivals, and other Topics on the Indian Culture.
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