It has been said that India is less a country than a continent, and it holds as many variations in religion, language, customs, art and cuisine as it does in topography. For the traveller, this cultural feast is India’s great strength.
Indian art is basically religious in its themes and developments, and its appreciation requires at least some background knowledge of the country’s faiths. The highlights include classical Indian dance, Hindu temple architecture and sculpture (where one begins and the other ends is often hard to define), the military and urban architecture of the Mughals, miniature painting, and mesmeric Indian music. Of course, India’s creativity continues to thrive, its most lively contemporary expression being filmi culture. The latter is difficult for Western ears to immediately appreciate, but it doesn’t take long to get a feel for it.
The people of India have colorful & different attires. The silk saris, brightly mirrored cholis, colorful lehangas and the traditional salwar- kameez have fascinated many travellers, over time.
Light cotton clothes are useful almost anywhere in India at any time of year. It is a good idea to have some very lightweight long sleeve cotton and trousers for evenings, preferable light in colour, as they also give some protection against mosquitoes. Between Dec – Feb it can be cool at night even on the plains in N and E India, and at altitudes above 1,500m right across India some woolens are essential. Dress is rarely formal. In the large cities short sleeve shirt and ties are often worn for business. For traveling loose clothes are most comfortable.Indian dressing styles are marked by many variations, both religious and regional and one is likely to witness a plethora of colors, textures and styles in garments worn by the Indians.
Next to China, India is the country with the largest number of inhabitants in the world. Facing the fact that almost one thousand million people are living in India it is amazing that they occupy only 2.4 % of the earth’s surface. The average population density is 298 inhabitants per square km. In some areas, population density reaches over 1000 inhabitants per km square for which two reasons can be mentioned. First, population remains concentrated in the big cities and around the fertile riverbeds of the Ganges and second huge parts of the country remain uninhabitable because they are covered either by desert or by high mountains. The average life expectancy is 58 years, the share of young people under the age of 18 is over 40%.Around Â¾ of Indians are living in the rural area, Â¼ of the population lives in cities. The biggest cities are Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Delhi and Chennai (formerly Madras). About 5 million Indians are living abroad, primarily in South and East Africa, in South-East-Asia, North America and around the Persian Gulf.
India’s major religion, Hinduism, is practised by approximately 80% of the population. In terms of the number of adherents, it’s the largest religion in Asia and one of the world’s oldest extant faiths. Hinduism has a vast pantheon of gods, a number of holy books and postulates that everyone goes through a series of births or reincarnations that eventually lead to spiritual salvation. With each birth, you can move closer to or further from eventual enlightenment; the deciding factor is your karma. The Hindu religion has three basic practices. They are puja or worship, the cremation of the dead, and the rules and regulations of the caste system. Hinduism is not a proselytising religion since you cannot be converted: you’re either born a Hindu or you’re not.
Buddhism was founded in northern India in about 500 BC and spread rapidly when emperor Ashoka embraced it but was gradually reabsorbed into Hinduism. Today Hindus regard the Buddha as another incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. There are now only 6.6 million Buddhists in India, but important Buddhist sites in northern India, such as Bodhgaya, Sarnath (near Varanasi) and Kushinagar (near Gorakhpur) remain important sites of pilgrimage. The Jain religion also began life as an attempt to reform Brahminical Hinduism. It emerged at the same time as Buddhism, and for many of the same reasons. The Jains now number only about 4.5 million and are found predominantly in the west and southwest of India. The religion has never found adherents outside India. Jains believe that the universe is infinite and was not created by a deity. They also believe in reincarnation and eventual spiritual salvation by following the path of the Jain prophets.
There are more than 100 million Muslims in India, making it one of the largest Muslim nations on earth. Islam is the dominant religion in the neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and there is a Muslim majority in Jammu & Kashmir. Muslim influence in India is particularly strong in the fields of architecture, art and food. The Sikhs in India number 18 million and are predominantly located in the Punjab. The religion was originally intended to bring together the best of Hinduism and Islam. Its basic tenets are similar to those of Hinduism with the important modification that the Sikhs are opposed to caste distinctions. The holiest shrine of the Sikh religion is the Golden Temple in Amritsar.