The Uniqueness of India Culture
“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great-grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”
Mark Twain, American author
As an Israeli who has visited India several, both for business and for sightseeing purposes, and as someone who has studied India’s history and Indian culture in-depth, I have a different perspective than Indians living there. Surely, Indians ask themselves what our India is famous for, so this list represents India’s outsider perspective.
You can consider some of it as Indian cultural facts. India is a very unique and complex civilization, one of the main pillars of East Asian Cultures. One that is not easy to understand but very easy to experience.
One can experience India for a few life cycles without really getting to the bottom of everything.
It’s a huge sub-continent with a wonderful landscape, a huge population, a very ancient history, and an amazingly rich culture.
India is one of the most special places in the world. Anyone who has visited India feels it as soon as he/she lands in it. The uniqueness is expressed in many forms: through the people, their culture, the landscape, their customs, and the festivals.
I chose some of the most prominent attributes that make the Indian culture special. The list of what makes India so special is neither absolute nor is it final. I would love to hear other people’s comments, ideas, and feedback; then, I will update the list accordingly
Most Unique Things In India Culture
Please note that the features in the list are not prioritized according to their level of importance or uniqueness. Let’s get started, shall we?
1. Spoken languages in India
India is the country with the highest number of languages in the world. Studies have shown that there are about 1,000 languages that are spoken in India. There are relatively small geographical land cells that contain dozens of different languages.
An interesting example of the language variations can be found on the 2000-rupee bill, which contains the words “2000 rupees” in 15 different languages.
It’s worth noting that English is more prevalent in India than in other East Asian countries, making it more convenient for tourists and business travelers. The high prevalence can be attributed to due to the previous British colonial regime.
2. Cows everywhere
This is part of Indian traditions and unique phenomena that do not exist anywhere else in the world. The cow symbolizes the land and the solvency. It is also a symbol of the mother of all gods. According to Hindu belief, the body of the cow contains 330 million gods.
This symbolism makes the cow a very sacred animal whose consumption is forbidden. Cows roam freely in India. They can be seen in the courtyards of the peoples’ houses, in the squares, and some resting in the highway center.
3. Vegan food
Vegan food can be found in many food joints. In other countries, vegan dishes are usually the side dishes and not as the main meal. If someone orders a dish of roast potatoes or salad, it will usually be vegan, but the main course will usually consist of meat, a combination of meat with milk.
In India, vegan food is the norm in Indian Cuisine. Here there are very many vegan dishes that are very nutritional despite being devoid of any animal products. This, of course, makes India a haven for vegetarians and vegans.
4. The oldest cities in the world
In the Hindu valley, which is the cradle of Hindu culture, ancient cities are as old as 3500–4000 years.
The two most famous cities are Harappa and Mohenjo Drew. These cities contained tens of thousands of inhabitants and were incredibly advanced. The construction of the houses, the drainage of the water, the sewer systems, the urban planning, and the public facilities have been ahead of their time for many years.
Even though the Indus Valley is now not part of India, it definitely played an integral part in the Hindu culture. Today it is part of Pakistan, but for about 4,000 years, it was part of India, and it should be considered part of Indian culture uniqueness.
5. Marijuana-flavored Cigarettes
I can’t guarantee that these cigarettes only exist in India, but I have never seen them anywhere else globally, and trust me, I have been to many different countries.
Bidi cigarettes look like handmade cigarettes with a taste of marijuana.
They’re quite affordable, with each ranging between 15–20 rupees.
6. Huge markets
I have been to many markets worldwide and noticed that the largest ones are usually in East Asia. The largest of them all is in Chinatown. Bangkok’s Chinatown is a huge marketplace with endless stalls and people.
Of course, there are big markets in China (sure, I have not seen them all), London, Tokyo, New York, and other places.
Still, I have not seen a market come close to Chandni Chowk regarding density and diversity. This market is in old Delhi.
When I checked Google for the largest or most crowded markets globally, Chandni Chowk did not make it to the top 10 list, yet of all the markets of Istanbul, Bangkok, and Tokyo that I visited, none of them reached the density and load of Chandni Chowk.
7. Dhobi Ghat — The largest laundry in the world
Dhobi Ghat can be described in many words, but until you visit it, you wouldn’t understand the description well enough.
This laundromat in Mumbai was built in 1890 and is the largest laundry in the world. The laundromat operates between 18 and 20 hours a day and has about 7000 employees in various departments related to laundry and ironing.
Foreigners who come to visit can hire a local guide for a few hundred rupees and take a tour around the place. Dhobi Ghat’s main clients are hotels, clubs, and neighboring laundries. It is an incredibly amazing place to visit.
8. Indian culture food — Eat using your hands
Most people are keen to use forks and knives when they dine at their homes. Eating using your bare hands is not considered hygienic, and so it rarely happens.
Well, in India you do not need to struggle with a fork and knife. In local restaurants, it is acceptable to eat using just your right hand.
All you’re required to do is to trim the fingernails of your right hand and in a sweeping motion, take rice, together with some sauce or dish, and then put it in your mouth. Some adults, find this technique quite difficult to get master but for children, it is as easy as a-b-c.
9. Special head movement
When you ask an Indian a question to which the response is positive, they answer “yes” as they shake their head as though they’re dancing using their head.
Anyone who sees this for the first time might get confused because while the response given by mouth is positive, the head’s movement looks like “no.” This head movement is tough to imitate.
The shaking of the head would make you think that the answer given was “no.” Some Westerners are really caught unawares and tend to repeat the question, to be clear. Again, they get a “yes” response accompanied by the “weird” head movement. With time, most foreigners eventually get used to it.
10. Buses and trains loaded with masses of passengers
The trains or buses in India are always crowded with people from all sides and directions. Funny enough, even in all the commotion, everyone still finds their own place and space. There is no tense atmosphere of urgency or argument. It seems that everyone is sitting together well. I can’t quite imagine a similar situation in another country. There would be chaos.
Let’s not forget the enormous luggage that goes on these buses and trains beyond what is acceptable.
11. Indian culture values — You are not being judged
It’s not something you see in India. This is something experienced in India. You feel it. I believe that Indians are the least judgemental people on earth.
Westerners usually grow up in a society that judges them, criticizes them. The society always dictates what is right and what is not.
In India, this is very different. The people here are filled with respect and do not judge. The atmosphere here allows you to be what you choose to be and do what you feel is right for you.
12. Affection to small children
When you travel in Europe, you feel a sense of indifference towards the little children and apparently, this is not by chance. This population sees children as a burden and, therefore, they avoid having many babies (Europe’s population is shrinking and getting older) so the kids do not attract much attention.
In the United States, there is a little more affection shown towards the children. However, it’s the polite affection which sometimes feels more of “politically correct” behavior.
East Asia has a great affection for children, a lot of attention. A feeling that they love little children.
In India, they take it up a notch higher. We walked around Himachal Pradesh and New Delhi with two small children for a month. In some of the places we visited, we barely made any progress due to the children’s attention.
So many people wanted to hold and hug them. While some visitors may be bothered by this, it was the complete opposite for us- we did not see anything wrong with it. For us, it was part of the trip, the experience. I personally prefer a society that loves small children. From my point of view, these societies tend to be happier.
13. People of India
The people of India have good vibes. They smile a lot and always seem happy around visitors. This is a way of showing you that you are welcome and should feel comfortable. It’s not a show-off, and neither is it hypocrisy; it’s real and genuine behavior. This is something you feel everywhere around you, whether it’s in local transportation, in the marketplaces, in the parks, or at the tourist spots.
The Indians always give you a feeling that you are welcome and invited to their country. The welcome everywhere is warm and embracing. This is not something you experience every day in the western countries. It’s definitely not at the same level.
14. Many Hindu gods
In Hinduism, there are 330 million gods. In practice, there is a little less … The worship of gods in India is more common than in any other religion across the world. The various Hindu gods are scattered all over the place: they can be in the mountainous roads, in the temples, in houses, workplaces, on the main roads, etc. You cannot miss it.
The most common gods are Shiva, Vishnu, Kali, Krishna, Ganesha, their vehicles, the Nandy bull, the Garuda eagle, and many more.
15. Cremation in India and Nepal
For those accustomed to burying their dead in the ground, the sight of burning the dead body is extraordinary and thought-provoking. It concerns an intense place and cultural habits that are embedded in us.
Everyone understands that the dead person does not feel anything, but when they place him in the ground, the decomposition of the corpse takes place secretly, deep underground.
The photos below are from Pashupatinath, Nepal, the little sister of India.
During cremation, the fire consumes the body of the dead person before our very eyes. This makes it really difficult to take in and digest. Cremation illustrates the finality of death.
In the Hindu culture, reincarnation is accepted as a part of the cycle of life and death that can continue in a loop unless we find a way of breaking it, after which death becomes more peaceful than Western culture.
Sadhu is one of the most prominent characteristics that make the Indian culture to be unique. People are always dressed as minimum as can be. Some wear the dress of Lord Shiva. Some wear iron underpants, with charity bowls, long hair, carrying canes as they walk around India’s roads, homeless, moving from city to city, and from one pilgrimage site to another.
The Sadhu cut themselves off, in their actions, from the material physical world. They cut themselves off from the usual human appetites and desires that concentrate on sex and accumulate money, property, and other forms of material wealth.
According to Hindu belief, the cease of desires, canceling the karma (karma is the result of your actions coming back to you in all sorts of ways and binds you to Samsara), and eliminating karma, frees one from samsara, which is the cycle of life and death.
And that’s the key to nirvana- the peak of ambition.
The Sadhu has the statues of saints. They can travel freely on buses and trains. These men undergo an irreversible medical procedure that neutralizes their penis and prevents it from the sexual function.
An ashram is a dwelling place for people who want to grow spiritually. It’s a place of meditation and study. Guru is the teacher who leads the students of the ashram.
The Ashram is scattered throughout India. While a few of these places are very famous, like Pune’s ashram, most of the Ashrams are not famous. The ashram is also used by the sadhu who travels around India. They can freely get in and sleep there.
There are various limitations in the West for the Indian Ashram, some are good imitations, and others are not as good. It’s the spiritual concept of Ashram that attracts tourists in the West.
18. Holy sites and places of pilgrimage
I live in Israel, a country with a history of thousands of years and many holy sites and pilgrimage sites. And yet, compared to India, this is almost nothing. India has thousands of holy sites and pilgrimage sites. Apparently, there is no country in the world with as many holy sites as India.
19. Indian Festivals
One can find festivals in different parts of the world, but they’re not as many as India’s. Here’s a partial list of the major festivals of India:
- Durga Puja
- Kumbh Mela
Click here to read in more detail about India holidays and their meaning.
Most of these Indian festivals are celebrated as public holidays such as Diwali and Holi. Other festivals that are held in specific locations and attract millions of participants, like the Kumbh Mela.
20. Sari — Indian traditional dress
The sari is a traditional Indian dress which is very colorful and unique. While it can be described as revealing since it exposes a large part of the wearer’s stomach, it also represents Indian conservatism.
Traditional clothing can be found in many countries across the world. However, traditional clothing that is so common in people’s daily life is not a common sight.
Think about Japan as an example; the kimono is the traditional dress, but how many women walk around with a kimono on Japan’s streets? I visited Tokyo many times, rarely did I see someone wearing a kimono. On the rare chance that I spotted someone rocking one, it was related to some business display.
In India, however, you can see the sari almost everywhere you look.
21. The Indian dance
I would be surprised if anyone did not recognize the special movements of the Indian dance. The Indian dance is a mirror and a true reflection of India itself, happy, very colorful, rhythmic, and hypnotizing.
Indian dance is one of the trademarks of the Indian film industry and India as a whole. It is always accompanied by rhythmic music, and the dance is loose, open, and flowing. From the moment you begin to see it, it is hard to get your eyes off the dancers until the dance ends.
22. Origin of Buddhism
Indian culture and tradition include Buddhism, as well. Siddhartha Gautama, who became a Buddha, was born in the 6th century BC, in a small village called Lumbini, a once part of Hindu civilization. Today it is part of Nepal.
Buddhism’s uniqueness, which combines strong influences from Hinduism, stands out among the monotheistic religions and the pagan religions of those days. It reflects a focus on the person himself and the internal processes he has to reach the truth, which is the Nirvana, the Moksha.
India gave birth to Buddhism, spread it through the world through King Ashoka (third century BC), who became a Buddhist and finally separated from it. Today Buddhism is present mainly in Himachal Pradesh, and the non-formal capital is Mcleod Ganj, the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exiles who fled to India in the 1950s and took shelter from the Chinese.
The article published at https://east-asian-cultures.com/most-unique-in-the-indian-culture/