Sample Itineraries: Culture Tours...
‘The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page’ – Saint Augustine.
The adage is best realized after one has visited India – a miniature world, a lesson in chronological survey of human history, a collection of all race types and a study in culture. It is a ‘museum of anthropology’, as a 19th century British scholar commented.
Stretching back in an unbroken sweep over 5000 years, India's culture has been enriched by successive waves of migration which were absorbed into the Indian way of life. It is this variety which is a special hallmark of India. Its physical, religious and racial variety is as immense as its linguistic diversity. Underneath this diversity lies the continuity of Indian civilization and social structure from the very earliest times until the present day.
The beauty of India lies in the way the society has assimilated various communities over the centuries. The system neither disturbed its existing internal social order nor prevented any new group to join it, making them an integral part of the culture without annihilating their originality, internal order, customs or language. Each group was allowed to maintain its own rules, regulations, customs, way of life and opportunity to develop within its own parameters.
Negroids from Africa are now represented by tribal population in some interior jungles of South India and Andaman Islands. Proto-Australoids, who are believed to be the original builders of the Indus Valley Civilization, settled in hilly and forest tracts of Central and Southern India and in lower strata of North India. Mongoloids coming from China settled mostly in Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal, Assam and other North Eastern States. Caucasoid Aryans who are believed to have migrated from Central Asia and East European plains around 2000 B.C. are regarded as the bearers of earliest form of Hinduism and largely inhabit North-West and Northern India and as small communities in other parts of the country.
Indians spend more time in the pursuit of religious activities like prayers, rituals, pilgrimages, fasts, discourses, etc, than any other people in the world. The mornings and evenings in the villages, towns and cities reverberate with the chimes of the temple bells and a day does not pass without religious discourses bellowing over loud-speakers.
There is more diversity of religions here than anywhere on the earth. Apart from having representations from almost all the religions of the world, India is also the birthplace of Hinduism and Buddhism as well as two religions unique to India, Sikhism and Jainism. It is also the home to one of the oldest religions of the world, Zoroastrianism. Each religion has its own pilgrimage sites, gods, heroes, legends, customs and traditions and even culinary specialties.
Hinduism, the dominant religion, has thousands of gods and goddesses which are represented by complex images and idols symbolizing divine powers. Many of these idols are housed within ornate temples of unparalleled beauty and grandeur; these temples also play the role of social, cultural and economic centres thereby greatly influencing the society.
Linguistic differences in India are much clearer than those of racial groupings. There are a total of 122 languages, 234 mother tongues and more than 2000 dialects spoken in India. There are 29 languages spoken by more than a million people.
Two linguistic groups, the Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian, account for all but a tiny proportion of the population. Of the Indo-Aryan languages, Hindi, the official national language, is the most important. In its standard form and its many dialects, it is spoken by about 43 percent of the population and is understood by a large number of others. Hindi, together with major regional languages make for the 15 officially recognized languages. English is understood by most people living in urban areas. While it is not one of the 15 languages, it is officially recognized and is used, for example, for correspondence between Hindi-speaking and non-Hindi-speaking states. It is also the language shared by the Dravidian-speaking South and the Hindi-speaking North. Of the scores of languages not officially recognized, many are spoken almost exclusively by tribal people.
Fair and Festivals:
Nowhere else in the world are people as colourful as the inhabitants of India — they are forever ready to celebrate life, living it differently but always joyously. Their numerous fairs and festivals occupy a prime place in their lives and are window to the true spirit of the society and the vibrant culture of the country.
Fairs and festivals have a lot of diversity according to the culture, life style, language, religion of each region, however all of them involve practicing rituals, prayers, exchanging goodwill, decorating houses, wearing new clothes and jewellery, music, dance and feasting.
Most of these festivals either celebrate the change of seasons or are of a religious nature. For instance, Holi is celebrated to mark the coming of the spring season, Teej of Rajasthan marks the onset of the monsoon, Onam in Kerala and Bihu in Assam are celebrated to mark the harvesting season. Other festivals, like the Konark Dance Festival and Desert Festival, promote the culture of India. Festivals such as Durga Puja, Ganesh Chaturthi, Dussehra, Diwali are more religious in nature.
Tribal people play a key part in constructing the cultural heritage of India. Referred to as Adivasis (original inhabitants), they are spread across the Central, North-East, and Southern regions of India. These various tribes resided in India long before the Aryans arrived roughly in 1500 B.C. The tribals were however socially and geographically isolated following the entry of the Aryans and then the Muslims and the British.
More than six hundred and fifty tribes live in cloistered, exclusive, remote and inaccessible areas such as hills and forests and speak a multitude of languages. They are also religiously diverse, with some following animism, while others have adopted Hinduism, Islam, or Christianity. Their livelihood is based on primitive agriculture and animal farming and their distinctive cultural traditions make them stand out from the country’s mainstream population.
No other country juxtaposes Stone Age cultures and Post-modern groups almost at the same time and space. On one hand, India is an economic superpower; the Maharajas of yore have yielded place to some of the wealthiest tycoons of the world. The country has achieved remarkable breakthroughs in aeronautical and space technologies and has become the hub of Information Technology owing to its vast pool of English-knowing technical manpower. Everywhere there is a treasure trove of art, architecture, museums, dance and music; arts and crafts, textiles, cuisines.
As you walk through the towns and cities, you will be fascinated by the ancient structures strewn around, the vibrant markets, the colourful people, the multi-cultural mix of mosques and temples and the sheer throbbing energy of the country.