Life in India – what will surprise a foreigner in the largest state of South Asia

Traditions of India

India is a state in South Asia with a population of about 1.4 billion people. Indian culture is considered one of the oldest in the world, and given that the country has been the center of major trade routes throughout its history and served as the site of numerous invasions, the traditions and customs of India are diverse and truly unique.

Traditions in India

National Traditions

Indian national clothing is very beautiful, and even everyday outfits look bright and exotic. Women wear a sari, a rectangular cloth of 4 to 10 meters in length, which is wrapped around the hips, and the free end is thrown over the shoulder. For men, an unstitched piece of cloth tied around the waist and legs is called a dhoti. Men also wear long, knee-length, loose shirts, jackets (sherwani), and overcoats.

Briefly about cultural traditions in India:

  • Any kind of physical contact in public places – hugging, kissing, and even just walking hand in hand looks indecent in the eyes of a conservative Indian;
  • shaking hands is not customary in India, the traditional greeting is “namaste”, the folding of hands in front of the chest;
  • In a sign of respect Indians address each other as “sister” or “brother”, a married woman is addressed by the name of her son;
  • showing the soles of one’s shoes to another is considered an insult, that’s why it is not recommended to sit with one’s foot on the other in India;
  • when entering a temple, an office, a medical institution or a private house it is customary to take off one’s shoes;
  • Before eating, when changing meals, and after the meal is over, Indians thoroughly wash their hands.

Cows on the streets of India

One of the ancient Indian traditions associated with religion is the worship of the cow. In Hinduism, this animal is considered sacred and its meat is not eaten even in times of famine. Only in India can you see a cow strolling leisurely down the street, which clearly disturbs the traffic and freely eats greens from the trays.

Family traditions

The old traditions when Indian families consisted of three or four generations of relatives are mainly observed in the villages. Today in India, especially in large cities, there are many families of three to five people. Nevertheless, in both large and small families the patriarchal order reigns: the head of the family clan is the eldest of the men. Many national customs and religious rituals described in shastras – sacred precepts – are associated with the events in Indian family life.

Weddings

Marriages in India are often arranged by prior agreement of parents, and are concluded once: Hinduism implies loyalty of spouses to each other in this and seven subsequent lives. To confirm the correctness of the choice of the future wife or husband a special horoscope is made on their physiological and psychological compatibility. The main requirement for the bride is her chastity.

An Indian wedding

The rite of betrothal is performed by a clan priest (brahman). Before the wedding day, a merry bachelorette party takes place in the bride’s house, attended by the women of both clans. One interesting and unusual tradition in India is the “khaldi” ritual, which takes place on the eve of the wedding and consists of applying a paste of turmeric to the body of the bride and groom.

In ancient India, the groom rode an elephant decorated with carpets and jewels to his bride-to-be, but today the elephant has been replaced by a motorcade. The newlyweds meet in a sumptuously decorated wedding tent (pandal), the bride is dressed in a red or gold sari and the groom in a white suit.

The marriage ceremony (vivaha yagya) begins with the ritual “kanya dana”. The father of the bride joins the hands of the newlyweds and covers them with his hand, while the father of the groom places his hand underneath, the joined hands are sprinkled with holy water. Then the priest asks the bride and groom common questions during the wedding ceremony: whether they are ready to be faithful, love and respect each other for life. After that, the newlyweds exchange rings and wear garlands of fresh flowers around their necks.

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Traditions related to the birth and upbringing of children

An Indian child is given a name on the twelfth day after birth. There is a special ceremony for this – Namakarana. The choice of a name is considered important and is discussed in the family circle and with priests, because, according to the canons of Hinduism, a person’s name affects his or her destiny.

Children in India

One of the ancient traditional rites of the Indians is to identify a child’s aptitude for a particular activity. Several objects are placed in front of a 3-5 year old child: money, books, tools and weapons. By the selected object is judged in what direction the child should be developed.

The education of Indian children begins at the age of 3-4 years, the first educational institution is a symbiosis of kindergarten and school. At the youngest age, the lesson lasts 35 minutes. Children attend public schools for free and graduate at age 14.

Funeral Rites

Death in Hinduism is seen as the transition of the soul into another form of existence. In this regard, of all types of burial in India, cremation is preferred. It is believed that burying the body in fire will free the spirit of the deceased from its long wanderings between the worlds of the living and the gods.

Funerals in India

The funeral ritual is called antiesti-kriya. The deceased is washed, dressed in new clothes, and decorated with flowers and jewels. His body is then burned on a funeral pyre and his ashes are scattered over the Ganges.

Traditional festivals

About 80% of India’s population is Hindu, 14% follow Islam, a small number follow Christianity and Sikhism, and no more than 0.1% of the population consider themselves atheists. Therefore, the religious holidays and traditions of the peoples of India depend on their beliefs.

Religion in India

The national holidays are common for the whole country:

  • January 1 – New Year’s Day;
  • August 15 – Independence Day;
  • December 4 – Navy Day;
  • November 14 – Children’s Day;
  • September 17 – Architects’ Day;
  • October 2 – Birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.

National holidays in India also include:

  • Onam Festival (September 3). A colorful festival of flowers, where you can see a parade of elephants, watch national games and dances, and hear folk songs in the streets decorated with patterned flower beds-carpets.
  • Festival of lights Diwali (celebrated from October 15-21). The holiday symbolizes the victory of good over evil, light over darkness. As a symbol of this victory, lanterns are lit in the homes and on the streets.
  • The Lori Fire Festival (January). The coming of Lori marks the end of a harsh winter. Children light fires in their courtyards and enjoy feasts, singing and dancing, and bringing gifts to each other.
  • Holi Festival (March 13). One of India’s oldest holidays, which is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit, and marks the spring rebirth of life.

Holi festival

National dishes

Indian cuisine is one of the most colorful in the world. It is characterized by the use of a large number of spices: hot pepper, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander, mint, coriander. The national dishes of India are commonly considered to be:

20+ features of life in India that amaze tourists and foreigners

India is a country that is difficult to talk about. It is so different that any experience can only apply to a particular region. Because in another it is completely different: different language, different climate, different traditions, food, gods, clothes. In addition, the country has many social, environmental and other problems that cannot be ignored.

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It’s not just married women who dot their foreheads.

The bindi, a neat dot between the eyebrows, is a traditional ornament of Indian women. A married woman usually wears a bigger bindi, while a single woman wears a small dot. Bindis are painted with a paste of turmeric, sandalwood, saffron and other dyes. There are also bindi stickers for sale in stores – circles of velvet paper or plastic of different sizes and colors that are easy to stick on and last all day.

Most Indians living in cities speak a mixture of English and their native language

English is so tightly embedded in Indian culture that even those who don’t speak English use many English words in their speech. The middle-class people of Delhi speak Hinglish, a strange mixture of English and Hindi. The richer and more educated a person is, the more foreign words are in his speech.

It is customary to paint trucks and buses

This tradition is several decades old. It is difficult to see a factory painted truck in India. One can tell by the patterns and other decorations which state the truck is from, and the faith and wealth of its owner. The cabin and the body are decorated with traditional ornaments, images of famous actors, politicians, their wives and children, mantra lines, flowers and pigtails.

The world’s first hospital train

Mobile hospitals have been operating in India since 1991. Medical trains travel along the railroads in different parts of the country so that even in the most remote corners people can visit a doctor.

The daily number of train passengers in India is greater than the population of Australia

In India, trains never arrive on schedule. Late arrivals of several hours are the order of the day. Long-distance trains can be more than a day late by the end of the route. Tickets for general carriages are sold without a departure time – you can take any train, as long as the carriage is of the same class and has the same destination. Tickets for any class of carriage are sold without seats.

In every subway and commuter train there are cars only for women

Men are not allowed in these cars. This is done primarily for the safety of women, who are very often harassed in India. One of the users of Reddit under the nickname captain_morgana told what happened to her in India: “I am a woman, I have white skin and light eyes. People looked at me, took my picture, shook my hand. One day I had to take the subway. As soon as I entered the train, all the people froze and stared at me. I felt so uncomfortable that I laughed. My friend, without even taking his eyes off the paper, said: “They’re doing it again, aren’t they?” I have many impressions of India. I would love to go back there again.”

Major cities have a special system for delivering lunches to offices

Couriers (dabbawala) come to the house if the customer’s lunch is prepared by his wife, or they pick it up from small companies that specialize in making business lunches. Lunch usually consists of several dishes. They are arranged in a very convenient set of containers, which in turn are packed in a thermo-bag. The delivery system is very complex and checked by minutes: each lunch, before it reaches the addressee, can change 3-4 couriers, each of which has its own route. Office workers prefer lunch delivery services to business lunches in cafes and restaurants, because they like individual approach and proven quality products. By the way, there is even a touching Indian film about this, “The Lunch Box”, which won prizes at Cannes.

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In a street barbershop you can get your hair cut for 20 rubles.

Women in India rarely get their hair cut, so barbershop customers are mostly men. They can get a new haircut right on the street in an improvised salon. Hairdressers don’t need a license and can “open” a barbershop right on the sidewalk – just a folding chair and a case of tools.

Many people in India live very poor

According to statistics, two-thirds of the country’s population live on less than $2 a day. More than 30% have only $1.25 a day or even less. Many people have to struggle from one odd income to another. The least protected members of society – children and women – are particularly affected. Of course, tourists coming to local resorts have no idea about this unless they visit the heart of India.

Every home appliance in India is assembled at home from the resources at hand.

A common Indian term in India is jugaad, which is not translated into Russian, but the meaning can be conveyed in these words: “analog of any mechanism of improvised means”. Many Indians do not see the point in spending money on devices, which can be easily assembled by themselves (often they simply do not have the money). Exercisers, fans, coffee machines, antennas – all this and more will replace the jugaad.

All products in stores are labeled MRP – maximum retail price

The seller has no right to ask more for a bottle of water or a packet of rice than it says on it. So the same ice cream in a remote village and on a busy beach will cost the same. Foods suitable for vegetarians are marked with a green dot.

Homes for middle and upper class families have a separate room for the housekeeper and her family

Housekeepers (aya) are so common in India that many homes have outhouses in which they can live with their families. That way the aya is always on hand when her help is needed, and she doesn’t have to leave her husband and children behind when she leaves for work. Living with helpers is so popular that many places for family activities – such as zoos and museums – have a subscription that includes 3 adults and a child.

Children sleep in the same bed with their parents until they are 6 or 7 years old

It’s not that parents are sorry to give their child his own room, or at least a bed (although it happens quite often that the family has only one room and one bed). It simply does not occur to Indians to leave an infant alone in another room.

Babies get eyeliner

Lids and eyebrows are painted with antimony not only to protect from the evil eye, which the Indians fear very much, but also to prevent conjunctivitis. The locals also think it is simply beautiful.

Tea in India is usually drunk with milk and spices

If you ask for tea in India, you are likely to be served it in this form. If you want plain black tea without any additives, you have to say so. By the way, tea in Hindi is called “chai. Tea with milk and spices is called “masala chai.”

Sari – the most popular women’s clothing

A sari is a piece of cloth which is 4 to 9 meters long. There are many ways to “wrap” a sari. It is supposed to be held without needles and pins, but in fact many use them. Otherwise, the sari can slip, exposing the abdomen, which does not always look aesthetically pleasing.

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There is an art to wearing a sari. Women must avoid sudden movements, otherwise the garment can slip or lose its shape. Nevertheless, the sari is used as a uniform by local airlines, hotels, banks, schools and other government offices, and some even wear it to play soccer and ride motorcycles.

No pork or beef in Indian McDonald’s

India is the country with the lowest meat consumption per capita. India’s McDonald’s is the only McDonald’s in the world that doesn’t have the Bigmack, hamburger, cheeseburger and other famous beef and pork sandwiches on its menu. Instead of a Big Mac at an Indian McDonald’s, you can have a Maharaja Mac, a sandwich with a choice of chicken or vegetable cutlets.

Cows are not considered sacred animals in all states

In Kerala, Assam, Arunachal, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, and West Bengal, the slaughter of cattle is permitted, while in other states it is a criminal offense. In Haryana, for example, killing cows is punishable by a monetary fine and imprisonment for up to 10 years. By the way, selling animals to other states is also prohibited.

In the states of Meghalaya and Nagaland, they build “living” bridges from the roots of rubber trees

The flexible aerial roots of rubber trees growing on the rocky bank of a river or ravine are directed toward each other. As the trees grow, the roots splice together and the bridge thus becomes stronger. In ideal conditions, if the trees are healthy, “living” bridges can last even for several centuries.

It is not a custom in India to bathe without clothes.

The Indian custom of putting on special underwear in the shower is due to the fact that for centuries there were no baths in the homes. They all bathed together in the river. In India they have their own bathroom (or at least a fenced room where you can take a shower) is still considered a luxury and only 55% of the population has one. On the beaches the Indians bathe in clothes that are not suitable for swimming. For example, they wear tight jeans and shirts.

Parents look for brides and grooms for their children through marriage advertisements in newspapers and on websites.

Most often, future sons-in-law and daughters-in-law are sought by acquaintance, but sometimes family friends do not have children of the right age, in which case specialized websites and newspapers come to the rescue. The advertisement specifies age, physical data, education, social status, caste and the desired dowry size. The ad may also state that the candidate should have a residence permit for a specific country, or earn at least that much money. The ad could read as follows: “For a beautiful girl (24 years, height – 155 cm, has a diploma MBA) from a wealthy family belonging to the Pillai, looking for a groom – a civil servant, doctor, industrialist or a businessman from the same caste. Please do not disturb programmers.

Before the wedding, the horoscope of the bride and groom must be drawn up

If the stars say that the young people are not right for each other, the engagement is likely to be terminated. In some northern parts of the country, the bride even changes her name (not just her last name) to better match her husband’s horoscope.

Many important details are forgotten before the wedding.

Once my father went out to the groom on the recommendation of a relative. On the phone we discussed all the details, decided on the conditions of redemption. Even chose a month for the ceremony. The joyous news of the upcoming wedding had already begun to spread among acquaintances. Finally the bride received a photo of the groom and said: “He’s kind of gloomy… Or angry… And the mouth is wrong.” Everyone was upset, as they had already chosen their wedding outfits and hairstyles. The bride took pity on the hapless relatives and looked at the photo again: “No, well a man doesn’t have to be handsome. He’s probably not gloomy, but serious and reliable. Works in a bank. Lives in a city where I have relatives, which means we will see each other often. There are a lot of pluses. But there’s something wrong with him… How old is he?” It turned out that in a month of negotiations the in-laws hadn’t clarified what the groom’s age was. It turned out that he was 11 years older than the bride. Why was it impossible to clarify this right away? In general, the wedding was refused. The young bride didn’t want to marry a mature man.

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The “love commandos” help young couples get married against the will of their parents.

It’s no secret that most marriages in India are not arranged for love. Parents carefully select future spouses for their children. They must be of the same caste, age and income level. In cases where children try to arrange their own fate, families often abandon them, and the young are left without means of subsistence. In addition, honor killings are still common in areas remote from civilization. The volunteer organization Love Commandos provides young families with a roof over their heads, legal assistance and, if needed, bodyguard services. Volunteers answer more than 300 calls daily from across the country. The organization is supported by famous Indian actor Aamir Khan.

In southern states, the groom traditionally runs away from his own wedding

The father of the bride has to run after him, begging him to take his daughter as his wife. In addition, the bride’s family must pay the groom’s parents a considerable amount of money. A wedding banquet is always much more expensive than the family can afford. Even the poorest wedding has 300 guests. Guests, even those who aren’t wealthy, give gold and a decent amount of money that sometimes equals their salary for several months. To give a more modest gift is considered impolite. Mothers (of both bride and groom) are not allowed to attend the marriage ceremony.

Indians love getting into the Guinness Book of World Records.

One can only envy their creativity in inventing a cause for a record. One recent achievement is the largest gathering of people dressed as Mahatma Gandhi (851 people). Many other attempts the Guinness Book of Records refuses to register. For example, a 2-kilometer garland of muffins made from cow dung and a 10-hour yoga session on horseback went unrecorded.

Bonus: revelations of girls who married a Hindu

The interpreter Anastasia says this about the peculiarities of Indian life: “My husband’s family are educated, intelligent people, his father is a Sanskrit professor. But all this does not extend to everyday life. Just imagine: we ate with our hands, on the floor, everything in the house was so untidy.” Another web user in her blog, titled “Married to India. OM Sri Ganeshaya Namah” shared how she and her husband manage the family budget, “I was often asked how we live with my husband, whether he gives me pocket money. Well, he doesn’t. Now we went to the store, and he has all the money, I do not have a penny. Why is that? The fact that we live in the countryside, where there is nothing to buy, except food. My husband often tells me that he earns for us. Basically all the expenses go to the family and to develop the business.

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