India is a land full of surprises. With a population now exceeding a billion, India enjoys a rich, vast and diverse cultural and religious heritage. India can be termed as a continent by itself; from north to south and east to west different states abide by different religion, language, culture and lifestyle and that makes the country more interesting and appealing. With such an awe-inspiring historic and cultural background India also has a future that is on a fast track of economic development braced with aggressive entrepreneurship that poses a challenge to the rest of the world.
The Indus valley civilization, which dates back to 2500 BC, was a milestone in the beginning and a transition of urban culture. The Aryans led the decline of the Indus valley civilisation and introduced the caste system and mastered the Sanskrit texts of Vedas and Upanishads that became the philosophy and foundation to Hinduism and Buddhism. Indian history also gives an insight to the various dynasties that ruled the country, which greatly influenced the social, religious and cultural system. The Mughals and the advent of the Europeans were the major contributing factors to the moulding of cultural India.
Approximately 82% of the Indian population follow Hinduism. Hinduism is based on the Vedas and Upanishads that imbibe the duties and responsibilities of the human race. It also preaches the four classes of society namely: Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. The religion greatly believes in karma (action/duties) and moksha (liberation) that are influenced by the cycle of life and rebirth. The Vedic scriptures give a detailed description of 330 million deities that are to be worshipped! The three main deities prominently worshipped are the Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara, the female deities include Lakshmi, Saraswati and Parvati.
The Mughal invasion gave rise to the country’s largest minority religion Islam. Islam follows the teachings of Prophet Mohammed and was founded in Arabia during the 7th century AD. The holy script of Koran describes the will of Allah and Mohammed was god’s messenger and also Islam does not believe in idol worship.
The religion of Sikhism was founded and propagated by Guru Nanak in the 15th century that is mainly followed in the state of Punjab. The Guru Granth Sahib is the holy book of Sikhs that comprises the preaching’s of 10 Sikh gurus.
Vasco da Gama the Portuguese explorer in 1498 landed in Calicut and brought with him the trade of spices and Christianity. And especially, south Indian churches reflect the European architecture. Christianity had a strong hold later when other European countries followed the Portuguese who entered southern India for trading.
Buddhism and Jainism are other prominent religions followed in India. Judaism and Zoroastrianism also have their place and regard in the country.
With so many religions it definitely is not a matter of surprise that the country celebrates numerous festivals with great zeal and fervour. The main festivals are Diwali, Dussherra, Ramzan and Christmas, and almost every state has their own set of festivals to celebrate such as the Bisakhi in Punjab, Gudi Padwa by Maharashtrians and Onam by Keralites.
The language, food and clothing also vary in every state. Unity in diversity does not seem to be a cliché in India. It is a part of life and there is a sense of harmony amidst all the differences.