Indian Tradition and Customs

Faith, family and castes shape just about every aspect of Indian culture from birth to death and all the trials and parties in between. Indian society is structured around the families people are born into and where they are born. Individuals inherit their social position and stay within it
throughout life. A caste, or jati meaning "birth", is the level within the social system that determines who people will marry and often even what line of work they can pursue, where they can live and what they can eat.

There are more than 2,000 jati and they fall within four recognized caste groups, or
varnas:

• Brahmans -- priests and the most educated
• Kshatriyas -- warriors and landowners
• Vaishyas -- merchants
• Sudras -- craftsmen and workers


A fifth, unofficial group, the Panchamas were historically called the "Untouchables" and in more recent years the Dalit or "Oppressed." About 17 percent of India's population belongs to this lowest of groups and performs farm labor or other manual work thought to pollute or sully higher castes in the system. In addition to being identified and included as part of a social caste, most Indians remain within family units that cross generations, from youngest to oldest, all living within the same housing quarters or complex.

Men in a family line often stay with their birth families until their own fathers die and they start extended families of their own, while women will leave their homes once they marry and become part of another's extended family unit. Most females in India leave their families at a young age and a family's caste and location have a lot to do with when a girl will be married. In 1929, Indian law forbade marriages for girls under 12 years of age, allowing those 12 and over to become brides, but in 1978 the age limit by law became 18. With parental consent, however, many families follow their religious laws and cultural traditions and arrange marriages for girls before and after puberty.

And while many inmodern-day India embrace the practice of marrying for love and romance among two people, the most common practice is for the families to find mates for their children in an arranged marriage based on caste, religious beliefs and astrology. Once a bride and groom are promised to one another, a series of engagement parties, beauty rituals, and family meals and parties begins, leading up to a marriage celebration that lasts from three days to a week. Some couples approach an engagement and wedding never having met until they go home together after the ceremonies as husband and wife.

Along with rich décor and sumptuous feasts, Indian weddings usually feature a bride in red. Believed to symbolize prosperity, luck and fertility, red bridal wear is a traditional favorite, much as white gowns dominate Western weddings. Modern Indian brides sometimes opt for dark hues other than red and choose purple, dark yellow, blue or pink.

 

Marriages tend to last for life and the divorce rate in India is very low, estimated at under 10 percent, and some studies show that the rate is climbing. Men and women are strongly encouraged to stay together as part of their tradition and to work through any issues, even very serious ones, rather than separate or divorce.

Religion:


Religion in India is the foundation for most areas of life for individuals and families. More than 80 percent of Indians are Hindus and over 13 percent are Muslims. India is the birthplace of Buddhism, and at one time many Indians were Buddhists, but in modern times less than 1 percent of the population follows Buddha. Christians and Sikhs have about 2 percent of followers each.
 

Indian Hinduism, like some of its gods and goddesses, has many faces depending on caste and location. Shrines and places of pilgrimage in one region may differ entirely from those in other areas, and while many follow the Vedas as being sacred texts and dharma as moral code, not all do. Belief in a supreme god is common, though the gods and goddesses that come from him vary. Reincarnation, or coming back to life after death in a continuous circle of dying and rebirth is common, as is a belief in karma, or the just desserts of sorts that determines what level and what form you will take when being reborn. Karma is based largely on what you did while alive, good and bad.


Indian Muslims, follow Islam and its singular god, Allah, and they refer to the Qur'an as their sacred text. Teachings from the prophet Muhammad are central to behavior and codes of living in society, and in India as elsewhere, this means holding Muslim law above all others. Islam arrived in India through Persian, Turkish and Arab conquerors in about the 8th century.

 

Most of the subcontinent was converted to Muslim beliefs by the 13th century but European rule led to a waning of Islam. When India gained its independence from the British in 1947, the country was divided into Pakistan, with followers of Islam, and India and its adherents of Hinduism.

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