वन्दे मातरम्
Jai Jawan - Respectfully dedicated to the soldiers who stand watch on the border.
सत्यमेव जयते

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People and Lifestyle

Lifestyle, Values & Beliefs

India is a diverse country, a fact that is visibly prominent in its people, culture and climate. From the eternal snows of the Himalayas to the cultivated peninsula of far South, from the deserts of the West to the humid deltas of the East, from the dry heat and cold of the Central Plateau to the cool forest foothills, Indian lifestyles clearly glorify the geography.

The food, clothing and habits of an Indian differ in accordance to the place of origin.

Culture The Indian culture varies like its vast geography. People speak in different languages, dress differently, follow different religions, eat different food but are of the same temperament. So whether it is a joyous occasion or a moment of grief, people participate whole-heartedly, feeling the happiness or pain. A festival or a celebration is never constrained to a family or a home. The whole community or neighbourhood is involved in bringing liveliness to an occasion. Likewise, an Indian wedding is a celebration of union, not only of the bride and groom, but also of two families, maybe cultures or religion too! Similarly, in times of sorrow, neighbours and friends play an important part in easing out the grief.

Science The global image of India is that of an upcoming and progressive nation. True, India has leaped many boundaries in all sectors- commerce, technology and development etc in the recent past, yet she has not neglected her other creative genius. Wondering what it is? Well, it the alternative science that has been continuously practiced in India since times immemorial. Ayurveda, is a distinct form of medicine made purely of herbs and natural weeds, that can cure any ailment of the world. Ayurveda has also been mentioned in the Ancient Indian epics like Ramayana. Even today, when the western concept of medicine has reached its zenith, there are people looking for alternative methods of treatment for its multifarious qualities.

With increasing complexities in one's lives these days, people are perpetually looking for a medium through which they get some peace of mind. This is where another science, that of meditation and spirituality comes into the scene. Meditation and Yoga are synonymous with India and Indian spirituality. Meditation is one of the most important components of Yoga, which is a mind-body therapy involving a series of exercises. The word ‘meditation' covers many disparate practices from visualizing situations, focusing on objects or images, thinking through a complex idea, or even getting lost in a provocative book, all qualifying as meditation in the broad sense. However in Yoga, meditation generally refers to the more formal practice of focusing the mind and observing oneself in the moment. Many people from India and abroad are resorting to yoga and meditation to de-stress and rejuvenate their mind.

Another widely followed phenomena in India is the Doctrine of Karma that preaches that every person should behave justly as every act or deed comes back in full circle in one of the births of an individual.

A very important aspect of India in the recent past is the emergence of the New Age woman. Women in India are predominantly homemakers, though this perspective is changing. In many places, especially metros and other cities, women are the bread earners of the house or are at par with their male counterparts. The increase in the cost of living/economy has also contributed to the rise in this aspect.

The beauty of the Indian people lies in their spirit of tolerance, give-and-take and a composition of cultures that can be compared to a garden of flowers of various colours and shades of which, while maintaining their own entity, lend harmony and beauty to the garden - India!

Ethnicity of India

With a population of more than 1,027 million as accounted by the March 1, 2001 population census, India is a colourful canvas portraying a unique assimilation of ethnic groups displaying varied cultures and religions. In fact, this uniqueness in the ethnicity of the country is the factor that makes it different from other nations. Moreover, the vastness of India's nationalism, accounting to a plethora of cultural extravaganza, religions, etc. is the reason that the country is seen more as a seat for a major world civilization than a mere nation-state.

Since ancient times, the spiritual land of India has displayed varied hues of culture, religion, race, language, and so on. This variety in race, culture, religion, etc. accounts for the existence of different ethnic groups who, although, live within the sanctums of one single nation, profess different social habits and characteristics. Regional territories in India play an important role in differentiating these ethnic groups, with their own social and cultural identities. The religions that are prevalent in the country are Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism, with the freedom for citizens to practice any religion they want to. With the governance of 35 different states and union territories in the country, there has originated a sense of regionalism amongst the various parts, with different states displaying different cultures, which although eventually fuse through a common bond to showcase a national cultural identity. The Constitution of India has recognised 22 different languages that are prevalent in the country, out of which, Hindi is the official language and is spoken in most of the urban cities of India. Other than these 22 languages, there are hundreds of dialects that add to the multilingual nature of the country.

Festivals

India is a land of festivals and fairs. Virtually celebrating each day of the year, there are more festivals celebrated in India than anywhere else in the world. Each festival pertains to different occasions, some welcome the seasons of the year, the harvest, the rains, or the full moon. Others celebrate religious occasions, the birthdays of divine beings and saints, or the advent of the New Year. A number of these festivals are common to most parts of India. However, they may be called by different names in various parts of the country or may be celebrated in a different fashion. Some of the festivals celebrated all over India are mentioned below. However, this section is still under enhancement. There are many other important festivals celebrated by various communities in India and this section shall be further enriched with information about them...

Janmashtami

Baby KrishnaLord Vishnu is invoked in his human incarnation as Krishna on his birth anniversary in the festival of Janmashtami. This festival of Hindus is celebrated with great devotion on the eighth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Sravana (July-August) in India. According to Hindu mythology, Krishna was born to destroy Mathura's demon King Kansa, brother of his virtuous mother, Devaki.

Men and women fast and pray on the occasion of Janmashtami. Temples and homes are beautifully decorated and lit. The temples of Vrindavan, in Uttar Pradesh witness an extravagant and colourful celebration on this occasion. 'Raslila' is performed to recreate incidents from the life of Krishna and to commemorate his love for Radha. This festival is also known as Krishnastami or Gokulastami.

The image of the infant Krishna is bathed at midnight and is placed in a cradle. Devotional songs and dances mark the celebration of this festive occasion all over Northern India.

In Maharashtra, Janmashtami witnesses the exuberant enactment of Krishna's childhood endeavours to steal butter and curd from earthen pots beyond his reach. A matka or pot containing these is suspended high above the ground and groups of young men and children form human pyramids to try and reach the pot and eventually break it.

Christmas

Christmas originates from the word Cristes maesse, or 'Christ's Mass'. The first Christmas is estimated to be around 336 AD in Rome. It is celebrated on 25th December all over the world, to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, the Sun of God. It is regarded as one of the most important of all Christian festivals. It is a public holiday in India and most of the other countries.

There is the widely accepted Christian legend of the New Testament relating to the birth of Christ. In the story, God sent angel Gabriel to a girl named Mary, a virgin. Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to the Son of God, and the child would be named Jesus. He would grow up to become a king, and his kingdom would have no boundaries.

The angel Gabriel also visited Joseph and told him that Mary would give birth to a child and advised him to take good care of her, and not to abandon her. On the night that jesus was born, Mary and Joseph were on their way to Bethlehem to get their names registered as per the rules then. They found refuge in a stable, where Mary gave birth to Jesus at midnight and laid him in a manger. Thus Jesus, the Son of God was born.

Christmas celebrations begin with a midnight mass, which is considered to be an essential part of the celebrations, it is followed by merrymaking. Children in brightly colored dresses, accompanied by an orchestra of drums and cymbals, perform group dances using gay-colored sticks.

St. Benedict, alias Santa Claus, is a legendary chubby oldie figure, clad in red and white dress, who rides the reindeer and forms a significant part of the celebrations especially for children. He loves kids and gets chocolates, gifts and other desired goodies for them, which he apparently places in their stockings at night.

People sing carols in the glory of the Lord during Christmas. They go from door to door preaching the message of love and brotherhood.

The Christmas tree is popular all over the world for its grandeur. People decorate their homes with trees and hang mistletoe in every corner. After the church mass, people engage in friendly visits and feast and by exchange of greetings and gifts, they spread the message of peace and goodwill.

There are some popular churches in India specially in Goa, where Christmas is celebrated with great fervour and enthusiasm. Most of these churches were established during the Portuguese and British regime in India.

Some of the major churches in India include St. Joseph Cathedral and Medak church in Andhra Pradesh; St. Cathedral, The Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa; St. John's Church in Wilderness and the Christ Church in Himachal Pradesh; Santa Cruz Basilica Church and St. Francis Church in Kerala; Holy Christ Church and Mount Mary Church in Maharashtra; Christ the King Church and Velankanni Church in Tamil Nadu; and All Saints Cathedral and Kanpur Memorial Church in Uttar Pradesh.

Rakshabandhan

Celebrated on the full-moon day of the Hindu month of Sravana (July/August), this festival celebrates the love of a brother for his sister. On this day, sisters tie rakhi on the wrists of their brothers to protect them against evil influences, and pray for their long life and happiness. They in turn, give a gift which is a promise that they will protect their sisters from any harm. Within these Rakhis reside sacred feelings and well wishes. This festival is mostly celebrated in North India.

The history of Rakshabandhan dates back to Hindu mythology. As per Hindu mythology, in Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, Draupadi, wife of the Pandavas had torn the corner of her sari to prevent Lord Krishna's wrist from bleeding (he had inadvertently hurt himself). Thus, a bond, that of brother and sister developed between them, and he promised to protect her.

It is also a great sacred verse of unity, acting as a symbol of life's advancement and a leading messenger of togetherness. Raksha means protection, and in some places in medieval India, where women felt unsafe, they tie Rakhi on the wrist of men, regarding them as brothers. In this way, Rakhi strengthens the bond of love between brothers and sisters, and revives the emotional bonding. Brahmins change their sacred thread ( janoi ) on this day, and dedicate themselves once again to the study of the scriptures.

Deepawali

Deepawali or Diwali, is a festival of lights symbolising the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. The word 'Deepawali' literally means rows of diyas (clay lamps). This is one of the most popular festivals in the Hindu calendar. It is celebrated on the 15th day of Kartika (Oct./Nov). This festival commemorates Lord Rama's return to his kingdom Ayodhya after completing his 14-year exile.

The most beautiful of all Indian festivals, Diwali is a celebration of lights. Streets are illuminated with rows of clay lamps and homes are decorated with colours and candles. This festival is celebrated with new clothes, spectacular firecrackers and a variety of sweets in the company of family and friends. All this illumination and fireworks, joy and festivity, signify the victory of divine forces over those of wicked.

The Goddess Lakshmi (consort of Vishnu), who is the symbol of wealth and prosperity, is also worshipped on this day. In West Bengal, this festival is celebrated as Kali Puja, and Kali, Shiva's consort, is worshipped on the occasion of Diwali.

In the South, Diwali festival often commemorates the conquering of the Asura Naraka, a powerful king of Assam, who imprisoned thousands of inhabitants. It was Krishna who was finally able to subdue Naraka and free the prisoners. Diwali Festival in the south is celebrated in the Tamil month of Aipasi (thula month) 'naraka chaturdasi' thithi, preceding amavasai. To commemorate this event, people in Peninsular India wake before sunrise and make imitation blood by mixing kumkum or vermillion with oil. After crushing underfoot a bitter fruit as a symbol of the demon, they apply the `blood' triumphantly on their foreheads. They then have ritual oil baths, annointing themselves with sandalwood paste. Visits to temples for prayers are followed by large family breakfasts of fruits and a variety of sweets.

Another story of king Bali is attached to the Diwali festival in South India. According to the Hindu mythology, King Bali was a benevolent demon king. He was so powerful that he became a threat to the power of celestial deities and their kingdoms. And Lord Vishnu came as the dwarf mendicant Vamana, to dilute Bali's power. Vamana shrewdly asked the king for land that would cover three steps as he walked. The king happily granted this gift. Having tricked Bali, Vishnu revealed himself in the full glory of his godhood. He covered the heaven in his first step and the earth in his second. Realising that he was pitted against the mighty Vishnu, Bali surrendered and offered his own head, inviting Vishnu to step on it. Vishnu pushed him into the nether world with his foot. In return Vishnu gave him the lamp of knowledge to light up the dark underworld. He also gave him a blessing that he would return to his people once a year to light millions of lamps from this one lamp so that on the dark new moon light of Diwali, the blinding darkness of ignorance, greed, jealousy, lust, anger ego, and laziness would be dispelled and the radiance of knowledge, wisdom and friendship would prevail. Each year on Diwali day, even today, one lamp lights another and like a flame burning steadily on a windless night, brings a message of peace and harmony to the world.

Id-ul-zuha

Id-ul-Zuha (Bakr-Id), is a festival of great rejoice, special prayers and exchange of greetings and gifts mark this festival of Muslims. Id-ul-zuha, the festival of sacrifice is celebrated with traditional fervor and gaiety in India and the world. It is called Id-ul-Adha in Arabic and Bakr-Id in the Indian subcontinent, because of the tradition of sacrificing a goat or 'bakr' in Urdu. The word 'id' derived from the Arabic 'iwd' means 'festival' and zuha comes from 'uzhaiyya' which translates to 'sacrifice'.

According to Islamic belief, to test Ibrahim, Allah commanded him to sacrifice his son Ismail. He agreed to do it but found his paternal feelings hard to suppress. So he blindfolded himself before putting Ismail on the altar at the mount of Mina near Mecca. When he removed his bandage after performing the act, he saw his son standing in front of him, alive. On the altar lay a slaughtered lamb. Joyous festivities and somber rituals mark this event. Every Muslim owning property worth 400 grams of gold or more is expected to sacrifice a goat, sheep or any other four-legged animal during one of the three days of the festival. This symbolises devotion to Allah and his desires. The sacrificial meat is then distributed and partaken of after the Id prayers.

The festival also marks the completion of Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia).

Ramnavami

Ramnavami is dedicated to the memory of Lord Rama, the son of king Dashrath. He is known as 'Maryada Purusottama' and is the emblem of righteousness. The festival commemorates the birth of Rama on the ninth day after the new moon in Sukul Paksh (the waxing moon), which falls sometime in the month of April.

Lord Rama is remembered for his prosperous and righteous reign. He is considered to be an avatar or reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, who came down to earth to battle the invincible Ravana (demon king) in human form. Ramrajya (the reign of Rama) has become synonymous with a period of peace and prosperity.

On the Ramnavami day, devotees crowd the temples and sing devotional bhajans in praise of Rama and rock images of him in cradles to celebrate his birth. There are recitations of Tulsi Ramayan, the epic, which recounts the story of this great king.

Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama is the focus of great celebrations of Ramanavami festival. Rathayatras or the chariot processions of Rama, his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana and devotee Hanuman, are taken out from many temples.

Ramnavami is commemorated in Hindu households by puja (prayer). The items necessary for the puja are roli, aipun, rice, water, flowers, a bell and a conch. After that, the youngest female member of the family applies teeka to all the members of the family. Everyone participates in the puja by first sprinkling the water, roli, and aipun on the Gods, and then showering handfuls of rice on the deities. Then everybody stands up to perform the aarti, at the end of which ganga jal or plain water is sprinkled over the gathering. The singing of bhajans goes on for the entire puja. Finally, the prasad is distributed among all the people who have gathered for worship.

Guru Nanak Jayanti

Baby KrishnaGuru Nanak Jayanti, the foremost of all the Gurupurabs or anniversaries of the 10 Sikh Gurus, is the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh faith, who ushered in a new wave in religion. The first of the 10 Sikh Gurus, Guru Nanak was born in 1469 at Talwandi, near Lahore. The disinclination to accept the practice of several religions in society, professing different deities drove the much-traveled leader to break free from the shackles of religious diversity, and establish a religion based on a single God who is the eternal truth. The festive event of Guru Nanak Jayanti includes the three-day Akhand Path, during which the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs is read out from the beginning to the end without a break. On the day of the main event, the Granth Sahib is ornamented with flowers, and carried on a float in a proper procession throughout a village or city.

The procession is headed by five armed guards, representatives of the ‘Panj Pyaras,’ who carry the Nishan Sahibs or the Sikh flag epitomising their faith. Religious hymns from the Granth Sahib are sung throughout the procession, marking a special feature of the event. The procession finally leads to a Gurudwara, where the gathered devotees get together for a community lunch, which is called Langar.

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