Recommended travel guides on India:
Culture of India [Wikipedia]:
The culture of India is one of the oldest cultures known to humanity. In modern India, there is remarkable cultural diversity throughout the country. The South, North, and Northeast have their own distinct cultures and almost every state has carved out its own cultural niche.
The cultural policy of the Government of India has three major objectives:
- Preserving the cultural heritage of India,
- inculcating Indian art consciousness amongst Indians and
- promoting high standards in creative and performing arts.
The by far most, total endearing aspects of Indian art and architecture prior to colonization has been the strong impact of religious and folk idioms and folk art on courtly art. Although folk art received little encouragement during the period of colonization, independence brought forward a renewed interest in folk paintings.
Indians join their hands (palms together) and bow slightly in front of the other person, and say Namaste (Sanskrit for "I bow unto you" or "I salute the divine in thee") or Namaskar (derived from Sanskrit for "salutations") or variants in other Indian languages. This custom comes from a Hindu understanding that each person is inherently divine, and for this reason many Indians will gently touch their hands to their forehead and then to their heart, indicating the third eye and heart.
Festivals in India are characterized by colour, gaiety, enthusiasm, prayers and rituals. The majority are from the Hindu tradition, one of the most popular festivals being Diwali/Deepavali; the legends associated with it are drawn from the Hindu epic Ramayana and the Devi Mahatmya, depending on the region. Other popular Hindu festivals include Navaratri/Dasara (which is held in celebration of the Hindu goddess Durga), the final and ninth day of which culminates in a massive Durga Puja; it is most popular in West Bengal), Pongal/Sankranti (which is held as a thanksgiving for the harvest to the elements and cattle), Ganesh Chaturthi (a fourteen-day festival dedicated to the Hindu God Ganesh and is most popular in Maharashtra and Ugadi/Gudi Padva).
However, as India is home to many more religions viz. Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism, etc. festivals in India include festivities of these faiths as well.
Indian fashion is rich in tradition, vibrant in colors and truly beautiful designs. Bold colors and metallics created by the inventive drapes of these textiles catch the imagination like no other contemporary clothing.
Some Indian dress designers combine Western trends with Indian touch, creating garments which are truly outstanding.
Drama and theatre
Indian drama and theatre is perhaps as old as its music and dance. The tradition of folk theatre is alive in nearly all the linguistic regions of the country. In addition, there is a rich tradition of puppet theatre in rural India. Bollywood is a place to be for the drama lovers
The earliest literary traditions were mostly oral and were later transcribed. Most of these spring from Hindu tradition and are represented by sacred works like the Vedas, the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Sangam literature from Tamil Nadu represents some of India's oldest secular traditions. Indian writers in modern times, like Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Khushwant Singh have been the cynosure of wide acclaim, both in Indian languages and English.
India offers a number of classical dance forms, each of which can be traced to different parts of the country. Each form represents the culture and ethos of a particular region or a group of people. The seven main styles are Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, Manipuri and Kathakali.
There are many types of dance in India, from those which are deeply religious in content, often based on old Vedic or Hindu folk traditions, to those which are danced on lighter occasions.
The music of India includes multiples varieties of folk, popular, pop, and classical music. India's classical music tradition, including Carnatic and Hindustani music, has a history spanning millenia and, developed over several eras, remains fundamental to the lives of Indians today as sources of religious inspiration, cultural expression and pure entertainment. India is made up of several dozen ethnic groups, speaking their own languages and dialects. Alongside distinctly subcontinental forms there are major influences from Persian, Arab, and British music. Indian genres like filmi and bhangra have become popular throughout the United Kingdom, South and East Asia, and around the world.
Indian pop stars now sell records in many countries, while world music fans listen to the roots music of India's diverse nations. American soul, rock and hip hop music have also made a large impact, primarily on Indian pop and filmi music.
The vast scope of the art of India intertwines with the cultural history, religions and philosophies which place art production and patronage in social and cultural contexts.
Indian art can be classified into specific periods each reflecting certain religious, political and cultural developments.
Each period is unique in its art, literature and architecture. Indian art is constantly challenged as it rises to the peak of achieving the ideals of one philosophy in a visual form, then begins anew for another. This challenge and revolution in thought provided, and still provides, Indian artists with reasons for innovation and creation, and the process of visualizing abstract ideas and the culture of the land.
- Hinduism and Buddhism of the ancient period (300 BC- 1700 AD)
- Islamic ascendancy (712-1757 AD)
- The colonial period (1757-1947)
- Independence and the postcolonial period (Post-1947)
- Modern and Postmodern art in India
Each religion and philosophical system provided its own nuances, vast metaphors and similes, rich associations, wild imaginations, humanization of gods and celestial beings, characterization of people, the single purpose and ideal of life to be interpreted in art
Indian painting is an old tradition, with ancient texts outlining theories of color and anecdotal accounts suggesting that it was common for households to paint their doorways or indoor rooms where guests resided.
Cave paintings from Ajanta, Bagh and Sittanvasal and temple paintings testify to a love of naturalism and God. Most rock art in India is Hindu or Buddhist.
A freshly made flour design (Rangoli) everyday is still a common sight outside the doorstep of many (mostly South Indian) Indian homes.
Jahangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, has on display several good Indian paintings.
Bollywood is the informal name given to the popular Mumbai-based film industry in India. Bollywood and the other major cinematic hubs (Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu) constitute the broader Indian film industry, whose output is considered to be the largest in the world in terms of number of films produced and, possibly, number of tickets sold.
Bollywood films are usually musicals. Few movies are made without at least one song-and-dance number. Indian audiences expect full value for their money; they want songs and dances, love interest, comedy and dare-devil thrills, all mixed up in a three hour long extravaganza with intermission. Such movies are called masala movies, after the Indian spice mixture masala. Like masala, these movies are a mixture of many things. Plots tend to be melodramatic. They frequently employ formulaic ingredients such as star-crossed lovers and angry parents, corrupt politicians, kidnappers, conniving villains, courtesans with hearts of gold, long-lost relatives and siblings separated by fate, dramatic reversals of fortune, and convenient coincidences, and even movies with tri polar changes that can turn a movie and its plot upside down.
Recreation and sports
In the area of recreation and sports India had evolved a number of games. One would be surprised to know today that games like, Chess, Snakes and Ladders, Playing cards, Polo, the martial art Kung-fu had originated as a sport in India and it was from here that these games were transmitted to foreign countries, where they were further modernized. Additionally, a few games introduced during the British Raj have grown quite popular in India, field hockey and especially cricket. Although field hockey is India's official national sport, cricket is by far the most popular sport not only in India, but the entire subcontinent, thriving recreationally and professionally. Cricket has even been used recently as a forum for diplomatic relations between India and long-standing rival, Pakistan. The two nations' cricket teams face off annually and such contests are quite impassioned on both sides.
The earliest Indians, the Harappans, probably ate mainly wheat and rice and lentils, and occasionally cows, pigs, sheep, and goats, and chicken. Rice and chicken seem to have come from Thailand, and wheat and sheep from West Asia. Some of the wheat was made into stews or soups, and some into flat breads called chapatis. The arrival of the Aryans does not seem to have changed Indian eating habits.
But by around 300 BC, under the Mauryans, a lot of Hindus felt that animal sacrifices added to your karma and kept you from getting free of the wheel of reincarnation. Animal sacrifices became less popular, and although people didnít give up eating meat entirely, they ate much less of it. Many people became vegetarians.
In the Gupta period, around 650 AD, Hindus began to worship a Mother Goddess. Cows were sacred to her, and so Hindus stopped eating beef.
And then around 1100 AD, with the Islamic conquests in northern India, most people in India stopped eating pork as well, because it is forbidden by the Koran.
People could still eat sheep or goats or chicken, but most of the people in India became vegetarians, and only ate meat very rarely or not at all. The vegetarian food that Indians ate was mainly wheat flatbreads or a kind of flatbread made out of chickpeas, with a spicy vegetarian sauce, and yogurt. Or people ate rice, with yogurt and vegetables. A lot of spicy peppers grew in India.
India Conservation / Environmental News
Indian fabric giant adopts forest policy
One of the world's largest fabric makers for the fashion industry today announced a policy to exclude fiber produced at the expense of endangered forests, reports Canopy, an environmental group that helped broker the commitment.
Tapping into evolutionary responses to guard crops against elephants
The search for effective measures to reduce human-elephant conflict is a top priority for wildlife managers and a significant challenge. Ongoing conflict incidents exacerbate anti-wildlife sentiments among rural populations, as conflict events can lead to the deaths of both people and elephants. The continued expansion of development and agriculture into traditional wildlife grazing lands pushes elephants into more frequent contact with people and crop fields.
Of leopards and lemons: Superstition aids wildlife researchers in India
Many Westerners see science and superstition as lying at extreme ends of the logic spectrum. However, those familiar with India know that these two seeming strangers can walk hand-in-hand: Information technology companies are inaugurated with the breaking of the ceremonial coconut and pumpkin.
Low crop prices means time is ripe for new forest protection programs
Today, conservation compliance is a U.S. policy between governments and farmers that reward farmers with federal subsidies for good conservation practices on designated vulnerable lands. But economist Clayton Ogg believes it could now be used to save forests in countries like Brazil, China, India, and Indonesia. "The main drivers for deforestation in recent years are high crop prices. However, as crop prices fall to more normal levels, farmers depend very heavily on government subsidies, and the subsidies become the major driver for deforestation," Ogg told mongabay.com.
Can voluntary sustainability standards survive in emerging markets?
Last month, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) published a new edition of its The World in 2050 report. Confirming the findings of previous studies, the report describes a shift in economic power from the global north to the south. PwC projects that the US' and EU's share of world GDP will face a steady decline from around 33 percent in 2014 to about 25 percent by 2050. At the same time, emerging markets like China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Mexico, and Turkey (the so-called E7 countries) are gaining in importance as both producers and consumers in the global economy.
Are small-scale hydro projects always greener?
Rising energy demand and global efforts to mitigate climate change have made renewable energy projects increasingly attractive. One widely known and well-developed source of renewable energy is hydroelectricity. However, past environmental campaigns against large dams have resulted in policy changes in some parts of the world, leading to an increasing number of small hydropower projects.
India's tiger population up by more than 500 animals in four years
The tiger is in major trouble. In 1900, the global population was over 100,000 animals; today, it is on the precipice of extinction, hovering around just 3,000. In response, tiger range countries have pledged to double to the population by 2022. But there has been little evidence of success until now: India has announced that its tiger population has jumped a remarkable 29 percent in the last four years.
Conflict-fueled deforestation, poaching in Assam continue despite truce
Northeastern India boasts nearly 44 percent of the country‚Äôs dense forests, and contains one of the most biodiverse areas in the world. However, the region lost approximately 548,440 hectares of tree cover‚ÄĒmore than 3 percent‚ÄĒfrom 2001 through 2012. Sonitpur, Assam, has been particularly hard hit as people flooded into the area and cleared forest.
Endangered environmentalists: investigating government crackdowns on green groups
Mongabay.org offers journalists opportunity to report on government muzzling of environmental activists. As climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction worsen across the globe, environmental groups are responding by ratcheting up the pressure on governments and corporations to act. Many governments have responded by increasing restrictions on environmental NGOs, including revoking charity status, increasing sentences for protestors, and passing legislation restricting NGO activity.
Disappearing oasis: northeastern India losing forests as people move in
Northeastern India is part of the Eastern Himalaya biodiversity hotspot, one of the megadiverse areas of the world. The region boasts more than 60 percent forest cover, compared to the 15 percent for India as a whole. However, not all is pristine when one visits areas designated as forest on the map.
Rediscovered in 2010, rare Indian frog surprises by breeding in bamboo
For a long time, this rare white spotted bush frog lived a secretive life: the Critically Endangered Chalazodes bubble-nest frog (Raorchestes chalazodes) was last seen in 1874 and presumed to be extinct. That is until 2010 when a year-long expedition to try and locate ‚Äėlost‚Äô amphibians in India found the elusive frog in the wet evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, after more than 130 years.
Man plants forest, becomes film star
Jadav ‚ÄúMolai‚ÄĚ Payeng is a 51-year-old man who lives in India‚Äôs north-eastern state of Assam in the village of Aruna Chapori. A member of Assam‚Äôs indigenous Mising tribe, Payeng is better known as the ‚ÄúForest Man" for spending the last 35 years planting a forest bigger than New York City's Central Park.
One man plants forest larger than Central Park
Jadav ‚ÄúMolai‚ÄĚ Payeng resides in northeast Assam‚Äôs Jorhat district in the village of Aruna Chapori. Here, for the past 35 years, he has worked to plant trees on a sandbar island in the river near his home‚ÄĒand in the process, single-handedly established a forest larger than New York City‚Äôs Central Park.
Perched on the precipice: India's vultures threatened by E.U. sale of killer drug
Poisoned by cattle carcasses treated with Diclofenac, India‚Äôs vultures died by the millions in the 1990s. A captive breeding program is helping to save the once-ubiquitous birds, but the very drug that drove India‚Äôs vultures to the precipice of extinction has been given a green light in Italy and Spain.
Tigers vs. diamonds: India‚Äôs protected areas rampantly downgraded to make room for people, industry
In India‚Äôs central state of Madhya Pradesh lie 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) of protected land demarcated as the Panna Tiger Reserve. Recently, however, its protection status has been questioned, and global-scale analyses show Panna is far from alone among India‚Äôs many threatened Protected Areas.
Beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products from 8 countries responsible for 1/3 of forest destruction
Four commodities produced in just eight countries are responsible for a third of the world's forest loss, according to a new report. Those familiar with the long-standing effort to stop deforestation won't be surprised by the commodities named: beef, palm oil, soy, and wood products (including timber and paper). Nor will they be very surprised by most of the countries: Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Scientists find temperate bat in the hot tropics of the Western Ghats (photos)
The Western Ghats is one of the world‚Äôs eight richest biodiversity hotspots. A UNESCO World Heritage site, and also known as the Great Escarpment of India, the Ghats run parallel to India‚Äôs west coast. This great ecosystem is home to over 139 mammal species, nearly 50 of which are bats. And now scientists can add a new bat to this list: one that until now had only been documented from temperate regions.
India plans huge palm oil expansion, puts forests at risk
The world's largest importer of palm oil, India is seeking to slake its thirst domestically. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that India has the potential to cultivate oil palm in 1.03 million hectares of land--nearly the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut--and produce four to five million metric tons of palm oil per year.
Armed conflict decimates tigers, rhinos, and swamp deer in Indian park
The human cost of war is horrendous. However, while most attention is focused on the suffering caused to people—and rightly so—an understudied element is the impact on wildlife conservation. This is worrying given that many of the world‚Äôs conflict zones are situated in biodiversity hotspots.
Meet the newest enemy to India's wildlife
A boom in infrastructure and population has forced India's wildlife to eke out a creative existence in an increasingly human-modified environment. Big cats such as the leopard are often spotted within large cities, on railway tracks, and sadly, on India's burgeoning and sprawling road network.
Selective logging hurts rainforest frogs
Selective logging in India's Western Ghats forests continues to affect frogs decades after harvesting ended, finds a new study published in Biotropica. The research assessed frog communities in logged and unlogged forests in Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve and found that unlogged forests had twice the density of frogs as areas logged in the 1970s.
Where have all the big animals gone? Indian park devoid of many species, further threatened by forest loss
Namdapha National Park is part of the Indo-Myanmar biodiversity hotspot. However, locating many species in the park is becoming increasingly difficult, the region has lost thousands of hectares of forest in the past decade, and studies project the situation may simply worsen in the coming years.
Next big idea in forest conservation: Reconnecting faith and forests
'In Africa, you can come across Kaya forests of coastal Kenya, customary forests in Uganda, sacred forest groves in Benin, dragon forests in The Gambia or church forests in Ethiopia...You can also come across similar forest patches in South and Southeast Asia including numerous sacred groves in India well-known for their role in conservation of biological diversity,' Dr. Shonil Bhagwat told mongabay.com.
On track to 'go beyond the critical point': Sri Lanka still losing forests at rapid clip
During the latter half of Sri Lanka's civl war, between 1990 and 2005, Sri Lanka suffered one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, losing about 35 percent of its old growth forest and almost 18 percent of its total forest cover. The conflict ended in 2009, and while deforestation has slowed somewhat, Sri Lanka is still losing forest cover at a fast pace.
An end to India's 'Wild West'? Meghalaya bans coal mining... for now
Meghalaya, a state in India‚Äôs northeast, has thick forests above ground and valuable minerals below. Uncontrolled mining in the area has cleared forests, degraded rivers, and led to many accidents and deaths as few health and safety standards exist for mine workers. A ban effected earlier this year halted all mining in the state, but is set to be reconsidered at a hearing scheduled for August.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Playing games to understand what drives deforestation
Dr. Claude Garcia plays games, but you won‚Äôt find him betting his shirt at the casino. As leader of the Forest Management and Development Research Group at ETH Z√ľrich, Garcia and his team use participatory modeling and role-playing games, merged with more traditional disciplinary sciences such as ecology, economics, and sociology to understand and manage complex landscape change in the tropics.
Despite poaching, Indian rhino population jumps by 27 percent in eight years
The world's stronghold for Indian rhinos—the state of Assam—has seen its population leap by 27 percent since 2006, despite a worsening epidemic of poaching that has also seen 156 rhinos killed during the same period. According to a new white paper, the population of Indian rhinos in Assam hit 2,544 this year.
Dancing frogs: scientists discover 14 new species in India (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
Scientists have discovered 14 new species of frogs in the mountainous tropical forests of India‚Äôs Western Ghats, all of which are described in a recent study published in the Ceylon Journal of Science. The new species are all from a single genus, and are collectively referred to as ‚Äúdancing frogs‚ÄĚ due to the unusual courtship behavior of the males.
'Simmering conflict': the delicate balancing act of protecting India's wilderness
The Western Ghats of southern India, one of the world‚Äôs top biodiversity hotspots, is a 1600-kilometer (1000-mile) mountain chain that runs parallel to the western coast of the Indian subcontinent. It traverses six states and is home to as many as 250 million people. In an interview with mongabay.com, M.D. Madhusudan of the Nature Conservation Foundation discusses the importance and challenges of establishing protected areas in India.
Scientists release odd-looking, Critically Endangered crocodiles back into the wild (PHOTOS)
Among the largest and most endangered crocodilians in the world, the gharial is on the verge of extinction today. This harmless fish-eating crocodile has fewer than 200 adult breeding individuals in the wild, their numbers having plummeted rapidly over the past few decades. But among this gloom and doom, conservationists have been working tirelessly to reinstate the wild populations.