Learn About India
The Culture of India
The caste system, or as it was known in Hindi – the Varnas, operated officially in India for many, many generations. Although discriminating on the basis of caste is illegal, there are still remnants of it in place dictating social, political and commercial practices.
The caste system organized Indian society into a 4-tier hierarchy including the Brahmans (priests and the educated), the Kshatria (rulers and aristocrats), the Vaisia (landlords and businessmen), and the Sudra (peasants and working class). The caste system also recognized a category of people known as the Untouchables, those who work in degrading or “polluting” jobs. The caste system was based on family of birth and rarely was anyone able to change their Varna.
Within each Varna were several communities, called Jats, which further divided the Indian society. Occupations, political affiliation, even diet was dictated by the Varna and Jat a person was born into. The caste system was an extremely complex division of society which created many inequities and cruelties – especially for the “Untouchables” of the society.
Although it is easy to look at the caste system and see and talk about the cruelties implicit within it, it is also important to look at less formalized types of discrimination. A great topic for discussion may touch on the ways in which people are discriminated against and the basis for that discrimination in our own culture. How does it affect your local community? How does it affect the world?
Famed Architecture: the Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal is one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the world and speaks of love to all who visit it. The Taj Mahal is actually a tomb built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his favourite wife, Arjumand Banu Begum. They were married in 1612 and she died in 1629 in childbirth while with the Shah on a campaign. The Shah’s court mourned for over 2 years and the Shah decided to create a building like no other to honour her.
The building was designed by the Persian Ustad Isa Khan Effendi and his pupil Ustad Ahmad and the dome was designed by Ismail Khan. It took 20,000 workers (mostly slaves) 22 years to complete. It is more than 20 stories tall and made of marble which changes hue throughout the day. The tomb of Arjumand Banu Begum is fitted with elaborate furnishings including Persian carpets and gold fixtures. The gardens of the Taj Mahal are also elaborate and extremely beautiful. For pictures of the Taj Mahal, check out the Kamat website.
Music of India: the Sitar
The modern sitar has a long neck attached to a resonator made from a gourd. This stringed instrument has several metal frets (crescent shaped metal rods) running down the length of the neck. There are seven strings fastened to the pegs on the neck, running over the frets down to the sides of the resonator and 11 to 13 sympathetic strings running parallel to the main strings, though under the frets. Originally the sitar, invented in the 13th century, only had 3 strings in total and thus sitar translates, literally, to “3 strings”.
The sitar is played by a wire plectrum, which is worn on the forefinger of the right hand and is called a mizrab. The music of the Sitar is uniquely Indian and a feature in much Indian classical music.
A Flavor of India: A Selection Of Traditional Indian Music: Various Artists
of Indi:Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar is perhaps the best known Indian musician. His music is beloved all over the world and is a great starting place for any family interested in learning more about India and it’s wonderful music. This CD is also a great background for an Indian meal.
Traditional Clothing of India
Traditional Indian clothing is alive with vibrant colours. Although there are a variety of traditional fashions for women in India, the Sari is one of the most popular garments and worn by women of different tribes and areas. Saris are made from 5-6 yards of continuous fabric which are wrapped so that one end forms a skirt and the other end is used as a head or shoulder covering. A sari is made from silk, cotton, or manmade materials and is often beautiful and colourful. Saris are generally worn with a choli, which is a short, fitted blouse.
The traditional clothing of men in India has mostly been replaced by western-style pants and shirts. Traditional lungi, a short sarong and dhoti, a longer sarong with fabric pulled up between the legs are still worn by villagers as are the lenga, a loose pant-style piece of clothing.
The bindi dot, worn by Hindu women on the forehead, was traditionally made with vermilion and is considered a blessed symbol of female energy (shakti). Traditionally, the bindi was a symbol of marriage, but now has become a mark of beauty and is worn by unmarried girls and women, as well as the married, and can be found in a variety of colours and designs.
Information on India:Facts & Figures
Words & Phrases
Activities & Festivals
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