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Indian Subcontinent >> India >> Culture of India

Culture of India

A multiplicity in dance, music, theatre, and other art forms reflects the Culture of India.

Music: Much of India’s classical music is devotional and a lot of that, devoted to the flute playing god, Krishna. The North Indian Hindustani and South Indian Carnatic streams are distinct and both have a complex ‘raga’ framework. Ghazals in Urdu reflect on life and are light on the ear. Every region has a distinctive folk tradition too. Instruments that would typically accompany Indian music are the stringed veena, sitar, and the Indian drum: tabla or mridangam in the south.

Dance: The legacy of dance in India is tremendous. On temple walls, on an urban stage, in impromptu bursts by a mellow evening fire, men and women twinkle their toes in expression of joy. The classical dances of India are numerous. Characterised by stylised movements and elaborate costumes, these dances communicate age-old tales of love, longing and rage. Kathakali of Kerala, Bharatnatyam of Tamil Nadu, Kuchipudi of Andhra Pradesh, Manipuri and Odissi from Orissa are the prominent dance forms in this country that sways to an altogether novel beat. The robust bhangra of Punjabi men, the graceful whirling of Rajasthani women, the gentle sway of northeastern dancers, vigorous tribal dances, every corner has developed it’s own unique form.

Theatre: There is a robust theatrical tradition. The Yakshagana, nautanki and puppetry are ancient folk forms that live on till date. This tribe of wandering performers is on the decline but there still are occasional performances on the rudimentary stages of the rural areas. Rustic and coarse the flavour might be, but the techniques are surprisingly sophisticated. There is a growing body of contemporary work both in English and in the vernacular.

Art: The earliest specimens of Indian painting are the ones on the walls of the Ajanta Caves dating back to 2nd century BC. The typical ‘figures in profile’ art of India came to be when the Jain manuscripts were being illustrated. The Mughals had a huge impact on Indian art. The miniature, which had been only on palm leaves in the northeast, came into prominence. The influence of Persian art brought placid garden scenes, illustrations from myths, legends and history into Indian art. Later schools include the Bengal School of Tagore and the Company School of European influence. More recently the opulent paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, the paintings of M.F. Hussain, Jamini Roy and Ganesh Pyne among others rule the art scene.

Crafts: Word craft, handicrafts, architecture and sculpture all contribute to this rich and varied domain. Indian literature, both in English and in the vernacular, is ever more popular around the world. Handicrafts are as varied as the country itself. The Mughal and colonial structures and the temple architecture across the length and breadth of the country are testaments to the lands exciting past. Sculptures adorn temple walls, stupas, street junctions and ancient caves. The oldest schools are the Gandhara and the Mathura.

Movies: The Hindi movie industry is the most prolific in the world. Based in Bombay, hence Bollywood, this spool-spitting machine takes on the onerous responsibility of fuelling India’s prime passion. There is sheer joy in the easy stereotypes of muscle-flexing machismo, leering villainy and leading ladies of Hindi filmdom, but not all Hindi films are a simmering brew of action, romance, and song and dance. There is a parallel stream of "art" cinema though it’s not nearly half as popular as the "commercial" stream. Giving competition to the Bollywood masala film is the equally spicy south Indian fare. Regional cinema is fairly popular in its local context and with serious cinema-goers.

Cricket! Oh for the love of a six-er! India grinds to a halt when the country’s eleven don their colours. In cricket-crazy Calcutta, old folk gather to trash the ‘new fangled’ limited-overs format; in front of a million TV sets, four million pray for victory (often knowing they’re praying for a miracle!) tirelessly. It’s a mad-mad-mad world and in India cricket stars adorn the doors of innumerable cupboards.

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