Many of India’s traditions date back for centuries, and numerous Indian traditions have been woven tightly into everyday life in this country. Here, we will look at 10 key Indian traditions and explain what these traditions mean for Indians today.
1. Vedic mantras.
Vedic mantras are particular types of repetitive chants. They are used as part of alternative medicine in India, but they are also incorporated into religious prayers known as Puja. The aim of these mantras is to achieve positive spiritual and physical energy.
2. The tradition of Tilak.
You may have seen Indians wearing an orangey red straight line on their forehead during weddings or other times of celebration. This mark is known as the Tilak. The Tilak mark is usually made with the finger, and the pigment comes from the use of a coloured paste which is applied with the finger to the recipient’s forehead. The most commonly used paste in the tradition of Tilak is sandalwood paste. Tilak marks can have numerous different significances. They may mark somebody out as undergoing a special event such as a marriage, or they may just be for decoration. Alternatively, they can have a deep spiritual significance and mark the wearer out as devoted to a contemplative and spiritual life. Tilak marks can have several different designs, ranging from crosses, to vertical orange and white lines, to simple rounded smudges.
3. The bindi.
Bindis are related to Tilak marks, but they are not the same things. Whilst the Tilak mark is made with a paste, a Bindi can also mean a jewel that is applies to the wearer’s forehead using a paste. Bindis tend to be used as a decorative ornament during celebrations such as weddings.
4. The Sankirtan.
The full name of this Indian tradition is ‘Manipuri Sankirtana’. It is a tradition which involves ritual singing, dancing, and drumming which is performed in temples. This tradition is predominantly concentrated in the Manipur region of India, hence the name ‘Manipuri Sankirtana’. The religious community that performs this ritual does so mainly during significant life events, such as a birth, marriage, or a burial, and it is an event which brings the whole community together in a collective act of joy or grief. This Indian tradition is so cherished that it was recently added to the UNESCO list of humanity’s ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’.
5. Traditional Marriage Rituals in India.
Because India is home to many different religions (predominantly Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Buddhists), it is also home to several different marriage rituals. As a result, it would be very difficult to give an exhaustive summary of all of the types of marriage ritual that are traditional in India. Nevertheless, a few stand out. In Hindu weddings, for instance, there is a marriage ritual known as ‘the ritual of the seven steps’, This is a ritual where the couple takes seven steps, and each step represents one of their marriage vows. Once this is complete the spouses much make their vows to each other in the presence of some form of fire. Vows sometimes take the form of Vedic chanting: i.e. the very first tradition mentioned on this list. Other rituals for marriage include a wedding procession devoted to the groom which is known as Baraat, and the giving away of the bride by her father, which is a tradition known as Kanyadaan.
6. The worship of Lord Ganesha before beginning a new project.
The elephant headed Hindu deity Lord Ganesha is known as a god of wisdom and intelligence, a ruler of educational activities, and a remover of obstacles (indeed ‘remover of obstacles’ is one of his official names). As such, it is not surprising that many Indians will traditionally perform an act of devotion to Lord Ganesha before they embark on a new project. Ganesha is also worshipped annually throughout India on his birthday.
Fasting is a traditional aspect of Indian religious and political life. Fasts are important preludes to many feasts in the Indian ritual calendar, whilst fasting also has a long history in this country as a form of non violent and effective political protest. One of the most famous hunger strikes in recent history in India was led by Gandhi himself as a protest against British colonial rule in India. Gandhi’s form of non violent protest is world famous for its effectiveness and for its importance in being able to help India to achieve independence in the middle of the 20th century.
8. The word ‘Namaste’ and accompanying gesture.
‘Namaste‘ simply means ‘hello’, and it is a respectful way both to greet and to bid farewell to anyone that you meet in India. Traditionally, the word is spoken whilst accompanied by a gesture which involves pressing your two palms together and bowing your head slightly. It is expected that if you perform this gesture before somebody in India, they will perform it back to you. On the other hand, if somebody performs the Namaste greeting to you in tradition style, it is polite for you to reciprocate by performing the gesture back to them.
9. The tradition of Atithi Devo Bhava.
This phrase, which derives from Sanskrit, roughly translates as saying that a guest is a form of god. This saying encapsulates traditional Indian hospitality towards guests. In many parts of India, it is considered a point of honour to treat your guests lavishly, whether they are family members or strangers that you have only just met. As a result, guests are traditionally given a comfortable bed and fed with delicious food, welcomed properly as a new member of the family, and reminded that they can return whenever they need to.
10. Wearing the Sari.
There are numerous types of traditional clothing for both men and women in India, and the sari is one of the best known throughout the world. The sari is made of a single piece of cloth which is wrapped around the wearer’s body with no stitches involved. Learning how to fold a sari correctly is a vital piece of traditional knowledge in India. Saris are often made of beautifully printed fabric in wonderfully bright colours.