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Multi-cultural, multi-racial India

October 22, 2006

‘Indians are very very different from each other,’ I said casually to a teacher once. He was American. I, an Indian.
‘Really, how different?’ the American asked me, staring at me with his pale blue eyes, eyes as alien to me as his blond hair. But he was a teacher who was interested in the peoples of the world and I could talk to him. I was a substitute teacher in the same school in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania, in a school called IST, the International School of Tanzania.
‘We are multi-cultural, like no other country in the world,’ I said.
‘You mean different religions? Lots of countries are like that,’ he said.
‘Not like India is. We are majority Hindus but we have the second largest population of Muslims in the world, Plus we have a sizeable population of Jains, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and Jews. That’s all the major religions of the world,’ I said.
There was a touch of arrogance in his blue eyes. ‘America is a multi-cultural society too. In fact we have people of different races living together.’
I sighed. ‘In India it’s similar, but the difference is that our different races or groups have kept their identity…but in your country everyone talks the same, wears the same clothes…’
‘What are you talking about? Indians are all ethnically the same!’ he said.
‘No. People from the state of Kerala for example are different ethnically from lets say that of Maharashtra.’
‘Different accents you mean…’ he said.
I could see that he was irritated.
‘No no,’ I said. ‘Different racially, There is as much difference between a Keralite and a Maharashtrian as between a Spaniard and a German.’
You could see that he didn’t believe me, and I knew what he wanted to say. That he didn’t see the difference and that he knew quite a few Indians personally. I wanted to tell him that I too wouldn’t be able to see the difference between a Spaniard and a German. Or for that matter between a Britisher and an American. Sure I knew some people from these nationalities but to me they looked the same, from the same country. As for accents, I am still confused about them…
‘Look,’ I said in a diplomatic tone, ‘I’ll give you some examples of how different we are ethnically. A Hindu in Kerala or Kashmir or Bengal eats different food, and wears different clothes. In Bengal, Diwali is not as important as Durga Pooja while no other state in India celebrates Durga Pooja, and we are talking of people from the same religion. The Ganesh festival is a big thing only in Maharashtra. And I haven’t even got to the religious differences as yet! But I can assure you that there is far less difference between a Punjabi Hindu and Punjabi Muslim that between a Punjabi and a Sindhi! There is less difference between a Bengali Muslim and a Bengali Hindu than between a Bengali and a Bihari. There is less difference because they are the same race, the same ethnicity, and they speak the same language, wear similar clothes…’
I could see that I had lost him.
‘That’s interesting,’ he murmured.
‘We have a different languages, more than thirty of them!’ I exclaimed, not a little proudly.
‘Dialects?’ he asked.
‘Oh no! Languages with different scripts! Knowing Tamil doesn’t mean you can understand Gujarati or Punjabi…the languages are very very different. As different as English and French, if not more different! Plus we have different scripts!’ I was enjoying myself now because he was surprised. ‘Doesn’t Spanish and Italian use the same script as English? And what about the Americans? Don’t they too use the same language as the British? English? And the same script as well?’ I asked.
He was silent, but I could see that he was fascinated.
‘We have an ancient culture. Almost as old as the Egyptians. Maybe older,’ I continued deliberately, because just a day earlier another teacher had asked me whether Indians were tribals before the British established the education system. ‘Ancient Indians were educated in maths and astrology and science before the west was. We had an ancient library called Nalanda in Bihar, which was destroyed by invaders.’
Well, this teacher was open to new knowledge. He pulled out a map of the world and spread it out in the empty staff-room. He pointed to India. ‘That’s a very large area, you are bound to have such differences. And yes, I know that India has a rich culture…’
‘Yes, rich and diverse. Do you know that the Parsis left their homeland of Iran hundreds of years ago just so that they could practice Zoroastrianism in peace, here in India? Today, Parsis, though of a different race, are very much Indian, though they have maintained their distinct identity.’ I was getting late for class and realised that I had forgotten to mention the unique racial identity  of people in the north-east, but I was getting late for class. As I walked out I couldn’t resist my parting shot. ‘We are the most tolerant country in the world,’ I said.

(This is an actual conversation I had with a teacher at IST. I have combined two conversations into one.)

Related Reading: The Language Issue that is troubling India.
Local Mumbaikars resents ‘Outsiders.’
How does India treat it’s North Easterners?

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59 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2006 1:29 pm

    In one sense, Indians have always been tribals- if you read Gurcharan Das’s India unbound, the lack of tream work among Indians can be traced back to the time of Alexannder and porus.

  2. October 23, 2006 7:18 pm

    This is fascinating! I had no idea India had such diversity. American schools really don’t teach World History in that much depth. I think a student would have to specifically take a college course on the Culture of India to get that much information.

  3. October 24, 2006 1:30 am

    One can also see several instances of homogenisation of culture {mostly western} in metroes. I guess the phenomenon is happening simultaenously in many parts of India. It worries me a bit.

  4. Torab Ahmed permalink
    November 10, 2006 2:44 pm

    I was telling same points to an English friend that a Muslim punjabi will be very similar to a hindu punjabi. But the culture of Hindu punjabi or muslim punjabi would be different from Hindu or Muslim Sindhi. Subcontinent has so many different cultures and languages that i think on every 50 mile you will find a new language and different way of doing things

  5. Vijai permalink
    November 14, 2006 8:34 pm

    India is rich in cultures, eduacation and science. I like to put an instant in the epic of Ramayana which was written few thousand years ago( dated 500 BC to 100 BC).In Kamba Ramayana There is an instance that Rama’s( the main character) wife Seetha was kidnapped by Ravana in his absence. When he trying to explore the possibilities of kidnappers route. They see a print of wheels and they follow which ends up after some distance. Then they conclude that the vehicle was on ground until this point and took off in the air from there. This instance explains that there was knowledge of aeroplanes in the Indian history. And an another person Avvaiyaar( a poet) sings that the atom can be broken to generate enormous energy. The invaders destroyed the knowledge and most of the invaders were not great thinkers due to which they could not understand what they are destroying at. We tought the world how to do sex by Kamasutra. Our vedas Rig, Yajur, Sama and adharvana teach science, psychology and politics. Thats the reason though India was destroyed by the invaders, the intelligent blood is rising like phoenix. We have brains here. Recent cultural invasion in the name of Multinational companies in India damages the culture of India in the cities leads the young generation to an identity crisis. Still India will remain with this culture and social structure for longtime. GOD BLESS INDIA!

  6. November 22, 2006 12:34 am

    I think there is a growing realization across societies facing the reality of post-global/post-modern multiculturalism that India is the classic multicultural template. And that there is much to learn from this, as was discussed at this conference
    by the Tariq Ramadans, the Paul Gilroys and the Dinesh Bhugras who influence policy and practice worldwide.

  7. Jay permalink
    December 10, 2006 8:39 am

    So true, I can speak and understand Kutchi with my muslim neighbours, but then to fit into “Hindu” soceity I have to be able to speak Gujarati, because most gujaratis wrongly think that Kutchi is only spoken by moslems. Kutch like Sindh is the cradle of Indian civilisation, Archeological sites such as Mohen jo Daro in Sindh, Dholavira in Kutch are part of the Indus Valley civilisation. Nationhood and common language transcends religious ties, which is why there is harmony at grass root level, when there is no outside interference.

  8. March 22, 2007 6:37 pm

    This is a very interesting blog. I wrote a critique during my days at university regarding the Use of the English Language to unify the Diverse cultures within Nigeria. I can draw similarities to that with your blog. I was in India last year with the missus and we were going to the Taj Mahal. I had to pay the full amount to get in, but the missus was going to pay the local fee. The chap at the entrance insisted that my partner was not Indian and could not speak Hindi. That much is true, but the missus, by this time aggrevated, kicked up a fuss by speaking Tamil and asking the guy whether he could mention the name of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, or even speak Tamil, Kannadum or even Malayalam.

    That shut him up.

  9. rafik permalink
    June 15, 2007 2:23 am

    This is very interesting reading – Civilisation or a civilised person is judged on his ability to reason and be tolerant to other people , their values, culture and traditions. It most certainly must also encompass religious tolerance and strive to better its own standards by learning new concepts and ideas.
    There is a large distinction between a persons nationality, and national economics. a poor nation cannot necessarily not have a distinguished and extremly advanced learning both in the past & the present – what limits progress would be the economics!
    I wish well for all and hope there is better understanding for all !!

  10. June 24, 2007 9:14 am

    there is no big big difference between telugu,kannada and marathi culture,their new year UGADI fall on the same day and telugus,marathis and kannadigas names alone end with rao.
    many people find tamil culture and north indian culture differs but tamil new year and hindi, maithili, bengali etc new year fall on the same day.

    • nandan permalink
      December 11, 2011 11:00 am

      thats intresting….

  11. June 24, 2007 10:19 am

    Ramesh, while I agree that the differences are less between say Kannadiga and Maharashtrian culture, they are lesser only as compared to say Punjabi and Tamil culture, the further away you go geographically, the greater the difference between two peoples. This is a fact.
    However I feel that just comparing 1-2 attributes does not define the differences or similarities between two cultures. In my family we have had inter-marraiges between people of different states and believe me, the cultural differences between a Kannadiga and a maharashtrian are many. And I am not just talking of the food, but the way of dressing, the language, the way they celebrate their festivals…everything is different. And the difference between a Tamilian and a Punjabi are very great indeed…
    And lets not forget the kashmiris and the people from Assam or Meghalaya. they are very different indeed, whichever day their new years day falls on. And as for Bengalis, they have a very distinct cultural identity, there is no denying that. Not just their language, and dress, but also food, way of celebrating festivals, their worship of the goddess Durga, even their values, their traditional love for music and culture…
    true, there is a new generation of Indians coming up with a pan indian identity (nicely explained in Pavan verma’s book ‘Being Indian’) BUT there are far more traditional people in India today than the westernised ones who speak Hinglish.

  12. Phantom permalink
    June 25, 2007 3:12 am

    There will always be people who identify themselves much more strongly with their own sub-community, then with the quality of being a pan-Indian. And i say – horses for courses….to each his own. However what I am seeing a lot of these days, in India as well as among the diaspora overseas, is a greater convergence towards a more generic pan-Indian culture and mindset.
    I for one, am a kannadiga, but I identify myself more with the quality of being an Indian, in that my cultural values, culinary preferences, views, upbringing, social interactions – are on a more generic indian scale, than restricted to a kannadiga/karnatakan culture. Does this mean I do not understand and appreciate kannadaiga culture…of course not….it is a great ancient and peaceful culture….its just that owing to my background, I fit in better with a more generic indian cultural mindset than anything that is too sub-communal.
    And there are a LOT of indians aged below say 35 who are in thie category. I for one think that it is a good thing….to have a strong bond of generic commonality, while at the same time have a link into your own specific culture.
    There will also be many ppl now who will not advocate this generic pan-indian culture….cos they will feel that it will prevent the growth and upkeep of their own specific culture….and while I do not entirely disagree with these people……it is the way of the future…..even globally we’re seeing a huge convergence of cultures……to prevent or oppose it is redundant, better to understand the convergence and use it to ur advantage.

  13. thomas permalink
    July 18, 2007 2:52 pm

    in the midst of heated discussions,, let me come up with a trivia. Which is the only clan of indian people who can leave there state or country and live like one among the local inhabitants? It is called camouflagelism or is it camouflagism.. whtever.. these ppl even refuse to use their language once they leave er.. ______ state. But theyre here there and every where.

    PS. they re the second population in the middle east next only to the natives.

    • Ninan permalink
      January 10, 2012 11:36 am

      mallus, man. only mallus. nobody else even comes close when it comes to camouflagelism. and that was not meant as a compliment

  14. Phantom permalink
    July 18, 2007 3:38 pm

    Sindhis – is my stab at the truth!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Nil permalink
    July 19, 2007 10:41 pm

    Whenever India comes up in conversation with westerners, the general impression is that all of India speak the same language, follow same religion, wear the same clothes, have the same dietary habits, celebrate the same festivals…..the list is endless. While annoying at first, you learn to understand why they think like that. Bollywood, bhangra, saris (which are worn differently and even have different names, state-by-state), chicken tikka masala, naan bread- north Indian culture is the most prominent in the west (they immigrated to UK, US, Canada more than other Indians) so naturally most of the indigenous people will assume that all India adheres to this.

    It’s not just north-south differences. Also, west, east and north east. For example, Assamese people cannot be put into one ethnic or cultural category, as their’s is a sort of amalgamation of people over many years from south east Asia, Bengal and north India.

    There’s even variation between Hindus of different regions. Navratri and Garbas are snynonymous with Gujaratis whereas Durga Puja is of most significance to Bengalis.

  16. July 19, 2007 10:52 pm

    Foreigners simply cannot grasp the wide cultural differences between Indians. The only way is to explain it to them to tell them that the difference between two indian states is similar to the difference between 2 European countries. Its the truth, but they find it hard to believe! Its unfortunate but awareness of what India is still missing out there.

  17. Phantom permalink
    July 20, 2007 5:30 am

    Telling foreign ppl abt the diversity is one thing Nita, but the fact of the matter is – overseas, this diversity is hardly depicted. Cusine, language, song, dance, films, these are all avenues which can depict the diversity and cultural latiude of a nation.

    1] Cusine – almost ALL the indian restaurants overseas serve the same typical fare of butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, dal makhni, shahi panee etc. Hence it is very easy for a non-indian to assume that this is reflective of indian food. What is ironic is that out of the above iconic dishes, tandoori chicken and naan are almost cearly attributed to the mughal influence in india, and not really indegenous to any part of India.

    2] Language – most foreigners are aware of hindi as a distinct indian language. In the UK, Aus, NZ cos of the relatively higher numbers of gujjus and punjabis (and both these commnities tend to be culturally “stubborn”), I suppose gujrathi and punjabi also get some identity along with Hindi. In the USA, I;d say that tamil and telugu would join this list.

    3] Song, dance and films – barring Singapore and Malaysia, it is bollywood that is seen as a ubiquitious indian filmi industry. Yes, I know that the tamil, sri-lankan, telugu population in the USA, Aus, canada do watch the tamil and telugu films, but in terms of numbers and spread of awareness, bollywood is more uniquitious. And, as bollywood mostly reflects punjabi, northern indian culture, there is once again that skewed cultural perception.

    I for one wish that there was more diversity being reflected in the cusine segment. Even in the metros in India, I don;t see that much diversity – there should be more bengali, gujju, maharashtrian, chettinad, manglorian, goan, north-eastern, rajasthani type cusine served in restaurants.

    Also, I’d like to see more diversity being shown in bollywood too.

  18. Nil permalink
    July 20, 2007 2:18 pm

    South India doesn’t seem to exist in Bollywood land at all. Puzzling because they have even shot movies in the remote North East, which a lot of people are unaware of compared to the South.

    Go to London, or any other city with a significant Indian population in the UK, and you will find South Indian restaurants. And here’s an interesting thing, a lot of restaurant and take away owners in the UK aren’t Indian. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have been doing this for years, but put the Indian label on their business, because 1) A lot of westerners can’t tell the difference between people from the Subcontinent, and 2) Indian food is more marketable and recognised. They need to make a living.

  19. August 16, 2007 7:34 pm

    India’s Unity is really a great vision. and Well driven..

    But Sometimes, I think is this unity worth in International Arena..
    More than culture and tradition, the identity of an individual Indian is lost in International arena.

    If India was not united and each of the states becomes a country.. Kerala can win 20 gold medals in olympics, Mumbai will win World cup Cricket, Bengal will win World Cup Foot ball.. and in international arena, it would be only asia..English may or may not be the formal language in each of the city.
    Tamil / Telugu / Kannada / Marathi / Gujarai would be considered great and promoted similar in the lines of French / German / Spanish. There wont be a fight between central government & state government to bring a technology from other country..
    still lots I can say..

    and there is an evil side. But I dont know, there is something in this India, that holds together

  20. August 17, 2007 5:37 pm

    Interesting point Pandain, I didn’t quite think of it like that. True, we are constantly competing and thus cannot show an united face to the world. Some think this means that we are traitors, but I think it means we are different. Show me ONE human society with as many differences as us who has been united and you will find NONE. To expect superhuman qualities from people of the different states of India is far too much…and if you notice the ones who expect it are those who will never give up their own identity…they want the rest of India to follow…. Well, all i can say is that INDIA IS GREAT because as you say something is holding us together…and this itself shows our greatness.

  21. Bharat permalink
    October 20, 2007 4:15 pm

    culture holds us together!! We may eat different food, wear different dress or even speak different languages, follow different religions, but when it comes to family values, we are all same!!

    We all know about the western culture-Individualism, no family values(except some people), no responsibility for the son(if the father dies suddenly) to find bridegroom and provide money for his sister’s marraige, don’t have to look after old parents etc etc.

    India is the only country on the eastern side which strictly follows family values!!

    This is what seperates us from other countries of the world.
    This is what unites us from Jammu and kashmir to Tamilnadu!!

  22. October 20, 2007 9:42 pm

    Thanks Bharat. Yes, that iis a good point, there is some similarity of thinking/culture amongst Indians. In fact we should celebrate our indianness…we do not need one language to prove to us that we are one Only insecure peole would need one language to prove their unity.

  23. Sam permalink
    November 10, 2007 12:56 pm

    The destroyer of nations is multiculturalism. And a good thing in India is similar to what happened in America. Minority languages and cultures are dying in favor of a melting pot of one culture. Languages such is Kashmiri and Rajasthani are dying, in favor of Hindi. The national media is promoting English. In the future, I think our country’s uniting language will be a Hindi-English hybrid with English script. While we might be united in diversity, it is our weakness. We are more proud of our respective states than our country. I am only an Indian. Despite being born and still living in Assam, I am not Assamese. I am only Indian.

  24. November 10, 2007 1:00 pm

    sam thanks. what you say does strike a chord in me, but really I wish it were not so. I wish we could all learn to co-exist with our differences! alarming as your prediction seems I think it’s a very possible scenario. but you will be surprised how many people want to deny this reality. the death of languages has been happening down the ages and will continue to happen but there are those who refuse to see it.

  25. December 18, 2007 11:42 am

    i totally agree.
    india is the the European union… internally they are very different, yet they are together

  26. December 18, 2007 9:24 pm

    There is one interesting observation by the Europeans, which was made back in the 18th Century, which Jawaharlal Nehru has pointed out in his famous letters to his daughter. He says that the Europeans considered India as a single country as early as in the 18th Century, when the country was ruled by various kings with their own territories of different sizes and different languages. This is a unique observation as they never considered Europe, which was in a similar situation back then, as a single nation. So even though we look at ourselves as different people, the world looks at us as a single entity. The fact that a Tamil person and a Punjabi person do not have to convince or prove a foreigner that they are from the same nation is itself a stamp of acceptance by the world on the uniqueness and singleness of our nation. So why worry?

  27. December 18, 2007 9:44 pm

    @destinationinfinity:

    Do you know that in the US they see all brown people as being from the same area?
    Do you know that many cannot recognize one Indian from another?
    Actually if we are not used to seeing whites, we too would be unable to distinguish. Do you think I can make out the difference between and Italian and Frenchman? Ofcourse not! So what does this prove? Does this give the stamp to them that France and Italy are one country?
    Ofcourse not! they will tell you the difference.

  28. December 18, 2007 10:46 pm

    Quite right, I agree. If I were to meet Europeans, I would initially not be able to make out the difference between Italian and Frenchmen. But after some time, maybe I would…. If the European union was introduced to me as a single country, I might accept it. So I agree with your point.

  29. December 19, 2007 6:22 am

    I just lost the gist of the post the second i read the part where someone asked you if we were all tribal-no-brainers before the british!!! I wouldn’t mind being called simpleminded if they would just realise that this group of simple minded people did what they are doing NOW!!! (now being relative of course)

    THAT, is for anyone that has a shred of doubt that we did everything fundamental science has to offer today.

    Oh… and pardon the language on the page. I was just in one of those moods!

    http://ihyphenhate.blogspot.com/2007/06/we-are-champions.html

    Sorry Nita, but i just needed to vent!!

  30. December 19, 2007 6:28 am

    Nita, I just recalled your comment policy, so I apologise for posting that link. But I think, more than the post (which is utter crap, a rant at best), the video would be quite interesting. I think that is a must watch. It dispels some of the myths that still exist!!!

  31. December 19, 2007 7:25 am

    @The Depressed Doormat:

    My comment policy does not mean that you can’t post links. If you notice almost everyone does! :) Actually the links that are not welcome are spam links…people who come to the blog the first time or second time, and basically write a line or two and leave a link. Even then the links are not deleted if they are relevant to the post, non-commercial and informative.
    About your rant, well I think a lot of people in the west tend to think that India has just recently come up and is all about IT! Worth’s comment on the dependence on parents post points to that as well.

  32. Sahil permalink
    December 21, 2007 1:25 am

    Excellent post Nita!

    Indeed your interactions with these Westerners is the same experience all Indians have when we are asked to “explain” India and Indian culture to them.

    Even though the ritual can seem repititive, all patriotic Indians owe it to our country to clarify the truism everytime, ‘We are the most tolerant country in the world’.

    Thanks. I agree, we need to tell the world how diverse we are as a people and not paint all of us with the same brush! – Nita.

  33. Sahil permalink
    December 21, 2007 1:29 am

    And in case I forget to add later, your post gives me added ammunition to deal with such painful questions in future.

    “Was India full of tribals before the British came?”

    “Languages? Do you mean dialects? Don’t you all speak English anyways, today?”

    WTF !!!

  34. guqin permalink
    January 6, 2008 2:41 pm

    Heartedly agree to that India is the true or perhaps the only multi-cultural country of this scale. The U.S. issues green cards to foreign cultures for camping in it more or less like cultural clubs, and providing foreign elements for U.S. citizens’ consumption. The U.S. is no question a western country.

    India is like a garden that acccepts all kinds of plants to take root and to grow in it and is a continuous living whole. As a non-Indian, I am the most impressed by the fact that India is able to maintain this living quality even during the worst days: Gandhi, Tagore, even Ramanujan, all carried on unmistakable Indian characters.

    Eternal India! is like the sun, the invaders and conquerors make storms in her face, she responds in more colorful rainbows…

  35. vish permalink
    January 6, 2008 4:50 pm

    guqin, I am surprised you mentioned about Ramanuja the great saint who rebelled against the inequalities perpetrated against a section of the society. Unfortunately, many Indians do not know much about Ramanujas work..

  36. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 6, 2008 6:14 pm

    Vish,

    I am not sure if the Ramanujan that Guqin refers to is the theologian of Sriperumbudur who propounded Vishishtadvaita siddhanta, the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, the distinguished poet-folkolorist-sociolinguist who was professor at the University of Chicago, or some other. His context is too unarticulated to even help make an intelligent guess.

    The theologian is usually referred to (as you have done) without the terminal “n”, and is often mentioned as Ramanujacharya.

  37. guqin permalink
    January 6, 2008 10:31 pm

    Vivek and Vish,
    I was not aware of the other two Ramanujans. I was refering to the mathematician who studied infinte sequences with mystical abilities and was unaware of the western mathematical culture of his time. Due to the west’s domination in scientific and mathematical field since the Renaissance, it was and still is nearly impossible for easterners to pratice top level physics and mathematics outside the western framework. China too produced several first rank physicists and mathematicians, their works may be more important than Ramanujan’s, but their works could be done by western talents. I believe so far, Srinivasa Ramanujan of India is the only one who transcended in this field.

    In case the referal of “Tagore” wasn’t clear either: I was refering to the poet-philosopher Rabindranath Tagore. In contrast, China’s literature in response to the west since Tagore’s time was a failure.

  38. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    January 7, 2008 7:20 am

    Guqin,

    Thanks for the clarification. I did suspect you meant the mathematician, but was intrigued by the company you posited him in.

    About Rabindranath Tagore, there is no confusion. He was the most eminent member of an illustrious family. Unless the context demands or suggests otherwise, Tagore automatically gets interpreted as Rabindranath.

  39. Ratna permalink
    January 12, 2008 5:09 pm

    Hi,
    Nita.
    Though there are diferences between Indians there are lot of strong similaraties.Majority of women in india wear sari,Family values are almost same.Durga pooja is celebrated as ‘Navarathri’ or ‘Dasara’,in Karnataka and Devi Durga is called as ‘Chamundeshwari, here.Ganesha festival is very famous here as Ganesha Chathurthi, Tamilians celebrate harvest festival as’Pongal’,Kannadigas as Sankranthi and Punjabis as ‘Bisaki’ .South Indian Hindus visit Amarnath ,Kashi,Banaras and accept as they are holy places as well as People from all over India visits’Ayyappa. temple in Kerala,Northies Visit ,Tirupati as they believe Venkateshwara is avataar of Lord Vishnu.So I think Similarities are more than the differences.But major difference is the launguage.

  40. January 12, 2008 8:57 pm

    Ratna, thanks. True, women wear the saree but it’s worn in different ways, the gujaratis, bengalis etc wear it in different ways. certainly far more diverse than europe and the US were women wear similar types of dresses. maybe their traditional dress was different (eg, gemany vs UK or france vs italy) but I have little knowledge of the subject. also in punjab women don’t wear sarees and nor do kashmiri women. nor do women from north east of india! there are probably more examples but these came to mind almost immediately. I have traveled to all these regions. if you live in say kashmir, assam, rajasthan, tamil nadu for example you will immediately realise the differences.
    also those festivals you mentioned are from the same religion – hinduism. yet they are called different things and celebrated differently! Probably christians in Italy celebrate christmans differently from say those in France, but not as differently as us I am sure. we even have different days (we have different calenders!). For example our marathi new year is different from new year of other states.
    major difference can never be just language. language is an embodiment of culture and it includes everything, clothes, behavior, food etc. don’t forget that our cuisines too are widely different. as different as that of Italy and say the U.K. and we are talking of different states, not of different countries!
    We are all a very diverse people but ofcourse it is also good to see similarities. if you say we are close to fellow indians than we are to germans, yes I agree wholeheartedly. no argument there. but we are as different, if nor more different from say germans and french and italians. that is my point. Actually I am very proud of our country because despite all this we are one country.

  41. September 8, 2008 8:17 am

    Nita, I have encountered much of the same here in the US, my tactic is to always keep a 50 rupee note in my wallet, take it out and show them 50 rupees written in all the different scripts on the note. Most are quite amazed.

    But, then again they cant be blamed, can they ? First off, most Americans did come from Europe, their base culture is European and they will obviously know mostly about that continent. Just like Indian migrants are more likely to know abt Gujarat and Bengal than Kano and Borno (Nigerian states).

    There is also the fact that European nations colonized and had a profound impact all over the world. The Indian cultures didnt reach that level.

  42. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    September 8, 2008 11:06 am

    @ Nita:

    (From your response of 12 Jan to Ratna): “nor do women from north east of india!”

    This is not true of women belonging to the plains communities (usually, but not exclusively, non-tribal) of the north-east. In parts of Assam, Manipur and Tripura, women do traditionally wear saris, which are either a single length of fabric, as in much of the rest of India, or two separate pieces of which one part is wrapped around like a sarong and the other covers the upper part of the body. Often the two-piece ensemble is in different kinds of material (the upper part finer than the lower), and these have different names (e.g. phanek and innaphi in Manipur.

  43. rama permalink
    September 30, 2008 9:45 pm

    Hi,
    Nita.
    Though there are diferences between Indians there are lot of strong similaraties.Majority of women in india wear sari,Family values are almost same.Durga pooja is celebrated as ‘Navarathri’ or ‘Dasara’,in Karnataka and Devi Durga is called as ‘Chamundeshwari, here.Ganesha festival is very famous here as Ganesha Chathurthi, Tamilians celebrate harvest festival as’Pongal’,Kannadigas as Sankranthi and Punjabis as ‘Bisaki’ .South Indian Hindus visit Amarnath ,Kashi,Banaras and accept as they are holy places as well as People from all over India visits’Ayyappa. temple in Kerala,Northies Visit ,Tirupati as they believe Venkateshwara is avataar of Lord Vishnu.So I think Similarities are more than the differences.But major difference is the

    Rama, I think your comment got cut off. do post the rest of it. Yes ofcourse it’s true that there are similarities as we are all from the same religion. These differences (that we see amongst Hindus and the way they celebrate their festivals) is not there amongst christians though. – Nita.

  44. March 19, 2009 10:07 pm

    No there is not much difference between them its intesting to know that. At school we are doing a project about India and one of the questions is How diverse and multicultural India’s population is, its very hard to find out but its great to know all of these things.

  45. raghav permalink
    March 31, 2009 3:47 am

    I don’t know how come i missed this topic n today only happened to read it.

    It just echoes what we Indians are n how we feel when come in contact with ppl from different regions in india.

    I don’t know how it is in US but its hard for ppl in Germany or Europe to understand that India is so diverse. And when i tell them we have 23 official languages, they always think i mean dialects as u also mentioned. Its freaky being an Indian.

    The thing i really liked in ur article is the difference you quoted between multi-cultured US n India. I needed that point to explain diff. bet. the 2 nations but having not lived in US or known much abt it like many ppl it never occured to me.

  46. saravanan permalink
    July 6, 2009 7:42 pm

    nita, do you know india has indiginious negroid race.!!! i came across many indian they dont believe india has indiginous negroids. yes !! some of the tribe in andhaman islands looks like african black people. they are one of the oldest race on earth.

    andamans is very near the coast of africa so it is logical that there are people of negroid origin there. Also it has been scientifically proven that in parts of south India early Africans have entered and mixed with the local people, thus entering the genetic pool. and yes you are right, all humans originated from Africa, they are the oldest. – Nita

    • Vivek Khadpekar permalink
      July 6, 2009 11:05 pm

      //andamans is very near the coast of africa…//

      Umm… perhaps a glance at an atlas or a globe would be in order. Or even an online map.

      sorry vivek, that was a mistake! but well, I think africans could have traveled there. – Nita

  47. Jaiffer permalink
    October 3, 2009 4:07 pm

    U r partially right when do you say we are multicultural society both in text and practice. He we take example of language, Hindi is recognized as official one? How about others.
    How many societies (caste region religion) are visible in mainstream. Many are subjegated even after adequate legislatio. Ofcource we have diversity in terms of language, religion, race, subculture and etc, But it never means we are multicultural. Atleast to me it is better 2 call plural or shared culture society. Foot forget that still we live in shadow of uniform civil code and cultural nationalism, though our psudo secularism try to conceal the facts. Many country had this kind of diversities, but colonialism destroyed them. In short power destructed them, poor american fellow, he doesnt know colonization and its attempt of homogenization. Still doesnt know who destroyed indigeneous socities of america. Fortunately we had power atleast to resist colonial powers. You must mention indonesia, and others.

  48. Anoop permalink
    October 14, 2009 5:11 am

    Amazing article. I was about to write about the same topic on my blog. I will take inspiration from this article.
    When the author says to the American that People in India maintain their identities and pointed out that in America everyone speaks and talks alike it made me realise how amazing India really is.

  49. ggg permalink
    October 11, 2010 8:03 pm

    Wow, this is fascinating, but I have to add that India is not that much of a fairy tale that it seems to be. It was not always that tolerant, the cast system (although officially it doesn’t exist anymore, there are tons of people in India, who like to show off which superior cast they used to belong to, whatsoever!)and the terrible slaughtering of the Sikhs. There is still a lot of discrimination going on.
    BUT it is one of the most tolerant countries!!!

  50. October 30, 2011 3:41 am

    “unity in diversity ” thats what we Indians believe,as i am being in bengaluru(capital of karnataka state in India) it is metropolian city if u are living here you will be able to learn minimum of 4 languages excluding english , my mother tongue is kannada and 60 percent of my friends are non kannadigas ( telugu,tamil,malyalam,marathi,hindi,bengali,tulu,konkani,mythili…) all my friends speak in there own mother tongue in there homes , but we are together we prefer english or hindi or kannada …and some are hindus ,muslims and christians ….and in my home grand celeberation is ugadi, where as for malayalis onam and for tamilians pongal,….and very intresting is that every language as there own scripts …no body can understand others …but all of us know english and hindi. and every body respects other friend and we never quarelled because for language ,culture ,clothing even it is very diverse, and we try to learn and understand there culture and language they do the same .

    Another intresting factor is that north indians are fair in colour where as south indians are not .

    And we south indians are called as dravidians and north indians as aryans . and we still love each other we are indians .

    let me take u guys to smaller portion of india ..a state Karnataka .

    here we have north and south karantaka.(every state in india as this distinction in there own way)

    north karnatka culture is entirely differntly from south karanataka in food ,culture,behaviour ,slang of la
    nguage,festivals ,rituals.

    In karnataka ,our official language is Kannada but within this samll state u can find the origon of more then 5 languages and very diverse culture among there own surrounding.but we are united and we are proud to say that we are Indians.

    and let me go deep into the Karnataka Hindu religion following people .

    here in Hindus of Karnataka there are divided into many castes and in castes many subcastes.

    even wiki or google cant find exact answers abt the caste and sub castes then how can I.

    We indians very unique ” each one love there culture, language ,state,food ,religion ,rituals but we
    never hate the others , even not other country people( you know India never invaded any other country in the last 10,000 years,and India is the country which formed NAM (non aligned movement ) during world war,India is the first country to win freedom by britishers by peace)
    we have universal brotherhood and patience is our main wepon,love is our mantra”

    I know little which i wrote here because its very little life time i have to learn the all abt my country.

    if you want to know very very little abt my country Visit India , dont stay in 5 star hotels and expect to know abt my country not by google not by wiki , u need to go every where and mingle with every class of people .

    JAI HIDN,JAI KARNATAKA MATHE.

    Happy Karnataka rajyothsava .

  51. August 5, 2012 6:41 pm

    India is the home of all the religions in the world. Not only that there are 1652 Indian languages and another 63 non-Indian languages spoken here. different regions, different races, different religions, different casts, different sub-casts, different languages, different lifestyles and different preferences. but underlying all these differences is national pride and patriotism. Love it.

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