Knowing the Culture of India

This paper will review some of the recent literature on the culture of India. This is an important culture to study, because India”s population of more than 900 million makes it one of the most heavily populated countries of the world. India is also important to study because it possesses one of the world”s oldest surviving cultures. In addition, there have long been ties between India and the nations of the West. Beyond these considerations, Indian culture is fascinating to study because it is extremely diverse and complex.
Regarding this, Pandian (1995) notes “the existence of an underlying Indus or Hindu cultural unity (melting pot) which enables us to understand the nature of Hinduism and the caste system” (p. 9). Despite this apparent unity, however, Pandian also points out that “India is indeed a salad bowl with groups who do not blend or mix, and this fact of non-blending renders the label ‘Indian” meaningless to signify the cultural, linguistic, or religious unity of India” (Pandian, 1995, p. 9). Therefore, the situation of India poses an interesting challenge for anthropological study.
Yet another reason why it is important to study Indian culture is because, although many of the nation”s traditions remain strong today, the nation is also undergoing rapid change and development. This paper will examine the diversity that exists in India”s religious beliefs, language, and social and gender roles. It will then conclude with some views on what people should be aware of when they travel to India to do business. In terms of religion, the majority of people in India (80 percent) are followers of the Hindu faith.

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The concepts of karma and reincarnation are among the predominant beliefs of Hinduism. Karma is the belief that a person”s actions, good or bad, will result in either good or bad things happening in that person”s life. This belief has an effect on behavior because it influences people to treat others, as they themselves would like to be treated. Reincarnation is the belief that a person”s soul will return to an earthly body again and again until it is liberated from the cycle of life and death.
The way to become liberated is by becoming increasingly detached from worldly things, a process that is understood to take innumerable lifetimes. Belief in reincarnation has an effect on behavior by giving Indians a more casual attitude toward the demands of time than is found among Westerners (Lewis, 1996, p. 80). Hindus also believe that the goal of reincarnation is to eventually become united with Brahman, the ultimate ground of being, which has no attributes that can be seen or felt. Aside from these basic beliefs, Hindus have a great deal of choice in adapting their own personality to their style of worship.
There are different spiritual paths that can be chosen, depending upon whether the worshipper is more disposed to work, devotion or knowledge. In addition, there are hundreds of different deities, both gods and goddesses, that a worshipper can choose from in picking a “personal god. ” The personal god is meant to provide a focus for worship and devotion and to thus help the believer become more aligned with the impersonal god known as Brahman. Even after choosing a personal deity, Hindus still have flexibility in their style of worship.
According to Pandian (1995), “a Hindu may change the focus of worship, emphasizing the worship of different deities in relation to changes in his or her own intellectual/emotional growth, or may remain devoted to the worship of a particular deity” (p. 56). Although there is a great deal of flexibility in Hinduism, it restricts behavior in certain ways because there are many rituals and obligations that must be consistently followed. In addition to the village temples where people gather to worship, each Hindu home has its own shrine for the purpose of worshipping the family deity.
Religion is such a pervasive influence in India that Potter (1989) says: “The daily life of a Hindu villager involves frequent reminders of traditional norms” (p. 338). The Hindu system has also affected behavior because the belief in karma and reincarnation has supported the Indian caste system, in which it is understood that different classes of people have distinctly different roles in life. There is even more diversity in Indian language than there is in the country”s religion.
Hindi is the official language of the nation; however, as Mehta (1993) points out, “it is understood by only forty per cent – or, at most, fifty per cent – of the population” (p. 459). In addition to Hindi, “there are fourteen officially recognized regional languages, two hundred and fifty major dialects, and thousands of minor languages and dialects,” and many of these are “completely unrelated to one another” (Mehta, 1993, pp. 458-459). Throughout India”s history, there have been efforts among intellectuals and scholars to develop “a common pan-Indian religious or political language” (Pandian, 1995, p. 8).
Over the course of time, the official national language has changed from Sanskrit to Persian to English to Hindi. Although it seems like a positive thing to try to develop an official language for the nation as a whole, this effort has also resulted in enforcing the social divisions of the Indian people. Pandian (1995) notes that the people of India are required to know how to speak Hindi fluently if they are to obtain successful jobs. As Pandian further notes, this has created an unfair advantage for the 40 percent or so of the total population that consists of native Hindi speakers (p. 34).
The social roles of the Indian culture are strongly impacted by the traditional caste system. According to this system, there are four main classes, ranked hierarchically: the priests, the warriors, the merchants and artists, and the servants. In addition to these four major groupings, there are also numerous smaller occupational class groupings, known as jatis. In the words of Madan (1989), castes and families are “the building blocks of Hindu society,” and “an overwhelming majority of the Hindus of South Asia, particularly those living in the rural areas, identify themselves in terms of their jati or caste” (p. 64).
As a general rule, people never leave the caste they are born into. They tend to marry within the same caste, and sons tend to adopt the occupations of their fathers. Despite the prevalence of the caste system in Indian culture, however, Pandian (1995) points out that the system is more complex than it appears on the surface. Thus, anthropological studies of Indian village communities “have shown the existence of multiple labels of caste identity and multiple levels of caste ranking” (p. 209). There are also controversial views regarding gender roles in India.
According to Azad (1996), working women in India are subject to oppression, poverty and poor health, and they basically live in an “environment of powerlessness” (p. 220). Indeed, Indian women must contend with such things as arranged marriages, female infanticide and wife abuse, among many other things. On the other hand, Seymour (1999) argues that respect is also given to women in India, especially when they undertake the role of motherhood. This sense of honor is enhanced by the religious beliefs of Hinduism, in which female deities are seen as being the source of power for the male deities.
Because of the high status of motherhood and the belief in powerful goddesses, Seymour (1999) says “female power and authority is real in both secular and sacred contexts” (p. 281). Seymour further claims that there have been signs of change in recent years in terms of gender relationships in India. She reports, for example, that recent studies have shown an increasing number of Indian women taking “post marital residence in nuclear households where they can be independent of in-laws and have a more intimate relationship with their husbands” (p. 289).
Seymour also emphasizes that the restrictions of Indian culture do not only affect women, but the nation”s men as well. Because of caste and religious obligations, “men also have a series of roles and life stages through which they must move, and they are also expected to control their personal desires for the sake of the collective whole” (Seymour, 1999, p. 280). After attaining independence from colonization, India, within a p of 50 years emerged as one of the fastest developing economies in the world. Ranking as the seventh largest country in area and second in population.
She is also the largest democracy in the world. She is the world’s second largest producer of rice, world”s largest exporter of tea, jute and computer programmes. She is the third largest manufacturer of motor scooters, the second largest exporter of booster rockets for the space industry, and the second largest center in Asia for low-tech subcontracting and the development of offshore software. On the Economic front, it adopted a Mixed Economic policy on the five-year plan basis. India chalked out a plan for her economic growth in a protective manner.
She made major steps forward in improving agricultural output and her industries have expanded to the stage, where she is one among the world’s top 10 industrial powers. However, after 1990, India opened her door for liberalization and now the economic growth is approximately 6% per annum. When people travel to India to do business, it is important for them to be aware of the unique characteristics of the nation”s culture. Because India has long had ties to the West, there are many ways in which business relations between Indians and Westerners can be expected to go smoothly.
However, Indians also have certain differences in their business style that are related to their cultural and religious beliefs. Belief in the importance of the soul”s liberation, for example, causes many Indians to have a less materialistic orientation than their Western counterparts. Belief in karma has the effect of causing many Indians to have a heightened awareness of right and wrong. Regarding the way belief in reincarnation affects the Hindu perspective on time, Lewis (1996) warns the Western business traveler that Indians often show “little respect for punctuality” (p. 80).
The relatively low social status of Indian women has an impact on how women are viewed in the world of Indian business. According to Lewis (1996), business travelers should also understand that the Western value of individualism “contrasts with Indian collectivism” (p. 80). Despite the differences in business style between Westerners and Indians, however, Lewis points out that Indians can be shrewd negotiators when they want to be. In business dealings, Indians do not hold Westerners “in awe,” and they are quite capable of using “acting skills” in order to negotiate on behalf of themselves or their families (Lewis, 1996, p. 80).

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