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India's Cultural Heritage

  • India's cultural and heritage sites are a unique feature in Asia and represent the fusion of its ethnic diversity, religions and history, particularly that of the various Dynasties that have dominated the country.
  • To understand what is there to be seen, one needs to understand religion in India over the past 2,000 years, the religious themes and objects of art and architecture and the military history of the dynasties.


Introduction to India

  • India, also known as Hindustan or Bharat is in South Asia. It’s the second-most populated country with more than 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world. Hinduism is the largest religious grouping in India; its over 1 billion adherents compose 80.5% of the population. It’s the 7th largest country by area. A multi-ethnic, multilingual and pluralistic society, the country is also home to a diversity of wildlife in a variety of protected habitats. Bounded by the Bay of Bengal on the south-east, the Arabian Sea on the south-west and the Indian Ocean on the south, it shares land borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh to the east, China, Nepal, and Bhutan to the north-east and Pakistan to the west.
  • For much of its long history, the Indian subcontinent was identified with its cultural and commercial wealth. Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism originated from India. Christianity, Islam and the Abrahamic religions of Judaism arrived in India in the 1st millennium CE. In the early 18th century, India was administered by the British East India Company and then administered directly from the United Kingdom after1857. India gained independence on 15th August, 1947 after a struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi.
  • India ranks 9th in military expenditure among nations and has the 3rd largest standing army in the world.



  • The name India is derived from Indus, which originates from the Old Persian word Hindus.
  • The geographical term Bharat, which is recognised by the Constitution of India as an official name for the country, is used by several Indian languages in its variations.
  • Hindustan is an ancient Persian name for India dating to 3 century BCE. It was introduced into India by the Mughals and widely used since then. Hindustan means the "Land of the Hindus".


Holy Men Sadhu At Jaisalmer


Ancient India

  • The earliest authentic human remains in South Asia date to roughly 30,000 years back. Around 7000 BCE, the first recognized Neolithic settlements emerged on the subcontinent in Mehrgarh and other places in western Pakistan. These slowly developed into the Indus valley civilisation which flourished during 2500–1900 BCE along the river valleys of Indus and Sarasvati.
  • During the period 2000–500 BCE, several regions of the subcontinent changed from the Chalcolithic to the Iron Age. The oldest scriptures of Hinduism, the Vedas were composed during this period. The caste system evolved during this period, which produced a hierarchy of traders, free peasants, warriors and priests and finally the native peoples who were considered as impure; and small tribal units slowly merged into monarchical, state-level polities.
  • Around the 6th century BCE, in the late Vedic period, the chiefdoms and small states, the north-western regions and the Ganges plain had consolidated into 16 major monarchies and oligarchies which were known as the mahajanapadas. The emerging orthodoxies and urbanisation of this era also created unorthodox religious movements, two of which became separate religions. Buddhism attracted followers from all social classes. Jainism came into importance during the life of its exemplar, Mahavira. Both religions held up rejection as an ideal and both established long-lasting simple traditions. Between 200 BCE and 200 CE, the southern peninsula was ruled by the Cheras, the Cholas, and the Pandyas. In North India, Hinduism emphasised male control within the family, resulting in increased subordination of ladies. By the 4th and 5th centuries, the Gupta Empire had created a complex system of taxation and administration which became a model for later kingdoms. Under the Guptas Indian science, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics made substantial advances.

Medieval India              

  • The early medieval age of India, from 600 CE to 1200 CE, is defined by cultural diversity and regional kingdoms. When Harsha of Kannauj, who ruled from 606 to 647 CE, tried to expand southwards, he was defeated by the Chalukya ruler of the Deccan. When his successor tried to expand eastwards, he was defeated by the Pala king of Bengal. When the Chalukyas tried to expand southwards, they were defeated by the Pallavas. During this period no ruler was able to constantly control lands much beyond his core region. Consequently the caste system started to show regional differences.
  • In the 6th and 7th centuries, Indian royalty and the temples they patronised drew people in large numbers to the capital cities, which also became economic hubs. India underwent another urbanisation as temple towns of different sizes started to appear everywhere. By the 8th and 9th centuries, the effects were felt in South-East Asia. Many South-East Asians stayed in Indian seminaries and translated Buddhist and Hindu texts into their languages.
  • After the 10th century, Muslim Central Asian nomadic clans established the Islamic Delhi Sultanate in 1206. The sultanate controlled much of North India. The sultanate saved India from the devastation by repeatedly repulsing Mongol raiders in the 13th century. The sultanate's attacking and weakening of the regional kingdoms of Southern India paved the way for the native Vijayanagara Empire. The empire controlled much of peninsular India and influenced South Indian society for a long period.

Khajuraho Temple Lion Sculpture


  • India’s customs, food, architecture, music, dance, religions and languages vary from place to place in the country. The Indian culture is a fusion of several cultures and has been influenced by a history which is several millennia old. A number of elements of India's diverse cultures, such as Indian cuisine, yoga and Indian religions have had a great impact across the world.



Mehrangarh Fort

  • In India religion is characterized by a variety of practices and religious beliefs. Indian subcontinent is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Religion has been an important part of the country's culture all through its history. Indian constitution has declared the right to freedom of religion to be a fundamental right. Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Christians and Muslims have been awarded "National minority" status.
  • As per the 2011 census, 79.8% of the population of India practice Hinduism, 14.2% practice Islam, 2.3% practice Christianity, 1.7% practice Buddhism, 0.4% practice Jainism and 0.9% practice other religions.
  • The northern and western parts of India have been the home of Indus valley civilization, one of the most ancient civilizations of the world. India houses most of the birthplaces of Hindu saints, ancient temples and shrines of Hinduism. Allahabad hosts the biggest religious carnival Kumbhamela, where Hindus from all over the world take a bath in the convergence of 3 holy rivers of India: Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati. It’s also home of about 95% world population of Hindus. The Indian diaspora in the West has popularised several features of Hindu philosophy such as reincarnation, karma, divination and Ayurvedic medicine. All over the world, the influence of Indian religions has been significant.
  • The Muslim population of India is the 3rd largest in the world. The shrines of some of the most famous saints of Sufism, like Nizamuddin Auliya and Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, are in India and attract visitors from all over the world. Some of the most famous monuments of Islamic architecture, such as the Qutb Minar and the Taj Mahal are in India. Akshardham, one of the largest Hindu temples in the world is in India.

Evolution of Hinduism in India

  • Hinduism is considered as the oldest religion in the world, with roots dating back to prehistoric times, more than 5,000 years ago. Hinduism spread through parts of South-eastern Asia, Japan, Korea and China.

Rise of Shramana Religions

  • Gautama Buddha was born to the Shakya clan just before Magadha rose to power. His family was native to the southern Nepal. During the reign of Ashoka, the Great of the Mauryan Empire, Indian Buddhism peaked. Ashoka patronised Buddhism. He sent missionaries overseas and allowed Buddhism to spread across Asia. Indian Buddhism declined after the loss of royal patronage offered by the Kushan Empire.
  • The decline of Buddhism in India was due to a number of factors, which include the Buddhist focus on rejection in contrast to private property and familial values and the revival of an aggressive Hinduism in the 10th and 11th centuries. By the 11th century CE, even though Buddhism practically disappeared from mainstream India, its presence remained and showed itself through other movements such as the Bauls of Bengal, Vaishnavism and the Bhakti tradition. About 9.5 million Buddhists, about 0.8% of the total population live in India.

Bhakti Movement

  • During the 14–17th centuries, the Bhakti movement swept through Northern and Central India. The Bhakti movement was started by a group of teachers, or saints. Tukaram, Namdeo, Ravidas, Tulsidas, Kabir, Meera Bai, Surdas, Vallabhacharya, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and other mystics were some of the saints in the North. The Bhakti movement was root cause of several different movements all over India.


  • Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak (1469–1539). From the writings of the first 5 Sikh gurus and others saints, the Guru Granth Sahib was first compiled by the 5th Sikh guru, Guru Arjan Dev. Sikhism recognises all human beings as equal before Wahe guru, irrespective of colour, caste or lineage. Sikhism strongly rejects the beliefs of circumcision, idol worship, superstitions and fasting.
  • As per the 2011 census, there were 19.2 million Sikhs in India. Punjab is the only state in India where Sikhs form a majority.


  • In 562 BCE, Jews first arrived as traders from Judea in Kochi, Kerala. After the destruction of the Second Temple, more Jews came as exiles from Israel in 70 CE. Jains comprise 0.4% (around 4.2 million) of India's population, and are concentrated in the states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Gujarat.


  • Christianity was introduced to India by Thomas the Apostle and baptised Kerala's Jewish settlements in 52 CE. Christianity in India has different denominations, such as Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism.
  • Most Christians reside in South India, particularly in Goa, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Catholic Portuguese expeditions expanded Christianity in India in the 16th century and Protestant British and American missionaries expanded Christianity in India in the 18th century. It is the 3rd largest religion of India, making up 2.3% of the population. Nagaland, Mizoram, and Meghalaya are Christian majority states.


  • Islam spread in India under the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1526) and the Mughal Empire (1526–1858).
  • As per the 2011 census, there were roughly 177 Million Muslims in India, making 14.2% of the total population. India has the world's third-largest Muslim population after those in Indonesia and Pakistan. Lakshadweep and Jammu and Kashmir are Muslims majority states. Muslims in India live in high concentrations in Kerala, Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana. The Jama Masjid in Delhi is among the world's biggest mosques.