Few countries in the world have such an ancient and diverse culture as India’s. Stretching back in an unbroken sweep over 5000 years, India’s culture has been enriched by successive waves of migration which were absorbed into the Indian way of life.

It is this variety which is a special hallmark of India. Its physical, religious and racial variety is as immense as its linguistic diversity. Underneath this diversity lies the continuity of Indian civilization and social structure from the very earliest times until the present day

Modern India presents a picture of unity in diversity to which history provides no parallel.

RELIGIONS IN INDIA

In India, religion is a way of life. It is an integral part of the entire Indian tradition. For the majority of Indians, religion permeates every aspect of life, from common-place daily chores to education and politics.

Secular India is home to Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism and other innumerable religious traditions. Hinduism is the dominant faith, practised by over 80% of the population. Besides Hindus, Muslims are the most prominent religious group and are an integral part of Indian society. In fact India has the second largest population of Muslims in the world after Indonesia.

Common practices have crept into most religious faiths in India and many of the festivals that mark each year with music, dance and feasting are shared by all communities. Each has its own pilgrimage sites, heroes, legends and even culinary specialties, mingling in a unique diversity that is the very pulse of society

LANGUAGES

The Indian languages now in use have evolved from different language families corresponding more or less to the different ethnic elements that have come into india from the dawn of history. They may be put into 6 groups :

1.    Negroid

2.    Austric

3.    Sino-Tibetan

4.    Dravidian

5.    Indo-Aryan

6.    Other Speeches.

These languages have interacted on one another through the centuries and have produced the major linguistic divisions of modern India. Among the major groups, the Aryan and the Dravidian are the dominating families. They have influenced each other anchave, in turn, been influenced by the Austric and Sino-Tibetan tongues.

The important languages in this group are: Western punjabi, Sindhi, Eastern punjabi, Hindi, Bihari, Rajasthani, Gujarati, marathi, Assamese, bengali, oriya, Pahari, Kashmiri and Sanskrit.

Hindi or Hindustani has produced two great literatures, Urdu- nd HindL Both have the same grammar and the same basic ,vocabulary. They differ, however, in script and higher vocabulary. UrrfMuses the Perso-Arabic script. Hindi uses the Nagari script and has a preference for purely Indian words, in contradistinction to the numerous Arabic and Persian words tKMTOwed by Urdu.

Sanskrit, the classical language of India, represents the highest achievement of the lndo-Aryan languages* Although hardly spoken now-a-days, Sanskrit has been listed a nationally accepted language in the VIII Schedule to the Constitution. Dravidian languages form agroup by themselves, and unlike the Aryan, Austric or SinoTibetan speeches, have no relations outside the Indian sut”continent, that is, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Dravidian family is lie second largest group in India, covering about 25% of the total Indian oooulation.

The Dravidian language came into India centuries before the Indo-Aryan. It split into three branches in the Indian’subcontinent-(I) The northern branch comprises Brahui spo ken in Baluchistan and Kurukh and Malto spoken in Bengal and Orissa. Kurukh is also spoken in Biharand M.P. (ii) The central brand is composed of Telugu and a number of dia lects spoken in Central India – Kill, Khond Holanl, Konda, Gondi, Naiki, Parji, Koya and others, (iii) The southern branch is maoe up of Tamil, Kannade, Malayalam, Tula, Badaga Toda, Kota and Kodagu.

The major languages of the Dravidian group are: (i) Telugu (Andhra Pradesh), numerically the biggest of the Dravidian languages, (ii) Tamil (Tamil Nadu), apparently the oldest and purest branch of the Dravidian family, (iii) Kannada (Karnataka), another ancient Dravid ian language that has developed individually (iv) MaTayalam (Kerala), the smallest and the youngest of the Dravidian family.

India never had a common language which was intelligible to the masses everywhere in India. For many years, Sanskrit remained a common medium, Ilrt it was the language of the learned classes and not of the masses Under the British, English became a sort of lingua franca. Here again, it was restricted to the educated few. Of the 1652 mother tongues listed in the census, 33 are spoken by people numbering over a lakh. The following table shows the names of mother tongues and the number of sneakers:

With independence, the question of a common language naturally came up. The Constituent Assembly could not arrive at a consensus in the matter. The question was put to vote and Hindi won On a single vote-the casting vote or me nresiaeni. ine india.

National Congress had advocated the formation of linguistic provinces. The acceptance this policy involved the statutory recognition of all the major regional languages.

COSTUMES

To the foreign traveler, one of the powerful attractions in India is the colorful and diversified attire of its people. The silk saris, brightly mirrored cholis, colorful lehangas and the traditional salwar-kameez have fascinated many a traveler over the centuries.

For a single length of material, the sari must be the most versatile garment in existence. It is only one of the many traditional garments worn by women, yet it has somehow become the national dress of Indian women. A sari is a rectangular piece of cloth which is five to six yards in length. The style, color and texture of this cloth varies and it might be made from cotton, silk or one of the several man-made materials. The sari has an ageless charm since it is not cut or tailored for a particular size. This garment can fit any size and if worn properly can accentuate or conceal. This supremely graceful attire can also be worn in several ways and its manner of wearing as well as its color and texture are indicative of the status, age, occupation, region and religion of a woman.

The tightly fitted, short blouse worn under a sari is a choli. The choli evolved as a form of clothing in 10th century AD and the first cholis were only front covering; the back was always bare. Bodices of this type are still common in the state of Rajasthan.

Apart from the choli, women in Rajasthan wear a form of pleated skirt known as the ghagra or lehanga. This skirt is secured at the waist and leaves the back and midriff bare. The heads are however covered by a length of fine cotton known as orhni or dupatta.

Another popular attire of women in India is the salwar-kameez. This dress evolved as a comfortable and respectable garment for women in Kashmir and Punjab, but is now immensely popular in all regions of India. Salwars are pyjama-like trousers drawn tightly in at the waist and the ankles. Over the salwars, women wear a long and loose tunic known as a kameez. One might occasionally come across women wearing a churidar instead of a salwar. A churidar is similar to the salwar but is tighter fitting at the hips, thighs and ankles. Over this, one might wear a collarless or mandarin-collar tunic called a kurta.

Though the majority of Indian women wear traditional costumes, the men in India can be found in more conventional western clothing. Shirts and trousers are worn by men from all regions in India. However, men in villages are still more comfortable in traditional attire like kurtas, lungis, dhotis and pyjamas.

The traditional lungi originated in the south and today it is worn by men and women alike. It is simply a short length of material worn around the thighs rather like a sarong. A dhoti is a longer lungi but with an additional length of material pulled up between the legs. Pyjama-like trousers worn by the villagers are known as the lenga.

Indian dressing styles are marked by many variations, both religious and regional and one is likely to witness a plethora of colors, textures and styles in garments worn by the Indians.

CUISINES

For Indians food is a gift of gods and is treated with respect. Based agmatic medical precepts evolved over centuries of experimentation observation, Indian food is aimed at nourishing the body and is pleasing to the mind and eyes. Ingredients of each meals are based on six rasas or flavours-sweet, salty, bitter, astringent, sour and pungent- each ingredient believed to have particular physical benefit on application of the right proportionate use.

Indian Cuisine is considered to be one of the three great distinctive Cuisine’s of the world, the other two being the Chinese and the French.

Indian cuisine aims to satisfy needs of the ton gue and body, from sweet to sour bitter or hot, from heating to cooling foods, from food for body to food for the brain. Within these parameters, each region has nurtured its own culinary tastes using different combination of spices. No country in the world has developed such elaborate and tasty range of vegetarian cuisine as India.

Characteristic of all Indian cooking is the inspired use of spices. Immense care is taken to ensure that spices enhance rather than dominate the basic flavour and they do not diminish nutritive value.

Indian curry contains pieces of mutton, chicken or fish in a sauce Based on the famous onions, tomatoes, yogurt or coconut milk enriched By three 12 condiments. Some of the more celebrated culinary traditions of India originated in the royal courts of the Mughals, in Oudh and Hyderabad. All the three cuisines can be sampled at speciality restaurants As well as regional food festivals that deluxe hotels hold periodically.

While mutton, chicken and fish are served throughout the country, the other with which they make their appearances differs. In Kashmir, mutton is the chief attraction in the 24-course banquet, WAZWAN, each dish being cooked in a different way seperate from The other. Of all coastal States in the country Goa, Kerala and Bengal Have culinary traditions with a preponderance of fish with Goa and Kerala making profuse use of coconuts. Goan seafood delights include Crab, lobsters, tiger prawns and shellfish, all accompanied by rice and Washed down with excellent wine and wermouth of local manufacture. Kerala, as all other southern States, is noted for its variety of crisp PANCAKES – DOSA and STAEMED RICE CAKES – II from pounded rice.

DAHI (CURD) is part of almost every Indian menu. Served to mitigate the chilly “hotness” of some dishes, it is often mixed with vegetable or fruit and is lightly spiced to create the ‘RAITAS’ of the north and the ‘PACHADIS’ of the south.

In many parts of the country, THALI meals are the norm. these largest platters contain up to a dozen dishes in individual servings consisting of meat chicken, vegetables – with gravy or dry, pulses accompaniments and widely served.

Some of India’s best, evened culinary traditions are the TANDOORI cooking best known and loved. TANDOOR is the Indian oven, a homely clay lined cylinder filled with sizzling coals. Restaurants that serve Tandoori food often have a section where cooking is done by the simple expedient of wielding a metal stick. As the heat of the oven reaches 600 c. cooking time is counted in minutes and seconds. Tandoori ;meats use no oil and are normally accompanied by yougart dips.

Some of India’s best loved dishes are favourite of every family as for SARSON KA SAAG, prepared from green mustared leaves simmered all night long on a coal fire. It is available only in the winter There are also the interesting dishes of the Parsis. ‘DHANSAK’ meat cooked with five different dais and an unusual blend of spices and ‘PATRANI MACHT lightly spiced fish steamed in banana leaves, are just two examples.

Chutneys and pickles-sweet, sour or hot, or all three,whip the appetite and add relish to a meal. Every conceivable ingredient can be used: mint, coriander, mango, ginger and lime.

PAPADS’, roasted or fried savory crisps, are also popular meat adjuncts. Made of previously rolled and dried lentil or rice dough they provide the crunchiness considered essential to repast.

PAU BHAJI is a passion in Mumbai where roadside stalls have a cauldron of simmering vegetables which are served with a bun.

BHELPURI in Mumbai and CHAAT in Delhi are roadside snaks of crunchy morsels tempered with piquant seasonings.

To describe INDIAN SWEET’S as merely being made of milk, reduced milk or cottage cheese and sugar syrup is an oversimplification of a highly specialised branch of cooking. Sweet traditions in Bengal, Bikaner and Delhi are famed throughout the country. Finally, there is the satisfying ritual of the after-imeal PAN (BETEL), a must for any true connoisseur of Indian food. Lauded for its digestive and medicinal properties, it is a fragrant combination of Betal leaf, aerca nut, catechu, cardamom, clove and a choice of a whole Host of other exotic ingredients of varying flavours, effects and strengths.

Non-alcoholic beverages include the countrywide favourite in NAMBU PAN a squeeze lime over sugar or salt served in water or soda Yougart and water are vigorously churned to make BUTTER MILK, a delicious accompaniment to Indian meals. Bottled fizzy drinks Include various brands of indigenous lime, orange and cola.

Other FRUIT-BASED DRINKS-apple, guava, mango, tomato-are available in tetrapack and tins.

SODA and MINERAL WATER are also widely available. India’s alcoholic beverages include gin and rum which are comparable to the finest internationally as well as whisky. India’s dozens of brands of BEER encompass very good pilsners and largers available in bottles. Liquor is available at most restaurants especially those in hotels. It is either imported or made in India.

In addition there are local variations like ASHA and KASTOORI, the saffron liquor of Rajasthan and FENI, the strong brew of Goa usuallyavailable in the concerned States.

Although the local food of the region is available at many restaurants, the cuisine of Punjab has become standard Indian fare in most of the middle and high priced restaurants throughout the country. Similarly Udipi restaurants serve vegetarian South Indian cuisine all over India at low prices.

Every major hotel offers, a choice between INDIAN, CONTINENTAL, CHIENESE, ITALAIN and FRENCH delights in the speciality restaurants.

Western style confectionery-chocolates, cakes, cookies and “iarzipan are available in the pastry shop confectioneries in all metro cities,

TEA : The cup that cheers is a must for millions all over the world every rooming and Assam is a leader in production of tea.

Indian Tea! Flavour of Darjeeling and Assam tea has reached across ans in all continentals. A cup of tea that cheers and cares. Tea is an ideal beverage that files into the healthy way of life-tempers the SPtrits calms the mind, prevents drowsing, enlightens and refreshes the body and clears perceptive faculties. Tea is taken in various forms as a health giving drink with and without milk and sugar.

Easily available everywhere in India-on footpaths, from small restaurants to restaurants in five star hotels, bus depots, at taxi stands, railway stations, airports and at the place you name it.

DANCE

The mention of the word dance conjures up images of Nataraja – Lord of Dance – as the Indian God Shiva is portrayed

Apart from Shiva even Ganesha and Srikrishna are associated with dance and music. India has many classical dance styles. The oldest text dealing with aesthetics covering various art forms including dance is the Natyashastra which is authored by Bharatamuni.

All the Indian classical dance styles viz. Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, Odissi, Mohiniattam, Kathakali, Manipuri, etc., are derived from the Natyashastra. Some of these dance styles have evolved from folk dances and are intimately connected with the art of story telling. Most of these stories are drawn from our epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, tales from collections like the Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Katha Sarit Sagara, etc., also from the subject matter of these dance styles. In fact the Kathak and Kathakali from U.P. and Kerala respectively, derive their names from the term Katha which in Sanskrit means a story. As the story is told in the form of dance, these dance styles can actually be called dance-dramas, the only difference is the absence of dialogues. The Charkul dance-drama of Central India revolves around a story generally from the Indian epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Similar traditions of dance-dramas are prevalent in other parts of India too. In Maharashtra, you have the Dashavatara, in Karnataka you have the Yakshagana The Kathak dance of North India and the ktha*ali dance of Kerala also originated as dance dramas and derive their names from the Sanskrit work ‘Katha’ which means a story. The story has to be told solely through actions and hence an elaborate pattern of facial expressions (Mudra), movement of hands (Hasta) and the simulation of various moods like anger (Krodha), envy (Matsara), greed (Lobha), lust (Kama), ego (Mada), etc., have been evolved. The mastery of perfect expression of these feelings by subtle movement of the lips and eyes forms the root of all the classical Indian dance styles.

In fact the combination of the three qualities viz. expression, rhyme and rhythm i.e. Bhava, Raga, and Tala go into the determination of the term Bha-Ra-Ta, which is used as the name of one dance style viz. Bharata Natyam. The integration of Indian classical dance with the physical exercises of Yoga and the breath control of “Pranayam” has perfected the dance styles. Yoga especially had given the dance styles an excellent footwork which is called Padanyasa and Padalalitya. Another feature of these dance styles is that they are integrated with theology and worship.

Traditionally these dances were patronized by the temples. During festivals and other religious occasions, these dances were performed in the temple premises to propitiate the deity. Thus the dance came to combine both art and worship. Even today every recital of any Indian classical dance begins with an invocation to Nataraja or Nateshwara the god of dance. In Indian folklore and legend, the God of Dance is himself shown to be dancing in a form called the Tandava. This has also been depicted in the statues and carvings in temples like, Khajuraho and Konark in Northern India, and at Chidambaram, Madurai, Rameshwaram, etc. in the South.

Indian dances have also evolved styles based on the Tandava like the Urdhra Tandava, Sandhya Tandava, etc. Indian classical dance found its way outside India, especially to the countries of Southeast Asia. The dance styles of Thailand, Indonesia, Burma, etc., have so heavily borrowed from the Indian classical dance traditions that to a casual observer there would seem to be hardly any difference between the two. While Western dance has not directly borrowed anything from Indian classical dance, it has borrowed from Indian folk dance through the medium of the Gypsies.

INDIAN MUSIC

Since Vedic times, Indians had been required to correctly recite, the Vedas. The correctness in recitation was very important as the Vedas were, in those days, transmitted through memory (Smriti) and were learnt through hearing (Shruti). This v so, as writing was absent in early Vedic times. Even today the Vedas are traditionally learnt through oral studies.

This kind of an emphasis on recitation the correct pronunciation lead to studies in phonetics and sound manipulation. This was the birthplace of Indian Musical Raga (metre) and Swaras (rhymes). That Music in ancient India was given considerable recognition is illustrated by the fact that Saraswati, the Indian goddess of learning is shown to be holding a musical instrument (Veena) in her hand. Traditionally, vocal music in India has tended to be devotional music (Bhakti-geet), and temples have been places (as they still are) where musicians used to practice music to please the deity and the devotees. Indian vocal music is broadly divided into two schools viz. the Hindustani or north Indian school and the Carnatic or South Indian school. As far as instrumental music goes there is a general identity of instruments that have been used.

The main Indian musical instruments are the Sarod, the Veena, the Sarangi, the Tambora, the Harmonium, the Ghata, the Tabla, the Tanpura, the Satar, etc., As compared to art and architecture Indian music has had less impact on the outside world. This was so as most of Indian musical instruments require specialized material and craftsmanship for their manufacture. And in the absence of transmission of these skills and the absence of trade in musical instruments, Along with the necessity of long and arduous practice which was required to master these instruments, made the transmission of music a difficult task. However, as far as, devotional vocal music goes, Indian musical traditions did travel to the countries of South east Asia. The instrumental and vocal music of Korea has many elements of Indian music, which it received along with the Buddhist invocative and devotional songs and slokas (religious couplets). Along with Buddhism, some Indian musical instruments like the flute (bansi), temples bell (Ghanta), etc., went to the countries of south-east Asia. Even Europe owes certain instruments to India.

Two popular European musical instruments namely the flute and violin are believed to be of Indian origin. Though we do not know about the process of transmission of these instruments, however in India the flute (bansi) and the violin (a variant of the Veena) are definitely indigenously Indian. A pointer to the fact that these instruments have been in usage in India since a very long time is that the bansi is associated with Sri Krishna and the Veena with the goddess Saraswati.

This apart, in modern times the western musical instruments like the Tambourin and the Tambour are adaptations of the Indian Tambora and Tanpura. The names Tambourin and Tambour are also derived from the word Tambora. The Saralngi, another Indian musical instrument has also found its place in western music. The acceptance of these musical instruments in the west is also evident from the fact that the words Tambora, Sarangi and Tabla are mentioned in the Oxford Dictionary. Ancient Indians made ‘rock music’ – Archaeologists have rediscovered a huge rockart site in southern India where ancient people used boulders to make musical sounds in rituals.

PAINTING

Painting as an art form has flourished in India from very early periods as is evident from literary sources and also from the remnants that have been discovered. Indian Paintings can be broadly classified as the murals & miniatures. Murals are huge works executed on the walls of solid structures. Classic examples are the paintings in Ajantha & Kailashnath temple.

Miniature paintings are those executed on a very small scale on perishable material such as paper, cloth, etc.,This style has been perfected by artisans under the various rules.Prime examples are the Rajasthani & Mughal miniatures. Contemporary artists have kept up to the times & excel in their modern works, giving free expression to their imagination & artistic liberty. Indian paintings, drawn mostly by village craftsmen, have the most exquisite styles possible. These reflect the traditions handed over from generation to generation over centuries. The colors and themes used reflect the cultural diversity of India. Numerous paintings or Patas are mentioned in the Mudrakshaka. There are isolated paintings like the Yama-pata; isolated framed drawings like Cauka-patas and the Dighala-patas or long scroll of paintings, representing a complete legend. In another book Vishnudharmottara, the section Chitrasutra describes the basic tenets of painting. According to this treatise, the six limbs of painting are: variety of form, proportion, infusion of emotions, creation of luster and iridescence,portrayal of likeness and colour mixing to produce the effect of modeling. The Vinayapitaka (3-4 century BC) describes the existence of painted figures in many royal buildings.

Paintings and drawings of animals dating back to prehistoric times have been found in the Bhimbetka caves in Madhya Pradesh. The Mesolithic paintings of Narsingarh ( M.P.) show skins of spotted deer.In the paintings of these period musical instruments like the harp figure to show that the awareness of creation of sound and the concept of rhythm had appeared. The paintings of the Mesolithic period contain geometric forms like the spiral, square, circle and rhomboid. A painting from Joanna shows a square divided by vertical lines into compartments. Thousands of years later, paintings appear on the seals of the Harappan Civilization. In the early historic rock paintings the animals are depicted as half human and half animal. In the paintings of the later period, men are depicted as riding on cattle and elephants. Battle scenes, royal processions, men riding garrisoned horses predominate the rock canvas as in Mahadeo Hills, M.P. The Ajanta and Ellora caves and the Bagh caves are excellent specimens of paintings of the early Christian era.The Guptas were the great patrons of art and the period 4-6 centuries is often described as the Golden Age of Indian Arts.The Pallavas also left behind excellent examples of paintings in temples.The Cholas promoted both painting and sculpture.The Palas, who ruled the eastern India during 9-16th Centuries A.D. gave immense encouragement to painting. The earliest paintings of this period are on palm leafs and wooden covers of manuscripts. These can be described as the earliest examples of Miniature painting in India.

Classification of Indian Paintings :Indian Paintings can be broadly classified as :

·         Murals

·         Miniatures

Murals are huge works executed on the walls of solid structures, as in the Ajanta Caves and the Kailashnath temple. Miniature paintings are executed on a very small scale on perishable material such as paper and cloth. The Palas of Bengal were the pioneers of miniature painting in India. The art of miniature painting reached its glory during the Mughal period. The tradition of miniature paintings was carried forward by the painters of different Rajasthani schools of painting like the Bundi, Kishangarh, Jaipur, Marwar and Mewar. The Ragamala paintings also belong to this school. Indian paintings provide an aesthetic continuum that extends from the early civilization to the present day.Indian painting has evolved over the years to become a fusion of various cultures and traditions. The Indian painting was exposed to Greco-Roman as well as Iranian and Chinese influences. Cave paintings in different parts of India bear testimony to these influences and a continuous evolution of new idioms is evident.

SPORTS

Undoubtedly the first sport that comes to mind when one thinks of Indian sports today is cricket. Brought to India by her British colonisers, cricket so captured the nation’s imagination that observers are more or less agreed that today it is the one religion that unites India. (The other favourite observation being here’s a country of a billion cricket experts.)

In places like Calcutta, with everybody glued to their television sets, life grinds to a halt the days the Indian team is playing. One-day fixtures and test matches excite equal enthusiasm; for both, if the match is being played on Indian soil, which by the way supports spin rather than pace, you’ll get capacity crowds and a charged atmosphere seldom matched anywhere outside the subcontinent. Allegations of murky match fixing and a steady string of matches where the team managed to ‘snatch defeat from the jaws of victory’ notwithstanding, the popularity of the game continues to rise. Such is the intensity of involvement with the game that it even affects India’s international relations. In the aftermath of the 1999 Kargil war, India unilaterally suspended cricketing relations with Pakistan. The debate on whether politics and sports should mix enlivens many a discussion, and is yet unresolved.

Hard to imagine but at one time the place that cricket is accorded today in the popular consciousness was reserved for hockey. The heyday of Indian hockey was in the Olympic years from 1928 to 1956 when the hockey team brought the gold medal home every time, from six consecutive games. The introduction of Astroturf, a faster surface than grass and one still largely unavailable in India, coupled with the migration of many hockey-playing Anglo Indians to Australia spelt the end of the golden era. Hockey is the national game of India and a new crop of players including the charismatic Dhanraj Pillay has rekindled popular interest in the game. Of course, nothing succeeds like success and the fact that the Indian team has been posting wins at regular intervals has greatly helped the game’s cause.

Among indigenous games perhaps the best known is kabaddi. It involves two teams standing across a line on the ground. By turns the teams send a player into the opponent’s territory so that he can ‘tag’ and thereby send out of the game members of that team. The catch is that the player must do this in the span of a single breath, all the time muttering ‘kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi, kabaddi’. so that if he does take in another lung of air the team can immediately tell. The team whose territory the player has entered must try to capture the player and keep him on their side of the demarcating line till he does run out of breath. In which case he is sent out of the game. Kabaddi has become a formal institutionalised sport but basically, it owes its popularity to the fact that you don’t need any props, the rules are simple and it can be played in any dusty alley so long as there are enough people with nothing to do.

Polo is supposed to have been invented by Iranian tribes in the 9th century AD. By and by it spread far and wide towards the east, reaching even Japan. Brought to India with Muslim conquerors who established their rule in Delhi, polo was in India by the last part of the 12th century. It captured the imagination of the ruling elite in the north, especially of the Rajput princes of the western land of Rajasthan who, already master cavaliers, soon mastered the game. However, in the northeastern India, in the state of Manipur, polo was never an elitist sport. Anybody who owned or could loan a horse would play the game. With the disappearance of the great eastern empires and as the political life of India itself became tumultuous with the arrival of the expansionist Mughals, leisure itself and certainly pleasures like polo seemed to disappear too. It was the British rediscovery of the game in Manipur in the early 19th century, where it is called Sagol Kangjei, that breathed fresh life into the sport. The fame of the game spread along with the spread of Empire. Today, polo is played by a select section of people – former princes, erstwhile nobility, students with a privileged public school education, the armed services and such like. But in Manipur, the game is still played by anybody who owns a horse and mallet or can borrow one.

Other indigenous sports of India include kho-kho (an improvisation of the game of  ‘tag’), archery, and board games like chauser and pachisi. Still seen in the gullies of old cities and towns, particularly where there is a predominant Muslim population, are sports like kabootar baazi and cock fights. A master of the former can train his brood of pigeons (kabootars) to fly up into the sky, round up his competitor’s brood and usher them home to him. Though they have earned the wrath of animal rights activists worldwide, cockfights can still be watched in parts of India.

Kite flying is a favourite pastime for children and adults alike. Come winter (specially the 14th of Jan is the festival of Makar Sankranti) and the skies are filled with fluttering paper kites of every hue and shape. There is keen competition among kite flyers; the string is coated with glass dust so that it can cut the string of another kite when they’re in flight. On the subcontinent the beauty of the kite and the imaginativeness of its shape is secondary to the dexterity of its owner.

Invented by some British officers of the Indian army standing around at a game of billiards, ‘snooker’ came into being in the Indian city of Jubbulpore (now Jabalpur). It spread through the cantonment towns of India first, was taken back to England and thereon taken around the empire. Undoubtedly snooker is an expensive game and few can afford the space and the attendant paraphernalia. So, it is its poorer cousin ‘pool’  that has caught the fancy of Indian youth today. In most cities you’ll find many pool parlours where half an hour at a table can cost as little as 30 rupees.

THEATRE

The origin of the Indian theater or rather folk theater and dramatics can be traced to religious ritualism of the Vedic Aryans. This folk theatre of the misty past was mixed with dance, ritualism, plus a depiction of events from daily life. It was the last element which made it the origin of the classical theatre of later times. Many historians, notably D.D. Kosambi, Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, Adya Rangacharaya, etc. have referred to the prevalence of ritualism amongst Aryan tribes in which some members of the tribe acted as if they were wild animals and some others were the hunters.

Those who acted as animals like goats, buffaloes, reindeer, monkeys, etc. were chased by those playing the role of hunters and a mock hunt was enacted. In such a simple and crude manner did the theatre originate in India nearly 4000 years back in the tribal Aryans of Rig Vedic times. There also must have existed a theatrical tradition in the Indus valley cities, but of this we have no literary numismatic or any other material proof.

The origin of drama and the theatre has been told to us in an aptly dramatic manner by Bharatamui, the author of Natyashastra an ancient Indian text on dance and drama. Bharatamuni is said to have lived around the 4th century but even he is not aware of the actual origin of the theatre in India. He has cleverly stated in a dramatic manner that it was the lord of creation Brahma who also created the original Natyashastra (Drama). According to Bharatamuni, since the lord Brahma created the entire universe we need not question his ability in creating dramas. But Bharatamuni goes on to tell us that the original Natyashastra of Brahma was too unwieldy and obscure to be of any practical use. Hence, Bharatamuni, himself took up the task of making Natyashastra simple, intelligible and interesting.

Thus the Natyashastra of Bharatamuni was supported to be understood by lay people. So the Natyashastra of Bharatamunii is not the oldest text on dance and drama, as Bharata himself says that he has only simplified the original work of lord Brahma. The Natyashastra assumes the existence of many plays before it was composed, and says that most of the early plays did not follow the rules set down in the Natyashastra.

But the Natyashastra itself seems to be the first attempt to develop the technique or rather art, of drama in a systematic manner. The Natya Shastra a tells us not only what is to be portrayed in a drama, but how the portrayal is to be done. Drama, as Bharatamuni says, is the imitation of men and their doings (loka-vritti). As men and their doings have to be respected on the stage, so drama in Sanskrit is also known by the term roopaka which means portrayal.

According to the Natyashastra all the modes of expression employed by an individual viz. speech, gestures, movements and intonation must be used. The representation of these expressions can have different modes (vritti) according to the predominance and emphasis on one mode or another. Bharatamuni recognizes four main modes viz., Speech and Poetry (Bharati Vritti), Dance and Music (Kaishiki Vritti), Action (Arabhatti Vritti) and Emotions (Sattvatti Vritti).

Bharatamuni also specifies where and how a play is to be performed. In ancient India plays were generally performed either in temple-yard or within palace precincts. During public performances, plays were generally performed in the open. For such public performances, Bharatamuni has advocated the construction of a mandapa. According to the Natyashastra in the construction of a mandapa, pillars must be set up in four corners. With the help of these pillars a platform is built of wooden planks. The area of the mandapa is divided into two parts. The front part, which is the back stage is called the r angashrishu. Behind the ranga-shirsha is what was called the nepathya-griha, where the characters dress up before entering the stage. Bharatamuni has also specified that every play should have a Sutradhara which literally means ‘holder of a string’. The Sutradhara was like the producer-director of today. Every play had to begin with an innovation of God. This invocation was called the poorvaranga. Even today, plays in Indian languages begin with a devotional song called Naandi. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata can be called the first recognized plays that originated in India.

These epics also provided the inspiration to the earliest Indian dramatists and they do even today. One of the earliest Indian dramatists was Bhasa whose plays have been inspired by the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Bhasa’s date cannot be definitely ascertained, but that he lived before Kalidasa is proved by the latter’s reference to Bhasa as one of the early leading playwrights. As Kalidasa lived in the 4th century, Bhasa should have lived in the early centuries of our era. Bhasa was a natural dramatist who drew heavily from the epics, but Kalidasa can be called an original playwright.

Kalidasa has written many plays, some of which are; AbhijananShakuntalam, Kumarsambhavam, Meghadutam and Malavikagnimitram. Kalidasa was the court playwright at the Gupta court. He lived at Ujjaini, the capital of the Guptas and was for some days the Gupta ambassador at the court of the Vakatakas at Amaravati where he wrote the play Meghadutam.

The next great Indian dramatist was Bhavabhuti. He is said to have written the following three plays viz. Malati-Madhava, Mahaviracharita and Uttar Ramacharita. Among these three, the last two cover between them the entire epic, Ramayana. Bhavabhuti lived around the 7th century A.D., when Sanskrit drama was on its decline, mainly due to the lack of royal patronage. The last royal patron of Sanskrit drama seems to be king Harshavardhana of the 7th century. Harshavardhana is himself credited with having written three plays viz. Ratnavali, Priyadarshika and Nagananda.

But nevertheless despite lack of patronage two more leading playwrights came after Bhavabhuti, they were Shudraka whose main play was the Mricchakatikam, and the second dramatist was Rajashekhara whose play was titled Karpuramanjari. But the decline of Sanskrit theatre is evident from the fact that while Mricchakatikam was in Sanskrit, the Karpuramanjari was in Prakrit which was a colloquial form of Sanskrit. Rajashekhara has himself said that he chose to write in Prakrit as the language was soft while Sanskrit was harsh. Sanskrit plays continued to be written up to the 17th century in distant pockets of the country, mainly in the Vijayanagara empire of the South. But they had passed their prime, the later Sanskrit dramas are mostly imitations of Kalidasa or Bhavabhuti.

As in the case of the other fine arts, the Indian theatre has left its mark on the countries of South-east Asia. In Thailand, especially it has been a tradition from the middle ages to stage plays based on plots drawn from Indian epics. This had been so even in Cambodia where, at the ancient capital Angkor Wat, stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata have been carved on the walls of temples and palaces. Similar, bas relief?s are found at Borobudur in Indonesia. Thus, the Indian theatre has been one of the vehicles of enriching the culture of our neighboring countries since ancient times.

 

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