Culture and Customs
With more than one billion people, more than 20 spoken languages, multiple religions, food habits, festivals - India is a combination of all that there is. Each state has its unique entity and India is a culmination of each of these, without diluting any of them. This amazing singularity in one of the reasons why India is one of the favourite gap year destinations.
India is the birth place of religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. A majority of the population (almost 75%) follows the Hindu religion. It is believed that there are 330 million Gods. Little wonder when you travel across states during your gap year abroad, you will see different deities being worshipped. Other religions followed are Islam, Christianity, Sikhism and Jainism.
With so many religions come multiple festivals. India has an extraordinary festive calendar encompassing colourful rituals and parades, reflecting India's rich cultural background. The festivals listed below are just a few of the major ones celebrated throughout the year that you can attend to during your gap year in India. Many festivals don't have a fixed date and are planned around the full moon because it is considered to be good luck.
Holi, Festival of Colours (March/April)
Holi is celebrated each year on the first day after the full moon in March, and traditionally marks the beginning of spring and a good harvest. Widely associated with throwing coloured powder (gulal) and water, Holi is a huge excuse for Indians to have massive amounts of fun.
Adults and children alike indulge in a day of silliness but also a day of peace. At midday the chaos stops and people go to bathe and spend time with their families.
The festival of colours is a great traditional and popular event to experience during your gap year travel!
Durga Puja (October)
Celebrated twice a year at important climatic and solar changes, the beginning of summer and the beginning winter, Durga Puja is the festival of the Divine Mother. Huge event across India, and possibly most important in Bengal, this festival is an event to attend to if you are planning a gap year in India in this period. It is perhaps the greatest Hindu festival where God is worshipped as a woman. She is often depicted with ten arms holding ten weapons and sitting on a lion. The festival takes place over nine days and nights in which the various manifestations if the Mother Goddess are worshipped. On the final day statues of Durga are paraded through the streets and then submerged in water.
Dussehra or Vijay Dashmi is celebrated with great joy and festivity for 10 continuous days during the month of September or October. It is considered to be a symbol of the victory of Good over Evil. During Navratri or the nine days preceding Dussehra people worship the Mother Goddess.
Ramadan is celebrated by Muslims all over the world during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. For an entire month they fast during daylight hours and spend time contemplating and worshipping. In the evening, when it is dark they eat a small meal called iftar and spend time with family and friends. Eid al Fitr, which literally translates as feast of fast breaking, characterizes the end of Ramadan and is marked by huge celebrations. Muslims exchange gifts with family and friends and give gifts to mosques and the poor.
Diwali, one of the most popular Indian festivals, celebrates the return of Lord Rama and Sita from exile. Diwali is also called as the festival of lights. It usually falls between 15th October and 15th November, and must be in your plans during your gap year travel in India. During this time! The day is celebrated by lighting lamps, diyas, visiting relatives, feasting, and huge fireworks displays.
Nearly 3% of India's population are Christian but irrespective of that, Christmas is celebrated widely by people of all religions and by those without any. In India, just like in many places in the West, Christmas has become a secular event. The traditional giving of gifts is followed everywhere and it is a time of great celebration.
Walking the streets of any town during your gap travel in India, your senses are assaulted by a heady and mouth watering concoction of smells. There are street vendors and restaurants everywhere, all competing to satisfy your gap year traveller need to feed. The food, spices and flavours again differ from one region to the other. While rice is the staple diet in the south of India, the north consumes large amount of 'rotis' or 'naan bread'. Though India is often referred as the home of the 'Curry', the word 'curry' means very different in the country than does here in the UK. A curry in India usually refers to a wet dish. For veggies, India is a delight for a gap year abroad. Many people in India are vegetarians and the choice of food is enormous.
During your gap year in India, you will rapidly understand that music, art and culture lie at the heart of Indian society. Indian Music is largely recognised in the west by the onslaught of 'Bollywood' or the Indian Film Industry. The music has evolved over the years and ranges from classical to western. Indian music is also largely influenced by the west and fusion music is very popular. The instrumental music has its own set of followers in India and the West.
Movies and Sports are the combining factor for this vast country. Often mentioned, Cricket is the religion of this nation, as you will quickly notice during your gap year abroad in India. So intertwined are the two passions that movie releases are mostly timed when the cricket season is dull!
It's difficult to capture all of Indian Culture, but if you want to sample some of it, pack your bags and head to this mystic land for a fantastic gap year in India!