Nonverbal Issues

Business in India

Family in India

Improving Intercultural Competence


The strong will survive!  India has many factors that affect their world view, but most importantly the people of India have pride and respect for their nation. This respect allows each subculture to continue to be unique, but they also hold an understanding that tradition and history is their backbone.  According to David Levinson, author of Ethnic Groups Worldwide, India's national cohesion is supported by a number of a factors, including the relatively autonomous state governments, the mixed ethnic populations of many states, the open political process with its many competing factions and parties, a long and rich common history, the legacy of Hinduism, and an acceptance of language diversity.

It seems, however, that the caste system is what holds the social institutions together.  The caste system was originated through religion, and according to Hindu India it determines one's behavior in a previous life by the behavior in the current life.  Thus, acting in ways prescribed by caste status is the only way an individual can achieve a higher caste rank in the next life; therefore, the caste system sets the standards of motivation and behavior of its members.




India's history can be divided into three main categories:  ancient, medieval, and modern.  The ancient age runs from the Hindu period or the Vedic Age until the advent of Islam.  The medieval extend from the Muslim period from 1200 to 1707.  Then, the modern age from the British period between 1707 and 1947 to now.

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Ancient Period:

*Harappan civilization( 3000-1500 BC) 

*Vedic Age (1500-300 BC) 

*The rise of the Buddhism and Jainism (600-400 BC)

*Mauryas (321-185 BC) 

*Post-Mauryan invasions (200 BC - AD 300)

*Gupta Age (AD 320-606)

*Smaller Kingdoms (AD 500-800)

The Indus Valley was not always a desert, but rather a place where humidity, good rainfall and forest covers allowed for some crops to be grown quite steadily.  During this time, wheat and barely were the staples (though rice was later introduced); peas, dates, mustard and sesame were also grown.  Also the Indus Valley people were the earliest users of cotton.  While a number of animals from goats to elephants were domesticated or trained, the horse was not known for use in agriculture or mundane life.  There is also evidence that the Indian people of this generation were very skilled, especially with the use of many metals including bronze but not iron.  They were also skilled in pictographs, jewelry, pottery, weaving, metal craft, stockbreeding, cultivation, and international commerce.  Worship of the bull and the pipal tree was common.  Urns and graves containing household items show that they believed in life after death.

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Medieval Period:

*Advent of the Islam and comprises the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526)

*Vijayanagara (1336-1565) and Bahamani (1345-1565) kingdoms 

*religious movements (15th century) by Kabir, Nanak (Sikhism) or the Bhakti and Sufi cults

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Modern Period:    

*Mughal dynasty (1526-1707)  

*Marathas under Shivaji and the Peshwas  

*Advent of Europeans and the East India Company (1498-1754) 

*British expansion and administration (1757-1857) 

*Cultural awakening (the 1857 revolt onwards)

*Indian Nationalist Movement until Independence

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Hinduism is the religion for 82% of the Indian people.  Many people would argue that Hinduism is not a religion but rather a way of life.  A main principle of Hindu is:  God is one but his avatars (incarnations) are many.  It has no single spiritual source.  The commandments can be said to be equally inscribed in the Vedas, Upanishads or Puranas.  While  the Vedas are hymns in praise of different gods the Upanishads are discourses between a spiritual guide (guru) and a disciple (shishya), which stress the unity of the godhead, the concept of the soul (atman) surviving the human body after death, and the law of karma which ascribes happiness in this life to good deeds in a previous life. 

The ultimate goal of Hinduism is to gain moksha---deliverance from the cycle of birth and rebirth.  This depends on the law of karma.  The three immediate aims in this life are pleasure (kama), money or fame (artha) and truth (dharma).  the paths to self-realization are also three: knowledge (jnana), devotation (bhakti) and work (karma).

Hindus are split into four castes based on varna (color) and division of labor:  priests (Brahmins), soldiers (Kshatriyas), traders (Vaishyas) and unskilled laborers (Shundras).  The last group performed menial not allowed to drink from a communal well or pray at temples.  Their plight improved with social awareness and with Mahatma Gandhi pronouncing them as Harijans (God's own people).  

A Hindu's life is split into four stages (ashrams) of being: student and bachelor (brahmacharya), householder (grihasthya), meditator in the forest (vanaprasthya) and finally, renunciant of material life for the spiritual (sanyas).  Hinduism as spawned a number of movements, societies, social thinkers, cults, icons, festivals even reforms, and breakaway religions.

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Sources for this Page:

Camerapix, ed.  Spectrum guide to India.  New York:  Interlink Books, 1998, pg  24 &44.

Levinson, David.  Ethnic groups worldwide: a ready reference handbook.  Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1998, pg 219-226.



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E-mail questions or comments to mkfinney@depauw.edu
  May 11, 2001