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Top Attractions in India Geographically India stretches from the tropical lushness of the Indian Ocean coasts to the high Himalaya, with virtually every conceivable terrain between. Combine this with a history dating back thousands of years and the result is a land of incredible diversity and endless fascination.
A rich melting pot of religions and languages, regional cultural and culinary traditions and festivals, splendid artistic and architectural styles. Climate- India has such a wide range of climatic factors that it’s impossible to pin down the best time to visit weather-wise with any certainty.
Broadly speaking October to March tend to be the most pleasant months over much of the country. In the far south, the monsoon weather pattern tends to make January to September more pleasant, while Sikkim and the areas of northeastern India tend to be more palatable between March and August, and Kashmir and the mountainous regions of Himachal Pradesh are at their most accessible between May and September.
The deserts of Rajasthan and the northwestern Indian Himalayan region are at their best during the monsoon.
India is a land of festivals and fairs. Every day of the year there is a festival celebrated in some part of the country. Some festivals welcome the seasons of the year, the harvest, the rains, or the full moon. Others celebrate religious occasions, the birthdays of divine beings, saints, and gurus (revered teachers), or the advent of the New Year. A number of these festivals are common to most parts of India. However, they may be called by different names in various parts of the country or may be celebrated in a different fashion.
Religion- religion seeps into every facet of Indian life. Despite being a secular democracy, India is one of the few countries in which the social and religious structures that define the nation’s identity remain intact, and have continued to do so for at least 4000 years despite invasions, persecution, European colonialism and political upheaval. Change is inevitably taking place as modern technology reaches further and further into the fabric of society but essentially rural India remains much the same as it has for thousands of years. So resilient are its social and religious institutions that it has absorbed, ignored or thrown off all attempts to radically change or destroy them.
Hinduism- India’s major religion, Hinduism, is practiced by approximately 81% of the population. In terms of the number of adherents, it’s the largest religion in Asia and one of the world’s oldest extant faiths. Hinduism has a vast pantheon of gods, a number of holy books and postulates that everyone goes through a series of births or reincarnations that eventually lead to spiritual salvation. With each birth, you can move closer to or further from eventual enlightenment; the deciding factor is your karma.
The Hindu religion has three basic practices. They are puja or worship, the cremation of the dead, and the rules and regulations of the caste system. Hinduism is not a proselytizing religion since you cannot be converted: you’re either born a Hindu or you’re not. Significant differences exist within this Hindu majority, arising not only out of divisions of caste, but also out of differing religious beliefs. One great divide is between devotees of the god Vishnu and devotees of the god Shiva. There are also Hindus who are members of reform movements that began in the 19th century.
The most significant of these is perhaps the Arya Samaj, which rejects divisions of caste and idol worship. Hindus may come together also as devotees of a guru, such as Sai Baba. Despite its differences, the Hindu community shares many things in common. Islam- there are more than 100 million Muslims in India (approximately 12% of the population), making it one of the largest Muslim nations on earth. Muslims are a more urban community than Hindus. There are many towns and cities in northern India where Muslims are one-third or more of the population. In addition to Jammu and Kashmir and the Lakshadweep islands, where more than two-thirds of the population is Muslim, major concentrations of Muslims live in Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala states. About one-quarter of all Muslims living in India live in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Muslim influence in India is particularly strong in the fields of architecture, art and food. Buddhism- Buddhism was founded in northern India in about 500 BC, spread rapidly when emperor Ashoka embraced it but was gradually reabsorbed into Hinduism. Today Hindus regard the Buddha as another incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. There are now only 6.6 million Buddhists in India, but important Buddhist sites in northern India, such as Bodhgaya, Sarnath (near Varanasi) and Kushinagar (near Gorakhpur) remain important sites of pilgrimage.
Jain- The Jain religion also began life as an attempt to reform Brahmin cal Hinduism. It emerged at the same time as Buddhism, and for many of the same reasons. The Jains now number only about 4.5 million and are found predominantly in the west and southwest of India. The religion has never found adherents outside India. Jains believe that the universe is infinite and was not created by a deity. They also believe in reincarnation and eventual spiritual salvation by following the path of the Jain prophets. Sikhs- The Sikhs in India number 18 million and are predominantly located in the Punjab. The religion was originally intended to bring together the best of Hinduism and Islam. Its basic tenets are similar to those of Hinduism with the important modification that the Sikhs are opposed to caste distinctions. The holiest shrine of the Sikh religion is the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Other- approximately 3% of the population is Christian and there are also a few small Jewish communities in ex-colonial enclaves. India’s population is rich with diverse ethnic and cultural groups. Ethnic groups are those based on a sense of common ancestry, while cultural groups can be either made up of people of different ethnic origins who share a common language, or of ethnic groups with some customs and beliefs in common, such as castes of a particular locality. The diverse ethnic and cultural origins of the people of India are shared by the other peoples of the Indian subcontinent, including the inhabitants of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. People of India – The overwhelming majority of India’s population shares essentially the same physical characteristics. There is no concrete scientific evidence of racial differences within this majority, although there are ethnic and cultural differences, such as language and religion. Tribal Groups. There are also groups of people in India that have been identified by the government as tribal, meaning they belong to one of the more than 300 officially designated “scheduled tribes”.
The tribal people are sometimes called hill tribes or adivasis (“original inhabitants”), and in 1991 made up about 8% (more than 65 million people) of India’s population. Members of India’s various hill tribes are thought to be indigenous and tend to be ethnically distinct. These groups typically marry within their community and often live in large, adjoining areas, which are preserved by government policies restricting the sale of land to tribe members. Major tribes include the Gond and the Bhil. Each has millions of members and encompasses a number of sub tribes. Most other tribes are much smaller, with tens of thousands of members. Very few tribal communities now support themselves with traditional methods of hunting and gathering or with shifting cultivation because of government restrictions aimed at protecting the environment. Instead, they generally practice settled agriculture.
Tribal groups tend to live in rural areas, mainly in hilly and less fertile regions of the country. Less than 5 percent practice traditional tribal religious beliefs and customs exclusively, most now combine traditional religions and customs with Hinduism or Christianity. Most tribal groups live in a belt of communities that stretches from eastern Gujarât to western West Bengal. The western tribes speak a dialect of Hindi, the central tribes use a form of the Dravidian language, and the eastern tribes speak Austro-Asiatic languages. The other major concentration of tribal people is in the northeastern hills. Tribe members make up the majority of the population in the states of Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Arunâchal Pradesh. These people, many of them Christian, speak languages of the Sino-Tibetan family which are also spoken by the Buddhists who live along the Himalayan ridge, from Arunâchal Pradesh in the east, through Sikkim, northern Uttar Pradesh, and Ladakh (in Jammu and Kashmîr state). In the Himalaya particularly, isolation on the mountain flanks has led to languages so distinct that ethnic groups living within sight of each other may not understand each other. Other tribes live in southern India and on India’s island territories, but their numbers are not large. Caste – The caste system is pervasive in India. Although it is entwined in Hindu beliefs, it encompasses non-Hindus as well. A caste (jati in Sanskrit) is a social class to which a person belongs at birth and which is ranked against other castes, typically on a continuum of perceived purity and pollution. People generally marry within their own caste. In rural areas, caste may also govern where people live or what occupations they engage in. The particular features of the caste system vary considerably from community to community and across regions. Small geographical areas have their own group-specific caste hierarchies. There are thus thousands of castes in India. In traditional Hindu law texts, all castes are loosely grouped into four varnas, or classes. In order of hierarchy, these varnas are: the Brahmans (priests and scholars), the Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), the Vaisyas (merchants, farmers, and traders), and the Sudras (laborers, including artisans, servants, and serfs). The varnas no longer strictly correspond to traditional professions. For example, most Brahmans today are not priests, but professionals in a variety of industries.
Dusshera- Dusshera is usually celebrated in October. The mode and the fervor vary by a great deal across the subcontinent; the celebration in Mysore is one of the most famous. Different parts of India celebrate the festival in different ways. Some celebrate it as Navaratri, some as Vijaya-Dashami, and some as Dussehra, in worship of Goddess Durga or celebrating Rama’s victory over Rawana. The celebrations vary from a day to nine days (for Navaratri) to a month (for Mysore Dusshera).
On the day of the Holi, people (men and women) irrespective of caste and creed mingle together and exchange colors. The celebrations can get wild and rowdy – it is one of the few occasions of the year that the sexes are allowed to mix freely. People use tools and tricks to spray, paint and drown friends and relatives in color Pongal or Sankranti- This holy day marks the commencement of the Sun’s northern course in the Heavens, known as the Uttaraayana patha. Interestingly, this is the only festival in Hindu calendar that follows a solar calendar and is celebrated on the fourteenth of January every year (all other Hindu festivals are computed using the lunar calendar).
Pushkar Camel Fair- Back in a legendary time, Lord Brahma was flying over the Rajasthan desert on his swan, when some petals fell from his hand and drifted down. Miraculously, blue lakes sprang up where the flowers touched the soft sands. Lord Brahma realized that this was the auspicious moment to perform a fire sacrifice so he landed near one of the lakes, completed the powerful ritual and, thus, laid the groundwork for the first Pushkar Fair. Ever since then, when the full moon shines on Purnima during the autumn period of kartik, the desert tribes meet to commemorate this epic event.