In India, like any other country, our social life is greatly influenced by a number of factors like religious differences, geography, spirituality, cultural heritage etc. The influence of the religious faiths, in particular, can be observed in traditions, literature, art, architecture and lifestyle of the people of India. Further, the invasion by the Parsi, followed by the Greeks, the Suk, the Hun, the Turki-Afghan, the Portuguese, the Moghul, the Dutch, the French, and finally the British had massive influences on Indian culture. Here are 10 facts about the cultural heritage of India and the North East region.
1. The early civilizations
The Indus Valley civilization was believed to be one of the oldest of civilizations of the country and its study is necessary if we need to go into the source of the cultural heritage of India. The civilization developed around 4000 BC in the Sindhu Valley and extended till Meerut in Ganga valley. Some of the major towns of this civilization include Harappa and Mahenjodaro. Many experts believe that the Dravidians were the chief architects of the Sindhu civilization. During excavations, items like statues of different gods and goddesses, seals with symbols of swastika were recovered from various places of the Indus Valley civilization. The discovery of seals depicting bulls, unicorn, etc. conveys the idea that the people of that time and place were essentially worshippers of totemism.
2. The Vedic era and arrival of the Aryans
The fall of the Sindhu civilization happened around the same time when the Vedic era was starting i.e., around 1500 BC. The Vedic era can be classified as early-Vedic era and later-Vedic era. The period between 1500 BC to 1000 BC when the Rig Veda was written, is considered to be the early-Vedic era, while the period between 1000 BC to 600 BC when Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda, as well as the Upanishads and Aranyak were written is considered as later-Vedic era. The great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are assumed to have been written during the later-Vedic era. At that time, the Arya culture reached the Brahmaputra valley and to Kanyakumari and by 400 BC extended to entire India.
3. The different religious beliefs
People used to worship various deities during the Indus valley civilization. But, during the same time, a belief in one Supreme God existed in the Vedic system. The ancient religious tradition of India also accepted the principle of tolerance, co-existence and assimilation among new traditions or religions. They appreciated reformations and arguments in their own beliefs and there was seldom any conflict between the Hindus and non-Hindus. In succeeding stages, people following different religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc. entered India.
4. The writings that formed the soul of India
The old Sanskrit writings of India may be viewed as the soul of Indian culture. Indian literature is glorified by some great works like-Vedas, Vedangas, Upanishads like Brahmana and Aranyak, great epics Ramayana, Mahabharata etc. These writings exhibit the ways of life during that time and their values, views, knowledge in various fields like medical treatment, engineering, science and politics etc. These books are the result of extensive studies, profound insight and incessant intellectual exercise. These writings played a great role in shaping the Indian society and bringing cultural unity.
5. The different architectural styles
The architecture of India of the ancient times is reflected mostly in temples and other places of worship. We get to see at least four different kinds of architecture during the Sultanate and Badshahi era. These are the Mosques, Pillars, Palaces and Makowara which were constructed mostly with the support of the kings. There are also differences in the architectures that are found in North India and in South India. These differences are more visible on the top half of the structures. In temples, three architectural styles have been observed i.e., Nagar in North India, Dravid in South India, and Vesara in between the Vindhya mountain and the Krishna river. During the eras of Turkey, Afghan and Moghul, the Parsi style was also used in the architectures.
6. The practice of yoga
Yoga is a gift to the entire humanity from India. It is believed that during the Indus Valley civilization, Indians were yoga experts. It was also widely practised during the Vedic era. Though the origin of yoga cannot be established, it was brought into a standard by Maharshi Patanjali who compiled the knowledge in the second century BC in a book called Yogasutra. In the book, he expressed yoga as a way of physical, mental and spiritual well being. He formed yoga as a comprehensive way and philosophy of life. In the Patanjali yoga system, there are Astanga Yoga rules which are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyan and Samadhi. June 21 every year is celebrated around the world as International Yoga Day.
7. The geography of the North-Eastern India
North East, coined by the British, refers collectively to the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam. Each of these states has distinctive cultural heritage and history. Despite the differences, the states have some common features and therefore the Government of India formed the North Eastern Council. Though Sikkim wasn’t originally regarded as one of the states in the region, it has also been included in the Council. The region is surrounded by a number of foreign countries which include Bhutan, China, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Except for the large portions of the Brahmaputra valley and Barak valley of Assam which are plains, all the other neighbouring states are hilly. Due to this distinct natural setting, Assam is used by all the states in the region as the central place for easy transportation.
8. The kingdoms in Assam
It is assumed that civilizations had emerged in the Brahmaputra valley even in the prehistoric days, but when it comes to written history, it is only available after the Barman rulers seized control in the 4th century. Throughout history, the neighbouring states had close relationships with the royal families of Assam. They had ties with each other through marriages. During a crisis, the kingdoms used to help each other with the military. The communication among the kingdoms used to be carried out through messengers and barter of different items took place between kingdoms. Majority of the people of the North-Eastern region belongs to the Mongoloid race.
9. Culture of the North-Eastern India
The Christian Missionaries started reaching the North East, particularly in the hill states, during the British rule. Hinduism, on the other hand, had reached Manipur and Tripura in ancient times. The North-Eastern states comprise of different tribes forming colourful cultures in every state with distinct traditions, attires, dances, folksongs, festivals, dialects etc. It has been observed that almost all the states in the region practices jhum cultivation. People here drink local wines, eat non-vegetarian foods, follow village administration, build stilt houses of bamboo and wood etc. The hill people are generally hard-working, independent and courageous.
10. Assam in ancient times
Assam has one of the most varied cultural traditions in the region and it is also rich in natural resources. The state has a large fertile region, particularly in the Brahmaputra valley. At one point Assam was connected with China via the Great Silk Route. From times immemorial, different groups of people reached Assam for different reasons and some chose to stay back adding more to the diversity of the state. The old name of Assam was Pragjyotishpur and Kamrup which can be found in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Vishnu Puran, the Kalika Puran, the Yoginitantra, as well as in the writings of Hiuen Tsang and even in the inscriptions of ancient Royal families.
This article has been written using the information available in the textbook of SEBA Class 10 History Chapter 5: Cultural heritage of India and North East region