Culture of India

Nearly one sixth of all the human beings on Earth live in India, the world's most populous democracy. Officially titled the Republic of India, it's 1,269,413 sq. mi. lie in South Asia, occupying most of the Indian subcontinent, bordered by Pakistan (W); China, Nepal, and Bhutan (N); and Myanmar (E) and Bangladesh forms an enclave in the NE. Its borders encompass a vast variety of peoples, practicing most of the world's major religions, speaking scores of different languages, divided into thousands of socially exclusive castes, and combining the physical traits of several major racial groups (Compton's).

The modern nation of India (also known by its ancient Hindi name, Bharat) is smaller than the Indian Empire formerly ruled by Britain. Burma (now Myanmar), a mainly Buddhist country lying to the east, was administratively detached from India in 1937. Ten years later, when Britain granted independence to the peoples of the Indian subcontinent, two regions with Muslim majorities--a large one in the northwest (West Pakistan) and a smaller one in the northeast (East Pakistan)--were partitioned from the predominantly Hindu areas and became the separate nation of Pakistan. East Pakistan broke away from Pakistan in 1971 to form the independent nation of Bangladesh. Also bordering India on its long northern frontier are the People's Republic of China and the relatively small kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan. The island republic of Sri Lanka lies just off India's southern tip (New World Encyclopedia).

Much of India's area of almost 1.3 million square miles (3.3 million square kilometers--including the Pakistani-held part of Jammu and Kashmir) is a peninsula jutting into the Indian Ocean between the Arabian Sea on the west and the Bay of Bengal on the east. There are three distinct physiographic regions. In the north the high peaks of the Himalayas lie partly in India but mostly just beyond its borders in Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. South of the mountains, the low-lying Indo-Gangetic Plain, shared with Pakistan and Bangladesh, extends more than 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal (Compton's). Finally, the peninsular tableland, largely the Deccan, together with its adjacent coastal plains, makes up more than half of the nation's area.

In general, India's climate is governed by the monsoon, or seasonal, rain-bearing wind. Most of the country has three seasons: hot, wet, and cool. During the hot season, which usually lasts from early March to mid-June, very high temperatures are accompanied by intermittent winds and occasional dust storms (Concise).

Strong, humid winds from the southwest and south usually lasts from early March to mid-June, very high temperatures are accompanied by intermittent winds and occasional dust storms.

Most of the far northeast (north and east of Bangladesh), northern West Bengal, and the west coast from Cochin to somewhat north of Bombay get more than 80 inches (200 centimeters) of rainfall annually. This is usually enough to keep the soil moist throughout the year. The natural vegetation associated with these regions is an exceedingly varied, broadleaf, evergreen rain forest, typically tall and dense. Much of the rain forest, however, is in hilly regions that have been repeatedly burned over and cleared for slash-and-burn agriculture, a type of farming particularly associated with India's tribal population. As a result, the soil has become less fertile. Where the forest has grown again, it is generally lower and less open than the original vegetation (New World Encyclopedia).

It is not certain which racial group first occupied India. The assumption is often made that the first inhabitants had characteristics in common with the small-statured, dark, aboriginal population of Australia, as well as with other tribal groups still found in isolated, forested regions of Southeast Asia. Therefore, the term proto-Australoid has been applied to the racial type represented by a number of tribes still living in India, mainly in the states of Bihar, Orissa, and Madhya Pradesh. Other early arrivals were the ancestors of the peoples, now living mainly in southern India, who speak languages of the Dravidian family. The Mongoloid peoples have also been in India a long time. Their present-day descendants include several tribal groups living along the frontiers with Myanmar, China (Tibet), Bhutan, and Nepal.

Linguistic differences are much clearer than those of racial groupings. Two linguistic groups, the Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian, account for all but a tiny proportion of the population (Compton's). Of the Indo-Aryan languages, Hindi, the official national language,