North Indian culture

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Trisul, Nanda Devi and Himalayan range from Kausani, Uttarakhand

The term North Indian Culture officially describes the cultural heritage of the seven North Indian states of Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir, Chandigarh (Union Territory), Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.[1] Other states which are not formally part of North India, but which are traditionally - culturally and linguistically - seen to be so are Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. North Indian Culture is mainly rooted in Indo-Aryan traditions and customs, with assimilation of - and impact from - other cultures over long periods of history. North Indian culture reflects the diversity of traditions and customs of the vast region it encompasses.

Traditional dress of village man in Rajasthan
A rural woman in Madhya Pradesh

Traditional clothing[edit]

North Indian women normally wear kameez shalwar or sari, but in the states of Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and northern Haryana, traditional dress is Kameez Shalwar. In the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and southern Haryana (region bordering Rajasthan), it is Ghagra Choli. For men dhoti with kurta or shirt with dhoti, shalwar, or payjama along with turban or pagdi form the common dress in rural areas. Pagdi or Topi are headgear which show one's status and the respect in which one is held. However western influence can easily be seen in urban as well as rural areas nowadays.


Rajasthani Thali
A Typical North Indian Meal at formal occasions

Wheat forms the staple diet of North India and is usually served in the form of rotis or chapatis along with subzi (vegetarian curry dishes). A vegetarian diet is the norm almost everywhere except in Kashmir, however non-vegetarian food is also popular. Mughlai cuisine is known for non-vegetarian dishes with distinctive aroma, taste and with a different style of cooking. Punjabi food is known for being spicy and tasty. Some of the famous dishes from Punjab includes Sarson da Saag, Dal Makhani, Choley (chickpeas, served with naan or kulcha), Kadhi Pakora, Lassi etc. Punjabi dhabas can be found all over the region. Rajasthani cuisine is famous for its dishes like Daal-Baati, Churma etc. A variety of desserts can be found in North India, like Halwa (sweet pudding), Imarti, Gujia, Kheer, Petha (specially Agra Petha), Bal Mithai (from Kumaon), to name but a few.


Pandit Ravi Shankar

Hindustani classical music or Shastriya Sangeet is the classical music of North India. It is a tradition that originated in Vedic ritual chants and has been evolving since the 12th century. Around the 12th century, Hindustani classical music diverged from what eventually came to be identified as Carnatic classical music. The central notion in both these systems is that of a melodic mode or raga, sung to a rhythmic cycle or tala. The tradition dates back to the ancient Samaveda, (lit. sāma=ritual chant), which deals with the norms for chanting of srutis or hymns such as the Rig Veda. These principles were refined in the Natyashastra by Bharata (2nd-3rd century AD) and the Dattilam (probably 3rd-4th century)).[2] Indian classical music has seven basic notes, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni, with five interspersed half-notes, resulting in a 12-note scale. The rhythmic organization is based on rhythmic patterns called Taal. The melodic foundations are called ragas. Noted representatives of Shastriya Sangeet with a worldwide acclaim are Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.


Rajasthani Folk Dance
Kathak a classical dance form

The rich cultural diversity of North India is most clearly shown by the many different folk dance styles found here. Starting with Bhangra (men’s dance) and Giddha (women’s dance) from Punjab to Kathak; from Ghoomar and Kalbeliya dance from Rajasthan to Kinnauri Nati from Himachal Pradesh; Karma from Jharkhand to Panthi from Chhattisgarh; from Jagars and Pandva Nritya from Uttarakhand to Rouf[disambiguation needed] of Kashmir celebrates the richness of culture and traditions of North India. Kathak is one of the eight classical dance forms as conferred by Sangeet Natak Akademi. This dance form traces its origins to the nomadic bards of ancient northern India, known as Kathaks, or storytellers. Some believe it evolved from Lord Krishna's raas lilas, forms of which have also evolved into the popular Garba-style dances popular in other parts of region and Gujarat. It was quintessential theatre, using instrumental and vocal music along with stylized gestures, to enliven the stories.

Architecture and painting[edit]

Taj Mahal, Agra
Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya, Bihar

The splendour and vastness of the architectural heritage of North India can easily be demonstrated by the fact that out of twenty-three cultural world heritage sites in India which have been declarerd by UNESCO, ten are in North India.[3] The Taj Mahal, a perfect blend of Muslim and Indian architecture, is one of the new seven wonders of world. The Mahabodhi Temple complex at Bodh Gaya, Bihar built by Emperor Ashoka in 260 BC, marks the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautam Buddha.Khajuraho temple and Buddhist monuments of Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh finds itself in list of world heritage sites. Other renowned architectural and holy sites are Sri Harmandir Sahib ("The Golden Temple") in Amritsar, Punjab, Urban and Architectural Work of Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, Dilwara Temples of Mount Abu, Rajasthan to name only a few. A different genre of paintings evolved in North India specially the Miniature paintings. Rajput Painting a style of Indian painting that evolved and flourished during the 18th century, in the royal courts of Rajputana. Rajput paintings depict a number of themes, events of epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Krishna's life, beautiful landscapes, and humans.

Sculpture and art[edit]

Lion Capital of Ashoka, Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh
An example of Gandhara School of Art

One of the best known examples of North Indian sculpture is the Lion capital of Ashoka, Sarnath. It is the source for the national emblem of India and hints at the richness and grandeur of the ancient Mauryan empire. The Rampurva Bull capital is one of the best specimens of animal sculpture. Two different schools of art namely the Gandhara and Mathura schools of art evolved which represented the developments in sculptures, stucco and clay as well as in mural paintings. The Kushana kings, particularly Kanishaka, encouraged the Gandhara artists to sculpture themes from Buddha’s life and the Jatakas. The distinctive school of art which grew here is called the Gandhara school of art. A large number of the images of the Buddha and the Bodhisattavas were produced. Mathura art, however, reached its peak during the Gupta period (AD 325 to 600). The human figure reached its most sublime representation in the Gupta classical phase when divine images, conceived and rendered in human shape, attained a superhuman aspect and manifested great spiritual import. The sculptures were marked by sharp and beautiful features, graceful and slim bodies, with many folds of transparent drapery and a new style of coiffure.


A painting depicting a scene from Abhijnanasakuntalam

North India was the birthplace of Kalidasa, who wrote classic Sanskrit plays like Mālavikāgnimitram, Abhijñānaśākuntalam and Vikramōrvaśīyam and poems like Raghuvaṃśa, Kumārasambhava, Ṛtusaṃhāra and Meghadūta in which the use of imagination and similes remains unequaled by any other literary work. Apart from these Sanskrit dramas, Pāṇini's Ashtadhyayi standardized Sanskrit grammar and phonetics and left an indelible mark on these aspects of Sanskrit. Panini was a grammarian from approximately 5th century BC, his Ashtadhyayi is looked upon as a masterpiece and as a study in brevity and completeness.

Medieval North India had great literary scholars like Tulsidas, Surdas, Chand Bardai, Amir Khusro whose works Ramcharitmanas, Sur Sagar, Prithiviraj Raso and Khamsa-e-Nizami respectively contributed to the richness of literature. From 19th century onwards Khadiboli became the general Hindu language; Khadiboli with heavily Sanskritized vocabulary or Sahityik Hindi (Literary Hindi) was popularized by the writings of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Bhartendu Harishchandra and others. Other important writers of this period are Munshi Premchand, Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi, Maithili Sharan Gupt, R N Tripathi and Gopala Sharan Sinha. Premchand's works, such as Godaan and Gaban have been translated into various languages, and are known for their subtlety and depiction of human psychology and emotions.


North India is predominantly Indo-Aryan and includes various ethnic groups such as Brahmins, Ahirs, Jats, Rajputs, Gurjars, Khatris, Kambojs, Banias and Dalits. Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism are the dominant religions in North India. Other religions practiced by various ethnic communities include Jainism and Buddhism. The states of Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh are overwhelmingly Hindu. Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in India with a majority Muslim population while Punjab is the only state with a majority Sikh population.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ North Zone Cultural Centre, Ministry of Culture, Government of India official website. URl accessed on August 25, 2011
  2. ^ A Study of Dattilam: A Treatise on the Sacred Music of Ancient India, 1978, p 283, Mukunda Lāṭha, Dattila
  3. ^ World Cultural Heritage Listed Sites in India. URl accessed on August 25, 2011.

References and bibliography[edit]

  • NZCC Compilation. "Flavours of India", North Zone Cultural Centre, Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
  • Puran Chand Sharma. "Sanskriti ke Stambh", North Zone Cultural Centre, Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
  • Kālidāsa; Johnson (editor), W. J. (2001), The Recognition of Śakuntalā: A Play in Seven Acts, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-283911-4
  • MacDonell, Arthur Anthony (2004), A History of Sanskrit Literature, Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 1-4179-0619-7
  • Massey, Reginald (2006), India's Dances, Abhinav Publications, ISBN 81-7017-434-1
  • Thapar, Romila (1990), A History of India, 1, New Delhi and London: Penguin Books, ISBN 0-14-013835-8