India - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

India - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

by Becky Stephen

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India - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture by Becky Stephen

India’s population of 1.2 billion is as varied and colorful as the spice markets of Old Delhi. Each region, caste, and community has its own culture, reflecting unique histories shaped by conquest, creativity, and religion, expressed in distinct languages, social customs, art forms, and expectations of life. Despite enormous recent political and economic change, in many ways India remains the same—a total sensory experience. The chaos and beauty of color and sound, the language shifts every ten miles, the household variations of spicy and sharp, sweet and sour, the insistent smells of everyday life lived very much in public, and the invasion of personal space will challenge the most experienced traveler. But it is in surrendering to your senses that you begin to embrace the essence of India and to understand its people. Indians live with paradox. Proud traditions and patriotism commingle with tensions and prejudices rooted in age-old rivalries. Ancient temples may be plastered with signs advertising the latest technologies. The rapid urbanization of the last century has given rise to burgeoning slums and an affluent middle class that was nonexistent a few decades ago. Steeped in tradition, exceptionally fatalistic, and intensely passionate about their culture, the Indians are an ingenious, adventurous, and creative people. Show interest in their country and most will respond with genuine warmth and friendship. But they also have indelible ties to family and community that form boundaries and determine decisions that may not always seem reasonable, or sometimes even ethical, to outsiders. Culture Smart! India will make you aware of basic values and behavioral norms, show you how to navigate cultural differences and connect with real people, and offer invaluable insights into this great, endlessly fascinating land.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781857338409
Publisher: Kuperard
Publication date: 07/05/2016
Series: Culture Smart! Series
Edition description: Third Edition, Third edition
Pages: 168
Sales rank: 343,795
Product dimensions: 4.40(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Becky Stephen is a writer, management consultant, and cross-cultural trainer with a Masters in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. She has developed and led cross-cultural and training programs and events in the USA, India, Eurasia, and Europe, and headed the US division of a nonprofit organization responsible for Americans on international assignments. Becky also studied Hindi at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, and lived there for nearly five years. She currently lives in Dubai with her Indian husband and son.

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By Becky Stephen

Bravo Ltd

Copyright © 2016 Kuperard
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-85733-841-6




Bounded by the Himalayas to the north, the Arabian Sea to the west, and the Bay of Bengal to the east, the immense peninsula of India sits on a separate tectonic plate from the rest of Asia, together with its neighbors, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It also shares borders with China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar (Burma).

Throughout history, outsiders have identified this vast country as a place set apart. The Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century BCE first dubbed it "India," having heard of the land across the Indus or Sindhu River from Persian travelers. The Persians called it "Hindustan" — "land of the people of the Sindhu River." Mughal conquerors called the indigenous peoples "Hindus." "Hindustan" came into popular usage during the British Raj and is experiencing a resurgence today with the rise of Hindu fundamentalism. Within its borders the linguistic, ethnic, political, religious, and topographical differences are mind-boggling. Nagaland in the northeast boasts mahogany and rattan forests, and a Christian history. Off India's shores lie the sparsely inhabited coral atolls of the predominantly Muslim Lakshadweep, and the distinct peoples who live on the volcanic chain of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

In between you'll find climate and geographic extremes inhabited by thousands of peoples and linguistic groups with rich and varied histories and traditions.

Despite this great diversity, Indians identify themselves as a single people — as Bharat. Found in the ancient texts of the Rig Veda and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as in ancient Tamil, the name "Bharatam" referred to the people of the Indian peninsula. Bound together by their history, a complex but common social structure, and shared cultural values, the people of the peninsula have developed a separate and strong identity. At Independence, "Bharat" was adopted as the official name of the new nation.


With the seventh-largest landmass in the world, India's geography ranges from the breathtaking Himalayas to scorching desert, to dense tropical forests, to expansive plains. Around 4,400 miles (7,000 km) of coast provide beautiful beaches, rocky cliffs, and marshlands. The Ganges River cuts through the dry northern plains to merge forces with Central and South Asia's major river, the Yamuna, before pouring out into the Bay of Bengal. Rivers and tributaries, mostly flowing from the Himalayas, run through the subcontinent like veins. These waters bring both life and death to India. The Yamuna, a valuable waterway depositing enormous amounts of fertile soil, has also become a frequent source of flooding.

India can be divided into five geographical regions: the Islands, the Coastal Plains, the Peninsular Plateau, the North Plains, and the North Mountains. There are three major seasons — summer, monsoon, and winter — but climate changes with the geography. Tropical, subtropical, arid, and alpine zones can all be found within this vast subconntinent.

Kerala, in the southwest, is tropical, with heavy rainfall (80–160 inches, or 200–400 cm, a year) and temperatures averaging 82–90°F (28–32°C). The southern tip of India has Hawaii-like weather nearly all year-round. Most of the rest of the country is not as fortunate.

April to June is summer time: 90°F (32°C) is the average summer temperature, but the average in the deserts can reach 122°F (50°C) or even above. In spite of scorching temperatures and little rain in the arid regions of the west in the summer months, these areas support a rich variety of vegetation and animal life.

The Thar, or Great Indian Desert, covering much of Rajasthan and parts of Gujarat, and the Himalayas in the north, both affect India's climate. Blocking the cold winds from central Asia, the Himalayas guarantee warmer temperatures than India would otherwise experience. The north is a place of extremes: bone-chilling temperatures in winter give way to the scorching Loo wind in summer, when life is difficult for all who work or travel there. As June moves into July and August, heat and humidity rise to unbearable heights. A sigh of relief is heard when the monsoon finally breaks, with often awe-inspiring thunderstorms, sheets of rain, and overflowing rivers.

From September to November, the monsoons wane in the west, drenching the east as winter approaches.

Winter in India, from December to February, is relatively dry and cool. Temperatures are, on the average, 50–60°F (10–15°C). Southern regions are warmed by the surrounding waters of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian Sea. Rain is never long gone in some places in the northeast, which annually receive 394 inches (1,000 cm) of rain. Parts of India do see snow. Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, and Shimla, in the north, are known for their ski resorts.


At 1.2 billion, India has the second-largest population in the world. With 17.5 percent of the earth's population and still growing, it promises to overtake China.

Though the urban population has multiplied elevenfold during the last century, 70 percent of Indians still live in villages. Migration to the cities continues to increase due to loss of lands and crops caused by flood and drought, coupled with a desire for better education and work opportunities. Cities of a million are considered towns in this country where the major cities of Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata have populations of more than ten million.

Cities continue to attract villagers desperate for a better life, but most rural migrants find themselves joining the immense slum populations and living in absolute poverty. In 2013, India ranked 126th on the United Nations' Human Development Index.

Language and Literacy

India is a linguist's paradise, with more than 1,600 languages, including the two classical languages of Sanskrit and Tamil. There are more than twenty-two official languages, with Hindi and English as the official languages for government affairs and business.

Indians value education highly. According to a 2001 census, 95 percent of rural children have access to primary education, but 50 percent of those in the village drop out by the time they are twelve. While south India has government-funded education until age sixteen, in the north this is not the case. India's literacy rate has continued to climb, from 12 percent at the end of British rule to more than 74 percent. There is still a drastic difference between north and south. And there are the expected variations between urban (80 percent) and rural (59 percent), and between male (82 percent) and female (65 percent), with urban women having twice the literacy of village women.


More than 78 percent of the population are registered as Hindus. And, although only 14.2 percent of Indians are Muslim, India has the third-largest Muslim population in the world (the largest for a non-Muslim majority country). The remainder is made up of Christians mainly living in the south and the northeast (2.3 percent), Sikhs (2 percent), Buddhists (0.8 percent), and Jains (0.4 percent). Jews, Zoroastrians, Baha'is, and others comprise 0.6 percent.

The introduction of secularism in the last century was not meant to erase or replace religion in this profoundly spiritual country, but to win independence from the British and promote the political unification of culturally distinct kingdoms and peoples.


Ancient Indus (c. 3300–1500 BCE)

India's ancient civilization was born in the Indus River Valley, in the northwest region of the subcontinent, and flourished during the Bronze Age. The people of the valley, the Harappans, lived in multistoried brick homes with sewers, wells, and trash chutes, in well-laid-out towns. They developed metallurgical techniques to produce bronze, lead, tin, and copper. Grain was the currency of exchange and taxation. Symbols have been found that are thought to be an early Indus script.

Vedic Period (c. 1500–500 BCE)

It was in this valley that the Aryans first surfaced in Indian history. It is still debated whether the "Noble Ones," as they called themselves, migrated from Eurasia or arose as the indigenous culture of the Indus Valley. Whatever their origin, they settled in villages across North India and the plains of the Ganges, establishing Vedic civilization. Essentially tribal, these seminomadic people lived off the land, and introduced their religious beliefs of multiple gods and goddesses who were worshiped and appeased through fire and ritual.

The Aryans established absolute monarchies and a hierarchy of nobility in the north. What became the Hindu caste system originated during this period, as kings assigned specific duties to individuals, who passed these responsibilities on to their heirs. Soon education and occupation were determined by birth.

As the Aryan kings occupied more territories, the Dravidians, an indigenous population predating the rise of the Aryans, were pushed south.

Many religious texts were created and passed on during this era. The Vedas (Sanskrit, "knowledge"), after which this period is named, laid the foundations of Hinduism and other major features of Indian culture.

The four Vedas took shape through oral tradition from 1500 BCE and were codified in 600 BCE. The philosophical Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, and the Mahabharata, the longest epic poem ever written, all sprang from this period. The Laws of Manu, recorded in Sanskrit, prescribes rules of life for Hindus and solidified the castes into the four main strata that characterize India's social structure today.

In the fifth century BCE, a prince of the Shakya clan, Siddhartha Gautama, attained "Enlightenment," becoming known as the Buddha, or Enlightened One, and founded the religion of Buddhism. At the same time, Vardhamana Mahavira preached what was later to become Jainism.

As the sixteen Great Kingdoms, or Maha Janapadas, arose across the Indo-Gangetic plain, India experienced its second major period of urbanization.

Persian Empire (500–350 BCE)

The Persian king, Cyrus the Great, conquered India's northwestern region in 538 BCE. Eighteen years later, his son-in-law, Darius the Great (520 BCE), consolidated the rule of the Persians over the Indian subcontinent for the next two hundred years. Persian political systems influenced future forms of government adopted on the subcontinent.

Alexander the Great (327–323 BCE)

The conquering Macedonian king, Alexander the Great, crossed into India in 327 BCE to be welcomed by Ambhi, king of Taxila in western Punjab. At war with his eastern and northern neighbors, Ambhi hoped to enlist Alexander's aid against his enemies. Aid him he did. Alexander vanquished every tribe, confederation, and king on his quest to reach Asia.

Once they had reached the Beas River (a tributary of the Ganges), Alexander's exhausted and disgruntled troops pressed him to head home. Turning back just nineteen months after he had entered India, Alexander left deputies to govern the Indian provinces.

Two years after Alexander's death in 323 BCE, these governors abandoned their posts and divided his empire among themselves. But when Seleucus I Nicator (the Conqueror) decided to recover the lost Indian lands in 305 BCE, he found his way blocked by Chandragupta Maurya, an exiled and possibly illegitimate son of the Magadha royal family. As Chandragupta proved too powerful to defeat, Seleucus made an alliance with him.

The Great Mauryan Empire (322–185BCE)

The Mauryan Empire, regarded as the greatest in Indian history, dominated the subcontinent during the fourth and third centuries BCE. Its founder, Chandragupta Maurya, united the Empire; his son, Bendusara, expanded it by force; and his grandson, Ashoka, made it great.

On learning of Alexander's death and the fragmentation of his empire, Chandragupta led a band of guerrillas in overthrowing King Dhama Nanda of Magadha in eastern India and slaughtering the royal family. He conquered the North West Frontier and most of Afghanistan, and created an empire that extended from the Bay of Bengal in the east to the Arabian Sea and Persia in the west.

Chandragupta Maurya ruled for twenty-four years. His reign was not a benevolent one. This new emperor lived in such fear of assassination that he slept in a different room each night to confuse his enemies. He gave up his throne toward the end of his life and embraced Jainism. He was succeeded by his son, and then his grandson, Ashoka.

Ashoka the Great (273-232 BCE)

Ashoka the Great, born in 304 BCE, was emperor of all of the Indian subcontinent — or nearly all. His decision to extend his rule to the unconquered kingdom of Kalinga on the Bay of Bengal brought about a conversion of the man and his empire.

The carnage of war shook Ashoka. Turning to the teachings of Buddha, he set aside his weapons to put on the robes of a Buddhist monk.

This "Emperor of Emperors" effected reforms including the outlawing of animal sacrifice, the religious education of his people, and sending Buddhist missionaries to the Greeks and into the Near East. His impact on Indian history is such that Indian's national emblem, the Lion of Sarnath, and the wheel on the Indian flag known as the Ashoka Chakra, were both taken from his reign.

Between the two great empires of Maurya and Gupta, India was ruled regionally. It was in this in-between time, around 52 CE, that the apostle Thomas is said to have visited India, planting the seeds of Indian Christianity.

The Golden Age of the Guptas (320–550CE)

Chandragupta I founded the Gupta dynasty; but the Golden Age of India began when Chandragupta II rose to power fifty years later, providing a stability through military might that enabled science, art, literature, and religion to reach their zenith.

Scholars of the day included the astronomer Aryabhatta, who is said to have been the first to conceptualize "zero." The exchange of ideas and knowledge, especially religious, was actively sought with China through a kind of missionary exchange. The Gupta Empire was also politically open, developing diplomatic contacts in south Asia, Indonesia, Persia, Greece, and Rome. As religious, diplomatic, and trade relationships expanded, the culture of the Gupta Empire was spread.

As is the fate of all great empires, the Gupta Empire weakened. When the Huns from Central Asia attacked in 450 CE, it could not hold them back. After the death of the last Gupta, Bhanugupta, in 570, the Gupta Empire came to a close. Once again India was ruled by smaller kingdoms and remained divided until the Muslim invasions in 1000.

The Classical Age of the North and South Kingdoms (647–1200)

Different empires dominated north and south, and were frequently at war with each other. Although three dynasties, known as the Rajputs, fought for control of the north, art and the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism still flourished during the Classical Age.

Another culture was growing in the rich soil of the south, developing an art, literature, and architecture distinctly its own. The Dravidians, driven south by the Aryans long ago, now ruled kingdoms in India's southern regions and expanded and controlled vast overseas empires in Southeast Asia. They traded spices with the Roman Empire and Southeast Asia. The sciences and mathematics, as well as religion and philosophy, developed under the rule of these kings.

The Delhi Sultanate and the Beginning of Colonization (1200–1500)

For centuries Muslims from the north and west had made their way to India. Some came for riches, others to spread Islam; but most noted in history are those who came to rule. In a pattern that became familiar to India, Muslim traders arrived before Muslim invaders.

Delhi was captured in 1192 from the Rajput Hindu king Prithvi Raj Chauhan by Muhammed of Ghor, a Muslim general from what is today Afghanistan. Ghor founded the first of a series of dynasties to rule as the Delhi Sultanate.

During the reign of the Delhi Sultans many north Indian Hindus and Buddhists converted to Islam. The Sultans eventually controlled much of south India as well. In 1351 the south regained its independence as a Hindu state. Central India, too, rebelled, becoming a separate, though still Islamic, state. The Delhi Sultanate ended with the Mongol invasion of Timur in 1398.


Excerpted from India by Becky Stephen. Copyright © 2016 Kuperard. Excerpted by permission of Bravo Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
About the Author,
Map of India,
Key Facts,
• Further Reading,
• Acknowledgments,

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India - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
travellerbc More than 1 year ago
I find it interesting that the other ratings are not accompanied by reviews. makes their rating suspect in my mind. I found this guide very useful and accurate for my trip to India. Much information was new to me, and I was glad I knew before visiting. For example, we use a "come here" gesture of palm up and crooking fingers. In India this is not used and is considered rude. They beckon with palm down and crooking fingers. I had occasion to use this and was complimented on actually knowing the "correct" way! I would NEVER have known this without this guide. I found the book very useful and will definitely use other Culture Smart books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a great little book that gave the basics into the people and culture of India. It's a small book, so it's not meant to go in depth on any subject, but it definitely covers a lot of useful information in a short amount of space. I went to India for the first time and found the information I read in this book to be very helpful in setting my expectation for what I would find when getting off the plane and also for my daily interactions with the local people. I would recommend this to anyone traveling to India as a tourist.
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