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India

Caste System, Family Life And Family Values, Mate Selection And Marriage, Dowry System, Status Of Single And Divorced Persons In India


The Indian subcontinent covers an area of 1,269,346 square miles (3,287,590 square kilometers). It is the seventh largest country in the world, with a population that exceeds 1 billion, making it the second most populous country in the world after China. The Himalayan Mountains, the highest range in the world, separate most of northern India from the rest of Asia. The southern half is a triangular peninsula that stretches southward to the Tropic of Cancer and extends into the Indian Ocean. The Arabian Sea lies to the west of India, and the Bay of Bengal to the east of India (Census of India 2001) India has a rich cultural, social, historical, and religious heritage. The Indus Valley civilization that was established around 2500 B.C.E. was a rich, advanced, and prosperous civilization. Since that time, the Greeks, Persians, Turks, Mughals, and Europeans have collectively enhanced the religious beliefs, traditions, spirituality, and culture of India.

India is a secular and pluralistic society characterized by tremendous cultural and ethnic diversity. It is made up of twenty-eight states and seven union territories. There are eighteen different languages and more than 300 dialects spoken by the Indian people. Indians practice many religions. Hinduism is the dominant religion in India, but through the centuries Indians have learned to coexist with people of other faiths. A majority (83%) of Indians are Hindus, about 14 percent are Muslims, 2.4 percent are Christians, 2 percent are Sikhs, .7 percent are Buddhists, .5 percent are Jains, and there are smaller numbers of Bahai, Jews, and Zoarastrians (Observer Research Foundation 2001; India at a Glance 2001).

India is distinctive in the proportion of people living in rural and urban communities. In 1999, 72 percent of the residents lived in rural areas and 28 percent lived in urban communities. The proportion of rural-to-urban residents is high, although India is the tenth most industrialized country in the world (World Development Report 2002). The literacy profile of Indians has greatly changed from a mere 5.3 percent in 1901 to 36.13 percent in 1981, to 52 percent in 1991, to 65.38 percent in 2001. The literacy rate is higher (73%) in urban areas as compared to rural areas (44%). Also, males have a higher literacy rate (76%) compared to females (54%) (Mullatti 1995; Census of India 2001).

Indians identify themselves with a particular religion but also affiliate themselves with a specific geographical region or state in India. Religion specifies the form of worship and guides their dayto-day behavior, while the specific region generally identifies the language one speaks, the literature, art, music one prefers, the food one eats, and the clothing one wears (Segal 1991).

Because India is a secular and ethnically diverse society, there are religious, regional, cultural, social, and educational variations in structural and functional patterns of family life. Hence, it is difficult to generalize values, behaviors, attitudes, norms, mores, practices, traditions, and beliefs about family life from one community to all Indian communities. Because the large majority of Indians are Hindus, this chapter will primarily focus attention on family life in the Hindu community.

The Hindus believe in a multitude of gods and goddess that are an integral aspect of Hindu mythology. Hinduism is a major world religion, has approximately 800 million followers, and also has had a profound influence on many other religions during its long history that dates back to 1500 B.C.E. The ideal Hindu lifestyle is influenced by the teachings in the Upanishads, Vedas, Bhavadgita, Ramayana, and Mahabharata. These scriptures stress the importance of work, knowledge, sacrifice, and service to others and finally, the renunciation of worldly goods in later life (Chekki 1996). Hinduism is not an organized religion like Western religions (Nandan and Eames 1980), but rather a way of life. According to the Hindu ideology, a person's life consists of four stages that correspond with the human life-cycle stages. The first stage is the Brahamacharya ashram (apprenticeship)—this is the period of discipline and education. The second stage is the Grihastha ashram (household and family), devoted to marriage, parenthood, family, and establishment of a household. Stage three is the Vanaprastha ashram (gradual retreat) and is characterized by a gradual retreat and loosening of social, emotional, and material bonds. Finally, the goal of the fourth and final stage, the Sanyasa ashram (renouncement), is to seek solitude, indulge in meditation, prepare for death, and strive for salvation and wisdom (Chekki 1996; Seymour 1999).

Most Hindu households have a prayer platform or room that is considered the most sacred place in the home. Most devout Hindus are vegetarians. They pray, fast, and worship their deity at least once a day, especially on holy days and days of festivities. As part of the religious activities, Hindus take regular morning baths, recite and chant certain mantras, light incense, prepare specific food items, offer flowers to the deities, and worship ancestors.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural Aspects