India country overview

The culture of India

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

India information index

The arts of India


India’s architectural heritage stands as one of the nation’s most profound sources of pride. The country boasts an array of illustrious monuments, including numerous cave temples meticulously carved from rock, with the temples at Ajanta and Ellora being particularly distinguished. Furthermore, the Sun Temple at Konarak, the expansive temple complexes at Bhubaneshwar, Khajuraho, and Kanchipuram, and the Mughal architectural gems such as Humayun’s Tomb and the iconic Taj Mahal, all exemplify the rich tapestry of India’s architectural history.

From the 20th century, notable contributions include the High Court building in Chandigarh, a result of the visionary Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier’s design, and the Bhopal State Assembly building in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, a creation of the esteemed Indian architect Charles Correa. Additionally, the ancient stepwells, especially the Rani ki Vav in Patan, northern Gujarat, which has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, are significant architectural achievements.

India’s traditional art forms, encompassing painting, embroidery, pottery, ornamental woodworking and metalworking, sculpture, lacquerware, and jewelry, also command respect for their quality and diversity. Many of the finest examples of these art forms were historically produced under the auspices of royal patronage, in workshops endowed by the monarchy, as well as by temples and affluent individuals. Moreover, the country’s vibrant folk traditions, which date back millennia, are evidenced by ancient rock paintings discovered in numerous caves throughout India, further attesting to the nation’s rich cultural legacy.

Dance and music | performing arts

The domain of performing arts in India is marked by a rich and venerable heritage. The classical dance form known as Bharata Natyam, which hails from the southern regions of the country, is a profound expression of Hindu spiritual narratives that can be traced back to at least the 4th century CE, as detailed in the ancient text Natya Shastra. There are a variety of other classical dance styles that are emblematic of different Indian states, including Odissi from Orissa, Manipuri from Manipur, Kathakali from Kerala, Kuchipudi from Andhra Pradesh, and Kathak, which has evolved under Islamic influences in northern India. Additionally, India is home to a wealth of regional folk dance traditions, one of which is Bhangra, a vibrant dance from Punjab that has gained considerable national and international acclaim since the 1970s, partly due to its infectious music. The efforts of individuals such as Uday Shankar have been instrumental in popularizing Indian dance in Western cultures.

Indian music is traditionally categorized into two principal schools: Hindustani, prevalent in the northern part of the country and influenced by Persian cultural elements, and Carnatic, originating from the south. Both instrumental and vocal music showcase a remarkable diversity and are often performed in intimate concert settings by small ensembles. Music plays a pivotal role in religious devotion and is a fundamental element of social celebrations, including dance performances and the oral recitation of folk tales. Musicians of exceptional talent, such as Ravi Shankar, a composer and sitar virtuoso, and Ali Akbar Khan, a distinguished composer and sarod player, have achieved global recognition for their artistry. Classical dramatic productions, occasionally featuring choreography, are frequently based on the revered Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and exhibit regional variations. While classical and devotional music maintain their popularity, there has been a significant surge in the popularity of Indian popular music since the late 20th century, largely propelled by the success of film musicals. Western classical music also has a presence in India, with institutions like the Symphony Orchestra of India in Mumbai, and internationally celebrated individuals such as conductor Zubin Mehta.

Theatre, film, and literature

Contemporary Bengali dramatists, notably the illustrious Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore—a polymath whose talents spanned philosophy, poetry, songwriting, choreography, essays, and the visual arts—have significantly revitalized Indian theatre. Likewise, playwrights hailing from various other Indian regions have achieved substantial acclaim.

Nonetheless, the allure of theatre in India has largely been eclipsed by the burgeoning Indian film industry, which has emerged as the preeminent mode of mass entertainment. India, with its cinematic hub in Mumbai, affectionately dubbed “Bollywood” in a nod to Hollywood, its American counterpart, frequently surpasses all other nations in the volume of feature-length films produced annually. The personal and professional lives of cinematic icons are a source of immense public fascination, chronicled extensively in film periodicals and other media outlets. Although the majority of Indian films adhere to a formulaic blend of drama, comedy, music, and dance, certain filmmakers, such as the esteemed Satyajit Ray, have garnered international recognition. Other talents, including Ismail Merchant, M. Night Shyamalan, and Mira Nair, have found considerable success abroad. Indian actress, model, and vocalist Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who ascended to global fame following her 2000 Miss World victory and subsequent marriage to pop musician Nick Jonas, is among the highest-earning actresses in India. For those with the means, radio, television, and Internet streaming, along with digital media, remain widely patronized.

The Indian literary canon is extensive, particularly in the realms of religion and philosophy. Its origins trace back to the Vedas, a compendium of sacred chants believed to date back to the mid-second millennium BCE, though not committed to writing until centuries later. These ancient scriptures continue to underpin Hindu ceremonial practices and are impressively committed to memory in their entirety by Brahman priests and scholars.

During the British colonial era, Indian literature experienced a decline, only to be reinvigorated during the mid-nineteenth century with the emergence of the Hindu Renaissance, primarily centered in Bengal. It was during this period that Bankim Chandra Chatterjee pioneered the novel as a literary form in India. Chatterjee, writing in Bengali, set a precedent for many of his successors, including the renowned Hindi novelist Prem Chand, to express themselves in native Indian languages. Nevertheless, Tagore and many others found equal ease in writing in English. The literary contributions of Indian authors, such as modern novelists Mulk Raj Anand, Bharati Mukherjee, Anita Desai, Kamala Markandaya, and R.K. Narayan; essayist Nirad C. Chaudhuri; poets Vikram Seth, Meena Alexander, and Kamala Das; and Booker Prize laureates Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, and Kiran Desai, as well as novelist Vikram Chandra, have been predominantly, if not exclusively, in the English language.

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