Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while know I have a soft spot for India. I spent six weeks couch surfing my way across the northern part of the fabulous nation, and one day I know I’ll return to visit the south. When people ask me which country in all my travels is my favorite, I usually ask them to narrow down the question because I have favorite countries for different things. India is the country that changed me the most, opened my eyes the most, terrified me the most and pushed me out of my comfort zone the most. In just six weeks, I went from hating the country to loving it, even if I will never understand all that it’s about. But I will be forever thankful for my time there, and I will forever have incredible memories of the brilliant nation.
Fellow travel blogger, Rohit Agarwal, of Transindiatravels.com, knows my love of India, and thought this post would add to my others. He also loves to explore the world and write about his experiences. Follow his blog for more on India and elsewhere!
Even though the world is much smaller for us now, there are lines and boundaries we cannot cross when we travel to other lands. This is not apparent when we are freely interacting through online media. All the countries have their own traditions, cultures and courtesies. There is a stark difference between the cultures of the Western countries and India specifically. A country led by religious ethos, people of India are firmly taught about the values and customs they are required to follow and are seldom used to the western beliefs. Though this seems to be changing gradually, we still are a long way off before seeing some noticeable changes in the society. Therefore, it is always better to know the customs of a certain place that you are planning a visit. For India, we list eight customs you must know before landing in this vibrant nation:
Greetings exchanged usually involve “namaste” towards elders and a hello or hi to the youngsters or people around your own age. Better to stick with “namaste” if you find yourself in a rural area. Metropolitan cities these days are much more evolved and more exposed to the rest of the worldly traditions and there, modern courtesies are deemed okay.
2) Social Attire
The basic principle is simple: To dress modestly. Wearing revealing clothes will attract stares and will make you uncomfortable. Better to avoid it. A saree is the traditional Indian wear along with salwar kameez or kurta with leggings. In temples or places of worship, it is most essential to cover up.
Public Display of Affection: The one thing that gets top priority over everything else in this list is PDA. At any cost, it is to be avoided. Indians know that western culture is more relaxed and allows kissing and shows of affection in public but it is not encouraged to do so in this country. This rule might as well be set in stone here. It’s better to abide by the rules and restrictions of the place we are at than to go about creating tensions, don’t you think?
It is customary to remove one’s footwear before entering a temple or a related place of worship and also when going inside someone’s house. It’s an ancient custom which hasn’t been altered until today. It’s best to leave the footwear near the door when entering a house. In temples, there are storage facilities for your footwear and if not available, just leave them near the gates. Not following this custom is considered rude and inconsiderate.
5) Physical Contact
Stemming from a much more reserved background, Indian people are more conservative in their behavior and manner towards each other. In other parts of the world, it is fairly common to cheek kiss, but not here. Physical contact is minimal and the most appropriate is a firm handshake. Although in traditional and rural parts of the country, handshake is also severely limited to men and women are, by large, not allowed to venture out and interact with unknown strangers, especially unknown men. Point #1 comes to the rescue here again. So, stick with the namaste, and gesture with joined palms.
6) Consumption of Food
A common etiquette is to wash hands before consuming food, especially when you’re at somebody’s house. This is because Indians generally consume food using their hands, and that too the right one is used for this purpose. Culturally, the left hand is considered inappropriate when used for eating or handing out money or anything else for that matter. If your stay is in a rural area or an ashram then chances are, food will have to be consumed by hand. It is absolutely necessary to wash up after the meal too.
The famous Indian motto is “Athithi devo bhava”, that means guest is equivalent to god. Indians take great pains to make their guests feel at home. One such custom performed to playing a perfect host is garlanding the guests and applying a red mark on their foreheads. The garlanding is essentially expressing happiness at the presence of the guest and acknowledging the guest’s importance in their life.
India houses a billion people who follow different religions. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism etc. are some of the major faiths followed by people here. Although harmonious in its entirety, religious clashes are known to occur from time to time. Hindu mythology alone has more than thirty thousand Gods and Goddesses. Due to these multitudes of gods in Hinduism coupled with the deities of other faiths, the aspect of religion is sensitive in the nation.
These are just a few of the important customs and traditions followed by the citizens of this culturally vibrant nation, and you’ll want to be aware of them before you visit India for the first time.