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  History and Folklore
• History  •  Folklore

India, the land of Indus Valley Civilization has a rich culture and tradition. The name itself is derived from the River Indus. Placed in the center of Asia; history of India is a crossroads of cultures from China to Europe, and the most significant Asian connection with the cultures of Africa.

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The history of India begins with the birth of the Indus Valley Civilization in such sites as Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, and Lothal, and the coming of the Aryans. These two phases are usually described as the pre-Vedic and Vedic periods. It is in the Vedic period that Hinduism first arose and this is the time to which the Vedas are dated. In the fifth century, large parts of India were united under the King Ashoka the Great. Converting himself to the ideologies of Buddha, it was during his reign Buddhism spread to other parts of Asia. It is in the reign of the Mauryas that Hinduism took the shape that fundamentally informs the religion down to the present day.

The eighth century marked the beginning of Islam in India, and by the 11th century the religion had firmly established itself in India as a political force. The North Indian dynasties of the Lodhis, Tughlaqs, and numerous others, whose remains are visible in Delhi and scattered elsewhere around North India, were finally succeeded by the Mughal empire, under which India achieved a large measure of political unity. The European presence in India dates to the seventeenth century; and it is in the latter part of this century that the Mughal Empire began to disintegrate, paving the way for regional states. In the contest for supremacy, the English emerged 'victors', their rule marked by the conquests at the battlefields of Plassey and Buxar. The Rebellion of 1857-58, which sought to restore Indian supremacy, was crushed and with the subsequent crowning of Victoria as the Empress of India, the incorporation of India into the empire was complete. Successive campaigns had the effect of driving the British out of India in 1947.

The subcontinent of India contains a wide diversity of ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups. India is probably the country with the largest and most diverse mixture of races. All the five major racial types - Australoid, Mongoloid, Europoid, Caucasian and Negroid - find representation among the people of India, who is mainly a mixed race. The people of India belong to diverse ethnic groups. At various periods of India's long history, successive waves of settlers and invaders including the Aryans, Parthians, Greeks and Central Asians came into the country and merged with the local population. This explains the variety of racial types, cultures and languages in India.

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India is a country rich with folklore that sometimes becomes woven into cultural rituals as well as religious ceremonies. The folklore of India compasses the folklore of the nation of India and the Indian subcontinent. It is difficult to generalize widely about the folklore of India as a unit as the country is diverse in culture, tradition, religion, and society. Hinduism, the religion of the majority of the citizens of India, is a heterogeneous faith whose local manifestations are diverse. Folk religion in Hinduism may explain the rationale behind local religious practices. It also contain local myths that explain the existence of local religious customs or the location of temples. The rule of Afghanis, and the Mughuls paved way for Islam as a religion and was accepted nationwide. The Mughul rulers gave prominence to art and culture including painting, crafts, architecture, and music. The Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders in the modern world was built during the reign of the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan.

The formation of the English East India Company in 1600 by the British Queen laid the foundation of Christianity in India. Britishers along with Portuguese, French, and the Dutch structured many architectural beauties in the country.

Folk Painting

Folk painting is without doubt considered as the oldest traditional art still being created by Indian folks when compared to other art forms. The folk paintings including that of tribal people cannot be understood in isolation; rather it should be explored in connection with religion, literature and mythology. The term 'folk paintings' here comprehends pictures made in Indian villages, by both men and women, for decoration of their abodes, portrayals of their gods and for their various rituals; and, by local professional painters or artisans for use of the local people. The term also includes pictures made in the bazaars by traditional painters to cater to the needs of the urban population, and those made at centers of pilgrimage by hereditary professional painter families. All these paintings were produced in a variety of styles and themes. History, sociology and geography infused the painting of each region with local flavor. To some extent their style and quality depended on the materials available in the place in which they were executed.

Folk Dances

Indian culture is rich in showcasing a variety of folk dances. There are hundreds of Indian folk and tribal dances. Each region of India has its own folk dance. The diversity in culture and tradition is reflected in the variety of Indian folk dances too. Folk dances are performed for every possible occasion, to celebrate the arrival of seasons, birth of a child, a wedding and festivals. The dances are extremely simple with minimum of steps or movement. The dances burst with verve and vitality. The exciting dances of the Nagas and the Bihus of Assam are performed to celebrate spring and harvesting. The chief folk dance of Gujarat, the Dandiya, is performed using sticks. Men execute the Bhangra dance of Punjab. The dance includes a wide range of leaps and jumps. Both men and women perform the bamboo dance of Mizoram. In the south, the dummy horse dance or the Poikalkuthirai is very famous. Dancers fit dummy legs to their legs and dance to the tune of the music. Both men and women perform this form of art. In Tamil Nadu, dancers place a karagam or a decorated jug, on their head and dance while balancing the karagam.

Folk Crafts

Folk crafts are aesthetic expression of human spirit in material form irrespective of its functional and decorative mode. They explore a complex relationship between environment and local community. Kashmir is well known for carving on walnut wood, embroidery on wool,carpets and hand-painted wooden boxes for utility and decoration. Northeast states are known for producing very fine handmade cane and bamboo products for daily use and variety of eco-friendly crafts. The origin of most of the arts and crafts tradition of the southern states can be related to the influence of temple economy and religious background that prevailed from time immemorial.

Folk Tales

Folktales are found in all Indian cultures and languages. India possesses a large body of heroic ballads and epic poetry preserved in oral tradition, both in Sanskrit and the various vernacular languages of India. Noteworthy collections of Indian traditional stories include the Panchatantra, a collection of traditional narratives made by Vishnu Sarma in the second century BC. The Hitopadesha of Narayana is a collection of anthropomorphic fabliaux, animal fables, in Sanskrit, compiled in the ninth century. The Jataka Tales in Buddhism is a great source of instruction and theological exposition for that religion. Hindus in every region in India have their own regional, ethnic, and linguistic folktales. Similarly the Muslims also have their own tales from several sources not excluding the Indian variations relating to the Muslim saints, heroes, etc. Christians in India assort themselves with the native wisdom and narrate the folktales of the mainstream in India and they share the ethnic and linguistic affiliations of the community they belong to.

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