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Your Guide to the Folklore, History & Culture of India [infographic]

India is a vast country with glowing temples, natural landscapes, and architectural marvels. Whether you’re planning a trip or want to learn more, this infographic will act as your guide.  You’ll discover how many of the things we use and know today started with research and science in this ancient country as well as some fun facts you may have never known.  You’ll even learn what is lucky and unlucky as well as acceptable and faux-paux in case you ever need to send a gift to India for a wedding, to a friend or even to a business partner for the holidays.

A Guide to the Folklore, History & Culture of India
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Historic Time Periods in India

As one of the world’s oldest cultures, modern man is still learning by studying India’s past. Here’s a (very) brief timeline of highlights and contributions by period:

  • 3300 BC to 1700 BC – Indus Valley Civilization is one of the earliest urban civilizations, including 2,500+ cities and settlements. Its people used written language, sewage & drainage systems, and uniform weights & measures.
  • 1700 BC to 500 BC (Vedic Age) – The basis of Hinduism and Indian culture forms. Agriculture surpasses cattle rearing in the economy. The caste system becomes rigid and families become patriarchal.
  • 500 BCE – 550 AD – Jainism and Buddhism become major religious influences.
    • Jainism / Jain Dharma: Religious philosophy based on the teachings of the Tirthankaras.
    • Buddhism: religious philosophy based on the teachings of Lord Buddha, who was born as Prince Siddhartha Gautama.
  • 550 AD to 1526 AD (Medieval Period) – India endures the Muslim invasion by Mohammed Bin Qasim and an invasion by Mahmud of Ghazni. Marco Polo comes to India.
  • 1526 AD to 1818 AD (Post-Medieval Era) – East India company forms in England. India suffers 4 Anglo-Mysore Wars and 3 Anglo-Maratha Wars. The Maratha Empire ends.
    1818 AD to 1947 AD (Colonial Era) – British take control of most of India. People of India rise against Britain in the Indian War of Independence. World War II begins.
  • 1947 to Present – India gains independence and works hard to become one of the leading nations of the world.

Indian Holidays and Festivals

When you’re ready to celebrate or discover new cultural rituals, India always has something to offer. Below are some ceremonies as well as when to plan ahead if you’re visiting, as places may be closed.

  • Republic Day – January 26 – National holiday observed in Delhi and other places celebrating India’s preamble taking effect.
  • Thaipusam – in January or February, dates change – Observed throughout India, Sri Lanka, and places with a large Tamil community, over a million worshipers gather at the Batu Caves outside of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and pay tribute to Lord Murugan.
  • Holi Festival – in March, dates change – This festival celebrates the beginning of spring with bright colors, celebrations, and good spirits.
  • Independence Day – August 15 – Observed throughout India, government buildings are lit up in the colors of the flag, and people celebrate being freed from British rule in 1947.
  • Rakhi – in August, dates change (celebrated during full moon day) – Observed across India, this holiday celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters.
  • Gandhi’s Birthday – October 2 – National holiday observed throughout all of India in respect for his help with leading India to freedom.
  • Diwali (AKA Deepavali, Divali, Hindu Festival of Lights) – Celebrated between October and December – A celebration that lasts for 5 days for the fiscal new year. People hang lanterns to ensure no darkness is in their home and welcome guests with festive décor.
  • Pushkar Camel Fair – Every November in Pushkar in Rajasthan, India merchants and farmers show off livestock. This is one of the largest in the world and a must-see event.
  • Christmas – December 25 – Not as commonly celebrated, but some Indians who work with Westerners may celebrate or send and receive gifts, but you may not see traditional symbolism like in the western hemisphere.

Indian Customs and Etiquette

With any historic and rich culture, there’s bound to be some rituals that are important to know before you visit. Here are some of the more common and interesting ones.

  • Tilak – A ritual mark made on the forehead with incense. It often indicates a Hindu person’s sectarian affiliation.
  • Bindi – A kind of tilak married Hindu women wear. Made with vermillion powder, it symbolizes the Goddess Parvati and signifies female energy.
  • Aarti – An act of devotion, performed during worship. The worshipper circulates a plate with an aarti lamp around a deity or person, accompanied by songs of praise to them.
  • Offering Flower Garland – Shows respect and honor, generally offered to deities and guests.
  • Lighting a Diya (lamp) – A lamp is lighted in honor of God every morning and evening.


Some of these symbols will seem familiar, but their history is longer than you’d expect, and they likely have different meanings in India.

  • Kalachakra (‘Wheel of Time’ or ‘Circle of Time’) – This universal symbol of Buddhism symbolizes the perfection of creation.
  • AUM (or OM) – The most important Hindu symbol. Symbolizes the ultimate reality, is considered the ‘primal’ sound from when the universe was created. It is the root mantra.
  • Banyan Tree (Vata) – One of the most worshipped trees in India, it symbolizes Hinduism, longevity & fertility, and represents the divine creator, Brahma.
  • Sri Yantra, (or Sri Chakra) – Sacred geometry used for worship & meditation for thousands of years characterized by nine interlocking triangles radiating from a central point, which symbolize the human body within the cosmos.
  • Shiva Nataraja – This depiction of the Hindu god Shiva in dancing pose teaches that ignorance can only be overcome by knowledge, music, and dance.
  • Lotus flower – India’s national flower symbolizes creation, perfection, and beauty, and is associated with the deities Vishnu, Brahma, and Lakshmi.
  • Mayil (Peacock) – India’s national bird whose feathers bring good luck. His cry warns of approaching danger.

What Do Colors Mean in India

Colors are important in every culture, and India is no different. Keep this quick guide in mind when buying or decorating gifts to friends and family living there.

  • Red – Fertility, prosperity, and positive energy (preferred color for brides)
  • Orange – Purity, religious abstinence, and quest for light
  • Yellow – Peace, happiness, and meditation
  • Blue – Bravery, determination, and depth of character
  • Green – New beginnings, harvest, and happiness
  • White – Peace, purity, cleanliness, and knowledge, and the color of mourning
  • Black – Evil, negativity, and lack of energy (used to ward off evil)