Indian culture has been shaped by its long history, and its diverse geography. The ancient heritage of the Indus Valley Civilization has been preserved even while absorbing customs, traditions, and rituals from both immigrants and invaders.
India’s different religions followed by its vast populace have contributed to making its culture as diverse as it is unique. The epics of Hinduism – the Ramayana and the Mahabharata which serve as folk epics have greatly influenced Indian culture.
The fabric of Indian folk culture has been spun with yarns from different cultures: the Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and English cultures. And it is this cultural diversity that makes Indian folk culture interesting and colourful.
Indian folk culture is so varied that it would be difficult to generalise it. However, as with all folk cultures it has been handed down by oral tradition, and has a strong sense of community. In a country whose cities boast of ballroom dancing classes, it is refreshing to see folk dance continue to hold its ground. It remains an integral part of India’s culture.
Perhaps it’s the Indian fascination for stories that gives Indian culture its distinctive flavour. Whether it’s India’s folk dances or its folk songs they all tell a story. They are specific to a particular locale and even if they are performed at another place they will still carry the strong features of the place of creation.
Bhangra, the folk dance form of the Punjab region originated as a harvest dance. It depicts the cycle of ploughing, sowing, and harvesting and is performed at the harvest season.
The dances of India vary and each state has several forms of dance. The Bihu of Assam, the Bhavai of Rajasthan, the Lavni of Maharashtra, the Teiyyam of Kerala, the Garb of Gujarat and the war dances of Nagaland are some of the well known folk dances. If Indian dance has sprung from the religious urges of her people her music has also been influenced by her cultural beliefs.
Indian Folk music is a rustic reflection of the large Indian society. It draws largely from tribal music but is different from it. Indian folk music has many forms including Bhangra, Dandiya, Lavani and Rajasthani, most of which are dance oriented. The traditional folk music is mostly played on instruments like the flute, santoor, dholak, ektar and dotar.
Folk art painting has been an integral part of the Indian civilization and it continues to be a living tradition. Warli, Madhubani, Patachitra and other forms of traditional Indian folk art are internationally acclaimed possessions today and they depict Indian culture.
Owing to the close contact that these arts enjoy with the masses, these works are infused with heartwarming simplicity. They work to preserve the rich cultural traditions of this great country through their illustration of love stories, their songs based on folk lore and their dance sequences that speak of stories close to the heart. They are instrumental in the spread of social values and ethics and religious and philosophical ideas.