The South Asian culture is a mixed bowl of a number of different influencing societies, nationalities, ethnic traditions and cultural heritages. The sub-continent is a pot pourrie from the Western-centric perspective and is commonly divided into natural geographic and cultural regions. The region comprises North Asia, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, South West Asia, South East Asia and the Caucasus. Interestingly, and adding to the enigma of the region, Asia is not a distinct continent, geographically. It is distinctly home to commonalities in culture and there has been little or no unity within the natural framework.
South Asian culture comprises its art, cuisine, music, literature, philosophy, religions and the complex relationship between the common, traditional cultures. Home to Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism and Christianity, South Asian culture is rich and varied. The nations of South Asia share an ethnic background and most of the territorial divisions have come up only in the recent past. These similar cultures were basically separated due to varying religious compositions. The culture springs from the rich early Indus Valley Civilization that saw the influx and mix of the Aryan and Dravidian races. The populace component of South Asia eventually mingled to form a unique common culture.
The major exodus from the northwest, near the borders of Afghanistan, saw a major influence on the religions of the sub continent, with the arrival of Islam. Though in the traditional South Asian culture most divisions were based on religion, the commonalities are seen in common interests in sports, shared history, geographical conditions, occupations, lifestyles, food and dress. The temples and places of worship are architectural marvels and completely rebuilt, in the same style, every few years. The common material used in the building includes wood, thatch and stone.
This culture includes commonalities in celebrations and festivals. Dance is common to all the culture components as a form of announcing harvest, spring and the onset of winter. People of this culture dance to the beat of a drum, even as they sing and dance. In South Asia, dance is an integral part of the culture, with slight variations in style. There are courtly dances, dances of celebration and dance dramas. The stories handed down the ages also have a lot of similarity. They all talk of a terrible flood or years spent to control a deluge and help received from the heavens to ‘fix the broken sky’!
The South Asian culture is also home to a number of magical animals and plants, like, the extolled nekomatas or felines with two tails and magical powers, the Balinese child-eating rangdas, the pishachas or haunters of the cremation grounds etc. Story-telling and folklores are common to the cultures of the region and South Asia has given the world a collection of fables. South Asia displays great linguistic diversity, the components being a number of language families and isolates and regional dialects. Most of the South Asian countries have more than one language natively spoken.
South Asian philosophical traditions cover a large spectrum of thoughts and writings. They include antithesis like on one hand propagating non-material pursuits, whereas on the other preach the enjoyment of material world. The region is home to the universally accepted and applied Gandhian principles of non-violence and peaceful resistance. Interestingly, majority of people in the world who practice a religious faith, practice one originally from South Asia. The region celebrates a variety of festivals, which are also traditional holidays in many regions.
In South Asia, rice is the staple food. The region is not only a major consumer but the world’s granary of rice. The use of exotic spices that grow on the land and extensive consumption of fish along the coastlines is another common feature. Years of colonization and interactions with other cultures and nations, the cuisine has also inherited flavors that are distinctly Latin and American. These are incorporated within the people’s local blends.