The Colors of India
“Taste is colored not just by the gustatory properties of the food itself, but its smell, sound, and appearance as well as by expectations… (Len Tiu Wright, 1).”
In India, every corner turned is a plunge into cultural diversity. The people, the landscape, the aroma-infused air; to us it seems so exotic, but most of them probably don’t think twice about their divergent surroundings. That’s because, “while in India, living with cultural diversity is living in an environment that allows you to breathe and therefore slips in your consciousness without making a splash (Deshpande).” As an outsider, you might initially think everyone looks and therefore is the same, but really everything from their daily routines to their elaborate religious practices are quite complex. Social stratification, called the caste system, governs this complexity. Even if the diversity of the people isn’t immediately apparent to you, their cuisine will be. Full of different flavors, smells, colors, and of course tastes, Indian food is one of the most distinct that there is. I recently tried Indian food for the first time and it immediately captivated all my senses. Because it is a rather foreign concept to most and can be quite a complicated process, I will use this report to highlight some of its key features to hopefully shed some light on this exceptional culture. To fully appreciate the Indian culture, you must first understand it. As I mentioned earlier, the caste system is the axis on their wheel of culture. The majority religion in India is Hindu, which justifies dividing society into castes, or birth-ascribed groups with a traditional occupation and set social status. This is because Hindus believe in reincarnation, in which the only way individuals can change their rank in society is through rebirth into another caste. To be reborn into a more privileged class, members of society must first pay their dues in their current rank and live a morally correct life to earn a better and more luxurious one. There are five main castes, marked by varying degrees of purity and pollution, that someone can be born or reborn into: Brahmins, the highest caste, are priests and intellectuals; a warrior or ruler would fall into the next category as a Ksatriva; third are Vaisyas, or those who trade or own land; then Sudras, who are mostly farmers; and finally, Untouchables or Pancama, are so low on the chart they sometimes aren’t considered a caste at all. Also excluded from the system are hundreds of tribes with longstanding and highly distinct cultural patterns. Each caste is then made up of kin-based clans, which consists of lineages that can be major or minor depending on their size and status. The smallest unit is comprised by nuclear or extended families that are established and localized enough to stand on their own. In addition to their culturally specific hierarchy, other factors more commonly known to divide social groups, like gender, also impact a person’s status, with patriarchy having a heavy influence (www.everyculture.com). Clearly, this is a highly complex and rigid system, one which plays a vital role in understanding Indian culture as everything depends on it. An individual’s clothing, names, dialect, ways of worship, acquaintances, residence, location, occupation, and diet are all determined by their social stratification. As discussed in our module that included the book Sweetness and Power, tendencies in diet have historically gone hand in hand with geography, history, economy, and the overall degree of cultural development. Since India is not as industrialized as some countries, like the United States, the emphasis on food as a way to include the family and strengthen ties is prominent in society (Len Tiu Wright, 5). Eating has always played an important role in the civilized culture of Indian, especially when it comes to binding people. They are raised with an emphasis on hospitality, where believing in atithi devo...
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