David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.
Culture of South Asia
South Asia is a highly populated area that includes eight countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. South Asia is one of the most diverse parts of the world, and so summarizing their culture in a single lesson is an incredibly difficult task. It's pretty much the definition of a cultural melting pot. But there are still things we can say about culture in the area, and we can talk about some of the differences between these countries.
The culture of South Asia is completely entwined in language, ethnicity, and religion. There are hundreds of languages, ethnic groups, and many popular religions. These things, along with Western influences, especially from the old British Empire, produce a patchwork of local cultural variations and differences. So to really understand the culture of South Asia, we first have to look at languages, ethnicity, and religions.
Religion is a big part of the culture of South Asia. There are many practiced religions: Hindu, Islam, Buddhism, and Sikhism, especially. All four of these religions were born in South Asia and go back for thousands of years, with connections to ancient civilizations in the area. The religions are separated along national borders. When the British gave India its independence, it was split into two countries: India and Pakistan. India was the area that was mostly Hindu, with some Buddhists, and Pakistan was the region that was mostly Islamic. To this day, over 90% of Pakistanis are Muslim. But this has produced a lot of tension between the two countries.
One of the big cultural patterns in the area is the contrast between egalitarian ideals and caste systems. Egalitarian ideals say that everyone is of equal value, and nobody is born superior to anyone else. The caste system is basically the opposite. The Hindu faith is the reason that, historically, India had a caste system, which gave people a social standing at birth. Some people really hated this caste system, and those people formed the Buddhist faith, which is more egalitarian. And then, there is Islam, which came from the West. Islam is generally egalitarian, like Buddhism.
So, there is a clear cultural distinction between egalitarian Muslim countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Maldives, and Bangladesh, egalitarian Buddhist countries like Bhutan and Sri Lanka (though Sri Lanka is more religiously mixed), and Hindu countries like India and Nepal. While the caste system is less strong in India these days, these cultural roots are still there. Their society remains hierarchical, and subordinates tend not to contradict superiors in the workplace.
The various religions have a big impact on how people live. The days they celebrate come from the religions, how patriarchal the country is, and even down to the cuisine: Islam, in particular, has strict guidelines in what can be eaten and how food can be prepared. Even artists only produce art that aligns with the religious values of the country; artistic free speech that involves going against Islam is frowned upon.
Language & Ethnicity
Language and ethnicity are even more complex and diverse. People identify their ethnicity in terms of the countries that exist today, in terms of caste, and in terms of the ancient tribes and ethnic groups that lived in the area. There are hundreds of groups, and the details aren't always well-documented - censuses don't always provide enough information.
In terms of languages, there are two main groups: Indo-Aryan languages and Dravidian. Indo-Aryans are in North India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. Dravidians are more in select areas: mostly Southern India and parts of Sri Lanka and Pakistan. But then there are lots of smaller language families, just to make things even more complicated. The most common languages in South Asia are Hindi and Bengali in India, Bengali in Bangladesh, Punjabi, Pashto, and Sindhi in Pakistan, and Dari and Pashto in Afghanistan. But there are a ton more to get your head around: 780 in total!
Dress, Cuisine, & Sport
Traditional dress in India involves silk saris for the women and dhotis, lungis or panches for men. Pakistanis wear the salwar kameez, and something similar is worn in Bangladesh. Sri Lanka's dress has more in common with India.
In terms of cuisine, across South Asia, the cuisine tends to involve heavily spiced and usually very hot food. This is the food people eat every day of their lives. In many places, meat is a big part of people's diet, including the Muslim countries, though many Hindus and Buddhists are vegetarian for religious reasons. So while the spices are common throughout South Asia, the thing you're spicing isn't always the same.
Muslim countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh follow strict rules about the preparation of meat and don't eat pork for religious reasons. This has an influence on cuisine. Aside from this religious aspect, Pakistani and Bangladeshi food generally has a lot in common with Indian cuisine.
In terms of sports, while a long list of them are played, cricket is by far the most popular across South Asia. This is especially true in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, where few sports come close. It's been said that cricket is like a religion to Indians and Pakistanis. Each of these countries has successful domestic and international cricket teams. But there are other popular sports. Football (or soccer) is more popular than cricket in Nepal, and archery is the national sport of Bhutan. In Afghanistan, football and cricket are similarly popular.
South Asia is a highly populated area that includes eight countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. South Asia is one of the most diverse parts of the world, and their culture is completely entwined in language, ethnicity, and religion.
There are many practiced religions, but the most popular ones are Hindu, Islam, and Buddhism. One of the big cultural patterns of the area is a mix of cultures that follow egalitarian ideals versus those that follow a caste system. The Hindu faith is the reason that, historically, India had a caste system, which gave people a social standing at birth. Buddhism and Islam are more egalitarian. This is reflected in the cultures of Muslim countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Maldives, and Bangladesh, Buddhist countries like Bhutan and Sri Lanka, and Hindu countries like India and Nepal. Indian society remains hierarchical to this day, and subordinates tend not to contradict superiors in the workplace.
The various religions have a big impact on how people live. The days they celebrate, how patriarchal the country is, and even the cuisine, all are impacted by religion. Islam, in particular, has strict guidelines on what can be eaten and how food can be prepared. And some Hindus and Buddhists are vegetarians.
The languages and ethnicities of South Asia are many and complex. People identify their ethnicity by nationality, caste, ancient tribes, and local ethnic groups. There are hundreds of ethnicities. There are two main language groups: Indo-Aryan languages in most of South Asia and Dravidian in Southern India, and parts of Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The most common individual languages in South Asia are Hindi and Bengali in India, Bengali in Bangladesh, Punjabi, Pashto, and Sindhi in Pakistan, and Dari and Pashto in Afghanistan. But there are a staggering 780 languages in total.
Each country has its own traditional dress, and cricket is the most played sport in South Asia by far.
Quick Reference Guide
- 90% of Pakistanis are Muslim
- 780 total languages are spoken in South Asia
- Cuisine tends to be very spicy
- Most have strict rules about food preparation and the consumption of pork
- Cricket is the most popular sport
As you explore the lesson, make goals that include:
- Name countries in South Asia
- Recognize the significance of religion in South Asian culture
- State the two main language groups
- Discuss the most popular cultural trends in South Asia
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