Cultural Representation of India



As India is one of the world’s oldest cultures it has been subjected to a plethora of language influences.

The primary ones are; Hindi 41%, Bengali 8.1%, Telugu 7.2%, Marathi 7%, Tamil 5.9%, Urdu 5%, Gujarati 4.5%, Kannada 3.7%, Malayalam 3.2%, Oriya 3.2%, Punjabi 2.8%, Assamese 1.3%, Maithili 1.2%, other 5.9%. English is used primarily in business, and for economic and political purposes.

Language is regional and dialects play a role in the variety of languages spoken throughout India, with some sources suggesting that there are possibly 1,652 different languages or dialects. These come from four main linguistic families and are centred on different regions.

Local guides and translators may be beneficial if you are conducting meetings in a variety of locations throughout the country as difference in language is ubiquitous.


Religion & Beliefs

  • Hindu 79.8%, Muslim 14.2%, Christian 2.3%, Sikh 1.7%, other and unspecified 2% (2011 est.)
  • India has the second largest Muslim population in the world
  • Religious practises are an integral part of daily life
  • From the Hindu culture arose three other major religions: Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
  • Hinduism has long established roots in India dating from 2000-1500 B.C.E
  • In Hinduism there is no single founder, specific theological system, or central religious structure
  • Vedas and Upanishads are the holy books of Hinduism
  • Hinduism teaches meditation, yoga and ascetic practices to cultivate self-discipline and unity
  • The cow is considered a sacred animal

Major Celebrations/Secular Celebrations

  • 26th January (Republic Day)
  • 15th August (Independence Day)
  • 2nd October (Gandhi Jayanti; Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday)
  • Diwali – October/November
  • Holi – March, to celebrate Spring

The Family

  • Family values are highly respected throughout India and are fundamental in daily life
  • The structure of the family is patriarchal; a woman must obey her father, her husband, her son.
  • Arranged marriages are commonplace
  • The urban middle class population of India have begun to move away from arranged marriages
  • Families often live with three or four generations in the same household
  • Traditionally sons inherit and daughters receive a dowry
  • Child care is provided by the female family members

Social Stratification

  • India has one of the world’s oldest caste systems
  • The caste structure divides people into four main groups: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras
  • Brahmins, the teachers and intellectuals – Brahma’s head. Kshatriyas, the warriors and rulers – Brahma’s arms. Vaishyas, the traders – Brahma’s thighs, and finally, Shudras, the menial workers – Brahma’s feet
  • There can be as many as thirty castes within one village
  • Intermarrying between castes was forbidden but in urban areas is now more common
  • Your caste is set by birth

Gender Roles

  • Mothers, grandmothers and older siblings care for infants
  • Patriarchal families are the norm
  • Women are considered to hold secondary positions within the home and workplace
  • 82.14% of males and 65.46% of females are literate (2011 census)
  • Women often receive little schooling
  • Divorce and inheritance laws are male dominated


  • Until the child is two,  the mother or grandmother is primary caregiver
  • Once the child is two, older sisters are the primary caregivers
  • Sons are generally given better opportunities and receive a superior education
  • Gender specific roles are encouraged within the family unit and in wider society


  • The Indian economy is one of the fastest growing in the world
  • Indian labour force is estimated at 509.3 million
  • 60% are employed in agriculture or related industries
  • India has established Special Economic Zones to encourage and support business
  • India’s long-term growth is considered moderately positive due to a young population and corresponding low dependency ratio, healthy savings and investment rates
  • GDP 7.6% (2016 Est.)


  • Food in India is often served on a ‘thali’ – a tray or plate that can hold several dishes
  • ‘Curry’ is a European term to describe the spicy dishes found in India
  • In some parts of India meals are eaten with rice (chawal), in others, flat breads (roti) are preferred
  • Food is infused with spices such as cumin, turmeric, black pepper, cardamom, cloves and coriander
  • Most Hindus avoid eating beef

Arts, Humanities & Popular Culture

  • The Indian culture has absorbed and amalgamated many different customs and ideas throughout its long history which has led to a rich tradition and folk culture
  • The most popular musical instrument in India is the sitar, an instrument similar to a guitar
  • India is well regarded for its rugs, craft, metalwork, bronzes, stone carving, pottery, woodwork, and jewellery.
  • Traditional sports include camel racing and cock fighting
  • Folk dances are regional and often celebrated during festivals
  • ‘Bollywood’ is the informal name given to the popular Mumbai-based film industry
  • Bollywood has the largest output in the world in terms of number of films produced and, possibly, number of tickets sold.

thali indian food


Naming conventions

  • Due to India’s diverse cultural groups there is variance between regions on naming conventions
  • If in doubt, ask! This is likely to cause least offence
  • It is generally safe to address an elder as ‘sir’ or ‘Ma’am’
  • Indians generally have a ‘given’ name – a name they use at work or for people they are not overly familiar with
  • Many people in India also have a ‘pet’ name – a nickname for family and close friends
  • Often you will find that an older female is refers to as ‘auntie’, even if unrelated
  • Younger males are often called ‘little brother’
  • Family names, or surnames often denote the caste or area that an individual originates from –these can have a suffix that denotes the type of their ancestor’s trade
  • Indians may also use a different religious name
  • Many Muslims do not have surnames. Instead, men add the father’s name to their own name with the connector ‘bin’. For example, Abdullah bin Ahmed is Abdullah the son of Ahmad
  • Sikhs all use the name Singh. It is either adopted as a surname or as a connector name to the surname

Meeting & Greeting

  • In India it’s traditional to greet people using ‘Namaste’ – place both hands together and bow slightly. In urban areas this is often overlooked
  • Men will often also shake hands when meeting or leaving
  • Men should not attempt to shake hands with women
  • Some Indian women might shake hands with a western woman
  • Indian culture is based on a hierarchical system so elders and superior are greeted first
  • Religion, caste and social standing all effect greetings

Communication style

  • Avoid standing too close to others
  • Communication may not be straightforward – you may have to read between the lines and interpret gestures/signs
  • Differing relationships will determine how people interact with each other – watch what others do
  • Indian men may often pat each other on the back as a sign of friendship
  • Some gestures can be easily misinterpreted – a western hand wave from side to side can mean ‘no’ or ‘go-away’ in India
  • If an Indian says ‘I will try’ this can usually be interpreted as ‘no’
  • On the whole, Indian people dislike to refuse something, or someone, outright
  • Use your right hand to touch, accept or give something
  • Do not beckon with your hand or snap your fingers – instead, with your arm extended,  curl your fingers downward in a claw motion
  • Pointing, with either one or two fingers, is considered rude and used for inferiors only
  • Chins, thumbs and entire hands are used to point or direct someone’s attention
  • When a head is jerked back, or moved in a figure of eight, this usually  means ‘yes’

Personal Space

  • Refrain from standing within an arm’s length of others
  • Do not touch others on their head
  • Public displays of affection are not encouraged
  • Feet are considered unclean (this also applies to the left hand) so avoid touching another’s foot (apologise immediately if this is accidental)

Gift Giving

  • Gifts are not usually given at the first meeting
  • Once the relationship has developed gifts may be exchanged
  • Personal gifts are appreciated-  especially if from your own country
  • Give and receive gifts with both hands – never just the left as it is considered unclean
  • Generally, gifts are not opened in the company of the benefactor
  • Avoid giving black or white gifts; black denotes anger, evil and negativity, while white is reserved for funerals and mourning
  • Instead choose red, blue or green for a gift or wrappings
  • Avoid gifts that are made from leather or pig skin

Dining & Food

  • Many strict Muslims, and Hindu women, do not drink alcohol
  • You may be invited to wash your hands before eating
  • Food is often eaten with the right hand
  • Guests are generally served in a hierarchical order; guest of honour, men and then children (Women may eat later)
  • Meals often end with a variety of sweets (paan), betel nut served with lime and wrapped in a betel leaf
  • A host will always serve their guests. Accept whatever you are offered but don’t feel obliged to finish everything on your plate
  • If food is placed in communal dishes for you to help yourself, always use a spoon
  • Breads can be used to scoop up food
  • Reciprocate your invitation to dine with one of a comparable value
  • In a restaurant the host will generally pay the bill

Visiting a home

  • Always accept an invitation to dine, unless you have a plausible reason for not attending
  • Give the hosts and their children ‘thank you’ gifts, although this is not always expected
  • It is acceptable to arrive up to thirty minutes later than the stated time
  • Flower garlands may be placed around your neck – this can be removed after a few minutes but should be retained in your hand for a time
  • Shoes are rarely worn inside an Indian home – watch your host and other guests if unsure, and make certain your socks are clean!
  • Ask permission from your host to smoke. Smoking in the presence of elders is considered rude
  • Apologise if your feet or shoes touch another person


  • Do not touch another person with your feet or shoes
  • Do not show anger
  • Do not use public displays of affection
  • Winking and whistling should be avoided
  • Ears are considered sacred – do not box or pull on another’s ears

mumbai metro


India is a rapidly growing marketplace that is tipped to be one of the largest economies in the world in the near future. Ensure your business etiquette, and knowledge of their culture, is accurate to maximise your potential and avoid unnecessary awkwardness.

Business in India can be viewed as a reflection of society; hierarchical structures pervade business and culture, with the result being that strong individuals are leaders in business and their control is unquestioned by those lower on the chain of command.

To be successful when dealing with Indian business people, or conducting business in the country itself, it is worth considering this structure and ensuring that you are dealing with the decision makers so as to avoid prolonging the conclusion.

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