• Iran!

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    Iran
    Iran is home to a unique language, culture, foods, and history. Even within the Middle East Iran is unlike any other country. Explore Iran!

  • Bangladesh!

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    Bangladesh
    This low-lying country has historic ties to India and Pakistan, but today maintains a wholly unique culture. Explore Bangladesh!

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    Indonesia
    This archipelago nation is culturally diverse from big cities to isolated islands. Begin Your Journey!

  • Mongolia!

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    Mongolia
    This vast country has a culture that spans past and present... a nomadic life shifting to a modern & sedentary society. Begin Your Journey!

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    The mountains, including the Tian Shan Mountains (pictured), give Kyrgyzstan a unique culture, partially formed from this isolation from the mountains. Go Now!

Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of India

WARNING: Terrorist threats continue in India, please read this travel warning before going!

Ethnicity

India is a very ethnically diverse country with thousands of different ethnicities living within its borders and dozens of ethnically-tied languages recognized by the government. Among the people, nearly three quarters belong to the larger Indo-Aryan ethnic group, which is defined by language, not ethnicity. Despite this linguistic affiliation, these people do tend to be ethnically related to each other as well as to the Bangladeshis, Nepalese, and to a much further distance, most of the people of Europe today. Must of the last quarter of the people in India are Dravidians, who again are united and defined as a linguistic group, but are all ethnically related. These people, generally dominating southern India, are most closely related to the Malaysians and other groups within and near India.

Language

The languages of India are numerous as the country has 14 official languages at the regional level. Hindi is the largest language spoken natively with nearly 40% of the population speaking this language in the home. The next most popular native language is Bengali at only 8%. Hindi, along with many languages of India, is an Indo-Aryan language; however the languages of India fall into numerous categories, including the Sino-Tibetan language family and numerous others. Generally speaking, many of the Indo-Aryan languages are similar to each other in India, but few are mutually intelligible.

English and Hindi are the most commonly taught second languages in India as both are the languages of communication between ethnic groups. Hindi is more common as the language of communication in northern India while English is common in the south as the language of communication; both are official languages and both are widely spoken throughout the country.

Religion

Despite the ethnic and linguistic diversity, over 80% of India is Hindi. There is a significant Muslim population as well, making up almost 15% of the population. About 2% of the population is Christian (primarily in the south) and another 2% is Sikh (mostly in the north and northwest, with a base in Punjab). There is also a small Buddhist population.

Hinduism is a religion that is sometimes called a "way of life" as opposed to a religion as there are various differences in Hinduism from one believer to the next. There are also a huge number of variations of Hinduism, making it difficult to fully define due to the number of variations. There is no single higher being that is worshipped, although many followers believe in a number of gods or simply see the earth and all living beings as being sacred. There is generally a strong reliance on karma and reincarnation in the way Hindus live their lives. Many believe their actions, positive or negative, will return to benefit or hurt one's existence, now or in a future life. How a person lives this life is also often times associated with how that being will be re-born, either in a better position or worse than a being is currently in.

Islam (the name of the religion, whose followers are called Muslims) is a monotheistic religion, whose holy book is called the Qur'an. The Qur'an is believed to be the word of God spoken through the prophet Muhammad from 609-632 CE (Common Era is preferred over AD (Anno Domini or "year of the Lord") since the Islamic world doesn't believe Jesus was the messiah). Islam believes Muhammad was the last prophet sent to earth by God, the last in a long line of prophets, which includes Moses, Abraham, and Jesus among others.

Muslims follow five pillars of their faith: testimony, prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. These pillars, and other tenants of their faith, can give great structure to their lives as some foods, like pork, are forbidden and every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day. However, the level of participation in each of these pillars and to what degree Islam influences an individual's life varies from person to person and community to community.

This page was last updated: May, 2014