The diverse racial and cultural origins of the people of India are bound intricately with those of the other peoples of the Indian subcontinent, including the inhabitants of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka, as well as those further afield. The exact origins of most Indian people are impossible to determine because of the large variety of races and cultures that have invaded and been assimilated into the subcontinent. However, elements of three major racial groups—the Caucasoid, the Australoid, and the Mongoloid—may be found in present-day India. At times, geography and environment have encouraged successive waves of migrants to mingle with the indigenous peoples. However, environmental and historical factors have also favoured the coexistence in India of many different peoples with distinct physical and cultural characteristics. This is reflected in India’s linguistic diversity; the country has 18 major languages and more than 1,000 minor ones.
Approximately 8 per cent of the total population belongs to more than 300 so-called scheduled tribes. These tribal or aboriginal groups are racially and culturally distinct from the majority Indian population and also tend to vary considerably among themselves. Their name derives from their inclusion on a “schedule” that gives them certain constitutional protection, representation, and rights.
Broadly speaking, the majority of non-tribal Indian peoples are predominantly Caucasoid in features, showing considerable variation in skin colour. Mongoloid features are seen in the hill peoples of the very north, such as the Nagas.
Australoid features are also seen among the tribal groups, such as the Santal of Bangla. The majority of people in the north and east speak Indo-Aryan languages such as Assamese, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali. The influence of close contact with Persia and the Mughal period are apparent in the language as well as the architecture, clothing, and other aspects of life in the north. These languages derive from Sanskrit, now essentially a dead language, but still used in the reading of sacred texts and other religious ceremonies. In contrast, the Dravidian languages of the south, such as Kannada, Telugu, and Malayalam, derive primarily from Tamil, also a language of the south, although Malayalam contains a considerable number of Sanskrit words. All these languages boast substantial and rich literatures. Of the 18 languages recognized in the constitution, one, Manipuri, the language of the far northern state of Manipur, is Sino-Tibetan in origin.
Among the tribal peoples, often living in relatively isolated hilly regions, a number have maintained their unique cultures and customs, although the encroaching of the mainstream population has caused considerable assimilation and erosion of traditional ways of life. "India" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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