How Diverse is India?


India is a big country. I often like to call
it the “land of lots”, because it has lots of… everything. It has 1.2 billion
people, is the 7th largest country by land area, has the most populous subdivision in
the world, and practices nearly every major religion, with their largest native religion
having thousands of deities. Fittingly, India is often more formally called the “land
of diversity”, because this landmass isn’t entirely made up of Hindi-speaking Hindus,
so what are the other major groups on this giant peninsula? [Brought to you by The Great Courses Plus] India may be one big, united country now,
but this hasn’t always been the case. Before British colonialism, India was made up of
numerous different entities, everything from massive empires to tiny city-states. This
can kind of still be seen even today, with the fact that Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar,
and Sri Lanka, despite also being part of British India, are nonetheless not part of
modern India, and we all know how different these countries are from each-other. India
however is not only diverse, but also very widely spread out. India’s 29 states and
7 union territories all have varying languages, cultures and traditions, especially jumping
from region-to-region. The Ganges is incredibly different from Tamil Nadu, as is the Deccan
Plateau from Punjab, or the Thar Desert from Bengal, as well as Gujarat from Kalgoorlie…
but that’s because that one’s actually in Australia.
There are numerous different ways we could start this off, so let’s start with all
the different languages of India. On the national level, there are two main languages spoken
in India: Hindi and English. Hindi is the most commonly spoken language in the country
by far, and is basically the main language of the Hindi belt, which stretches across
northern and eastern India. Going down the list from a 2011 national census, the 12 most
widely spoken languages in India are Hindi (57.1%), English (10.6%), Bengali (8.9%),
Marathi (8.2%), Telugu (7.8%), Tamil (6.3%), Urdu (5.2%), Gujarati (5.0%), Kannada (4.9%),
Odia (3.6%), Punjabi (3.0%), and Malayalam (2.9%), all going by the number of people
who speak these languages— native or otherwise. As you can see here– well first, it’s interesting
to see that there are more people who speak Kannada than live in Canada– and second,
Hindi is by far the most commonly spoken language in India, but this isn’t necessarily the
case everywhere. In the south, people generally tend to speak languages like Tamil, Telugu
and Kannada, whereas in the west, it’s very often Marathi and Gujarati. Also, let’s
of course not forget the Seven Sister States of northeast India, who speak languages like
Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, and Nepali. Let’s go to religion next. India’s 1.2
billion people practice a multitude of different religions, just those native to India include
Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and numerous others. In addition, foreign religions
also have big roles in India, including Christianity, Zoroastrianism, the Bahá’i Faith, and even
Judaism. Of course, possibly the biggest outside religion in India is Islam, with influence
from different empires like the Mughal Empire. According to that same 2011 census, around
80% of the country identifies as Hindu, making up a total of 966 million faithful. Islam
makes up the next largest minority, with 14% of the population, which at 195 million somewhat
interestingly makes India the country with the second-largest Muslim population in the
world, after Indonesia. Okay, now let’s switch a bit over to doing
this region-by-region. India has six different regions we can divide it into. Starting in
the north, we get… North India, which includes Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh,
Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh. This region mainly covers the Indo-Gangetic Plain and
the Thar Desert. With a population of 376 million, this region is the largest in India,
and boasts cities such as New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, and Chandigarh. North India mostly
speaks Indo-Aryan languages like Hindi, which is notably similar to the Urdu spoken in nearby
Pakistan. North India mostly practices Hinduism, with many other religious minorities, and
also holds numerous different pilgrimage sites for Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. This region
also has many cultural and demographic similarities to the region of Central India, which consists
of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. North India is often what westerners may or may
not think of when they think of “India”, as it is again the most populous region and
home to the capital, but has also been the base of operations for the Mughal Empire,
Delhi Sultanate, and British Empire. Next we have East India, including West Bengal,
Bihar, Jharkhand, and Odisha. The largest city in this region is the city of Kolkata,
the third largest in the whole country. Though East India largely also speaks Hindi and English,
one of their other more common languages is Bengali, also spoken in neighboring Bangladesh.
Also, fun fact: Kolkata-born poet and songwriter Rabindranath Tagore wrote the national anthems
of both India and Bangladesh. Now we move onto Northeast India, and the
aforementioned Seven Sister States, which include Sikkim, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur,
Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya… and also Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims but
is effectively part of India. This area, with a population of “only” 38 million, is
only connected to India by the narrow Siliguri Corridor, also known as the “chicken’s
neck”. These areas have over 200 different ethnic groups that are quite unlike the rest
of India, with many taking a lot of influence from nearby Tibet and Southeast Asia. This
region was also quite difficult to conquer for pre-colonial empires like the Mughals,
meaning there’s less influence from them in these parts.
After that is Western India, made up of Goa, Gujarat and Maharashtra, and sometimes also
including Rajasthan and Karnataka. The main three states however all have quite distinct
upbringings from each-other; Goa is the smallest of the three and has history as a Portuguese
trading port, and is also famous around the world for its beaches. Gujarat has a lot of
strong influence from different cultures from outside India, mainly those who came in through
Persia, like the Turks and Mughals. Finally we have Maharashtra, whose culture is largely
entrenched in the ancient Maratha Empire. Maharashtra also holds the region’s largest
city, Mumbai, which is also home to the world-famous film industry of Bollywood. Keep in mind though,
that even the Indian film industry is this diverse, also including Tollywood, Gollywood,
Jollywood, Mollywood, Kollywood, and several others (not Nollywood though, that’s Nigeria’s
thing). Lastly, we have South India. This place has
the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, and is incredibly
culturally distinct from “the north” of India. These states are of a cultural group
called the Dravidians, who speak (unsurprisingly) Dravidian languages, speaking languages like
the aforementioned Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam. The Dravidian languages however
are their own separate category, completely separate from Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Kashmiri,
etc., which are Indo-European languages, like English or Spanish.
So yeah, perhaps it’s not too surprising, but India is not one homogenous country, but
is a country diverse in everything from culture to language groups to ecosystems. India is
what’s known as a federal republic, which means that the national government in New
Delhi is not the sole authority behind the whole country, and for good reason. India
had actually been quite divided, up until the British came in, and successfully united
the cultures and nations of India together… to fight against them. Now, India is a huge
country on the world stage, and many argue that it could one day even see superpower
status. Now, a lot would need to be done beforehand, but we’ll see what happens next, I guess. This is my first ever sponsored video, and
that sponsor is The Great Courses Plus. What exactly is The Great Courses Plus? Well, their
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If you think I should continue this kind of series, let me know which other countries
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