Spiritual Delhi

Religion plays a key role in everyday life in Delhi, and visiting the city, even for those of no faith, often turns out to be a rewardingly spiritual experience. Places of worship may throng with devotees, but they usually welcome visitors too, and the time you spend in these serenely sacred spots will linger long in the memory.


More than 80% of Delhi's population is Hindu. Hinduism has no founder or central authority and it isn’t a proselytising religion. Essentially, Hindus believe in Brahman, who is eternal, uncreated and infinite. Everything that exists emanates from Brahman and will ultimately return to it. The multitude of gods and goddesses are merely manifestations – knowable aspects of this formless phenomenon.

Hindus believe that earthly life is cyclical: you are born again and again (a process known as samsara), the quality of these rebirths being dependent upon your karma (conduct or action) in previous lives. Living a righteous life and fulfilling your dharma (moral code of behaviour; social duty) will enhance your chances of being born into a higher caste and better circumstances. Alternatively, if enough bad karma has accumulated, rebirth may take animal form. But it’s only as a human that you can gain sufficient self-knowledge to escape the cycle of reincarnation and achieve moksha (liberation from samsara).

Gods & Goddesses

All Hindu deities are regarded as manifestations of Brahman, who is often described as having three main representations, the Trimurti: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.


The One; the ultimate reality. Brahman is formless, eternal and the source of all existence. Brahman is nirguna (without attributes), as opposed to all the other gods and goddesses, which are manifestations of Brahman and therefore saguna (with attributes).


Shiva is the destroyer – to deliver salvation – without whom creation couldn’t occur. Shiva’s creative role is phallically symbolised by his representation as the frequently worshipped lingam. With 1008 names, Shiva takes many forms, including Nataraja, lord of the tandava (cosmic victory dance), who paces out the creation and destruction of the cosmos.

Sometimes Shiva has snakes draped around his neck and is shown holding a trident (representative of the Trimurti) as a weapon while riding Nandi, his bull. Nandi symbolises power and potency, justice and moral order. Shiva’s consort, Parvati, is capable of taking many forms, including the warlike goddesses Durga and Kali.


The preserver or sustainer, Vishnu is associated with ‘right action’. He protects and sustains all that is good in the world. He is usually depicted with four arms, holding a lotus, a conch shell (it can be blown like a trumpet, so symbolises the cosmic vibration from which existence emanates), a discus and a mace. His consort is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and his vehicle is faithful Garuda, a fusion of man and bird.

Said to emanate from the causal ocean, from which all physical things are created, the sacred River Ganges (Ganga) flows into the material world from Vishnu's feet, but is held back by the matted hair of Lord Shiva to prevent it destroying the earth.


Only during the creation of the universe does Brahma play an active role. At other times he is in meditation. His consort is Saraswati, the goddess of learning, and his vehicle is a swan. He is sometimes shown sitting on a lotus that rises from Vishnu’s navel, symbolising the interdependence of the gods. Brahma is generally depicted with four (crowned and bearded) heads, each turned towards a point of the compass. Worship of Brahma was eclipsed by the rise of groups devoted to Shiva and Vishnu. Today, India has few Brahma temples.

Other Deities

Elephant-headed Ganesh is the god of good fortune, remover of obstacles, and patron of scribes (the broken tusk he holds was used to write sections of the Mahabharata). His animal vehicle is Mooshak (a rat-like creature). How Ganesh came to have an elephant’s head is a story with several variations. One legend says that Ganesh was born to Parvati in the absence of his father Shiva, and so grew up not knowing him. One day, as Ganesh stood guard while his mother bathed, Shiva returned and asked to be let into Parvati’s presence. Ganesh, who didn’t recognise Shiva, refused. Enraged, Shiva lopped off Ganesh’s head, only to later discover, much to his horror, that he had slaughtered his own son. He vowed to replace Ganesh’s head with that of the first creature he came across, which happened to be an elephant.

Another prominent deity, Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu sent to earth to fight for good and combat evil. His dalliances with the gopis (milkmaids) and his love for Radha have inspired countless paintings and songs. Depicted with blue-hued skin, Krishna is often seen playing the flute.

Hanuman is the hero of the Ramayana and loyal ally of Rama. He embodies the concept of bhakti (devotion). He’s the king of the monkeys, but is capable of taking on other forms.

Among Shaivites (followers of the Shiva movement), shakti, the divine creative power of women, is worshipped as a force in its own right. The concept of shakti is embodied in the ancient goddess Devi (divine mother), who is also manifested as Durga and, in a fiercer evil-destroying incarnation, Kali. Other widely worshipped goddesses include Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Saraswati, the goddess of learning.

Sacred Texts

Hindu sacred texts fall into two categories: those believed to be the word of god (shruti, meaning ‘heard’) and those produced by people (smriti, meaning ‘remembered’). The Vedas are regarded as shruti knowledge and are considered the authoritative basis for Hinduism. The oldest of the Vedic texts, the Rig-Veda, was compiled over 3000 years ago. Within its 1028 verses are prayers for prosperity and longevity, as well as an explanation of the universe’s origins. The Upanishads, the last parts of the Vedas, reflect on the mystery of death and emphasise the oneness of the universe. The oldest of the Vedic texts were written in Vedic Sanskrit (related to Old Persian). Later texts were composed in classical Sanskrit, but many have been translated into the vernacular.

The smriti texts comprise a collection of literature spanning centuries and include expositions on the proper performance of domestic ceremonies as well as the proper pursuit of government, economics and religious law. Among its well-known works are the Ramayana and Mahabharata, as well as the Puranas, which expand on the epics and promote the notion of the Trimurti. Unlike the Vedas, reading the Puranas is not restricted to initiated higher-caste males.

The Mahabharata

Thought to have been composed around 1000 BC, the Mahabharata focuses on the exploits of Krishna. By about 500 BC, the Mahabharata had evolved into a far more complex creation with substantial additions, including the Bhagavad Gita (where Krishna proffers advice to Arjuna before a battle).

The story centres on conflict between the heroic gods (Pandavas) and the demons (Kauravas). Overseeing events is Krishna, who has taken on human form. Krishna acts as charioteer for the Pandava hero Arjuna, who eventually triumphs in a great battle against the Kauravas.

The Ramayana

Composed around the 3rd or 2nd century BC, the Ramayana is believed to be largely the work of one person, the poet Valmiki. Like the Mahabharata, it centres on conflict between the gods and the demons.

The story goes that Dasharatha, the childless king of Ayodhya, called upon the gods to provide him with a son. His wife duly gave birth to a boy. But this child, named Rama, was in fact an incarnation of Vishnu, who had assumed human form to overthrow the demon king of Lanka (now Sri Lanka), Ravana.

As an adult, Rama, who won the hand of the princess Sita in a competition, was chosen by his father to inherit his kingdom. At the last minute Rama’s stepmother intervened and demanded her son, Barathan, take Rama’s place. Rama, Sita and Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, were exiled and went off to the forests, where Rama and Lakshmana battled demons and other dark forces. Ravana’s sister attempted to seduce Rama but she was rejected and, in revenge, Ravana captured Sita and spirited her away to his palace in Lanka.

Rama, assisted by an army of monkeys led by the loyal monkey god Hanuman, eventually found the palace, killed Ravana and rescued Sita. All returned victorious to Ayodhya, where Rama was welcomed and crowned king.

Sacred Flora & Fauna

Animals, particularly snakes and cows, have long been worshipped on the subcontinent. For Hindus, the cow represents fertility and nurturing, while snakes (especially cobras) are associated with fertility and welfare. Naga stones (snake stones) serve the dual purpose of protecting humans from snakes and appeasing snake gods.

Plants can also have sacred associations, such as the banyan tree, which symbolises the Trimurti, while mango trees are symbolic of love – Shiva is believed to have married Parvati under one. Meanwhile, the lotus flower is said to have emerged from the primeval waters and is connected to the mythical centre of the earth through its stem. Often found in the most polluted of waters, the lotus has the remarkable ability to blossom above murky depths. The centre of the lotus corresponds to the centre of the universe, the navel of the earth: all is held together by the stem and the eternal waters. The fragile yet resolute lotus is an embodiment of beauty and strength and a reminder to Hindus of how their own lives should be. So revered has the lotus become that today it’s India’s national flower. The Rudraksha (meaning 'Shiva's eye') tree is said to have sprung from Shiva's tears, and its seeds are used as prayer beads.


Worship and ritual play a paramount role in Hinduism. In Hindu homes you’ll often find a dedicated worship area, where members of the family pray to the deities of their choice. Beyond the home, Hindus worship at temples. Puja is a focal point of worship and ranges from silent prayer to elaborate ceremonies. Devotees leave the temple with a handful of prasad (temple-blessed food) which is shared among others. Other forms of worship include aarti (the auspicious lighting of lamps or candles) and the playing of bhajans (devotional songs).


Islam is Delhi's largest minority religion, followed by approximately 13% of the population. It's believed that Islam was introduced to northern India by Muslim conquerors and to the south by Arab traders.

Islam was founded in Arabia by the Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century AD. The Arabic term islam means to surrender, and believers (Muslims) undertake to surrender to the will of Allah (God), which is revealed in the scriptures, the Quran. In this monotheistic religion, God’s word is conveyed through prophets (messengers), of whom Mohammed was the most recent.

Following Mohammed’s death, a succession dispute split the movement, and the legacy today is the Sunnis and the Shiites. Most Muslims in India are Sunnis. The Sunnis emphasise the ‘well-trodden’ path or the orthodox way. Shiites believe that only imams (exemplary leaders) can reveal the true meaning of the Quran. India also has a long tradition of Sufism, a mystical interpretation of Islam that dates back to the earliest days of the religion.

All Muslims, however, share a belief in the Five Pillars of Islam: the shahada (declaration of faith: ‘There is no God but Allah; Mohammed is his prophet’); prayer (ideally five times a day); the zakat (tax), in the form of a charitable donation; fasting (during Ramadan) for all except the sick, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those undertaking arduous journeys; and the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca, which every Muslim aspires to do at least once.


Sikhs make up around 3% of Delhi's population. Founded in Punjab by Guru Nanak in the 15th century, Sikhism began as a reaction against the caste system and Brahmin domination of ritual. Sikhs believe in one god and although they reject the worship of idols, some keep pictures of the 10 gurus as a point of focus. The Sikhs' holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, contains the teachings of the 10 Sikh gurus, several of whom were executed by the Mughals. Like Hindus and Buddhists, Sikhs believe in rebirth and karma. In Sikhism, there's no ascetic or monastic tradition ending the cycles of rebirth.

Born in present-day Pakistan, Guru Nanak (1469–1539) was largely dissatisfied with both Muslim and Hindu religious practices. He believed in family life and the value of hard work – he married, had two sons and worked as a farmer when not travelling around, preaching and singing self-composed kirtan (Sikh devotional songs) with his Muslim musician, Mardana. He is said to have performed miracles and he encouraged meditation on God’s name as a prime path to enlightenment.

Nanak believed in equality centuries before it became socially fashionable and campaigned against the caste system. He was a practical guru, as in the principle of kirat karni: ‘a person who makes an honest living and shares earnings with others recognises the way to God’. He appointed his most talented disciple to be his successor, not one of his sons. His kirtan are still sung in gurdwaras (Sikh temples) today, and his picture is kept in millions of homes in and beyond the subcontinent.

Sikhs strive to follow the spiritual lead of the Khalsa, the five Sikh warriors anointed by Guru Gobind Singh as perfectly embodying the principles of the Sikh faith. Wearing a dastar, or turban, is mandatory for baptised Sikh men, and devout Sikhs uphold the 'Five Ks' – kesh (leaving hair uncut), kanga (carrying a wooden comb), kara (wearing an iron bracelet), kacchera (wearing cotton shorts) and kirpan (carrying a dagger or sword).


Less than 1% of Delhi's population is Buddhist, with most following the Tibetan branch of Buddhism, established in the 8th century AD and fusing indigenous Tibetan beliefs with teachings from the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) Buddhist tradition. Supernatural beings are an important part of Tibetan Buddhism and come in the form of both benevolent and wrathful entities. India has notable communities of Buddhist refugees from Tibet. Most famously, the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Dalai Lama himself are sheltered by the Indian government at Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, but there is also a small Tibetan enclave in Delhi, at Majnu-ka-Tilla.

Buddhism emerged in the 6th century BC as a reaction against the strictures of Brahminical Hinduism. Buddha (Awakened One) is believed to have lived from about 563 to 483 BC. Formerly a prince (Siddhartha Gautama) from the Nepali plains, the Buddha, at the age of 29, embarked on a quest for emancipation from the world of suffering. He achieved nirvana (the state of full awareness) at Bodhgaya, aged 35. Critical of the caste system and the unthinking worship of gods, the Buddha urged his disciples to seek truth within their own experiences.

The Buddha taught that existence is based on Four Noble Truths: that life is rooted in suffering, that suffering is caused by craving, that one can find release from suffering by eliminating craving, and that the way to eliminate craving is by following the Noble Eightfold Path. This path consists of right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right awareness and right concentration. By successfully complying with these one can attain nirvana.

Buddhism had somewhat waned in parts of India by the turn of the 20th century. However, it saw a revival in the 1950s among intellectuals and Dalits who were disillusioned with the Hindu caste system, with nearly half a million people converting under the guidance of Dalit leader, BR Ambedkar. The number of followers has been further increased with the influx of Tibetan refugees.

Other Religions

Other religions make up around 1% of Delhi's population, but still have a noticeably presence. You see Jain temples dotted around Old Delhi, most famously just in front of the Red Fort on Chandni Chowk. Remember to leave your shoes at the entrance to Jain temples, along with any leather items you might be wearing or carrying. Jainism arose in the 6th century BC as a reaction against the caste restraints and rituals of Hinduism. It was founded by Mahavira, a contemporary of Buddha. Jains believe that liberation can be attained by achieving complete purity of the soul. Purity means shedding all karman, matter generated by one’s actions that binds itself to the soul. By following various austerities (eg fasting and meditation), one can shed karman and purify the soul. Right conduct is essential, and fundamental to this is ahimsa (nonviolence) in thought and deed towards any living thing.

Although less then 1% of Delhi's population belong to Christianity (there are far more Christians in South India), the capital does have some beautiful churches worth seeking out. The striking, yellow-painted, white colonnaded, James Church, near Kashmiri Gate, is the oldest, dating from 1836. The Roman Catholic, ochre-coloured Sacred Heart Cathedral, near Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, is also of some age, and one of Delhi's largest, while the small but beautiful, domed, Cathedral Church of The Redemption, built in 1931, lies close to the President's House, Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Another significant minority religion in India is Zoroastrianism, founded by Zoroaster (Zarathustra), and which had its inception in Persia in the 6th century BC. It is based on the concept of dualism, whereby good and evil are locked in a continuous battle. Zoroastrianism was eclipsed in Persia by the rise of Islam in the 7th century and its followers, many of whom openly resisted this, suffered persecution. Over the following centuries some emigrated to India, where they became known as Parsis. Historically, Parsis settled in Gujarat and became farmers. However, during British rule they moved into commerce, forming a prosperous community in Mumbai. There are around 750 Parsis living in Delhi.

Sidebar: Hindu Pantheon

The Hindu pantheon is said to have a staggering 330 million deities; those worshipped are a matter of personal choice or tradition.

Sidebar: Books About Hinduism

Unravelling the basic tenets of Hinduism are two good books, both called Hinduism: An Introduction – one is by Shakunthala Jagannathan, the other by Dharam Vir Singh.

Sidebar: English Translations of Holy Hindu Texts

Two recommended publications containing English translations of holy Hindu texts are The Bhagavad Gita by S Radhakrishnan and The Valmiki Ramayana by Romesh Dutt.

Sidebar: Books about Sikhism

To grasp the intricacies of Sikhism, read Volume One (1469–1839) and Volume Two (1839–2004) of A History of the Sikhs by Khushwant Singh.

Sidebar: Books on India's minority religions

William Dalrymple's Nine Lives is a wonderfully accessible book that explores the lives of nine Indian people (a Jain nun, a Buddhist monk, a Sufi Muslim) each of whom represents a different religious path.

The Delhi Way of Life

Spirituality and family lie at the heart of Indian society, with the two often intertwining in various ceremonies to celebrate auspicious occasions and life's milestones. Despite the growing number of nuclear families in cities such as Delhi, the extended family still remains the cornerstone of the Indian family, with males generally considered the head of the household.


Different religions practise different traditions, but for all communities, marriage, birth and death are important and marked with ceremonies according to the faith.

Marriage is an exceptionally auspicious event for Indians – for most, the idea of being unmarried by their mid-30s is unpalatable. Although ‘love marriages’ have spiralled upwards in recent times (mainly in urban hubs like Delhi), most Indian marriages are still arranged, be the family Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain or Buddhist.

Dowry, although illegal, is still a key issue in more than a few arranged marriages (mostly in conservative communities), with some families plunging into debt to raise the required cash and merchandise (from cars and computers to refrigerators and televisions).

The Hindu wedding ceremony is officiated over by a priest and the marriage is formalised when the couple walk around a sacred fire seven times. Muslim ceremonies involve the reading of the Quran, and traditionally the husband and wife view each other via mirrors. Despite the existence of nuclear families, it’s still the norm for a wife to live with her husband’s family once married and assume the household duties outlined by her mother-in-law. Not surprisingly, the mother–daughter-in-law relationship can be a tricky one, as portrayed in various Indian TV soap operas.

Divorce and remarriage are becoming more common (primarily in bigger cities like Delhi), but divorce is still not granted by courts as a matter of routine and is not looked upon very favourably by society. Among the higher castes, in more traditional areas, widows are expected not to remarry and are expected to wear white and live pious, celibate lives.

Birth & Death

The birth of a child is another momentous occasion, with its own set of special ceremonies which take place at various auspicious times during the early years of childhood. For Hindus these include the casting of the child’s first horoscope, name-giving, feeding the first solid food, and the first hair cutting.

Hindus cremate their dead, and funeral ceremonies are designed to purify and console both the living and the deceased. An important aspect of the proceedings is the sharadda, paying respect to one’s ancestors by offering water and rice cakes. It’s an observance that’s repeated at each anniversary of the death. After the cremation, the ashes are collected and, 13 days after the death (when blood relatives are deemed ritually pure), a member of the family usually scatters them in a holy river such as the Ganges or in the ocean.

Sikhs similarly wash then cremate their dead. Muslims also prepare their dead carefully, but bury them, while the minority Zoroastrian Parsi community place their dead in 'Towers of Silence' (stone towers) to be devoured by birds.

The Caste System

Although the Indian constitution does not recognise the caste system, caste still wields considerable influence, especially in rural India, where the caste you are born into largely determines your social standing in the community. It can also influence your vocational and marriage prospects. Castes are further divided into thousands of jatis, groups of ‘families’ or social communities, which are sometimes but not always linked to occupation. Conservative Hindus will only marry someone of the same jati, and you'll often see caste as a criteria in matrimonial adverts: 'Mahar seeks Mahar' etc. In some traditional areas, young men and women who fall in love outside their caste have been murdered.

According to tradition, caste is the basic social structure of Hindu society. Living a righteous life and fulfilling your dharma (moral duty) raises your chances of being reborn into a higher caste and thus into better circumstances. Hindus are born into one of four varnas (castes): Brahmin (priests and scholars), Kshatriya (soldiers and administrators), Vaishya (merchants) and Shudra (labourers). The Brahmins were said to have emerged from the mouth of Lord Brahma at the moment of creation, Kshatriyas were said to have come from his arms, Vaishyas from his thighs and Shudras from his feet.

Beneath the four main castes are the Dalits (formerly known as Untouchables), who hold menial jobs such as sweepers and latrine cleaners. Many of India's complex codes of ritual purity were devised to prevent physical contact between people of higher castes and Dalits. A less-rigid system exists in Islamic communities in India, with society divided into ashraf (high born), ajlaf (low born) and arzal (equivalent to the Dalits).

Women in Delhi

Women's rights under the Constitution of India include equality, dignity, and freedom from discrimination, and though vastly underrepresented in the national parliament, women have held key positions within the nation's political system, including president of India. However, women in India continue to face numerous problems such as sexual assault, gender inequality and dowry issues.

In low-income families, especially, girls can be regarded as a serious financial liability because at marriage a dowry might be demanded. For Delhi's urban middle-class women, life is usually much more comfortable, but pressures still exist. Broadly speaking, they are far more likely to receive a tertiary education, but once married they are still often expected to ‘fit in’ with their in-laws and be a homemaker above all else.

Divorce rates in India are among the world's lowest although they are rising. Most divorces take place in urban centres like Delhi where they are deemed less socially unacceptable, particularly among those occupying the upper echelons of society.

In October 2006, following women’s civil rights campaigns, the Indian parliament passed a landmark bill (on top of existing legislation) which gives women who are suffering domestic violence increased protection and rights. Prior to this legislation, although women could lodge police complaints against abusive spouses, they weren’t automatically entitled to a share of the marital property or to ongoing financial support. Critics claim that many women, especially those outside India’s larger cities, are still reluctant to seek legal protection because of the social stigma involved.

India remains a conservative society, and despite the sexualised images of women churned out in Bollywood movies (although prolonged kissing is still rarely seen on screen), it's considered by many traditionally minded people that a woman is somehow wanton if she so much as goes out after dark or does not dress modestly.

According to India's National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), reported incidences of rape have risen dramatically in recent years, but it's believed that only a small percentage of sexual assaults are reported, largely due to family pressure and/or shame, especially if the perpetrator is known to the family (which is true in many cases).

Following the highly publicised gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old Indian physiotherapy student in Delhi in December 2012, tens of thousands of people protested in the capital and beyond, demanding swift government action to address the country's escalating gender-based violence. It took a further year before legal amendments were made to existing laws to address the problem of sexual assault, including harsher punishments such as life imprisonment and the death penalty. Despite this, sexual violence against women is still a major problem.

In a bid to address the sexual assault problem, the government is taking a number of measures. From 2017 it made it mandatory for all mobile phones sold in India to have a panic button. In addition, there has been an increase in female police officers and an opening of centres for women who have been victims of violence. Various public-awareness programs have also been launched. Although these moves are a step in the right direction, India still has a very long way to go.


Devout Hindus are expected to go on a yatra (pilgrimage) at least once a year. Pilgrimages are undertaken to implore the gods or goddesses to grant a wish, to take the ashes of a cremated relative to a holy river, or to gain spiritual merit. India has thousands of holy sites to which pilgrims travel; the elderly often make Varanasi their final one, as it’s believed that dying in this sacred city releases a person from the cycle of rebirth. Sufi shrines in India attract thousands of Muslims to commemorate holy days, such as the birthday of a sufi saint, and many Muslims also make the hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Most festivals in India are rooted in religion and are thus a magnet for throngs of pilgrims. As many festivals are spiritual occasions – even those that have a carnivalesque sheen – it's important for tourists to behave respectfully. Also be aware that there have been deaths at festivals because of stampedes, so be extra cautious in large crowds.


Cricket is not only a national sporting obsession, but a matter of enormous patriotism, especially evident whenever India plays against Pakistan. Matches between these South Asian neighbours – which have had rocky relations since Independence – attract especially passionate support, and the players of both sides are under immense pressure to do their respective countries proud.

Cricket – especially the Twenty20 format (www.cricket20.com) – is big business in India, attracting lucrative sponsorship deals and celebrity status for its players. The sport has not been without its murky side though, with Indian cricketers among those embroiled in match-fixing scandals over past years. International games are played at various centres – see Indian newspapers or check online for details about matches in Delhi that coincide with your visit. Keep your finger on the cricketing pulse at www.espncricinfo.com (rated most highly by many cricket aficionados) and www.cricbuzz.com.

The launch of football's Indian Super League (ISL; www.indiansuperleague.com) in 2013 has achieved its aim of promoting football as a big-time, big-money sport, with games attracting big crowds and international players, albeit usually ones coming to the end of their careers.

Another popular sport is kabaddi, a game of team tag that originated in India, and which India dominates on the world stage. The Pro Kabaddi League (www.prokabaddi.com) was introduced in 2014, based on cricket's Indian Premier League, and has proved a big hit, attracting huge television audiences. The capital's Pro Kabaddi League team is Dabang Delhi (DBD) who play their home matches at the Thyagaraj Sports Complex in South Delhi.

Although officially the national sport, field hockey no longer enjoys the same fervent following it once did. During its golden era, between 1928 and 1956, India won six consecutive Olympic gold medals in hockey, but interest has waned and recent initiatives to ignite renewed interest in the game have had mixed results. The country is also known for its historical links to horse polo, which intermittently thrived on the subcontinent (especially among nobility and colonial administrators) until Independence, after which patronage steeply declined due to dwindling funds.

Sidebar: Books about the Caste System

If you want to learn more about India’s caste system, these two books are a good start: Interrogating Caste by Dipankar Gupta and Translating Caste edited by Tapan Basu.

Sidebar: Matrimony Websites

Matchmaking has inevitably gone online, with popular sites including www.shaadi.com, www.bharatmatrimony.com and, in a sign of the times, www.secondshaadi.com – for those seeking a partner again.

Sidebar: Books about Indian Cricket

Recommended books for cricket lovers include The Illustrated History of Indian Cricket by Boria Majumdar and The States of Indian Cricket by Ramachandra Guha.