India is in a fascinating stage of development. What does it even mean, though, to be in a ‘fascinating stage of development’? Well, 90% of Indian households have mobile phones, while 40% have access to toilets. That statistic certainly caught my attention. However, while sanitation and communication likely indicate a country’s level of development to some degree, what else falls under that nebulous, catchall term: ‘development’? Answering that question sounds like a strenuous academic pursuit, something that I intend to avoid for at least a few years after completing my last semester of college three months ago. After a visit to a famous Hindu temple, I prefer to look at another changing and possibly related aspect of this country: Indian culture! This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Brihadeeswarar Temple near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Accompanied by two Guardian staff members – Karthi and Suresh – I felt substantially less touristy than I did on my trip to Kerala. I went to Thanjavur to see the famous architecture which boasts of Indian culture, however, I found myself just as captivated by the people visiting the ancient structures.People come from all corners of India to visit the Brihadeeswarar Temple, which makes it an excellent place to observe people from all corners of India. Yes, the 1,000-year-old temple was interesting, but so were the throngs of young men in skinny jeans and t-shirts snapping pictures with their smartphones. Where were the dhotis? Why were all of the guys’ clothes two sizes too small? Women wearing stunning saris of every color imaginable slipped in and out of tiny temple doors, bells on their silver anklets jingling with every footfall.Among them, though, were women in jeans and sunglasses holding hands with their male companions. I rarely even see husbands and wives together in the rural areas outside of Trichy, let alone a public display of affection such as handholding.The diversity of clothing was remarkable, but what made the experience all the more interesting was the context...is this the changing face of the Indian culture? People have been coming to the Brihadeeswarar Temple for over a thousand years, their bare feet touching the same stone floor that I stood on. Despite new technology and different clothes, I knew by the ash on the trendy young men’s foreheads that they were coming to practice the same religious traditions as people five hundred years ago.No culture is static; Indian culture is no exception. Understanding how and to what degree Indian culture is changing is a complicated task. Overall, India is becoming more urban, and the economy is galloping along with 8% annual GDP growth: trends that I associate with ‘development’. To a Westerner such as myself it easy to see visual markers of Western influence, then confuse development with Westernization of Indian culture. The adoption of Western dress is far from the adoption of Western culture. India culture is absolutely changing, but the more that I learn about it the more sure I am that it will always be unique.If you are absolutely fascinated by the charm of Tamil Nadu and its people, why not help a few who are in need there? There are many ways in which you can loan out money for the cause you feel most connected to.
The Changing Face of Indian Culture? Old Rocks & Tight Jeans!