Uttar Pradesh Culture – A Microcosm of Multicultural India

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Image – Well-Bred Kannan/Flickr

“Anyone who so much as walks past it, cannot hold himself/herself from the feeling of wanting to look at it one more time. And anyone who has been in the presence of it cannot help but sing praises of its glory. It’s inevitable!”

What is said about the great Taj Mahal is truly applicable to the region to which it belongs.  I live in Ghaziabad in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and experienced the most-watched state elections in India first-hand. The most populous state in India obviously had the most boisterous, colourful and fierce voting campaign that would determine not only the state’s politics but the nation’s as well. Being the most culturally diverse among all states, UP had the highest number of regional political parties that catered to different vote banks based on caste, religion and ideology.

Uttar Pradesh Culture

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Image – Well-Bred Kannan/Flickr

Despite all the chaos in daily life, I surmise Uttar Pradesh is undoubtedly the cultural foundation of India. This state is not only the rainbow land where the multi-hued Indian Culture has blossomed from times immemorial but is also a perfect blend of two contrasting religions of Hinduism and Islam. Truly multi-ethnic, this state is laced with immigrant cultural heritage roots that lend it a unique identity in India. Talking about royalty, Lucknow truly represents the royal splendour that was seen during the era of medieval Maharajas. Lucknow, the capital of UP is popularly known as “the city of nawabs”, whose culture is fully influenced by the Mughal era and retains its old-world charm even today.

Language of Uttar Pradesh

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Image – Daniel Mennerich/Flickr

While Urdu as a language is dying a sad demise in India “Lakhnavi Urdu” is a Culture watched old who, spoken that is used by the locals here. Hindi is the official language of UP, spoken in a wide range of dialects such as Awadhi, Brajbasi, Bhojpuri, etc. 

Festivals of Uttar Pradesh

Vrindavan Holi
Vrindavan Holi – Jai/Flickr

Religious rituals are an important part of every state’s culture and thus an integral part of everyday life. Therefore, it is not surprise that many religious holidays observed here, irrespective of caste and faith.

Diwali, Holi and Dussehra, also honoured by Jains, are among the biggest Hindu festivals. Ten days of  Ramlila are spent during Navratri and the epithet of Raavan is burnt with tremendous enthusiasm on the 10th day. In several regions of the state, during the navratri, Durga puja is also observed. The Official Muslim Religious Festivals are Eid e milad un nabi, Eid, Bakreed and Birthdate of Ali ibn Abitalib. Moharram, although Ashura Day is an official holiday, it is not a festival but it’s seen by Shiites as a mourning day. Jains celebrate Mahavir Jayanti, Buddha Jayanti is honoured by the Buddhists, Guru Nanak Jayanti by the Sikhs and Christians enjoy Christmas. Additional celebrations include Navami, Chhath Puja, Krishna-Jannmashtami, Mahashivratri, etc.

Traditional Dress of Uttar Pradesh

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Image – Deepti Hari/Flickr

There is an abundance of Native and Western attire in the people of Uttar Pradesh. Traditional dressing styles include vibrant draped clothing – such as sari of different types for women and dhoti or lungi for men– and tailored dresses, such as female salvar kameez and male kurta payjama. Often men also have headgear such as topi and pagri. Sherwani is a more official male garment that is often used on festive occasions together with the churidar. Pants and shirts of the European style among males are also widespread. Young adults in jeans and t-shirts are most frequently found.

Uttar Pradesh Cuisine

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Mughlai Cuisine – Malai Chicken Tikka Nadir Hashmi/Flickr

Every story has a spice in it so does UP. One of the most famous cuisines of India is the Nawabi Cuisine whose main course is the Lakhnavi Biryani” which has its own distinct identity. The diverse range of dishes and cooking styles of this city is inspired and influenced by the Mughals. The cuisine includes both vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian dishes prepared with exotic spices, herbs and garnished with dry fruits.

Religion in Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh culture the Ganges
An offering to the Ganges – Judith/Flickr

Agra city’s culture is a harmonious blend of various religions, but it is mainly influenced by Brajbasi culture, the Hindu Vaishnavite cult that emerges from the tales of Lord Krishna in Mathura. When we enter the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, we observe that Hindu culture and traditions are predominant in this region. Named as ‘Purvanchal’, this region comprises prominent pilgrimage cities such as Varanasi and Gorakhpur. Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world that has been continuously inhabited since 1800 BC. It is mainly associated with Hinduism and Buddhism but a glimpse of all religions can be seen here. Western UP is mostly populated by Muslims who form a significant majority in this region from the times of the Delhi Sultanate and extending up to the Mughal era. 

Art and Music

Up Culture Kathak Dancers
Kathak Dancers – Saurabh Thakur/Flickr

It has a very rich tradition of folk music & drama such as Ramlila. The royal courts of Lakhnavi Nawabs nurtured the multicultural aspect of Indian culture, which is best represented in delightful Hindustani classical music and Kathak dance forms. Varanasi is famed for its antique musical traditions and is the oldest city of civilisation. The singing style, musical instruments, ragas and stories are distinct. Varanasi is, of course, classified within the “Cities of Music” network of the UNESCO. There are music festivals that are celebrated on the banks of the Ganga River.

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Image – Varanasi.nic.in

The Stone Craft in Uttar Pradesh deserves a mention when it comes to wonderful arts and crafts. These qualifications stretch back to the years, while especially under the Mughal era they developed abundantly. The Taj Mahal is the most exquisite example of handcraft in stone. The mausoleum of white marble is stunning, one of the marvels of the world.

Uttar Pradesh’s elegance in ceramics is legendary. Art history spans back over 600 years. Meerut, Khurja and Hapur are places in the state that have gained their reputation. While the pots are hand produced, they are decorated with lovely floral designs and colourful patterns. Surahi, a long neck vessel, is a unique pottery design. In summers they are utilised to keep the water cool while they also look wonderful.

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Chikankari – Rajesh_India/Flickr

The excellent embroidery of Chikankari is among the fascinating arts and crafts in the Uttar Pradesh.  Chikan work has been one of Lucknow’s pride masterpieces. The clever white thread embrodered on textiles is lovely beyond words. 

Cultural heritage of Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi
Varanasi by Shootcase Chronicles

Varanasi is the oldest town of Uttar Pradesh and is noted for the art of zari work. Real gold and silver threads have traditionally been formed in order to produce gorgeous saris and other clothing designs and patterns. The hefty cloth bears a royal look. Banarasi sarees are known for their magnificent zari work. In reality, traditional sarees are an essential aspect of northern India’s Hindu marriages. 

Tourism in Uttar Pradesh

Wonder Taj Mahal & Mehtab Bagh

Most tourists visiting UP begin their journey with a visit to Agra, which possesses the three world heritage sites that form the epicentre of the Mughal Empire – Taj Mahal, Agra fort and Fatehpur Sikri. “Taj Mahotsav” is a cultural extravaganza that is organised by the government to showcase Agra’s art and culture every year, while the Holi celebrations in Mathura is the most vivid cultural festival of the region.

On Kashyap Hill stands the shrine of Kaushik Devi. Kaushik Devi, According to the Puranas, killed the Shumbh-Nishumbh demons in the body of goddess Parvati. At an altitude of 10,500 ft above sea level, Badrinath is located at a distance of 384 kilometres from Haridwar. Muni-ki-Reti, Dev Prayag and Kirtinagar are important destinations on the road from Rishikesh.

The Gangotri Bhagirathi temple lies at an altitude of 3,140 m. The Bhagirathi descended first on the ground from Heavens and worshipped Lord Shiva on the sacred rock that King Bhagirath used to adore. For some distance the Bhagirathi flows from here to the north and is hence known as the Gangotri.

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Haridwar – Ramesh Lalwani/Flickr

Haridwar is the spot where the Ganga mountain course, the Hindus’ most sacred river, finishes in the plains. It is a famous Hindu pilgrimage centre. Here are various shrines and temples, and a plunge in the holy Har-ki-Pauri is a definite road to salvatation.

The temple of Kedarnath is located under the Kedarnath Mandal at a height of roughly 11,500 metres. Pilgrims can take a motor transport from Phata to the temple of Kedarnath, from where they can walk for 27 kilometres. It is around 400 kilometres from Rishikesh to Kedarnath.

Kushinagar is situated 30 kilometres from Deoria, near Kasia, one of the main Buddhist centres is Kushinagar. Here’s Lord Buddha attatained Nirvana.

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Mathura – Adam Cohn/Flickr

Mathura is one of hinduism’s seven sacred cities. It is considered Lord Krishna’s birthplace. Mussoorie is located at 6.500 ft high, 35 kilometres from Dehradun. The most picturesque hill station in Uttar Pradesh, it is known as the queen of hill resorts.

One of the great attractions of the Nainital is the enormous lovely lake with the hills on three sides are surrounding it. Nanda Devi is the world’s fourth highest summit. Every twelfth year during Bhadra, the Hindus visit the area.

Pindari Glacier is a lovely site in Almora area, at 3943 m above sea level. Flowers of diverse colours, lovely woodlands and snow attract travellers on their visit from Almora to Pindari. This glacier is also the source of the Pindar River.

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The bodhi tree, bodh gaya – Man Bartlett/Flickr

At the confluence of Yamuna and Ganga’s Allahabad is located. It is a major pilgrim place in India and also known as Tirtharaj or Prayag. Among Buddhist shrines Sarnath holds a very prominent significance. Buddha preached his first sermon here after the Enlightenment in Bodh Gaya.

Strength lies in differences is truly proved by the people of UP. Despite of differences in the languages used, people of different regions & religions live in harmony & brotherhood. Hindi is the official language of UP which is spoken in a wide range of dialects such as Awadhi, Brajbasi, Bhojpuri, etc. In a nutshell, Uttar Pradesh is a microcosm of the entire Indian nation in its multicultural diversity.

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