1. Question: Regions form Cultural Units?
  2. Introduction ( Define | Origin | Data)
  3. North Eastern (N.E.) India: Culture varies with Tribes
  4. Western India: Culture transgresses state borders
  5. South India: Individual states are cultural units
  6. Northern India: Three different Cultures
  7. Himalayan Region: Three different Cultures
  8. Conclusion

Question: Regions form Cultural Units?

Q9. In the context of diversity of India, can it be said that the regions form cultural units rather than the States? Give reasons with examples for your viewpoint. (150 words, 10marks. Asked in UPSC Mains-2017, GS Paper-1)
भारतकी विविधता के संदर्भ में, क्या यह कहा जा सकता है, की राज्यों की अपेक्षा प्रदेश सांस्कृतिक इकाइयों को रूप प्रदान करते है? अपने द्रष्टिकोण के लिए, उदाहरनो के सहित कारण बताइए.

Introduction ( Define | Origin | Data)

  • (Define) Culture is a way of life that is common to a group of people. It has two broad components: 1) Material: Food, dress, ornaments, houses; 2) Non-Material: Symbols, attitudes, ideas, beliefs, family values, customs, songs, dance and music.
  • These cultural components are affected by following factors: geography, climate, economy, dominant ethnic-linguistic-religious groups in a particular region.
Cultural Map of India

Map taken from Majid Hussain’s Geography of India page 13.41

North Eastern (N.E.) India: Culture varies with Tribes

  • In terms of food and festivals there are commonalities: These tribes live in remote areas, and often make meagre income or surplus from Jhum-cultivation. So, their festivals and marriage ceremonies are designed such that the families have to save-up edible wild-plants, fermented liquor and mithun (domestic bovine) so that during the event, women of the village help preparing grand-feast, thereby ensuring the equitable food availability and balanced nutrient supply to all the members of village throughout the year.
  • But, given their internal ethnic and linguistic differentiation, it’ll be wrong to state that North East region equals “tribal cultural region”. North-East is infact a “Mixed Cultural region” wherein depending on the domination of Hindu, Christian and Tribal population in a particular state their cuisine, family customs, dance and music varies.
  • Even within Sikkim, we can see two broad cultural streaks- Sikkim-Buddhist culture & cuisine vs Nepali-Brahmin/Hindus.
  • Meghalaya’s Khasi and Garo tribes follow Matrilineal law of inheritance i.e. The youngest daughter of the house will stay with the parents and inherit the house that is named after her mother. The husband is expected to leave his house and live with his wife in his mother-in-laws house.
  • Whereas Manipur’s Meitei families are patriarchal and patrilocal practices i.e. Newly married couple usually live with the groom’s parents. Sons inherit their parent’s property equally while girls inherit nothing.
  • Nagaland too has patriarchal system, where women are neither recognized in the inheritance rights, not allowed in the traditional village councils. Violent protests erupted in 2017 against the proposal for 33% reservation to women in civic bodies.

Conclusion: North Eastern states are formed on ethno-linguistic lines. Culture differs within and across the state. Neither individual states nor entire region form a single block of uniform culture.

Western India: Culture transgresses state borders

Gujarati, Marathi and Rajasthani languages belong to the same Indo-Aryan linguistic group, and Hinduism and Jainism have significant presence in these three states:

  • Food: Rajasthani & North Gujarati cuisine is primarily made up of grains, pulses and dry items with longer shelf-life due to the scarcity of fresh vegetables, fruits and water (e.g. Daal-Baati, Churma), whereas South-Gujarati and Maharashtrian dishes have fresher items with shorter shelf-life (rice, khichdi, khamna-dhokla, Pohay, Misal Paav.)
  • Dress: Rural males in Southern Gujarat and Maharashtra prefer to wear white Gandhi cap, shirt and pyjama, whereas in Northern Gujarat and Rajasthan: rural males prefer turbans, kurta and dhoti.
  • Non-material components: Since Khstriya communities dominant in Rajasthan so honor, valour, sacrifice are cherished more. Whereas Gujarat has prevalence of agrarian and trading communities hence cooperation and aversion to violence. Maharashtra and Southern Gujarat: Ganesh Festival more prominent whereas in Northern Gujarat and Rajasthan: Festivals associated with female deities are more prominent.

Conclusion: At the macro level, the border areas between two states of India have a distinct language and culture which is influenced by elements from both the states: Northern-Gujarat and Rajasthan, Southern-Gujarat and Maharashtra, Karanataka and Maharashtra etc. Still, to say that Western India as a geographical unit or Bombay Presidency as a historic unit forms a cultural unit, will be an oversimplification. If we don’t dissect the intra-state cultural differences then we can see three state-wise cultures i.e. Maharastrian, Gujarati and Rajasthani. Hence here States form cultural units, rather than Regions.

South India: Individual states are cultural units

Southern India consists of: Andhra Pradesh (Telugu), Telengana (Telugu), Karnataka (Kannada), Tamilnadu (Tamil) and Kerala (Malyalam).

  • Dress: Trousers are unsuitable for the heat, humidity. They’re also inconvenient while fishing or working in the paddy-fields of Southern India. Hence Lungi is a common ‘material’ component of Southern culture.
  • Food: Southern cuisine is made up of rice, coconut, curd and fish given their agro-climatic conditions. Though it’ll be an oversimplification to state that South Indian food is Dosa, Rasam and Sambhar only. In the Karnataka and Telengana, foodgrains other than rice are also used in their routine diet. Similarly, “rice & fish” is the primary-dish in coastal districts but not so much in the interior district.
  • Chola kings and chieftains indulged in predatory naval raids and cattle raids. So both the ‘attackers’ and ‘defenders’ were cherished as ‘heros’ by their respective local communities and poets. Over the period of time, such local-chieftain would transform himself into a local hindu princeling, then such prince would transform himself into a king by allying with by feudatories and military cadres- thus giving platform for new ‘local-heros’ to rise. With this peculiar system of career-progression, dominant agrarian castes and cinema- “Hero worship” and “Fan clubs” are important “non-material” cultural components of South India.
  • Southern kings patronized Shaivite and Vaishnavite branches of Hinduism- so accordingly there are internal differences in temples, music, classical dance and life values of individual states. With the advent of Dravidian movement against the Brahminical practices, even Tamilnadu itself is not a single monolithic block of “Tamil culture”.
  • Matrilineal System: Nairs and Ezhavas and Warriers in Kerala practice Matrilineal system. And in the remaining southern states- particularly in the coastal districts, the males are involved in fishing, sea-faring and working abroad hence women look after the household and hold more control over property and children. But entire southern society is not Matrilineal per se. Infact, given the high prevalence of alcoholism in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala- “Machoism”, “Rowdyism”, and “Acid-throwing” are important “non-material” cultural components nuisances in these two states. [यदि पुरे का पूरा दक्षिण भारत मातृप्रधान समाज है, तो ये सब नही होना चाहिए, जबकि NCRB-2016-Data says Andhra Pradesh tops in the crime against women.]
  • Even if we stereotype “Southern Culture” with particular type of clothes, colors, musical instruments and hero worship, Goa is still an outlier in this common culture- because of the Portuguese rule and Christianity. Goa doesn’t even fit with Western / Maharashtrian culture.

Conclusion: Majority of the Southern states are formed on linguistic lines, and while all these languages belong to same Dravidian family but their culture differs within and across the states. Southern India as a region is not a single unit of culture. However, if we demarcate Malayalam, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu cultures without doing microscopic dissection, then individual states are worthy of claiming the status of cultural units.

Northern India: Three different Cultures

  • Sikh Gurumukhi cultural region in Punjab and the UT of Chandigarh.
  • Hindi-Hindu cultural belt across Bihar, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, South Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh- with Muslim presence in certain pockets of W.Uttar Pradesh. But these states are all internally different in terms of casteism, conservatism, patriarchy and social taboos- depending on the presence of Meos-Panchayat and Jat-Khap Panchayat, Thakurs, Bhumihar and Deras.
  • Urban cosmopolitan culture in the Delhi and NCR region. Their cuisine, attire, speech-gestures, attitudes are distinct from other parts of Northern India.

Conclusion: While certain feudal, martial and criminal elements [रंगदार / बाहुबली] may look similar across these states, Northern India as a region can’t claim to be a single ‘cultural’ unit. Individually, Punjab and Haryana are two states forming individual cultural units.

Himalayan Region: Three different Cultures

  1. J&K itself is made up of two cultural region: (1) Eastern side: Ladakh cultural region- with dominance of Buddhist religion and Laddakhi language. (2) Western side: Kashmiri Muslim region, with Hindus and Sikhs in minority who follow Kashmiri cultural traditions. [State itself is not ‘single cultural unit’, but has two units.]
  2. Kinnauri-Dev Bhumi cultural region spreading across the mountainous parts of Himalachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. [Perhaps here ‘geographical region’ forms a cultural unit.]

UPSC Model Answer Cultural Units

This is already ~1350 words. You can cherry pick the examples to fit your conclusion in favouring the states or the regions.


  • Culture transgresses the administrative boundaries of states which are formed for administrative convenience and uniformity.
  • If we go by the textbook definition of culture and dissect its material and non-material components within and across states in a particular region, then:
  • No region forms a single monolithic cultural unit.
  • Some states can claim the status of cultural units, if we don’t put their intra-state cultural difference to microscopic dissection.