History: Contemporary Cultural Situation: Chapter Objectives and Popular or Folk Culture

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Contemporary Cultural Situation

Culture includes ways of behaviour along with many other things such as clothes, food, language etc. All of us are born into cultures. Every culture is different from another depending upon region, religion, caste or class. Each one of us gain many cultural practices almost automatically, many of these have been handed down for generations. These cultural practices are also subject to change.

Chapter Objectives

Cultural Situation

Cultural Situation

Cultural Situation

What Do You Mean by Culture?

Forms of Cultural Expressions

  • Cultural expressions have different forms. They can be in the form of music, songs and dance. Each such form gives a message. For instance, a folk or a story may teach and entertain, whereas a towering monument such as Qutb Minar may leave us awestruck. India has a wide variety of cultural forms which include sculpture, architecture, literature, painting, and music etc. These forms are further subdivided into many types. For example, a song can be a qawwali, bhajan, folk songs or of any other kind.

Qutub Minar

Qutub Minar

Qutub Minar

  • Folk culture can be defined as a rich culture which have been developed by common people and have become popular over time. Songs, dance and storytelling are some of the forms of folk culture through which common people have expressed themselves.

  • As commoners are unable to build large monuments due to the limited resources at their disposal, they take the help of smaller objects in building their architecture. As these objects included perishable items such as cane, cloth, wood etc., most of them have been perished and there is very limited knowledge about them.

Classical Culture

  • Classical culture is said to be a very developed but exclusive culture. Bharat Natyam dance form, Kalidasa’s Sanskrit poetries, temple architectures of the Cholas are some of the fine examples of different forms of Classical culture. These Classical cultures, however, were not open to commoners. Thus, the Sanskrit poetries of Kalidasa written in c. 4th century AD were unavailable for the masses who spoke Prakrit.

  • They in turn would have followed Prakrit translation of Kalidasa’s writings. It is only since the last two centuries that Kalidasa’s work have been translated to regional languages, and monuments have been thrown open to a wider public. However, it is important to note that both classical and folk culture existed simultaneously and influenced each other.

How Anthropologist Define Culture:

  • The literal meaning of anthropology is the study of human beings. In common parlance, when we experience commonality with those who eat and dress like us, we perceive them as belonging to the same culture while those who don’t share common elements with our traditions and habits are said to be belonging to a different culture. Those objects that can be touched and seen (such as houses, tools, pots etc.) are regarded as part of our material culture. Archaeologists use material culture for reconstruction of the past.

  • Culture can be defined in many ways:

    • As forms of cultural expression (e.g. song, dance, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, etc.)

    • In terms of the social group which produces or uses a cultural form (e.g.popular/folk, classical/elite)

    • Broader definitions in terms of aspects of social, religious and materiallife.

  • For instance, a painting from Ajanta can be classified as classical religious painting.

How Culture is Shaped

  • Some of our cultural forms are linked with religion. Religion has shaped many architectures, poetry, music and literature. Sanchi stupas in Madhya Pradesh, Dilwara temple in Rajasthan, Jami Masjid in Delhi are great examples of architectures created for religious purposes. Similarly, compositions of Bhakti and Sufi saints or Vaishnava and Saiva devotional literature in Tamil Nadu are noteworthy cultural forms inspired by religion.

  • Religion also shapes our daily lives. Sometimes, clothes, food, marriage rituals are governed by religion. However, religion is not the only factor influencing our day to day life. Regional differences also play an important role in shaping cultural practices. For instance, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian in Punjab prefer wearing salwar kameez whereas the same communities wear saris in Tamil Nadu.

Our Social and Economic Situation

  • Social and economic situation also shape many of our cultural practices. For instance, many women due to social norms dress differently depending on whether they are unmarried or widowed. Economic situations also determine cultural habits.

  • Thus, learning Hindi film songs from radio is far easier than learning classical music which is more difficult and expensive. Similarly, none of us due to economic constraints would be able to build vast monuments like Taj Mahal. The splendid forts and monuments were built by rulers as royal residence or places of worship; they also served as symbol of power and glory.

Cultural Interaction

  • Cultural interaction takes places when people having different cultures come in contact with one another. This contact can take place through voyages, invasions, expedition, pilgrimage as well as travel in search of employment to distant places. Through cultural interaction, people get to learn the practices of others and introduce their ideas and customs to new lands. As a result, the cultural practices involved in such interaction changes.

  • This can be illustrated with the help of an example. Indian cuisine is famous for using vegetables like tomato and potato. But these vegetables were not traditionally cultivated in India. They were introduced in India by the Portuguese about five hundred years ago who brought them from Central America. Similarly, tea was introduced in India from China.


Globalisation is the process through which the entire world is being brought under a single economic and cultural network.

What is a Global Village

  • Scholar Mc-Luhan first used the phrase Global Village. He opined that with the increase use of television, communication would be made much easier which enables people to send messages across a long distance. Today, with the help of vast TV networks and other powerful technologies, the prediction of Mc-Luhan has come to be true. Thus, we can sit in India and watch a cricket match in Sharjah.

  • However, just like a village in which there are obvious differences between different sections (such as farmers, landlords, craftsmen etc.), those who participate in communication are also not equal in status. This problem becomes more pronounced in the global village because communication is dominated by people in the cities.

  • Moreover, there are also obvious differences between cities of developing countries like India, and those in developed countries like USA. The latter are more affluent and powerful who produce and beam out TV programmes, which we then receive. Although in a global village physical distances are reduced, communication becomes a one-day process. We can simply receive the messages which flow to us from TV and often follow them. There is not much opportunity to either question or challenge this arrangement.

Advertising and Consumerism

  • When we listen to audios or watch TV- news, films, talk shows or other programmes, they are always accompanied by hundreds of advertisements. This is because the advertisers or sponsors pay for the programme that we see. They in turn advertise their products to people who watch these programmes. Through advertisements, the advertisers attract people to buy their products who buy these beyond their immediate or basic requirements and sometimes beyond their means. This tendency is called consumerism.

  • Thus, big manufacturers and multinational companies have made massive use of technologies to their advantages. They create a large population of consumers who are persuaded to spend what they earn, or even borrow to buy various “objects of desire”. In this way globalisation has largely served the interest of the rich industrialists. In order to be actually effective, we must realize the potential benefit of globalisation through which we learn about other cultures. Globalisation should not help in concentration of resources in the hands of few but to help develop interaction which is based on respect for cultural diversity and a sharing of world’s resources.


  1. Critically analyse the phenomenon of Globalisation?

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