Traditional Lifestyles of India

Thousands of complex societies have formed within modern India’s borders, each carrying with it a unique cultural heritage and climatic adaptations. The traditional lifestyles of its people have ranged from settled farmers, nomadic herdsmen, hunter-gatherers, monks, urban tradesmen, musicians, fishermen, and more. As in any culture, the daily life of a rural farmer is often far removed from that of the merchant who buys his produce or the shopper at a city market. While every life is different, some elements of Indian culture are widespread enough to form a larger cultural basis.

Indian Cuisine

The cuisine of India varies by region and has been shaped by numerous historical factors. The Indo-Gangetic Plain of Northern India is one of the most fertile regions of the world. From its earliest civilizations to the modern day, the majority of its people have been farmers. They raised staple crops including wheat, barley, eggplant, onion, garlic, and legumes along with livestock like cattle, sheep, goats, water buffalo, and camels. Rice cultivation is more common to the south. Vegetarianism is popular among Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists but not required; many people choose to avoid only beef instead.

Over time, trade, invading cultures, and climate have all influenced regional Indian diets. Along with rice, South Indian cuisine is notable for its use of coconut, seafoods, and tamarind. To the north, Persian-inspired sweets and fruits are more often seen. Other Islamic dishes like kebabs, naan bread, and yogurt have also entered common use. New World crops like tomatoes, squash, potatoes, and corn and British imports such as tea, are now represented in modern Indian cuisine as well. The entire nation is famous for its generous use of spices, the most well known abroad being curry. Other major spices include coriander, cumin, cloves, turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, chili peppers, cinnamon, and saffron.

Housing in India

Just as there is no single cuisine of India, there is also no standard traditional house. Historically, its people have lived in shelters ranging from caves and thatched huts to courtyard houses and palaces. Desert-dwelling peoples faced very different challenges than those who lived in grassy wetlands or lush forests. Today, housing is still largely dependent on wealth and proximity to urban centers. Working-class people in the cities generally live in apartment complexes or individual houses. Large cities like Mumbai often contain large slum quarters housing the working poor. As the middle class grows, large suburban neighborhoods have sprung up as well.

Traditional Indian Clothing

The fashions of India have changed over time in accordance to local wealth and taste. India is the home of cotton cultivation and historically benefited from the silk trade with China. A strong domestic dye industry further encouraged the development of bright and luxurious clothing. Among the peasant classes, however, outfits of white cotton are more often seen.

The most recognized traditional outfits of India are the sari for women and the dhoti and sherwani for men. The sari is a long, wrapped dress, typically worn beneath a choli bodice. The standard male covering is the dhoti, which is wrapped around a man’s waist and legs. Sherwani are a style of long overcoat worn over a dhoti or trousers. The shalwar kameez, worn by both genders, similarly pairs a long tunic over baggy trousers. Pajamas, now worn around the globe, originated in India as well. Gold jewelry and ornaments are also commonly worn, particularly by women.

Modern Indian Lifestyles

Today, the people of India lead many different lifestyles. While rural villages follow patterns of life that are thousands of years old, hundreds of millions more now live in booming cities. Both traditional and Western-style apparel are common. Urban professionals are more likely to wear business suits, but they may keep customary outfits for special events. Family remains central to the average person, and extended families may all live together and share resources. Traditional home-cooked meals are still prepared, but the middle class also enjoys access to restaurants serving international cuisine. Wealth inequality is high in India; access to education and employment have largely replaced caste as the major factor in a person’s quality of life.


Bharadwaj, Monisha. The Indian Spice Kitchen: Essential Ingredients and Over 200 Authentic Recipes. Hippocrene Books. 2005.

Henderson, Carol. Culture and Customs of India. Greenwood Press. 2002.

Jayapalan, N. Economic History of India. Atlantic Publishers. 2008.

Kumar, Raj. Paintings and Lifestyles of Jammu Region: From 17th to 19th Century A.D. Gyan Publishing House. 2006.

Majumdar, Ramesh Chandra. Ancient India. Motilal Banarsidass. 1977.

Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire. Part 1. Vol. 5. Cambridge University Press. 1995.

Robb, Peter. A History of India. Macmillan International. 2011.

Thapar, Romila. A History of India. Penguin UK. 1990.

“The World Factbook: India.” Central Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, 9 Oct. 2018,

No Discussions Yet

Discuss Article