In India the foundation of society and culture is religion, in the dozens of forms in which it is presented, from naturalistic and animistic polytheism of the origins to the Vedic religion, and then to Hinduism. Buddhism and Jainism were also born in ancient India and, with the Arab invasions, Islam, which is very widespread today. Over time the cultural influences that came with the conquests to which the region was subjected, from the Aris to the Arabs, the Persians, the Portuguese to the English, have added to the religious substratum. Even today India is a mosaic of religions, ethnic groups, languages and, consequently, lifestyles, values, traditions – a mosaic to whose fragmentation and fossilization the system of castes – so much so that it is difficult to think of this country as a nation, being in many ways similar to a real continent. However, it is a fact that the social differences between the various groups have been partially attenuated thanks to a series of legislative measures. India has a large number of museums, mainly located near major archaeological and cultural sites. The largest is the National Museum of New Delhi, with a collection of over 200,000 works, relating to a span of time ranging from prehistory to modern art; the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India in Bombay, which contains collections of Tibetan art, Chinese porcelain, Mughal and Rājpūt miniatures. Notable cultural institutions are the Asiatic Society of Bombay, founded in 1804, which supports studies and research in numerous fields and has a rich library, with thousands of rare works, including over 3000 ancient manuscripts in Persian and Sanskrit, and the India Foundation for the Arts of Bangalore. However, a prejudicial cultural closure does not correspond to the enhancement of all that is tradition and past: if even the humblest classes and those who live in rural areas maintain ancient traditions and customs (in some cases, it must be said, even with a certain rigidity), the country offers significant aspects of modernity, for example as regards the contribution to research, progress, science, the economy (just think that every year there are hundreds of thousands of new engineers, doctors, computer scientists, etc. and that many of Western multinationals have Indian managers at their top). In addition, hundreds of newspapers circulate in India, in many of the languages spoken in the country, and the film industry is one of the most prolific in the world. Similarly to traditional Indian sports, such as kabbadi, a team game, or chess, during the twentieth century. disciplines of European origin have been joined, such as football, cricket and hockey, in which prestigious international results have been achieved. Thus the cultural picture of India, as well as the social and economic one, is in a phase of accelerated evolution, certainly to a greater extent than in past eras. There are numerous cultural sites declared a heritage of humanity by UNESCO, including the Agra Fort (1983); caves of Ajanta (1983); caves of Ellora (1983); Tāj Mahal (1983); temple of the Sun in Konārak (1984); monumental complex of Hampi (1986); monumental complex of Khajuraho (1986); caves of Elephanta (1987); monumental complex of Pattadakal (1987); Buddhist monuments of Sanchi (1989); Mahabodhi temple complex in Bodh Gaya (2002); rock shelters of Bhimbetka (2003); the forts in the hills of Rajasthan (2013) and the archaeological complex of Rani-ki-vav (2014) in Patan.
According to legend, Indian theater has divine origins. In fact, the rules of a Veda of dramatic art that touches acting, singing, music and feelings would be due to the same Brahmā. For aesthetic and ethical reasons, the theater is deprived of tragedy and remains essentially lyric, there is almost no action and different languages are used according to the importance of the characters: gods, sovereigns, ascetics, ministers speak Sanskrit; queens, maids, characters of lower rank and castes speak in Prakrit. The characters are fixed and the models of representation are twenty-eight: ten main (rūpaka) and eighteen secondary (uparūpaka). Heroic comedy excels and popular are bourgeois comedy and farce. Among the first dramatic authors, the best known is Bhāsa (III-IV century), author among other things of Povero Cārudatta, considered the source of another masterpiece: The clay cart of Śudraka (IV-V century), first example of character study. A work of particular interest and validity was written in the century. VI-VII from Viśākhadeva and it is the Rāksasa of the seal, which stages King Candragupta and his minister and adviser Cāṇakya, identified with Kauṭilya, the most famous master of the art of government of ancient India. But the absolute masterpiece of Indian theater is Śakuntalā di Kālidāsa (4th-5th century), a delicate love story of King Dusyanta for Śakuntalā, the adopted daughter of the ascetic Kanva. After him, the best known author is certainly Bhavabhūti (eighth century) to whom we owe three plays still represented today: Mālati and Mādhava, The deeds of the great hero, The last deeds of Rāma. These are the major works of classical antiquity, while all the modern literatures of India find their maximum dramatic expressions in contact with Western culture. We have the works with a social background by the Bengali Dinabandru Mitra (1829-1873), on a trend now generally followed, and the highly lyrical ones by Tagore: La vendetta della natura, Raja, Red oleanders and Citrā, his masterpiece, a tender love story inspired by the Mahābhāratian cycle. The emergence of a national conscience, something new for a nation that has always been politically fragmented, has favored the spread of a vast, if not always valid, patriotic literature, flanked or replaced by Marxist ideologies of young anti-traditionalists. All this has led to the experimentation of new techniques ranging from prose, to poetry, to theater, and has promoted the rise and fall of an incredible number of literary schools and currents, which despite having a short life and generally unfortunate, contribute to making the art scene very lively with world-renowned names. In the second half of the twentieth century. the main movement was the Theater of Roots (Theater of Roots), whose effort has been aimed at seeking a synthesis between modern European and traditional Indian theater: The Fire and the Rain by Girish Karnad (b.1938) and Aramba Chekkan by Kavalam Narayana Panikkar (1928) are two of the most representative works of this current. In more recent years, Datta Bhagat’s Routes and Escape Routes (1994) fits into the tradition known as Dalit Sahitya (literature of the oppressed), relating to the condition of the outcasts. A prominent figure was Usha Ganguli, with her Rangakarmee ensemble, the most active in Hindī theater and promoter of a series of shows based on physicality and dance, such as Rudali (1992), Himmat Mai (1998), Shobhayatra (2000), and Kashinama (2003).