Life events - Everyday life

The religious and non-religious traditions are closely linked in everyday life in the traditional culture of South Asia. There is an underlying consciousness of nature and its powers and a desire for prosperity, good auguries and fertility. Some things can be delineated as secular, such as clothes, but even jewellery can carry in it religious symbolism or an invocation of the forces of nature. Sari designs have woven, painted or block-printed motifs which have either religious significance or are drawn from nature. It would be true to say that even the humblest artefact of daily life could embody an aspect of good fortune or nature worship.

Body care

Carved wooden Indian couple in typical Indian dress.
The woman has henna on her hands and both have bindis on their foreheads.

Flowers decorate the hair, sandalwood paste, sacred ash or vermilion form decorative dots on the forehead, and soot from burnt organic material defines the eyes as kohl. The pressures and different goals of a busy modern life have not succeeded in obliterating these decorations of the body.

Pampering of the body is carried out by oil massages and turmeric paste, the hair is still washed with natural berries such as soap nut, and given conditioning with henna treatment. Even though modern cosmetics are widely available and popular, people of the Indian subcontinent still believe that natural organic remedies are best and turn to them whenever they are available and they have the time.

Good luck

The abstract floor patterns drawn in rice paste, called rangoli in the north and kolam in the south, still make their appearance to invite good fortune into the home. Most homes are fragrant with incense and joss sticks and a small space is always set aside for the votive image of a chosen deity in front of which some fruit and a few flowers may be placed.


Ritual ablutions and cleansing of the home are important to all the religions, and a significant part of daily life. Utensils and ritual accessories are often based on shapes from nature such as gourds, coconut shells and lotus flowers, or their designs follow terracotta models. These utensils include pots for holy water, flower trays, incense burners, bells and lamps.


Buddhist ceremonies usually begin with the placing of flowers and the lighting of candles and incense before an image of the Buddha, or a symbol signifying his presence. These offerings are accompanied by the chanting of monks while the lay families offer prayers. The flowers, beautiful, but short-lived, symbolise the impermanence of life; the fragrance of incense refers to the sweet radiance of serenity emanating from the devout, and the lit flame signifies enlightenment. The central daily rite of lay Buddhism is the offering of food; it is made to monks in the Theravada custom, and to the Buddha by Mahayana Buddhists, as part of morning or evening prayers.