- Culture & Society
Karnataka – Where centuries-old culture meets modern IT industry
29 Nov 2021
The Indian state of Karnataka is located in the southwest of the country and stretches from the Malabar coast in the west and the mountain range of the Western Ghats all the way to the Deccan Plateau. With an area of around 200,000 km² and a population of over 60 million, Karnataka ranks in the upper mid-range of the 28 states of the Republic of India. In the south, Karnataka even occupies the second position in terms of population size behind Tamil Nadu, which is located in the far southeast of the subcontinent.
As a result of the States Reorganization Act, which came into force on August 31, 1956, the borders of many Indian states were redrawn on the basis of linguistic criteria. In the case of Karnataka, the borders were determined based on the language area of the Kannada language. Kannada, which belongs to the Dravidian language family, is the only official language of the state and is spoken as the first language by around two thirds of the population. Despite this linguistic demarcation of the state’s borders, a large number of other languages are used in Karnataka as first, second or third languages. These include other Dravidian languages such as Tamil or Telugu, but also the Indo-Aryan language Urdu, which is spoken by a majority of the Muslim population. According to the last census, almost 13% of Karnataka’s residents are Muslims, while 84% belong to Hinduism. Smaller religious communities include Catholics, who mainly live in the coastal areas and predominantly use Konkani, which is closely related to Marathi, as their first language.
This great demographic diversity is reflected in the multifaceted cultural heritage of the state. The city of Mysuru (formerly Mysore), located in the very south of the state, was the capital of the Kingdom of Mysore for centuries and has retained its reputation as the cultural capital of Karnataka up to this day. Mysuru’s magnificent royal palace stands at the core of the annual celebrations for Dasara, the most important festival in the state. But Karnataka’s traditions are also cultivated outside of the big cities. In particular, the Yakshagana, a traditional dance theatre, which is characterized by its creative and colourful costumes, is very popular in the villages of Karnataka.
The cultural diversity of Karnataka also finds expression in the large number of historical sites that are spread over the entire area of the state. In particular, the north of Karnataka with its architectural masterpieces offers fascinating insights into the eventful history of South India. The captivating remains of the old capital of the Hindu Empire of Vijayanagara, which existed from the 14th to the 16th century and ruled over large parts of southern India, can be found close to the city of Hosapete. The temple and palace ruins of Hampi, located in the midst of a unique hilly landscape with huge boulders and deep green rice fields, were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986. Even further north, visitors can marvel at the remnants of the Sultanate of Bijapur, an important Muslim kingdom that covered big parts of the Deccan Plateau since the end of the 15th century. At the time of completion, the Gol Gumbaz mausoleum was one of the world’s largest domed structures and is still one of the most famous buildings in Karnataka. The south of Karnataka also offers unique buildings, such as the temple architecture from the Hoysala era. The soapstone ornaments and divine images that adorn the temples are among the most outstanding examples of Hindu temple art in southern India.
Within India and beyond, Karnataka has established its reputation as an important location for the IT industry. In particular, the capital Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) today belongs to the global centres of the software industry; India’s heavy-weights in the IT industry such as the multinational companies Infosys and Wipro have their headquarters here. The companies based in Karnataka benefit from the high density of colleges and universities in the state, which are particularly renowned in the technical and medical disciplines. Despite high growth rates in the high-tech industry, the majority of Karnataka’s population is still employed in the agricultural sector, whose main products include rice, coffee, and millet, as well as a variety of different fruits and vegetables. Because of this wealth of agricultural products, it is not surprising that Karnataka has developed a diverse cuisine with many regional specialties. Here you will find classics of South Indian cuisine such as Idlis and Dosas as well as more unusual delicacies such as Ragi Mudde (dumplings made from finger millet flour) or the popular Mysore Pak dessert.
All in all, Karnataka is not only an attractive destination for expats because of its economic strength and the associated job and study opportunities, but the southern Indian state is also characterized by its architectural masterpieces, magnificent festivals, and culinary diversity.
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Written by: Ferdinand Schlechta
Photo Credits: Ferdinand Schlechta
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