Traditional Indian society is defined by relatively strict social hierarchy. The Indian caste system embodies much of the social stratification and many of the social restrictions found in the Indian subcontinent. Social classes are defined by thousands of endogamous hereditary groups, often termed as jātis, or "castes". Most Dalits ("Untouchables") and members of other lower-caste communities continue to live in segregation and often face persecution and discrimination. Traditional Indian family values are highly valued, and multi-generational patriarchal joint families have been the norm in India, though nuclear families are becoming common in urban areas. An overwhelming majority of Indians, with their consent, have their marriages arranged by their parents or other family members. Marriage is thought to be for life, and the divorce rate is extremely low. Child marriage is still a common practice, more so in rural India, with more than half of women in India marrying before the legal age of 18.
Many Indian festivals are religious in origin. The best known include Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi, Thai Pongal, Navaratri, Holi, Durga Puja, Eid ul-Fitr, Bakr-Id, Christmas, and Vaisakhi. India has three national holidays which are observed in all states and union territories: Republic Day, Independence Day, and Gandhi Jayanti. Other sets of holidays, varying between nine and twelve, are officially observed in individual states. Traditional Indian dress varies in colour and style across regions and depends on various factors, including climate and faith. Popular styles of dress include draped garments such as the sari for women and the dhoti or lungi for men. Stitched clothes, such as the shalwar kameez for women and kurta–pyjama combinations or European-style trousers and shirts for men, are also popular. Use of delicate jewellery, modelled on real flowers worn in ancient India, is part of a tradition dating back some 5,000 years; gemstones are also worn in India as talismans.
Indian cuisine is known for its delicate use of herbs and spices and for its tandoori preparations. The tandoor, a clay oven used in India for almost 5,000 years, grills meats to an "uncommon succulence" and produces the puffy flatbread known as naan. The staple foods are wheat (predominantly in the north), rice (especially in the south and the east), and lentils. Many spices which have worldwide appeal are native to the Indian subcontinent, while chili pepper, native to the Americas and introduced by the Portuguese, is widely used by Indians. In the Vedic period, when India was heavily forested and crops were complemented with forest game and produce, a normal diet comprised fruit, vegetables, grain, dairy products, honey, poultry, and other meats. Āyurveda, a system of traditional medicine, used the three guṇas to class any comestible as sāttvika, rajasic, or tamasic. Over time, subgroups became vegetarian, a switch aided by the advent of Buddhism and an equable climate permitting many fruits, vegetables, and grains to grow throughout the year; beef consumption became taboo. Common traditional eating customs include meals taken on or near the floor, caste- and gender-segregated dining, and lack of cutlery in favour of the right hand or a piece of roti.