Every region of India has its own character and traditions: the palm-leaf houses of the south are nothing like the stone houses of the Himalayas or the houseboats of Kashmir. Family life is equally varied. 

Religion, caste and regional differences influence family structure. Although traditional roles are changing, especially in urban areas, there are important values shared by most Indian families. Generally, Indians hold family progress, unity and support in high regard throughout their lives. Many live in an extended family, in which every member has their own role, often determined by age and gender. Elders are supposed to use their experience and wisdom to help guide younger family members. Children are cherished and can look forward to continual family support throughout their lives. In return, children are expected to respect family ties and wishes. 

A large number of marriages are arranged by children's parents. Because marriage is the joining of two families, it is regarded as more than an individual's decision. The prospective bride and groom usually marry someone from their own caste (the hereditary social class into which Hindus are born) and religious background. Marriage partners are often found through the family network or, in urban areas, through newspaper advertisements and marriage bureaus. 

Traditionally men have held the primary responsibility for financially supporting their families, although many women, especially in rural areas, contribute to the family's income. Even if they have careers, women are largely responsible for maintaining the household and caring for their children and aged relatives.

 Living conditions vary greatly in India. Wealthy urban families enjoy modern homes, servants and cars. The middle classes usually live in apartments or smaller homes, while poor families live in simple huts or thatched houses. In cities, severe housing shortages mean that millions live in shacks or slums. India's lively blend of modern and traditional practices is evident in city streets, which are crowded with cars, buses, rickshaws, bicycles, ox-drawn carts, cows and other animals. 

  Did you know?
Hindu families practise samskaras, rituals that mark significant life events. The anna prasaana ceremony is held when a baby is given its first solid food. A baby's first haircut is also a ritualistic event. 

   Did you know?
In 1966, Indira Gandhi became the country's first female prime minister.