Many modern day anthropologists and sociologists strive to give a detailed account of multi caste societies and the ones who do are able to enlighten us only with fairly transparent information restricted to research parameters. While practicing ethnography and learning the art and skill of writing a monograph one comes across Professor M.N Srinivas’s “The Remembered Village”. The book is a major ethnographic account of a multi caste village named Rampura located in the state of Karnataka (erstwhile princely state of Mysore) situated in the southern part of India.
Mysore Narsimhachar Srinivas is one of the most well known individuals in the history of social anthropology of India, born on November 16, 1916 in Mysore and initially educated in Karnataka. In his brilliant career he was mentored by many great academicians such as A.R Wadia, G.S Ghurye, Radcliffe Brown, Evans Pritchard. Introduced to WHR River’s Diffusionism via Ghurye and later inspired by functionalism. Initially at Oxford he was under the guidance of Radcliffe Brown and found himself to be the first student of his successor Evans Pritchard. Due to his exemplary performance and his love for the subject he was recruited for the Oxford’s Department of Anthropology as lecturer for Indian sociology and got funding for his fieldwork that became “The Remembered Village”.
With the culmination of his fieldwork he chose to return to India and spent eight years at Baroda in building a department and a concept of Indian sociology. Srinivas’s major inspiration was his commitment to the field of social anthropology and his interest’s had limitless boundaries which took him places. Not only one is amazed by his interdisciplinary education but by his major contribution towards the development of Indian anthropology.
The book “The Remembered Village” has been written and edited in systematic fashion with the reader kept in mind. The first three chapters tells us how the ideation process initiated for the fieldwork and what inspired him, how he found Rampura and how it fit most of the requirements he sought.
It was a talk with Radcliffe Brown about the scientific importance of making a field study of a multi caste community that inspired and motivated Srinivas to take up field work in India. He had a time span of eleven months for the field work and acknowledging the time constraint he chose a village in accordance to some conditions and his sentimental desire to discover his own origins. “I could have worked in a village in any language in south India, but I had the utmost facility in Kannada which was the language of my street and school, though not of my home and I would have no need for interepreters” (p. 4). This passage tells us the planning and desperation Srinivas had for his time constricted field work.
Chapter 2 is a section where he discusses about his first observation of the field, how he mingled with his subjects and marked them as key sources of information relating to various socio cultural factors. He briefly describes the architecture, characteristics and specific functions of the house where he was living in. The concept of ‘Jita’ servantship was observed and mentioned in parallel with expression of fear, disgust and irritation towards insects, cow dung and ill sanitation respectively.
Chapter 3 emphasizes how the three important men influenced, interfered and inspired his field work. He acknowledged the individual contributions of the nameless Headman, Nadu Gowda and Kulle Gowda. The later chapters on agriculture, family and caste are the core of the book. In the chapter on agriculture Srinivas introduces the world of agriculture and walks us through the practices of planting, of land, water and animals. He mentions how men are thought of as weak for transplanting rice. Fisherman called Dasi held the keys to the irrigation system and how the dominant peasant caste was dependent on him for water. A similar subtlety marks Srinivas’s chapter about family and sex. He mentions the gender division of labor, elaborates on basic family marriage and kinship structures and the norms and rules implied. The vagaries of sex, bleaker topics like extramarital sex and rape are briefly discussed.
Sex has been regarded as a primordial urge similar to hunger. Biological phenomenon and processes found a mention like visit of the hermaphrodite kept the villagers puzzled and amused by the phenomenon of a person who was biologically female but socially male. Women being regarded impure at the time of menstruation displayed the notion and taboo based social behaviors and attitudes. Srinivas in his lifetime has contributed extensively on social stratification and caste structures which are also the primary basis for this ethnographic study. He has brilliantly presented his analysis in the chapter on the caste structures of this village focusing on the hierarchical nature of caste and its complexities. Srinivas’s concept of sanskritization is deep rooted in this field work. He has presented caste as a dynamic set of interactional and ideological resources deployed in many ways for many purposes.
The third section of the book is interestingly a curious mixture. The chapter on classes and factions is socio economic activities and practices oriented. He found out that Rampura was faction free due to strong leadership and unity. The chapter on changes displays the attitude of villagers towards adapting to a change. Rice husking machines were mentioned as a technological adaptation. The unwillingness of the villagers towards adapting to sanitation changes as they oppose a young official’s idea of removing manure heaps away from houses. He discusses the irrigation based economic changes, hoarding of silver coins and gold by better off villagers was observed before the World War II. Post world war people started accepting paper money and got them sneering at the government’s financial position saying “they have no silver they have no gold but only paper” (p. 240).
The chapter in personal relations is similar to the opening section of the book in terms of topics of discussions and its nature like envy, reciprocity, hierarchy, face, gossip and humor. In the religion chapter he has mentioned the ad hoc nature of folk religion in the village, complexities between castes and deities. Lavish expenditures on occasions like weddings and funerals and the religious sacred rituals associated with it. Specialization among the deities and the degree of specialization varied from deity to deity was an interesting observation to analyze religious beliefs of the villagers.
Karma as a concept was used to explain misfortunes and calamities which had already occurred. Atlast came the farewell, the feeling of affection towards his village friends enhanced. Nadu Gowda was the most upset by his impending departure, for several days before Srinivas’s departure he spent hours on his verandah telling him how bad he felt, in order to settle him down he even offered Srinivas an acre of wetland in Rampura. A farewell speech by Lakshmana listed his virtues real and not so real. He describes the scene from the bus on his departure, the vanishing countryside, terraced rice fields, the stretch of paddy and the tantalizing glimpse of the Kaveri flowing in a distance.
On reading such a monograph written by M.N.Srinivas one can only appreciate the detail elaboration of the fieldwork and somehow accept the authenticity of the data. Never the less, if one ever visits the field area in recent time it is sure to find many changes from the time the author has written but placing the monograph in the author’s time. It is an excellent monograph. Socio-cultural anthropology is a never ending pursuit in understanding the simplicity and complexities of beliefs, rituals traditions within the scope of the proposed theories given by various scholars as well as the interdisciplinary correlations in order to improvising and constantly updating the human society.
Maps and Diagrams
Introduction to the Second Edition
Chapter 1 – How It All Began
Chapter 2 – The Field Situation
Chapter 3 – Three Important Men
Chapter 4 – The Universe of Agriculture
Chapter 5 – The Sexes and the Household
Chapter 6 – Relations Between Castes
Chapter 7 – Classes and Factions
Chapter 8 – The Changing Village
Chapter 9 – The Quality of Social Relations
Chapter 10 – Religion
Chapter 11 – Farewell
Appendix I The Hindu Calendar, Rain, and Agriculture