Monday, February 16, 2009

Castes of South India

"[M]ost Hindus themselves felt little need for precise self-descriptions, except when faced with blunt questions about religion on official forms. Long after their encounter with the monotheistic religions of Islam and Christianity, they continued to define themselves through their overlapping allegiances to family, caste, linguistic group, region, and devotional sect. Religion to them was more unselfconscious practice than rigid belief; it is partly why Indian theology accommodates atheism and agnosticism.

Their rituals and deities varied greatly, defined often by caste and geography; and they were also flexible: new goddesses continue to enrich the pantheon even today. There is an AIDS goddess which apparently both causes and eradicates the disease. At any given time, both snakes and the ultimate reality of the universe were worshipped in the same region, sometimes by the same person. Religion very rarely demanded, as it did with many Muslims or Christians, adherence to a set of theological ideas prescribed by a single prophet, book, or ecclesiastical authority." [Pankaj Mishra]

Snake catcher (Telligoo) - Female, Madura, 1837

"Snake catcher (Telligoo) / Female"

Hindoo beggar - Female, Madura, 1837

"Hindoo beggar / Female"

Rajapoot songster - Rajapoot musician, Madura, 1837

"Rajapoot songster / Rajapoot musician"

Hindoo musicians, Madura, 1837

"Hindoo musicians"

Hindoo potter - Female, Madura, 1837

"Hindoo potter / Female"

Hindoo bangle maker - Female & her child, Madura, 1837

"Hindoo bangle maker - Female & her child"

Lumbandy (?) - Female, Madura, 1837

"Lumbandy (?) / Female"

Hindoo astronomer - Female, Madura, 1837

"Hindoo astronomer / Female"

Hindoo dancing girl - Hindoo dancing master, Madura, 1837

"Hindoo dancing girl / Hindoo dancing master"

Hindoo fencer - Female, Madura, 1837

"Hindoo fencer / Female"

Hindoo saddler - Female, Madura, 1837

"Hindoo saddler / Female"

Hindoo washerman - Hindoo washerwoman, Madura, 1837

"Hindoo washerman / Hindoo washerwoman"

Mussilman water bearer - Female, Madura, 1837

"Mussilman water bearer / Female"

Malabar pilgrim - Female, Madura, 1837

"Malabar pilgrim / Female"

Sholeah brahminy - Female, Madura, 1837

"Sholeah brahminy / Female"

'Seventy two specimens of castes in India ... : presented to the Revd. William Twining as a token of obligation by his ... friend Daniel Poor' [1837] is online among the General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
"This illustrated manuscript made in southern India in 1837 consists of 72 full-color hand-painted images of men and women of the various castes and religious and ethnic groups found in Madura, India at that time. Each drawing was made on mica, a transparent, flaky mineral which splits into thin, transparent sheets. As indicated on the presentation page, the album was compiled by the Indian writing master at an English school established by American missionaries in Madura, and given to the Reverend William Twining."


Unknown said...

AIDS Goddess?
What is this author smoking? Whatever it is, its very potent that he's halucinating.
Frankly, this is an absurd and lucidious statement.
There is no AIDS goddess.
He just got carried away.

The Panentheistic philosophy is wrongly understood by many.. like this Pankaj Mishra... who says that it is worship of snakes and universe at the same time. What ridiculous shoddy understanding of the idea in Hinduism that the Snake is part of the Universe, the substratum of which is Brahman which alone is reality.

Unknown said...

I went through the Pankaj Mishra's article.
He basically wishes to convey an idea that Hinduism was non-existent as recent as 500 years ago and that it is an artificial concotion of an identity.

I just don't know where to start criticising this absurdity. When somebody writes an long essay to claim that the world is flat, you just get so flummoxed that you just fail to understand how can such a view be opposed even with the mountains of evidence to a spherical earth!

Similarly, this Guy, probably with a Missionary Christian agenda of belittling Hinduism and making it look like some artificial concortion while his Bible is the very word of god, has cooked up an article so unscientific that it just requires a totally different level of debunking!

AIDS goddess. Yeah right!.. One Teacher decided to make a figure and call it AIDS goddess. It is never accepted as a diety nor worshipped. But that is enough for a Muslim BBC reporter to twist and write that a new goddess is born! What crazy world is this. and what journalistic ethos!

Here is more:

Karla said...

This sort of ethnographic imagery is always intriguing. It sounds as though these were done by the Indian writing master--or did he just compile them? The idea of doing them on mica is also interesting. While I'm familiar with some quite attractive decorated mica lampshades, I can't recall seeing albums with pages of mica. The mica doesn't really show as such in the images but would certainly be a lovely background.

Rebekah Irwin said...

I am on staff at the Library at Yale University and handled the cataloging and digitizing of this volume. In fact, only the figures are on mica, carefully cut out and mounted to the page, which is paper. If you look closely at the images expertly blogged by BiblioOdyssey, you can see a faint shadow around the figures.

Karla said...

That's quite interesting. I hadn't realized that was what caused the shadows. Thank you for enlightening us on the specifics.

peacay said...

Thanks Rebekah! I had guessed as much but wasn't sure. 3D in a 2D space can be a little hard to apprehend.

asoberon said...

No postings since Feb 16! Where's Peacay?

ortelius said...

Same Question: Where's Pecay. Hope everything is ok. Miss your posts.

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