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Ala Coomaraswamy

Imtiaz Ahmed

By Veena Das
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1977, pp. 147, Rs. 45.00

VOLUME III NUMBER 5 March/April 1979

This is one of those books that puts a reviewer in a dilemma. It is so promi­sing in its design and intent that one is tempted to characterize it as a near clas­sic, but in its execution it leaves one dissatisfied. Of course, to say this is not to criticize the book, but merely to sug­gest the level that the book could have attained. The book is made of four chapters, two of which had appeared previously in the form of papers while the remain­ing two are published here for the first time. The chapters entitled ‘On the Cate­gories Brahman, King and Sanyasi’ and ‘Of Jatis’ have been published here for the first time. The chapters entitled ‘Con­cept of Space’ and ‘The Sacred and the Profane in Hinduism’ appeared previously and have been reprinted here with slight modification. The author's introduction traces the broad unity that runs through the different chapters and outlines the principal theoretical thrust of the essays considered as a whole. As Das points out in the preface to the book, ‘This study seeks to understand the Hindu Theories of caste and ritual from the Hindu texts. It tries to make comprehensible the structure of texts which until recently have been regarded as a peculiar mixture of myth and history. I find it difficult to accept that a text is only a random juxtaposition of ideas simply because the structure within which its author or compiler has con­ceived it is not our idea of a structure. Hence the cognitive structure of the texts has been presented here in its totality.’ This statement is not quite as innocuous a description of the book as it sounds, but in doing what the author says she seeks to strike at the very roots of the predominant theoretical orientations to the study of Indian society. The study of Indian society and this is more often than not meant to imply Hindu society particularly, has traditio­nally been carried out in terms of two distinct approaches. First of these was the Indological approach which relied upon its construction of the social reality on the Sanskrit or other textual sources. The second was the anthropological ap­proach which has usually been associated with the empirical fieldwork tradition and relies upon observation of concrete, observable reality for the understanding of society. Chronologically, these two approaches succeeded one ...

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