The several trading castes known generically as 'Marwaris' are among the most powerful and wealthy groups in India. While they have spread absorbing book explores their origin myths and the manner in which these myths construct and express their social identities.
Lawrence Babb draws attention to the special problems of self-definition faced by these groups and shows how myth engages these problems by using a distinctive symbolism drawn from the vedic rite of sacrifice. According to the author, origin myths utilize sacrifice as a master metaphor for creative power and social order. The trading castes employ this metaphor as a 'myth model' that explains who they are and how they fit within the social order. At the core of this identity are issues of violence, the social control of violence, and the traders relationship with martial communities. In response to these issues, maintains Professor Babb, myth configures their identity as a rejection of violence in sacrificial rites.
At a broader level, this book deals with three interrelated themes: the nature of India's caste system; the special character and specific place of trading castes in Indian society; and the role of myth as a repository of socially important knowledge. A unique feature of this book is that it is based mainly on the literature published by caste and religious associations supplemented by oral material.
Proposing a novel theory of the role of violence, non-violence and ritual symbolism, this book also provides fresh insights into the fashioning of caste identity. It will be welcomed by sociologists and anthropologists, and particularly those studying caste, society, myth and religion in South Asia.
About the Author:
Lawrence A. Babb is currently Professor of Anthropology and Asian Studies at Amherst College, Massachusetts, where he has spent most of his career. His previous books are - The Divine Hierarchy: Popular Hinduism in Central India (1975), Redemptive Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Tradition (1986) and Absent Lord: Ascetics and Kings in a Jain Ritual Culture (1996). He has also co-edited Media and the Transformation of Religion in South Asia (1995) [with Susan S. Wadley] and Multiple Histories: Cultre and Society in the study of Rajasthan (2002) [with Michael Meister and Varsha Joshi].
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