The Ladakhi (A Study in Ethnography and Change): A Rare Book

The Ladakhi (A Study in Ethnography and Change): A Rare Book

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Item Code: NAC050
Author: R. S. Mann
Publisher: Anthropological Survey of India, Kolktata
Edition: 1986
Pages: 181
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.8 inch X 6.8 inch
Weight 510 gm
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About the Author

This study explores and explains various aspects of life and culture of the Ladakhis. While explaining and interpreting diverse parameters of Ladakhi cultural matrix, the focus remains on cou-tinuity and change perspective. Ethnographic features do speak of elements of persistence, as also of nature and extent of change. The patterns of Ladakhi society and culture, therefore, are analysed not only in static forms but also within the fold of dynamics.

Within the traditions of holistic approach, the elements of Ladakhi social organization have specially been analysed in the context of ecology and religion, the two imposing and dominant domains characterizing the remote habitations of the Ladakhis. Monastic organization and typical kind of ecology have had a great say in shaping the Ladakhi society and culture.

In Ladakhi society, more of the dimensions of cultural change chiefly seek their origin to exogenous factors. The latter are actively involved in changing the physical conditions and the destiny of humans in Ladakh.


Culture change and its dynamics have, of late, formed an important arena in the social anthropological and sociological frameworks. At theoretical level the rise of acculturation phenomenon, and at the level of social-cultural reality the massive planning for transformation of societies, attracted the attention of social-cultural researchers and analysts. Their intervention, as social analysts, was specially desired and demanded by the societies of Third World countries who suddenly fell in the imposing sway of change. The strategy of change of these developing nations further asked for analytical observations and interpretations of social researchers, which could be taken advantage of in regulating transition and ultimately a smooth transformation. India, being the major developing nation of South Asia, provided a large scope for studies on description of culture and its changing perspective. Her plural society, and large scale social-cultural heterogeneity needed more comprehensive and intensive social research, specially in the context of change. Purposed search for important relevant parameters was, thus, desired for human populations, including those occupying interior, outlying and isolated localities. As part of this trend it was thought to cover upper Himalayas. For various reasons the life and culture of the people, belonging to this formation, continued to remain unexplored. These little known communities were considered all the more important in terms of their cultural heritage and change. The present work on Ladakhi life and culture, and the changes thereof, is an outcome of the background outlined above.

It may be mentioned that no reasonably good account of Ladakhi life and culture is available in the existing literature. To my knowledge, no anthropologist or sociologist has, so far, made any deep study on Ladakhi life-designs. Except a few articles, here and there, no book, exclusively devoting to scientific explanation of Ladakhi way of life, could be published. People continue to quote century old works of some British administrators and army officers. My description of Ladakhi society is a modest attempt within the tradition of scientific procedure. I do not claim it a very exhaustive, ethnographic and change account. But certainly the book provides deep insight into the social structure and organisation of Ladakhis. The focus has been on fixity and persistence of social system on the one hand, and change on the other. Continuity and change are highlighted in individual chapters, as also in the finale given towards the close of book. The readers, I presume, would be able to well locate the nature, degree and trends of change. In addition to exogenous factors of change, the format of endogenous stimulants and barriers to change are well delineated at relevant places.

A large number of cultural elements and events of Ladakhis have an intimate bearing to eco-system. Their explanations are best sought in ecological parameters. People seem to have made an excellent adjustment and adaptation to imposing external conditions. This is reflected in their nature of behaviour and interaction among themselves, as also in their equation with nature. People feel that their adaptation alone made them survive whenever nature posed threat to their existance. Details of rites, rituals ceremonies, institutions and social groupings provide support to their arguments.

Religion continues to form their richest resource for seeking satisfaction and inspiration. It’s elaborate form intervenes at all levels and in all walks of life. The faith of Ladakhis in religious attributes remains unaltered. The villagers find no alternative to religious explanations which are stated to have helped them althrough. Occasionally the monastic organisations (the repository of religion) seem to come hard on the villagers, but the same is taken as normal part of living. Religious hierarchy and its manifestations are all pervading, interacting so deeply in social economic life, as also in the arena of social control. To one who has thoroughly explored and understood Ladakhi life and culture, it sounds convincing that society (its culture), religion and external ecology provide mutually intervening network forming patterns of society and culture in this remote locality of Indian sub-continent. And this is how people boast of their survival in these lifeless heights.

Buddhism, the religion of Ladakhis, prescribes for egalitarian order. And ideally the religious men provide support to the same. But pragmatically there is lot of contradiction in it. Egalitarianism is more of a slogan than reality. Gara, Mon and some Beda, who are also Buddhists, are differentiated from Ladakhis. They are denied of certain rights and privileges and are socially low. Stratification, inequality and ranking characterize Ladakhi village community. Certain elements of stratification bear resemblance to those of the Hindu caste system. There are other characters which remain short of its requirements. Implications and manifestations of social stratification are well reflected in many aspects of village community and its functioning. Even the monastic organisation, in its practical perspective, does cultivate some deprivation and alienation in respect of people belonging to certain ethnic groups, even when they are Buddhists. On the other hand the rest get concession and are privileged.

A sharp rise of new economic opportunities has considerably helped meet Ladakhi’s growing aspirations and expectations. Fast growth of employment potential, adoption of some agriculture innovations and expansion of internal trade have opened up new avenues of earning. Involvement in such ventures did reflect on the ongoing pattern of division of labour. It has its repercussions even in the social and religious life.

The abrupt growth of a strong network of communication helped widen mechanism of socio-political control. It applied to structure as well as function perspectives. The growth of linkages with wider political agencies and parties added new dimensions to Ladakhi politics and social control. Religion and politics came closer. The formal system of electioneering paved way to divisive tendency. Alien influence on local ways led to readjustment in certain social groupings. But the new avenues have not undermined the role of religion in resolving conflict and. in bringing about consensus. To take care of new political ends the religion is rather being strengthened. Dependence on traditional bodies of social control is still the supreme, and so the devotion of people to the same.

For paucity of existing relevant material, the explanations and descriptions remain largely field-based. This document is an outcome of over six months of field-work in Ladakh in 1970-71. Since the study focused on continuity and change, four villages (Spituk, Sabu, Thiksay and Kuyul) were intensively researched. From Leh, the headquarters of Ladakh district and the only urban centres, these villages are located at different distances—from nine to two hundred fifty kilometers. These settlements are at various altitudes, ranging from 9,500 to 14,000 feet above sea level. Three hundred families provided major platform for statistical and other treatment. Descriptive data, however, were also collected from other informants belonging to these and. other neighbouring villages, as also from other population groups. With a total population of 1806, these three hundred families have 885 males and 921 females. With average family size of 6.02, the male-female proportion is 100:104. The higher proportion of females does not outwardly go in tune with polyandrous system which these Ladakhis have. Another interesting feature pertains to literacy rate and the position of woman. Total educated and literàtes form 18.27 % (male 14.01 % and female 4.26 %). In view of large amount of freedom enjoyed by the Ladakhi women, their literacy is far short of the men. The point of literacy was specially stressed upon because it is presumed to have a bearing on social-cultural change.

The author takes full responsibility of any shortcoming in the monograph. At some places the explanations may not meet all the expectations of the readers because the author worked under terrible constraints of hostile climatic conditions, remoteness and linguistic communication. The author is grateful to Shri T. K. Ghosh who assisted in the filling of some family schedules.


Preface v
1Ecological and Historical Perspective 1
2Ethnic Composition and Social Stratification 10
3Family, Lineage and Phasphun 32
4Institution of Marriage 55
5Status of Woman 75
6Birth Rites and Ceremonies 80
7Death Rituals and Ceremonies 87
8Economic Structure 97
9Mechanism of Socio-political Control 118
10Religious Attributes 137
11Culture Change-A Review 170
Bibliography 179
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