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LOKA PARAMPARA

Image from Loka Parampara Programme                                       

To study the lifestyle of cultural communities, a holistic approach is to be adopted.  Thus such a study will include:

  • Study of Physical space or habitat of the community, i.e. mapping in terms of water, earth, rocks, soils, minerals, vegetation, sources of energy along with interaction of all these elements in the eco-system in an annual cycle.
  • The conditioning of man by this environment and eco-cycle is important in order to understand man, composed of the biophysical, in dialogue with nature and environment, needbased as also inheritor and maker of myth.  The studies have, therefore, necessarily to include a recording of the myths of space and creation of elements.
  • The above is closely interlocked, often inseparable, from the overt manifestation of this world view in a pattern of rites and ceremonies connected with eco-cycle, be it in terms of water, vegetation, or cultivation of crops.
  • Next step is to investigate man's view of himself, the understanding of the body system.  Preventive and curative indigenous medicinal systems which have evolved and developed drawing largely upon water, vegetation and animal resources of the area (space) need to be studied.  A body of myths and rites is intrinsic to the system as 'knowledge' as also theraphy, physio (somatic) and psychic.
  • Study of man-family and man-society relations brings out the position of individual and community, organization of society as well as acceptance of individual in the collective, and further, various fairs and festivals which aim at creating in circumscribed space and time the experience of cosmic space and time. Its outermost manifestation such as verbal kinetic and aural is called art and ritual.
  • Inseparable with the latter are crafts in a society.  Each of these has primarily an utilitarian as well as symbolic function.  But form and design are conditional and governed by the worldview, myth and ritual function which each article plays at given moment.
  • Equally important and more fundamental is the transmission of skills of these crafts from one generation to  the next.  It ranges from inculcation of skills, identification of raw material to actual making of an object.
  • The social structure of the groups, the individual and society, have finally to be placed in the framework of an item - daily, monthly, annual - computed in terms of the movement of the sun, the moon and the stars.  Myths and rituals are the uppermost layers of this relationship of body-rhythm, nature-rhythm, cultivation-rhythm and astronomical cycle.
  • The solar and lunar calendars are the most fundamental devices of tribal-rural-urban continuum and interaction even within single communities.  In 'circumscribed time', for that specific duration, all spatial and level hierarchies are broken and equalisation or even reversal of roles takes place.

Artistic manifestation is intrinsic to the lifestyle and punctuation of rhythm through rituals and festivals in common.  Space is consecrated or enlarged.  Finally, the lifecycle from birth to death and rebirth provides another framework of time where physical and metaphysical, sacred and secular coalesce and interpenetrate.

With this approach the Loka parampara involves research into various aspects of cultural communities.  Pilot studies have been initiated on the Santhals of West Bengal and Orissa, Bhuiyans and Paiks of Orissa, Meiteis of Manipur, Angamis of Nagaland, Gujars of Central Himalaya, Changpas of Ladakh, Gaddis of Himachal Pradesh, Bajara-growing communities of Rajasthan, Visvakarmas and the forest dwellers of Karnataka and Mukkuvars of Tamil Nadu.

 

This programme aims at studying various aspects of cultural communities: physical space or habitat, ecology, world view, concept of man, man-society relationship, artistic creativity, transmission of skills and knowledge, astronomical cycle and rhythms of human life, lifestyle and punctuation of rhythms through rituals and festivals.

Pilot studies have been initiated in different parts of India, some conducted by the in-house scholars, others by researchers associated with Indian and foreign universities and institutions. The advantage of involving outside scholars is twofold: large coverage of communities and themes within a limited time, and also quick diffusion of IGNCA concepts and methods among the large number of scholars.

Of the 67 studies so far completed only a few have shown light. Largely because the standard of teaching and research has fallen and most researchers have forgotten to read, look and understand. Yet, it appears that there is something cutting very deep in this study of man and culture. It shows by itself that :
  • In the traditional setting, the ‘nonliterate’ and the ‘literate’ do not subordinate one another, precisely because both reflect on faith.

  • The conceptual world of the socalled ‘folk’/’tribal’ culture has the capacity to produce abstract ideas comparable with those of the socalled ‘classical culture’. The articulation of the nonliterate Santhals, Meiteis, Gaddis, Dhangars and many others corresponds with the Vedic and Upanisadic thoughts.


Anthropological studies of ‘tribe’, by and large, remain limited to material culture, ceremonies, and social organization. Much attention is being paid, especially in post-Independence India, on ‘tribal’ development: their transformation from primitive to modern, from forest to city, from bow-and-arrow to machine-gun, without giving them a chance to cross the culture-producing threshold in their own way. Loka Parampara study has an emperical foundation; it shows that the simple small societies called ‘tribe’ are the oldest and most highly developed people with complex ideas, despite low technology. The sequence of levels, or the historical order of ‘development’, is unimportant.

    The emperical frame and perspective in which the faculty has been researching during the past ten years are guided by a threefold strategy:

    1.    Working on a thesaurus of ‘santhal’ language, taking only a few critical terms -- such as seed, womb, earth, water, fire, air, sky -- relevant to biology, culture, and world view.

    2.    Studying indepth the various aspects of life of one particular culture or group. Santhal -- a numerically large population widely dispersed in Bihar, Bengal and Orissa -- is the test case. Themes covered so far include biosphered environment, bamboo culture, knowledge of food, cosmology, ethnomedicine, perception of animals, ritual painting, primal elements, perception of sound: human sound, animal sound, basic sound and symbolism, script, literature, thesaurus.

    3.    Comparing small scale societies, to construct a theory of culture on a limited base, with the assumption that it can be part of a larger theoretical structure which stands on a broader base. Delving deep into cosmological themes -- starting with primal elements, seed and soil, water cosmology, medicine, music, space, time, calendrical ritual, etc. -- necessarily related to their world view and culture.

Both thematically and spatially the Loka Parampara study has reached its first phase of maturity. Some of its findings were presented at the 14th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, held in Williamsburg on July 26 to August 1, 1998. The faculty had organized a scientific session on “Alternate Paradigms in Anthropology”, and it is a pleasure to report that this was received very well. The faculty is planning to form a small group of Asian scholars to extend the IGNCA experiment and approach further.

 


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