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The Poison in the Gift Ritual Pre-Station, and the Dominant Case in a North Indian Village

by Gloria Goodwin Raheja

  • ISBN: 9780226707297
  • ISBN10: 0226707296

The Poison in the Gift Ritual Pre-Station, and the Dominant Case in a North Indian Village

by Gloria Goodwin Raheja

  • Binding: Paperback
  • Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr
  • Publish date: 05/01/1989
  • ISBN: 9780226707297
  • ISBN10: 0226707296
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Description: The Poison in the Gift is a detailed ethnography of gift-giving in a North Indian village that powerfully demonstrates a new theoretical interpretation of caste. Introducing the concept of ritual centrality, Raheja shows that the position of the dominant landholding caste in the village is grounded in a central-peripheral configuration of castes rather than a hierarchical ordering. She advances a view of caste as semiotically constituted of contextually shifting sets of meanings, rather than one overarching ideological feature. This new understanding undermines the controversial interpretation advanced by Louis Dumont in his 1966 book, Homo Hierarchicus, in which he proposed a disjunction between the ideology of hierarchy based on the "purity" of the Brahman priest and the "temporal power" of the dominant caste or the king.

By focusing on the significance of the many prestations made by the landholding Gujar caste to Brahmans, Barbers, Sweepers, and others in the village of Pahansu, Raheja demonstrates that the role of this caste is not based simply on its temporal power, but on a conception of certain gifts (dan) as providing for the well-being and auspiciousness of the donor and of the village as a whole through the ritual transferral of evil, sin, and affliction from donor to recipient. Members of this landholding caste, rather than the Brahman priests, are the ideological point of reference for the village, for they are the preeminent jajmans (sacrificers) and givers of dan in the village.

Grounding her argument in a comprehensive ethnography, Raheja shows that it is this pattern of centrality, rather than a hierarchical ordering, that is most salient in the rituals ofbirth, marriage, and death; in agricultural, astrological, and festival rituals; and in the gift-giving carried out to remove sickness, barrenness, and other afflictions. Raheja's precise, detailed account of the linguistic and ritual aspects of giving and receiving and her depiction of the vas

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