NCERT Textbook - Kinship, Caste and Class Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

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Humanities/Arts : NCERT Textbook - Kinship, Caste and Class Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

 Page 1


53
In the previous chapter we saw that there were several
changes in economic and political life between c. 600
BCE and 600 CE. Some of these changes influenced societies
as well. For instance, the extension of agriculture into
forested areas transformed the lives of forest dwellers;
craft specialists often emerged as distinct social groups;
the unequal distribution of wealth sharpened social
differences.
Historians often use textual
traditions to understand these
processes. Some texts lay down
norms of social behaviour; others
describe and occasionally comment
on a wide range of social situations
and practices. We can also catch a
glimpse of some social actors from
inscriptions. As we will see, each
text (and inscription) was written
from the perspective of specific
social categories. So we need to
keep in mind who composed what
and for whom. We also need to
consider the language used, and
the ways in which the text
circulated. Used carefully, texts allow us to piece together
attitudes and practices that shaped social histories.
In focusing on the Mahabharata, a colossal epic running
in its present form into over 100,000  verses with depictions
of a wide range of social categories and situations, we draw
on one of the richest texts of the subcontinent. It was
composed over a period of about 1,000 years (c. 500 BCE
onwards), and some of the stories it contains may have
been in circulation even earlier. The central story is about
two sets of warring cousins. The text also contains sections
laying down norms of behaviour for various social groups.
Occasionally (though not always), the principal characters
seem to follow these norms. What does conformity with
norms and deviations from them signify?
THEME TWO
Kinship, Caste and Class
Ear Ear Ear Ear Earl l l l ly Socie y Socie y Socie y Socie y Societies ties ties ties ties
( ( ( ( (C C C C C. 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 BCE BCE BCE BCE BCE-600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
THEME
THREE
Fig. 3.1
A terracotta sculpture
depicting a scene from
the Mahabharata
(West Bengal),
c. seventeenth century
© NCERT
not to be republished
Page 2


53
In the previous chapter we saw that there were several
changes in economic and political life between c. 600
BCE and 600 CE. Some of these changes influenced societies
as well. For instance, the extension of agriculture into
forested areas transformed the lives of forest dwellers;
craft specialists often emerged as distinct social groups;
the unequal distribution of wealth sharpened social
differences.
Historians often use textual
traditions to understand these
processes. Some texts lay down
norms of social behaviour; others
describe and occasionally comment
on a wide range of social situations
and practices. We can also catch a
glimpse of some social actors from
inscriptions. As we will see, each
text (and inscription) was written
from the perspective of specific
social categories. So we need to
keep in mind who composed what
and for whom. We also need to
consider the language used, and
the ways in which the text
circulated. Used carefully, texts allow us to piece together
attitudes and practices that shaped social histories.
In focusing on the Mahabharata, a colossal epic running
in its present form into over 100,000  verses with depictions
of a wide range of social categories and situations, we draw
on one of the richest texts of the subcontinent. It was
composed over a period of about 1,000 years (c. 500 BCE
onwards), and some of the stories it contains may have
been in circulation even earlier. The central story is about
two sets of warring cousins. The text also contains sections
laying down norms of behaviour for various social groups.
Occasionally (though not always), the principal characters
seem to follow these norms. What does conformity with
norms and deviations from them signify?
THEME TWO
Kinship, Caste and Class
Ear Ear Ear Ear Earl l l l ly Socie y Socie y Socie y Socie y Societies ties ties ties ties
( ( ( ( (C C C C C. 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 BCE BCE BCE BCE BCE-600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
THEME
THREE
Fig. 3.1
A terracotta sculpture
depicting a scene from
the Mahabharata
(West Bengal),
c. seventeenth century
© NCERT
not to be republished
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 54
1. The Critical Edition of the
Mahabharata
One of the most ambitious projects of scholarship
began in 1919, under the leadership of a noted Indian
Sanskritist, V.S. Sukthankar. A team comprising
dozens of scholars initiated the task of preparing a
critical edition of the Mahabharata. What exactly did
this involve? Initially, it meant collecting Sanskrit
manuscripts of the text, written in a variety of
scripts, from different parts of the country.
The team worked out a method of comparing
verses from each manuscript. Ultimately, they
selected the verses that appeared common to most
versions and published these in several volumes,
running into over 13,000 pages. The project took 47
years to complete. Two things became apparent: there
were several common elements in the Sanskrit
versions of the story, evident in manuscripts found
all over the subcontinent, from Kashmir and Nepal
in the north to Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south.
Also evident were enormous regional variations in
the ways in which the text had been transmitted
over the centuries. These variations were
documented in footnotes and appendices to the main
text. Taken together, more than half the 13,000 pages
are devoted to these variations.
 In a sense, these variations are reflective of the
complex processes that shaped early (and later)
social histories – through dialogues between
dominant traditions and resilient local ideas and
practices. These dialogues are characterised by
moments of conflict as well as consensus.
Our understanding of these processes is derived
primarily from texts written in Sanskrit by and for
Brahmanas. When issues of social history were
explored for the first time by historians in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they tended to
take these texts at face value – believing that
everything that was laid down in these texts was
actually practised. Subsequently, scholars began
studying other traditions, from works in Pali, Prakrit
and Tamil. These studies indicated that the ideas
contained in normative Sanskrit texts were on the
whole recognised as authoritative: they were also
questioned and occasionally even rejected. It is
important to keep this in mind as we examine how
historians reconstruct social histories.
Fig. 3.2
A section of a page from the Critical
Edition
The section printed in large bold
letters is part of the main text.
The smaller print lists variations
in different manuscripts, which
were carefully catalogued.
© NCERT
not to be republished
Page 3


53
In the previous chapter we saw that there were several
changes in economic and political life between c. 600
BCE and 600 CE. Some of these changes influenced societies
as well. For instance, the extension of agriculture into
forested areas transformed the lives of forest dwellers;
craft specialists often emerged as distinct social groups;
the unequal distribution of wealth sharpened social
differences.
Historians often use textual
traditions to understand these
processes. Some texts lay down
norms of social behaviour; others
describe and occasionally comment
on a wide range of social situations
and practices. We can also catch a
glimpse of some social actors from
inscriptions. As we will see, each
text (and inscription) was written
from the perspective of specific
social categories. So we need to
keep in mind who composed what
and for whom. We also need to
consider the language used, and
the ways in which the text
circulated. Used carefully, texts allow us to piece together
attitudes and practices that shaped social histories.
In focusing on the Mahabharata, a colossal epic running
in its present form into over 100,000  verses with depictions
of a wide range of social categories and situations, we draw
on one of the richest texts of the subcontinent. It was
composed over a period of about 1,000 years (c. 500 BCE
onwards), and some of the stories it contains may have
been in circulation even earlier. The central story is about
two sets of warring cousins. The text also contains sections
laying down norms of behaviour for various social groups.
Occasionally (though not always), the principal characters
seem to follow these norms. What does conformity with
norms and deviations from them signify?
THEME TWO
Kinship, Caste and Class
Ear Ear Ear Ear Earl l l l ly Socie y Socie y Socie y Socie y Societies ties ties ties ties
( ( ( ( (C C C C C. 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 . 600 BCE BCE BCE BCE BCE-600 600 600 600 600 CE CE CE CE CE) ) ) ) )
THEME
THREE
Fig. 3.1
A terracotta sculpture
depicting a scene from
the Mahabharata
(West Bengal),
c. seventeenth century
© NCERT
not to be republished
 THEMES IN INDIAN HISTORY 54
1. The Critical Edition of the
Mahabharata
One of the most ambitious projects of scholarship
began in 1919, under the leadership of a noted Indian
Sanskritist, V.S. Sukthankar. A team comprising
dozens of scholars initiated the task of preparing a
critical edition of the Mahabharata. What exactly did
this involve? Initially, it meant collecting Sanskrit
manuscripts of the text, written in a variety of
scripts, from different parts of the country.
The team worked out a method of comparing
verses from each manuscript. Ultimately, they
selected the verses that appeared common to most
versions and published these in several volumes,
running into over 13,000 pages. The project took 47
years to complete. Two things became apparent: there
were several common elements in the Sanskrit
versions of the story, evident in manuscripts found
all over the subcontinent, from Kashmir and Nepal
in the north to Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south.
Also evident were enormous regional variations in
the ways in which the text had been transmitted
over the centuries. These variations were
documented in footnotes and appendices to the main
text. Taken together, more than half the 13,000 pages
are devoted to these variations.
 In a sense, these variations are reflective of the
complex processes that shaped early (and later)
social histories – through dialogues between
dominant traditions and resilient local ideas and
practices. These dialogues are characterised by
moments of conflict as well as consensus.
Our understanding of these processes is derived
primarily from texts written in Sanskrit by and for
Brahmanas. When issues of social history were
explored for the first time by historians in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they tended to
take these texts at face value – believing that
everything that was laid down in these texts was
actually practised. Subsequently, scholars began
studying other traditions, from works in Pali, Prakrit
and Tamil. These studies indicated that the ideas
contained in normative Sanskrit texts were on the
whole recognised as authoritative: they were also
questioned and occasionally even rejected. It is
important to keep this in mind as we examine how
historians reconstruct social histories.
Fig. 3.2
A section of a page from the Critical
Edition
The section printed in large bold
letters is part of the main text.
The smaller print lists variations
in different manuscripts, which
were carefully catalogued.
© NCERT
not to be republished
55
2. Kinship and Marriage
Many Rules and V aried Practices
2.1 Finding out about families
We often take family life for granted. However, you
may have noticed that not all families are identical:
they vary in terms of numbers of members, their
relationship with one another as well as the kinds
of activities they share. Often people belonging to
the same family share food and other resources,
and live, work and perform rituals together. Families
are usually parts of larger networks of people
defined as relatives, or to use a more technical term,
kinfolk. While familial ties are often regarded as
“natural” and based on blood, they are defined in
many different ways. For instance, some societies
regard cousins as being blood relations, whereas
others do not.
For early societies, historians can retrieve
information about elite families fairly easily; it is,
however, far more difficult to reconstruct the familial
relationships of ordinary people. Historians also
investigate and analyse attitudes towards family and
kinship. These are important, because they provide
an insight into people’s thinking; it is likely that
some of these ideas would have shaped their actions,
just as actions may have led to changes in attitudes.
2.2 The ideal of patriliny
Can we identify points when kinship relations
changed? At one level, the Mahabharata is a story
about this. It describes a feud over land and power
between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas and
the Pandavas, who belonged to a single ruling family,
that of the Kurus, a lineage dominating one of the
janapadas (Chapter 2, Map 1). Ultimately, the
conflict ended in a battle, in which the Pandavas
emerged victorious. After that, patrilineal succession
was proclaimed. While patriliny had existed prior to
the composition of the epic, the central story of the
Mahabharata reinforced the idea that it was valuable.
Under patriliny, sons could claim the resources
(including the throne in the case of kings) of their
fathers when the latter died.
Most ruling dynasties (c. sixth century BCE onwards)
claimed to follow this system, although there were
variations in practice: sometimes there were no sons,
T erms for family
and kin
Sanskrit texts use the term kula
to designate families and jnati
for the larger network of kinfolk.
The term vamsha is used for
lineage.
Patriliny means tracing descent
from father to son, grandson
and so on.
Matriliny is the term used when
descent is traced through the
mother.
KINSHIP, CASTE AND CLASS
© NCERT
not to be republished
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