a1 Duke University
Several decades ago, many studies of Indian caste equated this institution with the four-fold scriptural division of society called the varnas. At the present, however, most anthropologists agree that the jati or local endogamous group is the effective unit of caste. Although the varnas have little to do with the organization of caste groups, they do say something about the ideological integration of regions and sub-regions in traditional India. The term varna should not only be taken to refer to the literate, scriptural division. Rather it should mean any indigenous ideological scheme which merges castes into larger status categories or classifications. This paper suggests that such varna schemes are found throughout India, and that their individual distribution demarcates important cultural regions or nuclear areas. These schemes seem to function as ideological or ‘mechanical’ integrating mechanisms for areas which do not have stable and longstanding political and economic centricity (or ’organic’ cohesion). The ideas advanced below are in no sense final, but rather are intended mainly as suggestive of future research. They are tentative propositions aimed at a broader perspective on how regions in India were ideologically bounded by localized status categories of castes.
* A shortened version of this paper was read at the 66th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, D.C. on December 1, 1967.