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Hindu Cosmology and the Orientation and Segregation of Social Groups in Villages in Northwestern India

Jai Pal Singh and Mumtaz Khan
Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography
Vol. 81, No. 1 (1999), pp. 19-39
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Swedish Society for Anthropology and Geography
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/491040
Page Count: 21
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Hindu Cosmology and the Orientation and Segregation of Social Groups in Villages in Northwestern India
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Abstract

This paper presents a cultural analysis of the directional orientation and segregation of castes in villages in a part of the northwestern plains of India. It interprets the built environment in terms of Hindu cosmology. Recent literature in cultural geography interprets the landscape "as text" or through symbols. The symbolic approach has greater relevance for traditional societies where clear schemata are discernible in built environments. This paper attempts a critical appraisal of Hindu cosmology as a schema for interpreting built environments in Indian villages. Challenging the widely held view that Indian villages lack order, the paper demonstrates that there is a religiously ordained order in the landscape. The order is manifested in the form of orientation of several features of landscape, especially the caste mohallās (wards) to the cardinal directions. Orientation of caste mohallās to the 'sacred' directions in a settlement follows a system evolved by Indian civilization to harmonize the fractured social order with the segmented cosmic order. The paper also demonstrates that segregation is an inherent characteristic of orientation. As a background for regional diversities, empirical evidence reveals that in the study region Hindu cosmology is impressed on villages, though often in a modified form. Villagers believe that the social space known as khenā slopes down from west to east, while the southern sector is the 'lowest' segment of the village. Dominant castes characteristically reserve for themselves the best western site of the village and low castes are placed in lower social spaces, with scheduled castes being generally placed in the south.

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