Contested Hierarchies: A Collaborative Ethnography of Caste among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

Contested Hierarchies: A Collaborative Ethnography of Caste among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

Contested Hierarchies: A Collaborative Ethnography of Caste among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

Contested Hierarchies: A Collaborative Ethnography of Caste among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal


In this book, six anthropologists pool their knowledge of the three ancient Newar cities of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur, and of other settlements nearby. The social institutions of all the main caste groups--priests, patrons, artisans, farmers, and low castes--are given extended consideration, and the study is framed by a historical introduction and a comparative conclusion. In addition, it is well illustrated with fascinating black and white photos which have been specially taken to illustrate aspects of the society under study. The result is the most complete description and analysis yet of a regional caste system. The book should appeal not only to students of Hinduism and South Asia, but to all anthropologists and comparative sociologists interested in the interrelations of politics, ritual, kinship, economy, and ideology in complex, pre-industrial societies.


This volume grew from our conviction that Newar society and culture were so complex as to be approached best in co-operation with other scholars. This is not a conference volume; it is not the hopeful juxtaposition of diverse papers that the authors happened to have ready at a particular moment. Rather, each contributor was asked to address the same questions from the point of view of their particular ethnographic expertise and the result is a genuinely co-operative venture. Even where contributors disagree, this is a fertile difference over the interpretation of the same material.

The main focus of the book is the description and analysis of caste, kinship, and other forms of social organization among the Newars. We believe that this particular example of caste society should be of interest to students of South Asia in general, for reasons outlined in Chapters 1 and 10. In order to challenge preconceived ideas about caste societies, the chapters are not arranged in imitation of a single linear order from bottom to top or top to bottom. The spatial organization of Newar cities suggests, rather, a centre-periphery model. Since books have to be read in some order, we have arranged the chapters in two sections: after the introduction (Ch. 1) Chapters 2 to 5 deal with patron and agriculturalist castes. Then Chapters 6 to 9 describe castes that have specialized priestly and/or artisanal functions, one of the most important of which is the removal of pollution. Chapter 10 provides a more theoretical conclusion.

We have accumulated many debts in the writing of this book. In the first place we must thank those Newars who permitted us to pry into the intimate details of their social life, matters which they frequently dislike revealing to outsiders and the revelation of which will lead to no immediate or obvious benefit to them. None the less, this book will, we hope, be of interest to educated Newars who are much concerned with the issues discussed herein.

Our second debt of gratitude is to the other contributors to this volume, for being willing to collaborate in the co-operative enterprise of describing and analysing Newar society. The chapters by Gérard Toffin were originally written in French. Chapter 6 was translated by Gellner and Chapter 8 by Quigley; both translations were checked by the author.

Over the years we have been helped by many people in Nepal; specific debts are listed at the beginning of each chapter of the book. We would particularly like to thank Niels Gutschow for allowing us to use the maps which appear as Figs. 2 and 11. In addition, we would like to thank Brigitte Amthor, Dor Bahadur Bista, Dilli Ram Dahal, Naresh Gurung, the late Prem Bahadur Kansakar, K. P. Malla, M. C. Regmi, Prayag Raj Sharma, Shukra and Uttam Sagar Shrestha, Malla K. Sundar, Nirmal Man Tuladhar, Subarna Man Tuladhar, Paloma Verdegay, and Emil Wendel. Chris Pinney and A. W. Macdonald . . .

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