Alchemies of Violence - Myths of Identity and the Life of Trade in Western India

Alchemies of Violence - Myths of Identity and the Life of Trade in Western India

Product ID: 15269

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Author: Lawrence A Babb
Publisher: Sage Publications
Year: 2004
Language: English
Pages: 252
ISBN/UPC (if available): 0761932232


The several trading castes known generically as Marwaris are among the most powerful and wealthy groups in India. While they have spread throughout India and beyond, their homeland is Rajasthan. This absorbing book explores their origin myths and the manner in which these myths construct and express their social identities.

Lawrence Babb draws attention to the special problems of self-definition faced by these groups and shows how myth engages these problems by using a distinctive symbolism drawn from the Vedic rite of sacrifice. According, to the author, origin myths utilize sacrifice as a master metaphor for creative power and social order. At a broader level, this book deals with three interrelated themes: the nature of India’s caste system; the special character and specific place of trading castes in Indian society; and the role of myth as a repository of socially important knowledge. A unique feature of this book is that it is based mainly on the literature published by caste and religious associations supplemented by oral material.


The book examines the amazing balance struck between a reviled community that the baniyas are seen as and their role in society as possibly the most integrated an institutionalised caste in the Hindu social order. Babb, takes up a cluster of trading castes generically known as Marwaris, traversing both their mythical origins and their historical functions as they evolved into one of the most powerful and wealthy groups in India today.

This book explores the formation of specific caste identities in terms of the nexus between power and ritual status, A large part of the book is devoted to exploring how sacrifice operates as a myth model in the origin myths of the trader castes. To understand this Babb takes us through a detailed analysis of the origin myths of a group of connected castes, beginning with the brahmans and kshatriyas-the core groups linked to the rite of sacrifice. These form a frame for the main subject…. Babb recounts several versions of the origin myths of all the significant caste groups around Jaipur and shows how they form a transformative set.
-The Book Review



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