Baidyanath Saraswati Unesco professor, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, was associated with the
Anthropological Survey of India, Calcutta, for a decade, and another decade with the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.
During this period he did extensive fieldwork in rural India and conducted a detailed study of the sacred city of Varanasi. As a
Professor of Visva-Bharati University, Ranchi University and North-Eastern Hill University, he taught anthropology in a highly
unconventional style. For the last twelve years, he is drawing out relevant themes from traditional thoughts and modern sciences
to build up an indigenous anthropology from within. His research opens up new possibilities for non-Western anthropologists to
imagine a future for themselves. Has authored The Sacred Science of Man, The Sacred Science of Nature, as well as other books
The 14th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences was held in the city of Williamsburg, Virginia, on
July 26 – August 1, 1998. Being the last of the 20th century, this conference was subtitled ‘The 21st Century: The Future of
Anthropology. It was both witness and tribute to the late 20th century theory of anthropology, with the stress on new frontiers. The
Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts organized a scientific session aimed at searching alternative paradigms in the study of
man and culture. A body of knowledge expects explored challenges and prospect of integrating indigenous knowledge with
anthropological perceptions of the west. The proceeding of this session comprise this volume.
Anthropology, based on the premises of a materialistic science, does not answer but raises questions about man. As for secular
Western science, does what is one to think? Are other modes of thinking possible outside this horizon? Are there no other visions
of man, no other pillars of truth? Must everything way of thinking and living? Must an Africa, an Indian, a Chinese be uprooted from
the nature-integrated culture created by an original act? Should one claim superiority over such people and culture as are subject
to anthropological study? Can a researchers studying the Other be objective? Can a scientific observation disregard the observing
mind? Can one observe the hidden variables of another culture? Do we have to following the
Darwinian-Tylorian-Durkheimian-Morganian-Malinowskian anthropology, with no real? Choice at all? Or do we look for a new
The quantum theory has taken physics far beyond Newton. Heisenberg’s ‘uncertainty principle’ puts an end to the clear separation
between the observe and the observed. Paradigms of physics, cosmology and biology are becoming a close companion of ancient
philosophy and religion. Anthropology, the science of man, nurtured by evolutionism, materialism and colonialism, must give up
the materialistic doctrine “to turn to the people”. Materialism dominates anthropology, cultures are classified by economic
differences and the gap between the ‘developing’ and the ‘developed’ is widening. Traditional cultures have rejected scientific
value of ‘colonial anthropology’. For a new social order, a new anthropology has to make its appearance. The old assumptions will
have to be abandoned. New paradigms must widen the dimension of universality. Only then can the core truth ‘quantum
anthropology’ will replace the shadowy anthropology marked by paradoxical conjustions of matter and spirit, myth and science,
the observe and the observed, the developed and the developing. The materialistic secular Western perception is limited by human
senses. Aware of this predicament we will have to widen the realm of all possibility.
· Sacred Science
Anthropology has distanced itself from philosophy. There are two incompatible maxims–culture ex cultura and nature.
Culturalists grant cultural phenomena as autonomous and efficient agent of themselves. Naturalists, on the other hand, attribute
cultural forms to Nature, i.e. cultural forms have evolved from Nature. In other words, culture is a step beyond Nature. Both these
perceptions have given rise to what might be called the ‘ladder mentality’. The ladder symbolizes a climb through simple to
complex, from instinct to intelligence, from non-living to living, from less conscious to more conscious, from inorganic elements to
plants to animals to humans; also from disorder to order. In each case this world is pinned to a ladder of progressive development.
The polaristic position in the anthropological theory of Nature and Culture, is nullified by the ‘sacred science of man’. Nature in its
essence is not a machine. Living matter exists only by the order of the ‘transcendent life’, the one which is formless, invisible, but
knowable through its effect. The transcendent Order of Nature is that (prakriti) which may appropriately be described as process;
that Order of orders is set into a technical order that causes bio-social types, Traditional through differentiates, but does not
separate. Evolutionism, structuralism and functionalism are not applicable to non-Western ‘sacred science’. The following articles
by Indian anthropologists try to introduce, primarily by example, the non-Western concept.
The contribution of Saraswati is an overview of the field of ‘sacred science’. Here the entire oppositional category, used in
Western-oriented anthropology, merges into a unity of thought. The emphasis is on the essence of relationship, felt and expressed
by alternative interpretation of the order of thing. The relation that expresses the ‘ultimate constitution of reality’ is one, the
all-embracing. And hence: one as many, man as microcosm, science as society, theodicy as cosmodicy, mind as matter, word as
world, knowledge as experience, knowledge as culture, nature as culture, ritual as language, tradition as hierohistory, etc. It is on
these premises that indigenous culture stand and the cosmic anthropological principle is born into. Traditional thought transcends
modern fundamental dichotomies: man/ nature, subject/ object, individual/ society, atomistic/ holistic, relative/ absolute, reality/
symbol, sacred/ secular, thinker/ thought, creator/ created, man/ god and so on. This problem is posed as a challenge to the secular
The paper by Jha provides a deeper appreciation of the sacred science of man. In order to grasp the nature of man one must go
back to traditional thought which is reflective or philosophical. The author demonstrates that Indian philosophy, astrology, and
ayuruvedic system of medicine–whereby the experience of culture is codified–view man and his nature in a holistic perspective,
irrespective of ethnic considerations. Human nature in its richness and variety, in its heights and depth, in its psychophysical
expression, and in its spiritual transcendence along its vertical plane is at once attractive and baffling.
Behura’s article takes the discussion on man further along the same line. Basing himself on transcendent anthology, the author
explains how the Hindu concept of Self is manifest in people’s punctuated lifestyle. The statement that humans in Indian society
assert personal independence and freedom is an effective rallying point in the ‘sacred science of man’. The ultimate reality
perceived in Indian thought is at once cosmic, social and individual.
The article by Momin draws attention to philosophical anthropology. The fact that there is a sharp distinction between Islamic
epistemology and Cartesian-Newtonian world-view exposes the limitations of modern science. The discourse of Sufism in Islamic
‘sacred science’ presents a new vision for the study of human nature and behavior. Western anthropology has paid little attention
to the non-Western conception of human nature. Since the problem of human nature lies at the heart of anthropology, it is
worthwhile to examine alternative views.
Prasad’s paper presents a model for a new anthropology of sound. Highlighting the importance of the Upanisadic ‘sacred’, the
author assesses the Santhal theory of sound inhering the basic principle of differentiation as well as unification of all things. It
shows that sound is causal to the cosmological process of creation, dissolution and re-creation. This perception of the so-called
‘tribal’ shows that the simple folk has an extraordinary capacity for integrating the complex phenomena of the natural world. The
modern visualization of sound is different.
· Space And Time
Traditional cultures view space and time as reality, originating from the first cause and the First effect. For some cultures man
moves through space and hence the primacy of spatial experience. For others, man moves through time and hence the importance
of the present moment. At a higher level of mystic experience, it is said, man is not limited by space and time. All cultures hold that
man’s relationship with space and time is organic. Man is bound up in this world by physical space and temporal time. The finite
space he occupies and the finite time he lives are the rhythms of the infinite cosmic spacetime balanced by a higher order (of
divinity) perceived differently in different culture. Hence traditional culture refer to the spiritual potency of space (sacred space) and
time (auspicious time) and the ultimate merging into Great Time (Mahakala) and the unfolding of the universe of space and time (by
Narayan initiating the process). Both sacred and secular science share an idea of interdependency of space and time. Significantly,
modern man’s attitude towards Nature-his passionate possession of space and time-measured personal identity-cannot reach the
depth of aesthetic sensibility of the natural world. For instance utterly strange to the modern secular man.
Kaushal’s contribution is notable for its manner of interpreting the traditional vision of space and time. Apart from its wealth of
information about the Gaddis of Indian, the paper presents a symbolic system which creates categories of space and time in terms
of a (masculine-feminine) continuum. Within this framework of thought, space and time are inherently pure, non-contaminated and
auspicious. Both, as power of God (Shiva-Parvati), constitute the absolute principle by which the Gaddi culture interprets its
existence. The idea of interrelationship between space and time, developed along the metaphor of seed and womb (which makes
the living world) and stitched together in the warp and woof of creation and dissolution (which makes the natural world) sacred and
secular (which makes the socialworld), maintains the idea of justice or balance. This thought pattern is explained geometrically
(sacred geometry) and numerically (sacred number).
Odak’s article starts with the premise that there is a relationship between space, time and technology. It shows that modern
technology remains a challenge which traditional societies have not yet been able to meet. The distructive nature of culture
determines the concept of space. For instance, the difference between the first World and Third World cultures is marked in terms
of their conception of space and time. This is precisely because they are placed at two different levels of technological
advancement. Africa culture conceives of space in circular or oval shape and measures time in approximation based on the
observation of the heavenly bodies. Africa society today is subjected to conflicting forces, but African time, on the contrary, tend to
isolate the individual.
Yet another contribution to the volume was by a leading astrophysicist Malville who presents a new vision for anthropology of
pilgrimage (sacred spaces). His investigation reveals that traditional village cultures and the world-spanning pilgrimage landscape
may be transformed by a robustly open system that is holistic, complex in space and time, and quick to change. Biological and
spiritual impulses that disrupt equilibrium derive cultural systems into new realms by causing metastability. Some systems such as
the traditional village may maintain stability an enhancement of feedback loop when threatened by destablizing forces.
· Experience And Expression
An experimental scientist such as a chemist uses the method of laboratory experiment. For an anthropologist fieldwork is a
substitute for the experimental laboratory. But, like a chemist, can he claim objectivity in his research? Is he not an aspect of the
human reality which he studies? Is mere observation of the object enough to know? The answer to all these questions is in
negative. The human mind cannot remain impersonal, objective; it blends the object with subjectivity. An anthropologist has to be
necessarily involved at personal level to judge or sense the empirical reality, and thus he gains experience and knowledge. No
participant observation can be done by proxy. No culture can be comprehended mechanically. The inescapable conclusion is that
anthropological study leads to both, knowing and experiencing the reality. As it shows, experience is ineffable. There is a
dichotomy between experience (sensory consciousness) and expression (reflection of experience). The expression has to be
differentiated from its interpretation (intellectual consciousness). Briefly the state of experience does not remain the same at the
level of expression and explanation. However, each cultural interprets its own; lived experience’ in the light of its particular culture
codes. A study of symbolic structures of culture experience’ of a culture.
Malik’s model for ‘anthropology of experience’, marked by the subtlety of expression, bears out the validity of his approach. It
proceeds from the premise that ‘the knowledge we formulate about the other is filtered or refracted through the knowledge we have
built for ourselves, i.e. we are interpreters of cultures and can observe others only through our own culture and experience biases’.
To provide a warning to anyone embarking on this approach, it emphases that ‘the human approach to a cultural model must
encompass all experience. One can of course only attempt to approximate the verbal and non-verbal experience in terms of the
shared experience, and as far as possible it is to share emotions-if at all in any case. May be there can be lived understanding of the
situations, event and process.
Capila addresses to the same concern : participant observation as ‘lived experience’. Based on her fieldwork in Garhwal Himalaya,
the author demonstrates that among the traditional women singers the ‘lived experience’ is not restricted to the personal self, as in
modern societies. Songs are to be understood as a matter of actual experience, also of participation.
The paper of Gonzalez Torres deals with the spiritual experience–communicating with the cosmos by worshipping the
supernatural. Her study of Mexican dance and ritual shows that even today the dances express their emotions and develop a
sense of identification with the ancient Mexican culture.
· Question of Universality
Human cultures originate from various on earth develop in many ways. Culture types are more varied than human biological types.
However their differences can be modified, expanded and transformed. These cultures are changing constantly. If behavior pattern
and language make up a culture, then again, there are many, many forms of culture. Thus one can draw that culture is the source of
divisions and change. Like flowering plants in nature, the formation and transformation of a culture takes place in an almost
mystical way. Should a culture seek to have relevance in modern time, it has to address itself to a radical cross-cultural problem.
Only those cultures which are intelligible to Western civilization and its colonies will find a place in the horizon of universal. Others
will have to renounce their claims to possess the universal nature of culture. The early evolutionists placed many primitive
societies under pre-culture stage. In the world-view of Judeo-Christian civilization, which is associated with the colonialist pattern
of expansion, the indigenous people are pre-civilized. In the situation, can anthropology develop a universal language?
In his paper Lopez-Sanz, situating his discourse in the post-modern scenario, brings out the contributions and problems and
failings of anthropology since its inception. At the present moment, animated by the modernity/ postmodernity working paradox, he
envisages the role of the Third World as one of interlocutor-translator mediating between its inhabitants and passions, fighting
cultural boundaries and situations of crisis.
Sang-Bok’s paper presents a critical review of the development of Euro-American anthropological theories that fulfilled the need of
colonial rulers and reflected the American social, economic and political situations. He examines the work of Chinese
anthropologist Fei Xiatong’s ‘peoples anthropology’, which aimed at making the masses understand the society they live in, to
organize their collective life in accordance with existing social laws and to help satisfy their ever-growing needs, the emphasis of
‘people’s anthropology’ is on ethical issues.
Brouwer’s essay starts with a historical review of the crisis of interpretation and proceeds further to formulate an alternative
paradigm in anthropology. He recommends the collection and authentication of indigenous knowledge in its cognitive and
practical dimensions at the confluence of concepts originating in different knowledge systems with people’s active participation in
collection and preservation’.
· Towards A New Relationship
What comes out of this meditation upon the many aspects of anthropology from the perspective of many nations and scholars can
becomes a starting point for establishing a new relationship with the intellectual heritage of the past. This is possible only through
participation in the mystery of cosmodicy. As it appears from the essays collected here, the traditional vision of man is still being
re-stated and re-interpreted with clarity and vision in many parts of the world where the objectivist anthropology, which is neither
clear nor constant, is challenged openly. This search for alternative paradigms in anthropology indicates that the non-Western
anthropologists are fully aware that it is time to write the fate of their culture directly from a source that existed in the
pre-Renaissance Europe. Before asking what conclusions are to be drawn, it is important to understand that the traditional vision
contains potentials which become actualized as comprehensive thought which then becomes cohesive concept. An effort to
‘re-language’ traditional thought in terms of ‘sacred science’, cosmic anthropology’, ‘sonic anthropology’, ‘philosophical
anthropology’, ‘quantum anthropology’, ‘experiential anthropology’, ‘people’s anthropology’, and so will eventually makes it
possible to conceive anew the true nature of man and culture.
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