Indology (G S Ghurye)

UPSC Sociology Optional - Paper 2 (Indian Society: Structure and Change) A1 Perspectives on the Study of Indian Society

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Perspectives on the Study of Indian Society - Indology

Indology is a perspective of studying Indian society which holds that the nature of Indian thought and psychological make-up (characterised by holism, and collectivism) is different from that of the west (primacy of individual, freedom, liberty), so in order to better understand it, it must be understood in terms of Indian thinking, traditions, and philosophy.
According to MN Srinivas, Indology can be called the textual view of Indian society. It has nothing to do with the conditions on the ground, rather it deals with the ideas of Indian society as mentioned in classical religious texts like the Vedas, Upanishads, Dharma Shastra, Manusmriti, Mahabharata, Ramayana etc.
The orientalist/Indologist view of India offers a picture of the society as static, timeless, and spaceless. These scholars emphasize the role of traditions and groups as the basis of social relations rather than individuals. They also consider religion, ethics, and philosophy as the basis of the social organisation rather than interpersonal or group dynamics.
The British, borrowing from their own traditions to understand Indian tradition through texts (from the known to the unknown), made a fundamental error in over-emphasizing the elements of discreteness of Indian social entities and neglecting the linkages between them which bound these entities into an organic whole. The rigidness that became one of the defining attributes of the caste system in the British era was in part caused by the British system of administration and jurisprudence.


Focus points: caste, tribes, culture, and national unity. Govind Sadashiv Ghurye stressed that Indian tradition is Hindu tradition and felt that to understand Indian society one must understand Hindu traditions. BK Nagla says he created a kind of Hindu sociology.

On Caste

Ghurye studied caste from a historical, comparative and integrative perspective. He identified six basic features of the caste system:

  1. Segmental division.
  2. Lack of choice of occupations for each segment.
  3. Purity and pollution associated with the occupation.
  4. Hierarchy of these divisions based on purity and pollution.
  5. Commensal and conjugal relations. (Civil/religious disabilities/privileges of sections)
  6. Restrictions on marriage. (Caste endogamy and Gotra/Pinda exogamy)
    Ghurye laid emphasis on endogamy as the most important feature of the caste system. The rules of endogamy and commensality marked off castes from each other. These rules acted as integrative instruments which organised segmented castes into a totality or collectivity.

On Tribes

Ghurye believed that the tribes had been Hinduised after a long period of contact and acculturation. He felt that it was futile to look for a different identity for tribes, rather they should be treated as backward caste Hindus. He felt that this backwardness was a result of their imperfect integration into the Hindu society and that could only be improved by their acculturation. Ghurye debated with Verrier Elwin about the issue of tribals. Elwin held that tribals should be left to their own devices while Ghurye was a strong proponent of acculturation. Finally, Nehru's view of assimilation prevailed.

On Culture & Civilization

According to Ghurye culture constitutes the central element for understanding society and its evolution. For him the challenging task of a sociologist in India was to analyse the complex acculturation process in India, he refers to how the caste system was developed by Brahmins and how it spread to other sections of the society. He identified five foundations of culture which cut across problems of civilisation growth:

  1. Religious consciousness.
  2. Conscience.
  3. Justice.
  4. Pursuit of knowledge and free expression.
  5. Toleration.

Ghurye felt that religion is at the centre of the total cultural heritage of man, it moulds and directs the behaviour of man in society. He recognised the importance of the concept of reincarnation and the changing concept of godhead in Indian society.

On National Unity

As a sociologist, he was interested in the concept of integration and the process of national unity in India. Ghurye held that while groups play an integrational role in society that is true only up to a certain extent. He felt that in modern Indian society there were five sources of danger to national (basically Hindu) unity due to their excessive attachment to their groups:

  1. Scheduled castes.
  2. Scheduled tribes.
  3. Backward classes.
  4. Muslims and minority groups.
  5. Linguistic minorities. (Greatest source of danger according to Ghurye)

Ghurye majorly viewed the brahminical endeavour as the cause of national unity in India and thus while he calls it the process of acculturation, it is basically a one-way flow in which brahminical ideas and institutions gained prevalence among non-Brahmins.
Ghurye’s concept of cultural unity is not secular in nature. He is concerned with the India of Hindu culture and uses Indian and Hindu culture interchangeably. He viewed regional language as having a symbolic integration value for the region i.e. dysfunctional for the whole.


  • He contributed to building sociology that was completely Indian in orientation and with his deep knowledge of Hinduism he contributed greatly in many spheres.

Critique of Ghurye's Indological Perspective

  • The biggest limitation of his understanding of India was that he never acknowledged the contribution of Christianity and Islam to the cultural pluralism of India.
  • Ghurye failed to recognise that a qualitative change has occurred in the dynamics of Indian unity in modern India. His knowledge of India’s past instead of helping him stood in his way of gaining a better understanding of contemporary Indian society.
  • SC Dube says that his approach is mostly criticised as culture-bound, myopic, textual, and Brahmanic view of India but since most other approaches developed as reflexive critiques of Ghurye's writings his impact on Indian sociology cannot be discounted.
  • His view that the development of a regional language could lead to disunity is also claimed to be an oversimplification. Ex. Eco Survey 2016-17 noted that language was not a barrier to trade within India.
  • He also failed to appreciate that the political involvement of caste as an outcome of the collective mobilization process in modern India.

  • Structural Functionalism - M N Srinivas
  • Marxist Sociology - A R Desai
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