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Title: Equality or Hierarchy: The Organisational Structure of a Sect in Bengal
Other Titles: Social Trends, A Peer-reviewed National Journal, Vol. 8, 31-March-2021, pp 95 - 112
Authors: Goswami, Sumana
Keywords: sect
Satimar mela
Issue Date: 31-Mar-2021
Publisher: University of North Bengal
Abstract: During the seventeenth and eighteenth century numerous deviant vaisnava and semi-vaisnava sects emerged among the lower orders of both the Hindus and Muslims in Bengal. Challenging the great traditions of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity these sects altogether rejected the Vedas, Shastras and most importantly the caste system. Dumont, while emphasizing the hierarchical characteristics of the Indian caste system, held that in opposition to castes sects have an egalitarian nature. The present paper is concerned with the structure of one such sect, namely Kartabhaja, which emerged as an anti-Vedic, anti-caste group and survives till date. The study attempts to examine whether the sect follows a true egalitarian structure or not. The necessary data for the study were gathered in the annual fair of the sect called Satimar Mela through personal visits for seven consecutive years (1999-2005) and again in 2012, 2016 and in 2018. The methods of non-participant observation and unstructured and semi-structured interviews were used to collect data from about 100 sect members on a snowball sampling basis. Historical accounts were also used to construct a history of the sect. The study reveals that the sect, which rejected the exploitative caste hierarchy and emphasized on equality of human beings, irrespective of caste, religion and sex, had to develop a new form of three-level stratified system of Karta, Mahasaya and Barati for organizational solidity. These separate and independent groups within the sect could easily be distinguished through their different ritual performances. The formation and continuation of stratified structure within the sect obviously is contrary to the image of egalitarian structure of the sect.
ISSN: 2348-6538
Appears in Collections:Vol. 08 (March 2021)

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