Govind Sadashiv Ghurye: Contribution to Sociology and Social Anthropology

Shaunak S. Kulkarni

Prof. & Head

Department of Anthropology

Savitribai Phule Pune University. Pune

Abstract:Prof. G.S. Ghurye was a famous international scholar of Indian origin. His pioneering contribution to the field of Sociology is well appreciated.  G.S. Ghurye had a brilliant academic throughout his career with the background in Sanskrit. He was awarded a scholarship where he did his PhD in Sociology from Cambridge University. Later in 1924, he joined University of Bombay as the Head of the Department of Sociology and continued there till 1959. He has written 32 books. His work can be classified into number of themes like Caste, Tribes, Kinship, Family and Marriage, etc. His works and interest on Indian Society and Culture have a stumping influence on the development of Sociology and Social Anthropology.

Biography: G.S Ghurye was born on 12th December 1893 in Malwan town in Sindhudurg District, Maharashtra and he passed away on 28th December 1983 in Bombay, Maharashtra. He did his early schooling from Aryan Education Society’s High School in Girgaon, Mumbai and later from BahadurKhanji High School in Junagadh, Gujarat. He did his bachelor and masters in Sanskrit from Elphinstone college, Mumbai. He was a brilliantacademician. In 1921, he submitted an essay to Sir Patrick Geddes on ‘Bombay as an Urban Centre’ and he was awarded a foreign scholarship to study Sociology in England. He persuaded his PhD in Sociology from Cambridge University under the guidance of W.H.R. River. But unfortunately, due to death of River in 1922, Ghurye was put under the guidance of A.C. Haddon where he submitted his PhD thesis on the topic ‘Caste and Race in India’.In 1924, he came back to India and was appointed as the Head of the Department of Sociology in University of Bombay by Sir Patrick Geddes. During his tenure, he shaped the study of sociology in India and founded the Indian Sociological Society and its journal called ‘Sociological Bulletin’. He got retired in 1959 and he was designated the first Emeritus Professor in the University of Bombay. He is known promotor of Indian Sociological studies. Credit of expansion of sociological research and methodological issues at University level goes to Proof Ghurye. Study of society means study of human groups and its organization at various levels. Culture is a feature of human society. Ghurye was the pioneer of Indian sociological studies.

Work and Contribution: Ghurye developed his career as a Sociologist and worked into number of themes to the development of sociology and social anthropology in India.He washimself a brilliant scholar and he was also attracted to brilliant students, he expected them to work like him. He wrote 32 books and all his work can be classified into number of themes like caste, tribes, kinship and marriage, etc. The writings are:

  1. Caste and Race in India 1932
  2. Aborigine, so-called and their Future 1943
  3. Culture and Society1947
  4. Sexual Behaviour of the American female 1954
  5. Cities and Civilization 1962
  6. Family and Kin in Indo-European Culture 1962
  7. The Schedule Tribes 1963
  8. The Mahadev Kolis 1957
  9. Vedic India 1979
  10. Occidental Civilization 1949
  11.  Race Relations in Negro Africa 1953
  12. Indian Sadhus1964
  13.  After a Century and a Quarter 1960
  14. Anatomy of a Rururban Community 1963
  15. Anthropo-Sociological Paper 1963
  16. Bharatanatyam and its Costume 1985
  17. God and Men 1962
  18. I and Other Explorations 1973
  19. India Recreates Democracy 1978
  20. Indian Acculturation-Agastya and Skanda 1977
  21. Rajput Architecture 1968
  22. Religious Consciousness 1965
  23. Shakespeare on Conscience and Justice 1965
  24. Social Tensions in India 1968
  25. Two Brahmanical Institutions-Gotra and Charana 1972
  26. Vidyas 1957
  27. Whither India?  1974
  28. The Legacy of the Ramayana 1979
  29. Caste and Class in India 1950
  30. Caste, Class and Occupation 1961
  31. The Social Process (in the light of a century of Sociology) 1938
  32. The Burning Cauldron of North-East India 1982

Ghurye’s greatest work remains ‘Caste and Race in India’ which was first published by Routledge and Kegan Paul in London in the History of Civilization series, edited by C. K. Ogden in 1932.Caste study is a unique feature of Indian Society. This work has remained a basic work for students of Indian Sociology and Anthropology and has been acclaimed by teachers and reviewers as a sociological classic. Traditional Anthropologists like Prof. Ghurye, Risley, and Hooten believe that sub-castes or branches of any castes are developed by disintegration process of Caste. However, Prof. Karve believed it to be by the Integration process and she use the term caste cluster.

In the features of the caste system, Prof. Ghurye saidthat ‘Hindu Society’ is divided into groups, known as castes, with varying degrees of responsibility and circles of social intercourse’. He differentiated the features of Hindu society into six categories:

  1. Segmental division of society
  2. Hierarchy
  3. Restriction of feeding and social intercourse
  4. Civils and religious disabilities and privileges of the different section
  5. Lack of unrestricted choice of occupation
  6. Restriction of marriage

In relationship between race and caste, Ghurye proposed to break up the Risley’s racial classification into four distinct types:

  1. The Pre-Dravida type
  2. The Munda type
  3. The Dravida type
  4. The Western type

He also makes a note about certain terms likethat of Malayalam and Tamil regions seem to have been collectively referred to by Sanskrit writers as Dravida desha, i.e. the Dravid country, or opposed to the Andhra desha, i.e. the Telagu country. The type that Ghurye proposed to designate Dravida is predominant only in the Malayalam and the Tamil region. Hence, he reservedly called it the dravida type. He further said that the word Dravidian used by Risley is an anglicized form of the word Dravida but in philosophy it has been used to denote not only Malayalam and Tamil but also to Kanarese, Telugu, and kindred languages.

He explains the characteristic representatives of the Pre-Dravidian type that they inhabit mostly in the jungles of Southern India. They are also found in Western India, in Rajasthan and Utter Pradesh. The second type i.e. the Munda’s are the people who inhabit in Chota-Nagpur and West Bengal. They are also found in Bihar, but not in Uttar Pradesh. Some of the people belonging to this type speak Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages. The culture of the Munda’s has affinities with the Indonesian and the Melanesian region whose language is closely related to the Mon-Khmer languages spoken by the Sakais and semangs of the Malay Peninsula and also connected with the languages of Indonesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. The third type i.e. the Dravida type is characterised by long-head, whose cephalic index being below 75, and a medium nose. This type is restricted to the Tamil and Malayalam countries. The social organisation of the people of this type are matrilineal descent. The best representatives of this type are the Nayar, the Tiyan, the Badaga, the Agamudaiyan, and the Vellala. The fourth type, i.e. the Western type, Ghurey deals with this type in connection with the Scytho-Dravidian type of Risley. Ghurye rather called it the western type because it characterizes the Western Coast from Gujarat to South Kanara and spreads inwards into Coorg, Mysore, the Deccan, and the Telugu country and through Orissa into Bengal. He explains about the people who landed on the western coast of India by the colour of the eyes of the Chitpavans of Bombay, that it is greenish grey rather than blue. In Marathi, these eyes are known as ‘cat-eye’.

 Ghurye further distinguished six main physical types among the Hindu population of India. These are:

  1. The Indo-Aryan
  2. The Pre-Dravida
  3. The Dravida
  4. The Western
  5. The Munda
  6. The Mongoloid

Also, in his book ‘Caste and Race in India’, he explains the term Schedule caste in one of the chapters. The term Schedule Caste is an administrative coinage and terms such as Chandala, exterior caste, Harijan, dalit, etc. have been in oral tradition, each of which had a different origin (T.K. Oommen, 2011). According to Ghurye, the schedule caste formerly known as depressed classes, and forming the fifth order of the four-fold society of Hindu theory of Caste   He also said that ‘the Ideas of purity, whether occupational or ceremonial, which are found to have been a factor in the genesis of caste, are the very soul of the idea and practice of untouchability’.

According to the Dharmasutra writers, the Chandalas are the progeny of the most hated of the reverse order of mixed unions, that of a Brahmin female with a Shudra male (1979; p309). But the more plausible explanation given by Ghurye is that the Chabdalas were a degraded group of aborigines. Patanjali, the great grammarian, grouped Chandalas, Svapachas and Mritapas together as a variety of Shudras. And it is not impossible that this manner of looking upon the Chandalas, Svapachas and Mritapas may be as old as 500 B.C. The term ‘Apapatra’ were used by Patanjali to characterise theChandalas, Svapachas and the Mritapas who had to live outside the limits of Aryan villages and towns. He concluded that the classes of people called Chandalas, Svapachas and Mritapas had slowly deteriorated in their social position between the time of Panini and that of Manu. During the age of Manu, they were not only excluded from the village but were also assigned duties as vile specimens of humanity.

Chandalas group have been known from Bengal. And from the census of 1921, Ghurye refers Chandalas of Bengal as Namashudras which is one of the Scheduled Castes of the Government of India order, an untouchable caste, counted 2.1 million which is the largest caste of East Bengal. but it is counted 320 thousand according to the 1951 census. Again, Ghurye refers Dom, the unclean untouchable group, alternatively called Chandala. They are mostly occupied in cultivation and boat-plying. A considerable number of them now follow various learned profession. Yet their social position as a caste is very low. Another, the Dom, whose occupation has been singing, dancing and playing instrumentsin Punjab have been carrying on as village sweepers and as workers in cane. The Dom was the only one of the castes traditionally concerned with scavenging. Thus, this indicates the two-dimensional system in Indian society i.e. ritual and secular.  Ghurye divided the unclean untouchable in to two i.e. pure and impure. The impure untouchable was the purely untouchable, who had abjured beef and such other anathematic diet and who polluted only by their touch. Further, he says that the legislative, administrative and executive part of the nation has thus implemented the national pledge made in the constitution that untouchability is hereby abolished and has given a thundering proof of its serious purpose. And then he admitted that the legislative measure against untouchability can at best produce a few dents in the solid wall, whose demolition requires the operation of an active sentiment of the people at large. Ghurye concluded by saying ‘while these gruesome events reveal the persistence of the occasional but darkest feature of the situation of the scheduled castes, daily and routine life of the village registers fair amount of segregation and contemptuous treatment offered by the people at large’.

Ghurye’s second book ‘The Aborigines-so-called and Their future, was published in 1943 where in Ghurye’s subject matter was the scheduled tribes. The second edition of the book was published with the title ‘The Scheduled Tribe’ in 1959. And the third edition was published with the same title in 1963. In this book, he has mentioned caste asa unique Indian social category. Whereas tribe is a universal socio-cultural group found in Africa, Australia, Asia, America and Europe. Tribes differ from castes, and tribes also have two distinguished features i.e. tribes have their definite territories and languages. The Scheduled Caste could be Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christian, but the Scheduled Tribes are designated as animism or naturism. Ghurye wanted the Scheduled Castes to be assimilated in Hindu society, and he wanted to integrate the Scheduled Tribes into the Indian society and polity. In this, he differentiated between the tribes of central India from the tribes of Northeast India. In his Book ‘The Aborigines-so-called, he deals with the issue relating the tribes of Northeast India. In the third edition of the book ‘The Scheduled Caste’, Ghurye was critical on the independent India’s Government policies which sowed the seeds of disintegration by its internally contradicting steps of laying down the integrationist approach in the constitution and on the other hand promoting fission by giving importance to the idea of Scheduled Area.

In 1957, Ghurye published a book title ‘The ‘Mahadev Koli’ which was a study based on the field data from three districts namely Poona, Ahmednagar and Nasik in Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, Koli in general means as ‘fisherman’.The study on Mahadev Koli was his first major attempt to deal with a problem at the micro-level. He did a detail study of the life of the Mahadev Koli. This study brings him to the life of ethnography.

Ghurye published a book called ‘Vedic India’ in 1979 which deals withthe culture and people of India in the Vedic Age, as roughly counted between 2500 and 500 B.C. According to Ghurye, ‘The Vedic people are the people among whom the Rigveda and other Vedas, the Brahmanas etc. were composed, who are commonly considered to be people with linguistic and even some ethnic affinity with the Indo-European people’. In the book ‘Vedic India’, Ghurye deals with the cultural environment of the Indo-Europeans in the first chapter. The two Micro-religious complexes i.e. the bull-complex and the horse-complex whose existence has been established over the vast region spreading from the British Isles to Assam with Turkmania or Russian Turkistan are briefly described by Ghurey in the second, third and fourth chapter. He explains that the bull-complex is attested very well to be as early as 7000 B.C. in Anatolia and hails from the later Palaeolithic age of Europe, and the Horse-complex was both later and more confined in space and ethnic involvement, and most developed among the Vedic Indo-Aryans. He also explains briefly about the Vedic people turning to Indo-Aryans. He thoroughly studied their religion and mode of worship. Ghurye also explains about the rise of God Vishnu andGod Shiva. Shiva is generally described under the name Rudra, and it figures in Rigveda as a deity of much less importance than Vishnu. The last four chapters in his book ‘Vedic India’ deals with Indian culture of the non-literate Vedic age with the help of the knowledge of archaeology which contributes in understanding the culture complexes of literate Vedic India.

In 1954, Ghurye published a study title, ‘Sexual Behaviour of the American Female’ which is based on the sex-mortality of American females against the wider background of many other important American Studies which have been studied for over a quarter of a century by American gynaecologists, sexologists and sociologists. According to Ghurye, the approach of his interest to the subject is evoked by the variety of material presented by Alfred C. Kinsey in his study ‘Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female’. In the first chapter of the book, Ghurye says that whatever was the popular view about female sexuality current in the western society in the recent past, the present-day idea of sex prevalence in American female- girls, adult-women, married or unmarried is that its pivotal point is orgasm’. But Krafft-Ebing, the Viennese professor of Psychiatry and Neurology did not use the term orgasm while describing the sexual act. Instead he wrote the term of a pleasurable feeling and pleasurable sensation. One of the American work on the subject in 1920 by Dr. Katharine B. Davis on the study of the sex life of some American women, used the word orgasm to evoke certain information from her subjects which she defines orgasm as’ convulsive contraction of the muscles of the interior sex organs, followed by definite relaxation’, but Ghurye found out the word unfamiliar to many. Dr. G. V. Hamilton, a psychiatrist, published a book ‘Research in Marriage’ in 1929 and he elaborated the definition of orgasm as “An orgasm is an abruptly appearing, fully releasing and quickly terminating climax which normally occurs in the sex act. It is not to be confused with the more or less steadily increasing excitement and pleasure which a sexually excitable woman who is incapable of the orgasm experiences during the sex act, but which entirely lacks orgasmic explosiveness of onset According to Ghurye, a study of Katherine Davis on the group of 1000 married women was a homogeneous sample of American females above the average in education. Davis asked question about the orgasm to her married women whether ‘they found the married relations pleasurable or otherwise, and also whether they thought the degree of intensity of sex impulses and satisfactions of themselves to be equal to or greater or less than those of their husbands’. And it turns out to the ‘satisfaction both comparative and total, based on the sexual act within marriage that was the focus of attention’. The result of her study reported that 52.4 percent of the women of the happy group had pleasurable married relations and only 15.5 percent of the women of the unhappy group had distasteful married relations. With this, Ghurye concluded that “the full significance of their attitude to orgasm and its independence of satisfaction and even of vaginal contractions can be understood if I were to state that according to Davis, the sample American women who were having no orgasm and yet were happy in their marriage had no business to be so or had erred in stating their feelings”.

In this book, Ghurye reviewed about the behaviour of American married female before marriage and within marriage, pre-marital coitus, extra-marital coitus and masturbation, which shows the principal forms of sexual behaviour affecting marital happiness.

Ghurye briefly concluded that:

  1. there is no necessary connection between female orgasm and marital happiness.
  2. Pre-marital spooning is somewhat averse to marital happiness
  3. coital experiences and not orgasmic experience is important for sexual satisfaction
  4. marriage at the female’s age-period 21-25 is favourable to marital orgasm
  5. marital orgasmic experience goes on bettering till the female is 41 years of age
  6. marital orgasmic achievement thus depends on the age of the female, the habituation she established and the mutuality between the wife and the husband
  7. age of the female, her habituation to coitus and her mutuality with her husband are more important marital orgasmic achievement than pre-marital sex practices.

And he lastly says that “the sexual foreplay is a recent trend in American life and is culturally conditioned rather than biologically determined.

Ghurye was a great man author of 10000 pages on various subjects. Ghurye trained 40 PhD’s in 35-year career. He founded The Indian Sociological Society in 1951 and remained its president for 15 years. He supervised students until age 78 but did not attend conferences and accept honours. In 1974 he refused to send biographical data to Indian Council of Social Science Research, because “those who do not know about my writings do not deserve to get replies from me”. In 1978 he did not reply to a letter of congratulations from the Prime Minister because he found the format of letter improper. Ghurye made his career in pre-partition British India; subaltern status forged his bitterness. But he had the opportunity to see the ‘Dr. G.S. Ghurye Award’ being instituted in his honour.


G.S. Ghurye 1932. Caste and Race in India 

G.S. Ghurye 1943. Aborigine, so-called and their future

G.S. Ghurye 1947. Culture and Society

G.S. Ghurye 1954. Sexual behaviour of the American female

G.S. Ghurye 1962. Cities and Civilization

G.S. Ghurye 1962. Family and Kin in Indo-European Culture

G.S. Ghurye 1963. The schedule Tribes

G.S. Ghurye 1957. The Mahadev Kolis

G.S. Ghurye 1979. Vedic India

G.S. Ghurye 1949. Occidental civilization

G.S. Ghurye 1953. Race Relations in Negro Africa

G.S. Ghurye 1964. Indian Sadhus

G.S. Ghurye 1960. After a Century and a Quarter

G.S. Ghurye 1963. Anatomy of a Rururban Community

G.S. Ghurye 1963. Anthropo-Sociological Papers.

G.S. Ghurye.1958.Bharatanatya and its Costume

G.S. Ghurye 1962. God and Men

G.S. Ghurye 1973.I and Other Explorations

G.S. Ghurye 1978. India Recreates Democracy

G.S. Ghurye 1977. Indian Acculturation-Agastya and Skanda

G.S. Ghurye 1968. Rajput Architecture

G.S. Ghurye 1965. Religious Consciousness

G.S. Ghurye 1965. Shakespeare on Conscience and Justice

G.S. Ghurye 1968. Social Tensions in India

G.S. Ghurye 1972.Two Brahmanical Institutions-Gotra and Charana

G. S. Ghurye1957.Vidyas

G.S. Ghurye 1974. Whither India?

G.S. Ghurye 1979. The Legacy of the Ramayana

G.S. Ghurye 1950. Caste and Class in India

G.S. Ghurye 1961. Caste, Class and Occupation

G.S. Ghurye 1938. The Social Process (in the light of a century of Sociology)

G.S. Ghurye.1982. The Burning Cauldron of North-East India

Kulkarni Shaunak. 2007. Sanskruti: NisargaaaniJeevanShaileeDimonad Publications, Pune (MARATHI)

T.K.Oommen 2011. Social Movements II Concerns of equity & security. Oxford Publication New Delhi.