CECI n'est pas EXECUTE Monica Guidolin

Monica Guidolin

PhD Student
Institutional affiliation(s): EHESS

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Dissertation director: Jean-Claude Galey

PhD program: EHESS - Social Anthropology and Ethnology

Initial registration: 2007


Dissertation to be turned in: October 2017
Dissertation defense scheduled for: December 2017


Practices and Experiences Of the Funerary Ritual as Resonances of the Imaginary: The Case of the Pardhan of Eastern Madhya Pradesh


In formulating our PhD research project, our attention was drawn to the dimension of “mortality” through a desire to shed light on this notion with regard to its social imaginary, through the analysis of certain practices and experiences that are able to provide a new perspective within the context of anthropological studies on the subject. For these kinds of issues, examining the funerary ceremony must surely be a key point of entry as it is considered one of the most significant rites of passage.

Madhya Pradesh is a singular case, both because of the high number of inhabitants belonging to communities classified as tribal (ādivāsī),1 and because of the cultural and social variety present and which enriches the fabric of the different traditions occupying this part of the country. What remains of this great cultural fecundity, along with the historical intensity with which this “Middle Land” has been shot through for centuries, both provide a favorable setting for the socio-anthropological scenario. The comparative approach to funerary rituality amongst some Pardhan groups of eastern Madhya Pradesh has made it possible to pursue the study by constantly switching, in a very stimulating way, between classical knowledge of tradition and Gond culture on the one hand—of which the Pardhan are the main witnesses and bearers—and, on the other hand, the level of penetration of Hinduization as it is classically conceived, which will modify the experiences and the practices of mourning. From this respect, the study developed in a way we would qualify as circular: from the urban context of Bhopal to the rural context of the home villages in the Dindori district, the ethnological framework that has been derived was forced to come to terms with the relationship between these two sites.

To what extent, then, can “funerary culture” contribute in a way to the re-positioning of a social imaginary and to the re-composition of a collective cultural memory? In what way do these symbolic figurations partake of particular conceptions or practices of death, and what perspective should we adopt in order to re-articulate, on the basis of a new foundation, the dialogue between observed reality and its representation?

We have taken these questions as a starting point to examine the implications of the social as it is implemented during this final “refinement,”2 in which the concept of “social imaginary” has thus provided us with a basis for embarking on a reflection on other aspects which are apparently less obvious, and through which we have been able to approach our research subject from different angles, such as the impact of the urbanization process on kinship relations, or else the changes to and interactions between the categories of tradition and modernity, where linguistic analysis can provide a useful observational viewpoint. Our fieldwork studies were enhanced by necessary comparative work, in which the dialogue between the places involved traced out significant coordinates in the reading of funerary rituality, by revealing transforming dynamics with regard to the themes of life, death and rebirth, as well as to the cohabitation between regional forms and what is considered classical Hinduism. The choice of making reference to two sites goes along well with our analytical perspective, as it opens up reciprocal axes of communication concerning the socio-cultural position occupied by the Pardhan and the vision they present of it. It is thus here that the study of the relationship between the social imaginary and the funerary rite, which reflects the cosmogonic and thanatological conceptions of a community, intersects with the theme of caste/tribe connection in contrast to urban-rural environments, as well as with the concept of “glocalization” and the re-distributions that it directs.

1 The term ādivāsī designates the aboriginal inhabitants of India.

2 This “refinement” refers to the Sanskrit term “saṃskāra.”



Last update: 6 October 2017

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