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Libraries > Digital Exhibits > Bela Petheo: Images of The Rise of the West> Structure of Indian Society


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The Structure of Indian Society


image: The Structure of Indian Society

This illustration depicts Indian society during the Gupta imperial age (200-600). Of all its institutions, it is the caste system that defines Indian society. The state was, in McNeill's words, relatively "superficial" since rulers felt it prudent to conform to rules established by sacred texts, those texts that laid out the caste structure. The Buddhist temple, as well, while having at least a superficial relationship with the orders of society below, remains faded, suggesting a less important role in the lives of ordinary Indians. At the center of the diagram is a depiction of the caste system. Different castes reside at different levels of society, rigidly organized in hierarchical fashion. Note the different stations in life represented here, from manual laborers and beggars at the bottom, to skilled craftsmen, to nobility at the top. The white, sweeping line is Petheo's attempt to show reincarnation of the soul to a higher caste. Winding throughout the castes, this white line leads ultimately to "God," here a representation of both the Hindu god Vishnu and Buddha. This fusion is meant to represent "nirvana," the final escape from this cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

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