Trace the changes in your culture with respect to Norms, Values, Status and Role as compared to that of your earlier generation.

Trace the changes in your culture with respect to Norms, Values, Status and Role as compared to that of your earlier generation.

As Ralph Linton defines the culture of a society is the way of life of its members; the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation. Most societies are continuums persisting for hundreds or thousands of years. Their beginning are lost in the past, and their ends come only when the individuals who compose them are killed or scattered. The perpetuation of the aggregate which constitutes the society at the biological level is ensured by biological means. The society’s members marry and beget children. The perpetuation of the society as a functional entity is ensured by the transmission from generation to generation of the common stock of ideas and values which give the group its spirit de corps and of the mutual adaptations in behavior which make it possible for the members of the group to live and work together. (Linton, r, 1936)

Every society, thus, is grounded with their own culture. Cultures are learned and shared which therefore gives continuity to the culture of a particular society. However, no culture today is a photocopy of its initial countenance. The identity is there, the significance is there but some way or the other, culture is seeing its face changing. How it was and how it is today differs. In that manner I talked to my parents. Both agreed that the culture is no more the same. They, albeit, had their own stories to recount.

My father, Rameshananda Vaidya, is in his early 60’s and is a typical newar of Kathmandu. He shared some knowledge with me.

“I was born in a Vaidya family; I am newar by caste. As the surname suggests, generation to generation our fathers have been working in Ayurveda. My father among my other relatives had more knowledge in Ayurveda and thus everyone used to call him Vaidya ba (Vaidya father regarding him as a doctor by then). I inherited the same quality from him. Took it along with me and I still have it engraved inside me. But I only have limited knowledge as my father decided to stop imparting the knowledge. In the past, this profession of ayurvedic was not appreciated. People slowly took it negatively. Thus my father thought of withdrawing from it. He died when I was 20. So unknown of what to do, with my study I chose a different path and got into meteorological studies and later to teaching. That means I had to opt for a different career than the one passed on from generations.

Ans as I talk about change from the past , there were not many educational institutions. But those present had quality education everywhere. Not only it was different during my childhood but I have seen among my children’s time as well. Compared to my youngest daughter (27), my other childen had not much of a developed, technical time. (The eldest daughter is 35). 

Education system is only one aspect of our culture. There are other parts of culture like festivals which have undergone few here and there in its initial identity. Talking about festival, I want to anecdote the tale behind the celebration of Rato Machindranath Rath Yatra.

Years back, Kathmandu valley faced drought for almost 12 years. Since the life of people depended on water as they were mostly farmers, life became challenging for survival. One day a Buddhist Tantrik reasoned that Guru Gorakhnath has been meditating on Shivapuri hill upon the captured rain showering serpents as Aasan (where upon you sit and meditate) and that caused no rain at all. So to have rainfall, he needs to be removed from that place. He then suggested that in order to do so, people should bring Gorakhnath’s guru Machindranath/ Lokeshwor to their place so that Gorakhnath will be forced to come and show his respect to his guru. So with the help of the Tantrik, the guru was brought and as planned Gorakhnath upon knowing the arrival of his guru left the place and came to meet him. And no sooner the serpents were released, rainfall blessed Kathmandu valley. Then on Lord Machindranath is worshiped as the god of rain by the locals of Patan.”

  1. What is Rato Machindranath Rath Yatra?
    It is the oldest, longest as well as the most important festival of Newars of Kathmandu valley. Rath yatra means chariot procession; for this day a chariot carrying Lord Rato Machindranath or Bunga Dyah seated inside is made. And a tall, around ten meters, pinnacle fabricated with bamboo poles is raised from the four sides of the chariot, which is why the chariot balances precariously. As the anecdote suggests, this festival is marked before monsoon so as to be blessed with good rain and ends with another festival ‘Bhoto Jatra’- display of bejeweled Bhoto.
  2. When is it celebrated? 
    It is celebrated in the month of April-May in Patan; begins on the full moon day of Baisakh. More than a month long festival, it starts from Pulchowk and ends in Jawalakhel with Bhoto Jatra. Then Bunga Dyah is taken to Patan temple or Rato Machindranath temple which is supposed to be his second home, the first being the Bungamati temple.
  3. What kind of role did the men and women by then play in this festival?
    The chariot built was said to be pulled by men being strong. But since it was such an auspicious day, social wisdom decided that apart from women just doing pujas, they should also be part of pulling the chariot. That is, most of the days men pulled the chariot and one day was just for women. This was to give women privilege and significance. This tradition is still in continuation. One day is separated only for women.
  4. As per status, what kind of society was in the past?
    People used to be farmers. Both male and female were into it. Men did the oxen work, heavy works, while women did light but important works. Women planted seeds, nurtured the plantation. So if you see, this aspect is what differentiates us from the western world. Here women are masons and men are machines. In the western world it is just the opposite.
    Besides, a woman was expected to stay home and take care of family. Her attire, her presence among other people, and her place to talk was decided. That is, lesser the exposition better the family life. After all, it strictly was a male dominated society.

Then I had a talk with my mother. Her name is Resham Vaidya. She is from Baglung and belongs to a newari family as well. She is in her early 60’s. Compared to Kathmandu, Baglung was a rural place. I talked about few things with her.

  1. What was the status and role played by women in particular? Occupational status: Farming was the main occupation. Every men and women were into farming. Slowly business of clothes and gold came into existence. So thereafter, especially farming and clothes business continued from generation to generation. They became family business. But except in farming, no women were allowed to take part. They were mothers, daughters but never businesswomen. Society’s norms and values did not allow any such behavior to women. But today things have changed.
    Family status: Both males and females did farming. But still a woman was just to remain in the sphere of home as said by the cult of true womanhood in patriarchal society.
    Gender status: Women were allowed to go nowhere unguarded. They had to have someone with them wherever they went. Women were supposed to go out with shawls on. If a woman is seen talking to a man, she resulted into extreme scolding and accused of being bad. Don’t know why but females had to eat from their husband’s plate after husbands are done eating. I recall how one of my relatives expressed his hatred towards his wife. He used to spit and cough in the bowl of dal, which others were unaware of. So when the wife ate on the same plate and bowl, you cannot imagine how she finished her food.
  2. Marriage in rural areas has so many forms. Was there any particular way in Baglung? 
    Definitely, I have witnessed so many cases of marriage when a man would touch a woman and say aloud that today onward she is his wife. That made no other man to think about that woman and thus the woman married that man. Many of my father’s brothers married women of the village in such manner.

Few terms are discussed as below.

Status: The polar patterns of reciprocal behavior are technically known as statuses. The term status, like the term culture, has come to be used with a double significance. A status, in the abstract, is a position in a particular pattern. It is thus quite correct to speak each individual as having many statuses, since each individual participates in the expression of a number of patterns. A status, as distinct from the individual who may occupy it, is simply a collection of rights and duties. The relation between any individual and any status he holds is somewhat like that between the driver of an automobile and the driver’s place in the machine. (Linton, R, 1936)

Role: A role represents the dynamic aspect of a status. The individual is socially assigned to a status and occupies it with relation to other statuses. When he puts the rights and duties which constitute the status into effect, he is performing a role. (Linton, R, 1936) Each status in society is accompanied by a number of norms which define how an individual occupying a particular status is expected to act. This group of norms is known as role.

Norm: Every culture contains a large number of guidelines which direct conduct in particular situations. Such guidelines are know as norms. (Haralambos, Michael, and Robin Heald, 1988)

Value: A value is a belief that something good and desirable. (Haralambos, Michael, and Robin Heald, 1988)

With these two conversations, it seems to echo that time has changed greatly. Looking at the recent years, we can say that women roles have changed. They have been given equal opportunities as that of men. The time itself has changed. It has moved towards technological, scientific era. And that has brought changes in the lifestyle of people and that in return reflects the culture of society being changed. In addition, it is found that the ways cultures are followed, in case of festivals, have changed. May be because of globalization and modernization have impacted upon people. Slowly changes took place and that change became culture. Thus with changing time, culture seems to be changing as well.

As seen from the Functionalist perspective, society is made up of interrelated parts. The social system has certain basic needs which must be met if it has to survive. These needs are known as functional prerequisites. The function of any part of society is its contribution to the maintenance of society. (Haralambos, Michael, and Robin Heald “Sociological Perspective”) So when we look at both the cases and the societies they used to be, every part of those societies, people, culture, norms, and values, status and role, works, worked like that so as to retain the society. The system of those societies may sound negative today but in their time, that was what kept their society alive.


Works Cited

  1. Linton, Ralph. The Study of Man. New York: Appleton- Century- Crofts, Inc., 1936. Print.
  2. Haralambos, Michael, and Robin Heald. Sociology: Themes and Perspectives. London: Bell & Hyman, 1988. Print.

[As presented to Ms. Parvati C. Mazumdar under Reimagining Societies and Self (580.9) on 25 March 2014]

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