Dr. Iravati Karve
A researcher of international repute in the fields of sociology and anthropology, excellent author and a fine example of women’s liberation
Dr. Iravati Karve, a researcher of international repute, known to have nurtured social sense in people and achieved supremacy in the fields of sociology, cultural and physical anthropology, was born in Mynjan, Burma to Mr. Ganesh Karmarkar.
She did her schooling from Huzurpaga, Pune and completed her matriculation in 1922. She received a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in 1926 from Fergusson College, majoring in Sociology. In the same year she married Dr. Dinkar Dhondo Karve, the son of Maharshi Karve. Under the guidance of senior social scientist, Dr. Ghurye, she researched and submitted two essays, Folklore of Parshuram and Chitpavan Brahman, and obtained her Masters in Arts from Mumbai University in 1928. She obtained her doctorate in Anthropology from the University, Berlin, Germany in 1928 – 30, and did doctoral work on the Normal Asymmetry of the Human Skull and bones. Later she was the Vice Chancellor of S.N.D.T. College for a while.
Dr. Iravati is famous in Maharashtra for her work in Marathi literature. But at the international level, she is known for her study of various social institutions in India, and her book Kinship Organization in India (1953). She created a mark for herself in all the branches of sociology, like social, cultural, human body, anthropology, language, etc, as a scholar and a writer. Dr. Iravati was not just an armchair researcher, but she traversed all over India, walked the Pandhari Wari (an annual walking pilgrimage of several days and kilometres) for several years and observed many fairs and pilgrimages from up close.
She draws a parallel between society and a quilt, as in just as a complete quilt is formed by pieces of different colour and size, so is the society formed by different people who come together, form relationships with each other, mix with each other and break up, and yet, the thread that ties them to society still remains.
She has written considerably, both light prose as well as research-oriented and thought provoking. Along with thought provoking writing she has also written amply on topics like kind heartedness of women, tremulous complaisance, and contemplation, with equal aplomb; Paripurti, Bhovara, Aamachi Saumskruti, Saumskruti, Gangajal are some such examples. She was called the forerunner of light prose. Her prose blossomed through her flexible, natural style of language.
She wrote both in English as well as in Marathi. Her book Yuganta, based on the main characters of the Mahabharata, won the Sahitya (Literary) Academy award in 1968. She has presented these characters from a unique unparalleled perspective. Written originally in Marathi, it was later translated by the author to English. We see Iravati at a completely new level as a woman, a researcher and an author in this book.
Marathi Lokanchi Sanskruti(The culture of Marathi people), Dharm (religion), Hindunchi Samajrachna (The social organization of Hindus), Maharashtra Ek Abhyas (Maharashtra, A study), Hindu Society - an interpretation(1961) – (A study of the Hindu society based on data collected on her field trips and her perusal of texts in Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit. Paying the most attention to the caste system, she discusses the pre-Aryan existence of the phenomena and traces its development to its present form), Kinship Organization in India(1953) – (A study of various social institutions in India), Maharashtra - Land and People (1968) – (A brief description of various social institutions and rituals therein), and Bhils of West Khandesh, are some of her important contributions. She had recognized the importance of English as a language of knowledge. She knew by heart several Sanskrit compositions of Ramayana and Mahabharata and Sanskrit poems and fine quotations of famous poets.
Iravati was an independent thinker and she followed through strongly on her own beliefs. By nature, she was a researcher who preferred to work independently. She developed her personality through different media like being an assiduous professor, a researcher, an author, and an orator.
Iravati was an intelligent woman who spread her knowledge. Her enthusiasm with respect to study, research and travel was unmatched by her co-professors and young students. She has the reputation of being the first lady two-wheeler driver of Pune, in 1952. Her ideas of women’s liberation were very modernistic. She would address the women fighting for women’s liberation, "Ladies, while fighting with men for rights why fight for only equal rights? Always fight for more rights".
After the Second World War, the fields of Cultural Anthropology and Social Anthropology were developed as independent sciences. By studying and in-depth research of these subjects, she successfully analyzed culture and history; she was an unparalleled researcher in the world.
She served as the Head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Deccan College for forty years till her retirement. She presided over the Anthropology division of the National Science Congress held in Delhi in 1947. She also presided over the Sociology Department at Pune University for a while. The researcher in her is still alive today through the work of her son Dr. Anand Karve.