Categories Anthropology II

II.4.2 N.K.Bose

Education and Career:

A bachelor in geology, his interest in Orissa architecture turned Bose towards a Masters in anthropology. He worked in various positions such as Research Fellow, Assistant Lecturer in Anthropology in Calcutta University. He worked as Director of Anthropological Survey of India and Advisor to Government of India on Tribal Affairs during 1959-64.

Post retirement, he accompanied a study team to Assam Hill Districts, reported on educational problems in NEFA in 1966. He served as Commissioner for SCs and STs during 1967-69. He delivered various lectures abroad. He was awarded Padmashri for his contributions.

Literary Contributions:

Most famous book was ‘Cultural Anthropology’. Other works include ‘Culture and Society in India’, ‘Excavations in Mayurbhanj’, ‘Problems of National Integration’, ‘Tribal life in India’.

He wrote many articles in various journals and books in Bengali. He was also editor of the first Anthropological journal ‘Man in India’ since 1951.

Methods of study:

  • Bose was deeply influenced by Boas, Kroeber, Freud, Marx, Malinowski and also Gandhi.
  • He applied diffusionist study of distribution of cultural traits in his study of temple architecture.
  • His ‘Cultural Anthropology’ takes functional approach of defining nature of culture as an adaptive device organised around ‘Soul of culture’ or the body of beliefs and sentiments central to the culture.
  • Field studies include his survey of people as a part of social work, over the economic conditions of rural families, repatriated indentured labourers etc.


  • Caste System: Bose proposes that the persistence of caste system is to be found in the economic and cultural security provided by the non-competitive, hereditary, vocation based productive organisation in an ideal pattern of rural society.

Further his general proposition has been that caste as an economic system and as a regulator of social life is disintegrating at different rates in different regions in India.

He initiated a number of studies on operation of caste association in different regions of India.

  • Tribal Studies: After a brief field study of Juang of Orissa, he highlighted the changes in tribal economy, absorption of tribes into Hindu culture and the root of tribal separatist movement. He also observed in his book ‘Tribal Life in India’ that the difference between rural folk and urban classes is greater than that between peasants and the tribals.
  • Structure of Indian Civilization: Bose in his Bengali book on it highlighted many dimensions of Indian social structure and social processes such as tribal enclaves and their absorption, self sufficiency in village communities and their links with fairs, piligrimage centres etc, impact of British rule on economy and caste system.
  • He opines that traditional systems though may not suit modern times, can be studied to help in solving contemporary problems. He also wrote on Unity in diversity of India.
  • Pattern of unity: Bose proposes a pyramidal imagery of unity of Indian civilization with the differences at material level narrowing at ideological level, above it is the unity of beliefs and aspirations which gives Indian civilization a character of its own.
  • He draws a contrast with European Civilization where repeated wars led to spirit of nationalism while India had developed a cultural pluralism in relatively peaceful conditions.
  • Pre-historic archaeology: His field research at Mayurbhanj along with Dharani Sen was designed to establish stratigraphic sequence between different types of tools recovered by excavations. He also attempted to correlate finding of prehistory with contemporary ethnographic information on ancient crafts.
  • Gandhism: Participating in national movement, Bose has published a number of books on Gandhian ideas and thoughts like ‘My Days with Gandhi’,’ Selections from Gandhi’.

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