The recently founded IRSS-Institute undertakes the task to do surveys into rural settlements of India (tribal and agrarian) from a different point of view and with a different method which will be described in details in a separate manual available from this office at the end of October 1994. It basically follows the concept of >Sacred Complex< and >Sacred Geography< (or >Sacred Topography<) developed by L. P. Vidyarthi and B. K. Rai in their Book >The tribal Culture of India< (Concept Publ. N'Delhi 1976, :254ff.). There are some modifications: >Sacred< is not taken in the conventional sense of religion, but is considered an indicator for >emic value centrality<. Consequently, the project does not try to understand the >sacred topography< of a settlement in conventional terms of "religion", but as a traditional expression of the local past (local "history" expressed in ritual context). The primary focus is not on the "spiritual", but rather on the factual spatial layout of the settlement, the movements of social units within this setting and the object culture used in the frame of rites and cults related to different territorial units or >domains< which constitute the settlement (village as a whole, houses and yards, agrarian domains, fishing, hunting and collecting domains, water resources, system of communication, like paths and streets). Sacred objects and buildings marking sacred places will be considered as semantic elements in the whole system of domains.
Note that the term >fibroconstructive< is of great importance in this project, because it is an indicator of high age of a particular tradition. Rites and cults which show sacred signs and symbols, pillars or huts, technomorphous forms or human figures, erected in one of the above domains by using fibrous natural materials like grasses, twigs, branches, bound with lianas, strings, cords etc. should not be neglected, on the contrary, are of high priority. Also any decoration of sacred places with such fibrous materials should be taken into consideration. All this, its exact location, its making and the makers, its terminology and symbolic meaning will have to be carefully documented.
The results of this survey have basically two goals: (1) exclusion of Eurocentric value systems in collecting data and interpretation of data. (2) a more realistic presentation of the life-conditions of traditional societies. The new approach will clearly show that traditional societies, whether tribal or agrarian, were not at all primitive, neither in their means nor in their ways to conceive their activities, that is in their ideological outlooks. Their material outfit and their conceptions in each particular case, formed a relatively autonomous stage which can well be understood from a modern scientific standpoint.
It is evident that this new type of survey will deal very intensively with the factual conditions of rural settlements. All cultural phenomena will be related to a basic and objective topographical grid. The highly idealistic conviction, that from some basic spiritual concepts we will understand life conditions of settlements, will have to be given up. This method works inductively, only in a later stage generalisations will be possible. Therefore, village plans, the various domains and their sacred topography will have to be recorded meticulously and registered into the plans. Rites will have to be described in all details in regard to materials used for temporary cult objects, ritual behaviour and spatial movements within the settlement's spatial layout.
For the practical side of this extensive research too, the IRSS Institute goes new ways: research will be done with relatively fixed paradigms. For this, the institute provides a handbook and two basic questionnaires for those who are interested in taking part in this undertaking. The manual will give a general introduction into the basic assumptions, will explain the method and the intentions of the survey. The questionnaires (A) and (B) are set up for use in the ethnographic field.
Financement of the data collection will be on the basis of individual reports. Questionnaire (A) concerns data related to the yearly festival calendar of a particular locality (village, hamlet, town-district). Questionnaire (B) is related to data concerning a particular event (local cult, local festival, local rite related to particular domain: village as a whole, individual house(es), agricultural fields, fishing, hunting, collecting domains).
Presentation of the project is scheduled provisionally in the middle of January 1994 at Ahmedabad. Handbook, questionnaires and other information materials will be available from end of October 1994 at IRSSI. Persons who are interested to take part in the survey should contact the >Indian Rural Settlement Survey Institute< for further information.