Irawati Karve And The Journey of SPPU’s Anthropology Dept

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Entering their silver jubilee year, the Department of Anthology at Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) recollects its formation led by Late Dr Irawati Karve, a renowned anthropologist who headed the department. The museum named after her at Dr Ambedkar Bhavan in the Department of Anthropology is holding an event for the public on December 15 to commemorate Dr Karve’s 112th birth anniversary.

“This department was established in 1939. It was in Deccan College and was very research-oriented. Anthropology at that time came under history along with sociology and archaeology. Dr Karve headed the department at the time,” states Head of Department for Sociology Professor Shaunak Kulkarni. He also confirms that Dr Karve was the first woman to ride a scooter in Pune.

Dr Karve was born in 1905 in Burma, now Myanmar. She completed her PhD in Germany under the guidance of Eugen Fischer, a professor of medicine, anthropology and eugenics. The department also extends to a museum on sociology named after her. “Since 1963, the department of sociology and anthropology combined to start post-graduate level courses. The department migrated from Deccan College to the SPPU campus. In 1977, the department separated from sociology. The museum was earlier a parking space. Now, it holds artefacts from various tribal research field trips that students have conducted since 1969. The museum holds 1,096 items of significance,” states Professor Kulkarni.

He further adds that the museum was named after Dr Karve in 1993. It houses a range of artefacts collected over a period of time from different parts of the country. A replica of the Narmada Man can be found in the museum. It is the only fossil of early existence of humans found in the subcontinent. Apart from this, locally woven baskets, fishing equipment, hunting equipment, clothing, jewellery, Gond tribal masks, handmade shawls from Nagaland as well as other clothing items native to tribes from the North-East.

As the study of anthropology progresses further, Professor Kulkarni notes that Dr Karve’s research is relevant till today. “Her work in Yuganta, a narration of the Mahabharata from an anthropological point of view, is still widely read.”

Currently, there are 30 students for the Masters’ programme, 26 PhD students and one MPhil student. As the museum is on its way to complete 25 years, the department will be opening it to the public from 11 am till 6 pm.

Vijayta Lalwani

Vijayta Lalwani

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Vijayta Lalwani