(respected father's younger brother), gracefully acknowledging the superiorposition of the older colleague.
Purity and Pollution
Many status differences in Indian society are expressed in terms of ritual purity andpollution. Notions of purity and pollution are extremely complex and vary greatly amongdifferent castes, religious groups, and regions. However, broadly speaking, high status isassociated with purity and low status with pollution. Some kinds of purity are inherent, orinborn; for example, gold is purer than copper by its very nature, and, similarly, a memberof a high-ranking Brahman (see Glossary), or priestly, caste is born with more inherentpurity than a member of a low-ranking Sweeper (Mehtar, in Hindi) caste. Unless theBrahman defiles himself in some extraordinary way, throughout his life he will always bepurer than a Sweeper. Other kinds of purity are more transitory--a Brahman who has justtaken a bath is more ritually pure than a Brahman who has not bathed for a day. Thissituation could easily reverse itself temporarily, depending on bath schedules, participationin polluting activities, or contact with temporarily polluting substances.
Purity is associated with ritual cleanliness--daily bathing in flowing water, dressing inproperly laundered clothes of approved materials, eating only the foods appropriate forone's caste, refraining from physical contact with people of lower rank, and avoidinginvolvement with ritually impure substances. The latter include body wastes and excretions,most especially those of another adult person. Contact with the products of death orviolence are typically polluting and threatening to ritual purity.
During her menstrual period, a woman is considered polluted and refrains from cooking,worshiping, or touching anyone older than an infant. In much of the south, a woman spendsthis time "sitting outside," resting in an isolated room or shed. During her period, a Muslimwoman does not touch the Quran. At the end of the period, purity is restored with acomplete bath. Pollution also attaches to birth, both for the mother and the infant's closekin, and to death, for close relatives of the deceased (see The Ceremonies of Hinduism;Islam, ch. 3).
Members of the highest priestly castes, the Brahmans, are generally vegetarians (althoughsome Bengali and Maharashtrian Brahmans eat fish) and avoid eating meat, the product of violence and death. High-ranking Warrior castes (Kshatriyas), however, typically consumenonvegetarian diets, considered appropriate for their traditions of valor and physicalstrength.
A Brahman born of proper Brahman parents retains his inherent purity if he bathes anddresses himself properly, adheres to a vegetarian diet, eats meals prepared only by personsof appropriate rank, and keeps his person away from the bodily exuviae of others (exceptfor necessary contact with the secretions of family infants and small children).
If a Brahman happens to come into bodily contact with a polluting substance, he canremove this pollution by bathing and changing his clothing. However, if he were to eat meator commit other transgressions of the rigid dietary codes of his particular caste, he would beconsidered more deeply polluted and would have to undergo various purifying rites andpayment of fines imposed by his caste council in order to restore his inherent purity.
In sharp contrast to the purity of a Brahman, a Sweeper born of Sweeper parents isconsidered to be born inherently polluted. The touch of his body is polluting to those higher