Anthropology in India

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Dr. Shalina Mehta,

Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology

Former Chairperson, Department of Anthropology

Panjab University, Chandigarh Email:

Indian anthropology has traversed many milestones since its beginning as a colonial enterprise in the last decades of the 18th Century to emerging as a champion of humanism, peace, liberty and pluralism in the 21st century. On 15th January 1784, with the foundation of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, emerged the idea of Oriental research. India’s rich cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, ancient civilizational heritage, distinct social systems and its vast body of unmapped ethnic and Adivasi populations became a living laboratory for western explorers and administrators. Some of the most accomplished names in the chronicles of anthropology from Radcliffe-Brown, W.H. R. Rivers, J.H. Hutton, H.H. Risely, Verrier Elwin, Stephen Fuchs, Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, Louis Dumont and many others evolved their academic moorings on this landscape. While these writings gained prominence, a very vibrant Indian anthropology was constructing its sovereign dialogical discourse. Even before the first formal independent department of anthropology came up in 1921 at Kolkata University, Anthropology was introduced in the university in 1918 as part of the curriculum of Ancient history and culture, under the guidance of L.K. Ananthakrishna Iyer (1861-1937). He remained chair of the first department of anthropo