Brahman Priest Painting His Forehead, India


This photograph of a priest in India is from the Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection at the Library of Congress. Frank G. Carpenter (1855–1924) was an American writer of books on travel and world geography, whose works helped to popularize cultural anthropology and geography in the United States in the early years of the 20th century. Consisting of photographs taken and gathered by Carpenter and his daughter Frances (1890-1972) to illustrate his writings, the collection includes an estimated 16,800 photographs and 7,000 glass and film negatives. In his Carpenter’s New Geographical Reader: Asia (1923) Carpenter wrote: “Hinduism has had a great effect upon India. Under it the people are divided into classes or castes, each of which must do certain things, follow certain trades, and be superior or subservient to the other castes. At first there were only four great castes: the priests, the warriors, the farmers, and the slaves. But these four castes have been so subdivided that there is now a special caste for every trade and every walk in life. It is not permitted that man should do anything outside the work of his caste. If a boy’s father is a priest, the boy must follow the priesthood; if a merchant, the boy must be a merchant; if a shoemaker, a shoemaker; and if the father is a street sweeper, he can have no hope to rise above sweeping streets for the term of his life. It is easy to see how little incentive to ambition there must be under such a system.”

Last updated: September 29, 2014