The interaction of ethnic communities with the mainstream population is a continuous process since from the advent of civilizations. As a result of prolonged association, indigenous communities started emulating dominant groups life style, economy, belief systems, customs and traditions. Several minorities communities are facing identity crisis as some scholars trying to assimilate in Hindu fold while other promoted isolation for protecting the distinct culture. The Panika community in central India was not exceptional to this fact as they are facing identity conundrum of both tribe and caste.
With the impact of acculturation, Panikaâ€™s cultural practices are in the process of transformation and replaced with the practices of neighboring tribal communities such as Gond, Dhulia, Baiga, and caste groups such as Kewat, Thakur, Yadav, etc. The cultural emulation is evident from the worship of gao gossain (common village deity), performance of agricultural festivals i.e., bidri, haryali, jawaara, Lakshmi puja, Govardhan puja, sant Kabir worship, and so on by the Panika. Furthermore, new social institutions such as satsung (religious gatherings), chaukarthi (ceremonial performances), gotra (caste-based clan and lineage), patriarchy, etc., are the outcome of their continuous interaction with neighbouring communities. The gradual peasantisation entices them to absorb the little as well as great traditions in local context s an adaptive strategy.
Under these circumstances, the present paper tries to understand the emerging identities of Panika community on the basis of their present socio-economic, political and religious condition and argued that how this neo-identity assists in social adaptation of Panika in new eco-cultural set up.
Keywords: Identity, caste, tribe, continuum, acculturation, annual and life cycle rituals, social institutions