Mesocosm offers an entirely new under-standing of the role of a traditional Hindu city in the lives of its inhabitants. Formerly the capital of Nepal, the city of Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley was, by the mid-1970s, the last surviving example of a kind of city once characteristic of archaic civilizations. In Bhaktapur, Hinduism reached its fullest potential for organizing communities. Robert Levy was able to document Bhaktapur’s unique structure, in which the public life of the community and the private worlds of its members shared a complex social and religious relationship, before modernism overtook the city and began to transform it.
Levy views the city as a 'mesocosm', mediating between the microcosm of the individual and the macrocosm of the culturally conceived larger universe. With a highly integrated society and culture, organized for the most part through religious symbols, Bhaktapur is a sacred space. Roles assigned by an elaborate caste system, a pantheon of immanent gods, and the tempos and forms of the festival year and various rites of passage construct a 'civic dance' within that space, a web of communication and instruction which deeply affects Bhaktapur's citizens. Hinduism and its symbolism permeate the life of the city and organize the personal experience of its inhabitants.
Levy investigates the meaning of the community to the people who live there and suggests how the religious forms that have challenged Hinduism in South-Asia - Christianity and, above all, Islam - are profoundly antithetical to Hinduism as the organizing principle for cities such as Bhaktapur. Mesocosm is a ground-breaking contribution to anthropology, social and religious history, and Nepalese and South Asian studies.