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Books > Hindu > The Changing Gaze: Regions and the Constructions of Early India
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The Changing Gaze: Regions and the Constructions of Early India
The Changing Gaze: Regions and the Constructions of Early India
Description

About the Book

 

Why did Indian historians move away from the epicentric approach in the 1970s? Why did they shift their focus to localities and sub-regions from historico-geographic blocks like the Gangetic heartland and the Kaveri valley? What were the processes that helped to develop the idea of India? Examining the questions that have shaped history writing in India, this book maps changing perspectives about early India.

 

Focusing on the histories of regions around Odisha, Sahu argues that cultural-historical regions as they emerged through early medieval times and beyond were different from the post-Independence linguistic states as well as ancient archaeological culture regions. He posits that they were constituted historically through the interplay of the constituent sub-regions and localities, as well as influenced by continuous 1Jltilateral, trans-regional transactions. Finally, he contends these regions w re dynamic, expanding and shrinking over time.

 

To understand the differences and linkages between regions, the book studies several strand of historical development: from the role of Brahmanical ideology in the construction of caste to the regional dimensions of the Kali Age crisis: from agrarian land Systems to forms of protest and dissent, and the evolution of regional Identities In Indian historiography.

 

About the Author

 

Bhairabi Prasad Sahu is Professor at the Department of History, University of Delhi. He has served as Sectional President (2003) and Secretary of the Indian History Congress (2006-9). At present he is a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research. His publications include From Hunters to Breeders: Faunal Background of Early India (1988). He has also edited Land System and Rural Society in Early India (1997) and Iron and Social Change in Early India (2006).

 

Preface

 

Regional histories emerged in the early part of the twentieth century in Bengal, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, among other regions, largely as a part of the nationalist response to the process of colonial ‘centralized archivization’ and production and circulation of knowledge. In these histories small battles were transformed into major wars and local heroes were unduly imbued with great honour in the historians’ desire to create glorious pasts. Only from the 1970s have historians begun to address problems associated with a realistic history of the regions and there has been a shift from regional histories to the histories of the regions. Moving away from chauvinistic writings there have been efforts to understand regions on their own terms, leading to the unveiling of the making of multiple regional traditions and trajectories of socio-political developments across regions. In the far south there are differences in environment and landscape between the adjoining states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and their bearing on the historical evolution in the two regions is obvious. Examples such as this can easily be multiplied. Works on Rajasthan, Bengal, Andhra, and Tamil Nadu in course of the last thirty years, while unraveling the shaping of these regions, have also demonstrated that regions are a legitimate category of historical studies. They allow for in depth analysis of the data and the mapping of agrarian, non-agrarian processes, political formations and the common woman/man’s history. The emergent picture across several regions then provides the basis for wider generalizations. This is unmistakably different from macro-generalizations based on perspectives from either Gangetic north India or the Kaveri valley in the south.

 

The concept of region is amenable to a variety of meanings. Environment, ethnicity, and language are all useful categories for defining a region. In many cases historians have projected the present day political boundaries into the past and assumed them to be convenient categories of analysis. However, there is an increasing realization that past historical or cultural regions need not necessarily conform to present day state boundaries, which are the result of recent administrative decisions. The regions that the historians are now usually concerned with are historically constituted, they expand and contract through time and are not immutable. Kamarupa, Varendra, Kalinga, Daksina Kosala, and Malwa provide some good examples. There are instances where they combined with other entities to constitute a larger region. At varying points in time parts of Kalinga, Utkala, Jharkhand, and Daksina Kosala were a part of pre-modern supra regional Orissan states. While histories of the regions and their interplay constitute the national they themselves are forged by sub-regional and local histories. Histories of regions cannot be written by assuming them to be already there. Writing the history of the regions therefore involves the understanding of the shaping of regional and pan-Indian patterns and traditions through complex networks of interrelationships between the local, regional and trans- regional elements, mediated by multilateral transactions involving giving and borrowing. Thus, the history of regions is shaped in the context of its relationships with larger units. In these narratives it is futile to look for uniformities. Pluralities across spaces continuously coexist, the differences are not homogenized. Unity in diversity is not assumed to be something natural and given; it is seen as evolving historically. The variety of regional traditions ultimately gave shape to the united colours of India.

 

This volume comprises about a dozen papers, some published between 1996 and 2011 as well as others presented at seminars/ conferences during 2007-11. About half of them are focused on Orissa and Chhattisgarh, while the rest, using evidence and works on the varied regions, have a wider spatial reach. They point to the continued interplay and coexistence of the local and trans-regional elements and comparable trajectories of growth across regions. The basic concern in all the essays has neither been the regional versus the national nor generalizations versus specificities, but how they helped in constituting one another and have lived together as a civilization with a shared moral order. It is about plurality and confluence, as well as change through continuity. It is an effort to understand the creative processes and the common pool of ideas and values that mediated in the network of linkages between the localities, regions and the transregional.

 

The state of Orissa has very recently been rechristened as Odisha. However, both for the convenience of the general reader as well as the fact that the book had gone to the press before this development we have preferred to continue with the older name. The articles and papers were written on different occasions, catering to diverse requirements; and in situations such as these some overlaps and repetitions are but natural. Readers may kindly bear with it.

 

In completing this work, I have depended in various ways on the cooperation of many others. Many well wishers and friends within and outside the country first gave an opportunity to try out some of the ideas in their respective universities at seminars and conferences, and I am grateful to them for their kindness. I am indebted to Professor B.O. Chattopadhyaya, and my colleagues Sunil Kumar and Kesavan Veluthat for their generous suggestions and comments on the draft of the Introduction and sections of the work. To Kesavan Veluthat I owe special thanks for his unfailing support at difficult moments. My ideas have benefitted greatly over the past years in reading and interacting with B.O. Chattopadhyaya, and Hermann Kulke, and I continue to benefit from their erudition. For their help in various ways and generous encouragement I am grateful to Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, T.K. Venkatasubramanian, Biswamoy Pati, Martin Brandtner, Oaud Ali, Georg Berkemer, Rajan Gurukkal, Upinder Singh, Kumkum Roy, R.P. Bahuguna, Shishir Kumar Panda, and Kumar Amarendra Singh. I am indebted to the editorial team at Oxford University Press for seeing the book through to production. I cannot fail to mention my general intellectual debt to late Professor R.S. Sharma who as a teacher introduced me to the dominant historiography in the later half of the 1970s, and continued to encourage and inspire in the following decades. I have drawn on the patience and indulgence of my family, and my debt to my wife Gayatri and our son Devavrara is of a different order all together. I thank them the most.

 

Introduction

 

The ways of understanding early India have undergone significant change since the middle of the 1950s. Unlike the conventional historiography, the ascendant perspective, which became the dominant one through the subsequent decades, analysed and explained changes as well as the significance of such changes in the socio-economic and political structures, as well as in the cultural domain. Over the last three decades some of the assumptions of this historiography have ‘been refined, particularly with reference to the historico-geographic transformation of the regions outside the Gangetic heartland and the changes coming from within local societies. This historiography emphasizes that for a proper appreciation of Indian history the regional perspective is crucial, I largely because any generalization from the perspective of Gangetic north India or the Kaveri valley in the south has its share of problems. One can recognize and accept the significance of the regions, without losing sight of the larger transregional patterns of socio-political and economic processes. The multiple sources of cultural antecedents, varying across spatial segments, the pluralistic tradition of the Indian historical experience and the reality of an overarching cultural ethos and civilizational universe have been mutually interacting, not exclusive, phenomena. It may be useful to draw attention to the enduring significance of the regions, the variegated historically constituted cultural entities, while simultaneously arguing for the reality of a pan-Indian ideology and civilization, emanating from the operation of historical processes which combined elements of the local and the transregional, which in turn helped to universalize aspects of the local and the regional cultures. Monographs and collected works over the last twenty years, more particularly the last decade, have increasingly focused on the making of regions and regional societies in the larger context of their relationships with the transregional and sub-regional and/or local societies. What follows is an effort to locate and understand the changing gaze, where there has been a perceptible shift from the centre to the peripheries.

 

This brings us to one of the most basic juxtapositions in historical literature-namely, the opposition between the pan-Indian view from the top and perspectives from the regions. Colonialist writings either characterized Indian history in terms of its bewildering variety-constructing exclusive identities on considerations of region, caste, language, ethnicity, etc.-rendering it impossible to be held together as a socio-cultural and political unit or constructed a totalizing and consequently hegemonic picture where the unchanging caste system and ‘the village community’ were represented as its defining traits. The politics of imperial enterprises and their administrative requirements dictated these shifts in perceptions.” Notwithstanding their rebuttal of many aspects of the imperialist reconstructions, the nationalists wittingly or unwittingly accepted the idea of India as an undifferentiated entity and, deriving from it, as a given cultural and political reality. R.K. Mookherji’s The Fundamental Unity of India is a good example of the tendency to associate modern ideas with India’s ancient past. The work was based on geographical evidence underlying the unity, not plurality, of the country. It also drew on the network of sacred sites and tirthas among the Hindus and Buddhists to make the argument. However, as it has been suitably pointed out ‘‘‘Fundamental’’ in a culture is a quality, by implication, essentially embedded, it does not evolve historically.’ It has its bearing on ideas such as nation, nationality and nationalism. In the context of the struggle for freedom the compulsions of the nationalist historians, and their reluctance to grant the continuing inheritance of the regions their due is understandable. However, the long shadow it has cast over the dominant historiography in post-Independence India is somewhat intriguing, especially because the uneven patterns in Indian history have been recognized within the same historiography and historians have engaged with the problem since the latter half of the 1950s. However, in charting the history of change interestingly it has also produced large, durable common institutional structures of sub-continental spread; spanning centuries. The meta-narratives of socio-political evolution echoed nationalist sentiments insofar as they imagined the sub-continent as ‘India’ and not a combination of ‘regional particularities’. Not surprisingly therefore this historiography in some quarters has been labelled as Marxist-Nationalist, It makes the more general point that while identifying changes in historiography, one should not lose sight of the continuities. This centrist or epicentric perspective is derived largely from the Gangetic valley and its fringes; it fails to appreciate and address the cultural pluralism of the variegated regions. Paradoxically, the reason for the great popularity and resilience of the dominant historiography now also appears to be its primary weakness. While its ability to generalize allowed for lucidity and easy comprehension, it tended to homogenize the variety of human experiences and ignored the specificity of the regions with their comparable, but not necessarily similar, socio-political trajectories.

 

Lest anybody should get the impression that this is a clever argument for going back to a different version of a Nationalist historiography, it needs to be quickly stated that there is J difference between writing regional histories and histories of the regions. While the former is consumed by a desire to establish the comparative historical precedence, antiquity or uniqueness inspired by regional sentiments and chauvinism, the latter is engaged in a dispassionate discerning of processes, structures and the trajectory of the evolution of institutions and traditions across regions. The glorification of individual rulers, exaggeration of regional events and the construction and privileging of competitive sub-nationalisms has been long overtaken by time, especially with the advances registered ill the discipline since the 1970s. In the past, regions, as in the case of India, were perceived to be given bounded territories and the career and achievements of the kings and dynasties and important literary figures grafted on to these spatial entities in the intellectual climate of the times, which was informed by regional sentiments; reminiscent of nationalist Indology. In brief, the present day linguistic states were sought to be historicized in most of these writings. Regions surely have a distinguishable territoriality but the sense of affiliation and cultural bonding which forges it is shaped historically over time. The chronologies, patterns, and constituent ingredients of the historical regions as they emerged through the early medieval and medieval centuries do not necessarily converge. It is evident that these are also different from the early archaeological cultures represented by the distribution pattern of the deluxe pottery of the times. Many other possibilities apart, it is not possible to distinguish between the material culture and social formations of Magadha and Kosala, for example, on the basis of the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) cultural assemblages in the two mahajanapadas (major janapadas or localities) in the middle of the first millennium BC, in the rnid-Canga plains. Similarly, the Russet Coated Painted Ware (RCPW) culture in the south was spread over territories which later became parts of distinct historical regions. Briefly stated, archaeological cultures have their own distribution patterns and boundaries, which usually do not correspond with the historical regions as they evolved through the early medieval times and beyond.

 

Integrating regional histories into the history of India represents a condescending attitude and is not the same as writing history from within and in terms of the processes in operation across regions. Even a casual comparison of some of the works within the dominant historiography and alternative histories produced during the last decade makes the general point more obvious. Besides, regional history calls into question accepted notions of causation, periodization and our understanding of the larger pattern of Indian history. Histories informed by nationalism unwittingly produced largely homogeneous, uniform narratives of India, playing down its multiplicity, vibrant regional variety, and their changing contours. The recent shift towards understanding the regions has been accompanied by a movement away from colonization as the agency of socio-cultural transformations from a privileged centre; to networks of linkages, interactions, and change, and the recognition of the fact that the emergence of the Sultanate in north India did not mark any major departure in the regions outside the Ganga valley and adjacent territories. Flowing from it, the issue of periodization in Indian history possibly needs to be revisited. Complex, plural societies across regions were not held together mechanically, but sustained through processes of emulation, competition and antagonistic tolerance. The richness and vibrancy of the Indian cultural mosaic, constituted by the regions, is beautifully captured in the national anthem. The recognition and tolerance of variety and respect for underlying cultural commonalities is lucidly enshrined in the Indian constitution. It states that India that is Bharata shall be a union of states. The notion of a monolithic unitarian nation/state is not true. Neither is the concept of India equivalent to a confederation of the regions. There is no conflict here; the two live together, cooperate and enrich each other, though the priority of one over the other is context specific. If the subsumption of the regions under the overarching idea of India does not do justice to the Indian historical experience, the opposite position asserting regionalism to the exclusion of an underlying cultural unity too is a falsification of history. The truth lies in the dynamic interrelationship of the two, in the course of which they constituted each other. Regions have not remained insular from evolutions within a larger unit. Regional history and the larger pattern of Indian history, to use a familiar expression, move in tandem.

 

Understanding the regions on their own terms or looking at the general pattern of Indian history from the perspective of the regions is not the same thing as encouraging regionalism. Bernard S. Cohn vividly makes the point.

 

The obvious distinction, conceptually, between the terms ‘region’ and ‘regionalism’ is sometimes overlooked. ‘Region’ with all its difficulties as a concept refers to means of classification of a wide variety of kinds of data, which helps analyse particular or general situations. ‘Regionalism’ refers usually to conscious or unconscious development of symbols, behaviours and movements which will mark off groups within some geographic boundary from others in other regions for political, economic, or cultural ends. The term ‘region’ relates to a form of analysis, ‘regionalism’ to a call for action .... (italics mine)

 

In other words, allowing the regions their due in historical analysis need not be viewed with apprehension. It is a necessary academic exercise and entails a corrective to tendencies to generalize from the perspective of Gangetic north India. It may be mentioned that regions are anything but fixed; they evolve historically.? While regions interact with and imbibe aspects of the pan-Indian, it is important to remember that localities and sub-regions also cohere in their making.

 

Regions emerge through the process of the shaping of common shared cultures, collective memories, a consciousness of felt community or a sense of belonging and affiliation which is constituted historically. The markers are spatially distinguishable and culturally identifiable art forms, architectural styles, food habits, dance forms, and language and script, among others. Deriving from it, one may ask how can then one distinguish between a region and a sub-region. Sub-regions are parts of a region with no entity singly constituting it insofar as they interact, overlap and intersect, while still retaining their own identities. To put it differently, it is a relationship which is analogous to that between the region and the transregional or pan-Indian. In this situation of being into it and yet out of it are embedded the historical roots of contestations and negotiations within the regions. Kalinga, Tosala/Utkala, and Daksina Kosala in Orissa clearly illustrate it. Sub-regions all through influenced the perceived regional ‘centre’, while simultaneously getting impacted by it. Unmistakably, identities in the past, as so often today, were not immutable. II Locality in historical terms is seen to approximate the janapadas in early India, or one may even equate them with the nadus under the Pallavas and Colas in south India. Conceptually, it is a relational idea dependent on the context of its usage. It could also be either source or subject based, related to an event or episode and its perception from the ‘centre’. In that sense the concept of the local keeps changing.

 

Contents

 

List of Illustrations

ix

Preface

xi

Acknowledgements

xv

List of Abbreviations

xvi

Introduction: Regions and the Constructions of Early India

1

Part I: Early Patterns Of Social And Cultural Change

1.

Brahmanical Conception of the Origin of Jatis: A Study of the Manusmrti

31

2.

Conception of the Kali Age in Early India: Perspectives from the Regions

46

3.

Varna, Jati and the Shaping of Early Oriya Society

61

4.

The Making of an Early Historical Sub region?

80

Part II: The Trajectory Of Regional Polities

5.

Ways of Seeing: History and Historiography of the State in Early India

109

6.

The Early State in Orissa: From the Perspective of Changing Forms of Patronage and Legitimation

129

7.

Characterizing Early Medieval Indian Polity: The Case of Daksina Kosala and Beyond

152

8.

Legitimation, Ideology, and State in Early India

179

Part III: The Shaping Of Regional Rural Societies

9.

Mapping the Patterns of Regional Land Systems and Rural Society

219

10.

Agrarian Changes and the Peasantry in Early Medieval Orissa

251

11.

Shifting the Gaze: Facets of Sub-regional Agrarian Economies

278

12.

Dissent and Protest in Early Indian Societies: Some Historiographic Remarks

298

Index

314

About the Author

341

 

The Changing Gaze: Regions and the Constructions of Early India

Item Code:
NAH204
Cover:
Hardcover
Edition:
2013
ISBN:
9780198089193
Language:
English
Size:
9 inch X 5.5 inch
Pages:
357
Other Details:
Weight of the Book: 555 gms
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$48.00   Shipping Free
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About the Book

 

Why did Indian historians move away from the epicentric approach in the 1970s? Why did they shift their focus to localities and sub-regions from historico-geographic blocks like the Gangetic heartland and the Kaveri valley? What were the processes that helped to develop the idea of India? Examining the questions that have shaped history writing in India, this book maps changing perspectives about early India.

 

Focusing on the histories of regions around Odisha, Sahu argues that cultural-historical regions as they emerged through early medieval times and beyond were different from the post-Independence linguistic states as well as ancient archaeological culture regions. He posits that they were constituted historically through the interplay of the constituent sub-regions and localities, as well as influenced by continuous 1Jltilateral, trans-regional transactions. Finally, he contends these regions w re dynamic, expanding and shrinking over time.

 

To understand the differences and linkages between regions, the book studies several strand of historical development: from the role of Brahmanical ideology in the construction of caste to the regional dimensions of the Kali Age crisis: from agrarian land Systems to forms of protest and dissent, and the evolution of regional Identities In Indian historiography.

 

About the Author

 

Bhairabi Prasad Sahu is Professor at the Department of History, University of Delhi. He has served as Sectional President (2003) and Secretary of the Indian History Congress (2006-9). At present he is a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research. His publications include From Hunters to Breeders: Faunal Background of Early India (1988). He has also edited Land System and Rural Society in Early India (1997) and Iron and Social Change in Early India (2006).

 

Preface

 

Regional histories emerged in the early part of the twentieth century in Bengal, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, among other regions, largely as a part of the nationalist response to the process of colonial ‘centralized archivization’ and production and circulation of knowledge. In these histories small battles were transformed into major wars and local heroes were unduly imbued with great honour in the historians’ desire to create glorious pasts. Only from the 1970s have historians begun to address problems associated with a realistic history of the regions and there has been a shift from regional histories to the histories of the regions. Moving away from chauvinistic writings there have been efforts to understand regions on their own terms, leading to the unveiling of the making of multiple regional traditions and trajectories of socio-political developments across regions. In the far south there are differences in environment and landscape between the adjoining states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and their bearing on the historical evolution in the two regions is obvious. Examples such as this can easily be multiplied. Works on Rajasthan, Bengal, Andhra, and Tamil Nadu in course of the last thirty years, while unraveling the shaping of these regions, have also demonstrated that regions are a legitimate category of historical studies. They allow for in depth analysis of the data and the mapping of agrarian, non-agrarian processes, political formations and the common woman/man’s history. The emergent picture across several regions then provides the basis for wider generalizations. This is unmistakably different from macro-generalizations based on perspectives from either Gangetic north India or the Kaveri valley in the south.

 

The concept of region is amenable to a variety of meanings. Environment, ethnicity, and language are all useful categories for defining a region. In many cases historians have projected the present day political boundaries into the past and assumed them to be convenient categories of analysis. However, there is an increasing realization that past historical or cultural regions need not necessarily conform to present day state boundaries, which are the result of recent administrative decisions. The regions that the historians are now usually concerned with are historically constituted, they expand and contract through time and are not immutable. Kamarupa, Varendra, Kalinga, Daksina Kosala, and Malwa provide some good examples. There are instances where they combined with other entities to constitute a larger region. At varying points in time parts of Kalinga, Utkala, Jharkhand, and Daksina Kosala were a part of pre-modern supra regional Orissan states. While histories of the regions and their interplay constitute the national they themselves are forged by sub-regional and local histories. Histories of regions cannot be written by assuming them to be already there. Writing the history of the regions therefore involves the understanding of the shaping of regional and pan-Indian patterns and traditions through complex networks of interrelationships between the local, regional and trans- regional elements, mediated by multilateral transactions involving giving and borrowing. Thus, the history of regions is shaped in the context of its relationships with larger units. In these narratives it is futile to look for uniformities. Pluralities across spaces continuously coexist, the differences are not homogenized. Unity in diversity is not assumed to be something natural and given; it is seen as evolving historically. The variety of regional traditions ultimately gave shape to the united colours of India.

 

This volume comprises about a dozen papers, some published between 1996 and 2011 as well as others presented at seminars/ conferences during 2007-11. About half of them are focused on Orissa and Chhattisgarh, while the rest, using evidence and works on the varied regions, have a wider spatial reach. They point to the continued interplay and coexistence of the local and trans-regional elements and comparable trajectories of growth across regions. The basic concern in all the essays has neither been the regional versus the national nor generalizations versus specificities, but how they helped in constituting one another and have lived together as a civilization with a shared moral order. It is about plurality and confluence, as well as change through continuity. It is an effort to understand the creative processes and the common pool of ideas and values that mediated in the network of linkages between the localities, regions and the transregional.

 

The state of Orissa has very recently been rechristened as Odisha. However, both for the convenience of the general reader as well as the fact that the book had gone to the press before this development we have preferred to continue with the older name. The articles and papers were written on different occasions, catering to diverse requirements; and in situations such as these some overlaps and repetitions are but natural. Readers may kindly bear with it.

 

In completing this work, I have depended in various ways on the cooperation of many others. Many well wishers and friends within and outside the country first gave an opportunity to try out some of the ideas in their respective universities at seminars and conferences, and I am grateful to them for their kindness. I am indebted to Professor B.O. Chattopadhyaya, and my colleagues Sunil Kumar and Kesavan Veluthat for their generous suggestions and comments on the draft of the Introduction and sections of the work. To Kesavan Veluthat I owe special thanks for his unfailing support at difficult moments. My ideas have benefitted greatly over the past years in reading and interacting with B.O. Chattopadhyaya, and Hermann Kulke, and I continue to benefit from their erudition. For their help in various ways and generous encouragement I am grateful to Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, T.K. Venkatasubramanian, Biswamoy Pati, Martin Brandtner, Oaud Ali, Georg Berkemer, Rajan Gurukkal, Upinder Singh, Kumkum Roy, R.P. Bahuguna, Shishir Kumar Panda, and Kumar Amarendra Singh. I am indebted to the editorial team at Oxford University Press for seeing the book through to production. I cannot fail to mention my general intellectual debt to late Professor R.S. Sharma who as a teacher introduced me to the dominant historiography in the later half of the 1970s, and continued to encourage and inspire in the following decades. I have drawn on the patience and indulgence of my family, and my debt to my wife Gayatri and our son Devavrara is of a different order all together. I thank them the most.

 

Introduction

 

The ways of understanding early India have undergone significant change since the middle of the 1950s. Unlike the conventional historiography, the ascendant perspective, which became the dominant one through the subsequent decades, analysed and explained changes as well as the significance of such changes in the socio-economic and political structures, as well as in the cultural domain. Over the last three decades some of the assumptions of this historiography have ‘been refined, particularly with reference to the historico-geographic transformation of the regions outside the Gangetic heartland and the changes coming from within local societies. This historiography emphasizes that for a proper appreciation of Indian history the regional perspective is crucial, I largely because any generalization from the perspective of Gangetic north India or the Kaveri valley in the south has its share of problems. One can recognize and accept the significance of the regions, without losing sight of the larger transregional patterns of socio-political and economic processes. The multiple sources of cultural antecedents, varying across spatial segments, the pluralistic tradition of the Indian historical experience and the reality of an overarching cultural ethos and civilizational universe have been mutually interacting, not exclusive, phenomena. It may be useful to draw attention to the enduring significance of the regions, the variegated historically constituted cultural entities, while simultaneously arguing for the reality of a pan-Indian ideology and civilization, emanating from the operation of historical processes which combined elements of the local and the transregional, which in turn helped to universalize aspects of the local and the regional cultures. Monographs and collected works over the last twenty years, more particularly the last decade, have increasingly focused on the making of regions and regional societies in the larger context of their relationships with the transregional and sub-regional and/or local societies. What follows is an effort to locate and understand the changing gaze, where there has been a perceptible shift from the centre to the peripheries.

 

This brings us to one of the most basic juxtapositions in historical literature-namely, the opposition between the pan-Indian view from the top and perspectives from the regions. Colonialist writings either characterized Indian history in terms of its bewildering variety-constructing exclusive identities on considerations of region, caste, language, ethnicity, etc.-rendering it impossible to be held together as a socio-cultural and political unit or constructed a totalizing and consequently hegemonic picture where the unchanging caste system and ‘the village community’ were represented as its defining traits. The politics of imperial enterprises and their administrative requirements dictated these shifts in perceptions.” Notwithstanding their rebuttal of many aspects of the imperialist reconstructions, the nationalists wittingly or unwittingly accepted the idea of India as an undifferentiated entity and, deriving from it, as a given cultural and political reality. R.K. Mookherji’s The Fundamental Unity of India is a good example of the tendency to associate modern ideas with India’s ancient past. The work was based on geographical evidence underlying the unity, not plurality, of the country. It also drew on the network of sacred sites and tirthas among the Hindus and Buddhists to make the argument. However, as it has been suitably pointed out ‘‘‘Fundamental’’ in a culture is a quality, by implication, essentially embedded, it does not evolve historically.’ It has its bearing on ideas such as nation, nationality and nationalism. In the context of the struggle for freedom the compulsions of the nationalist historians, and their reluctance to grant the continuing inheritance of the regions their due is understandable. However, the long shadow it has cast over the dominant historiography in post-Independence India is somewhat intriguing, especially because the uneven patterns in Indian history have been recognized within the same historiography and historians have engaged with the problem since the latter half of the 1950s. However, in charting the history of change interestingly it has also produced large, durable common institutional structures of sub-continental spread; spanning centuries. The meta-narratives of socio-political evolution echoed nationalist sentiments insofar as they imagined the sub-continent as ‘India’ and not a combination of ‘regional particularities’. Not surprisingly therefore this historiography in some quarters has been labelled as Marxist-Nationalist, It makes the more general point that while identifying changes in historiography, one should not lose sight of the continuities. This centrist or epicentric perspective is derived largely from the Gangetic valley and its fringes; it fails to appreciate and address the cultural pluralism of the variegated regions. Paradoxically, the reason for the great popularity and resilience of the dominant historiography now also appears to be its primary weakness. While its ability to generalize allowed for lucidity and easy comprehension, it tended to homogenize the variety of human experiences and ignored the specificity of the regions with their comparable, but not necessarily similar, socio-political trajectories.

 

Lest anybody should get the impression that this is a clever argument for going back to a different version of a Nationalist historiography, it needs to be quickly stated that there is J difference between writing regional histories and histories of the regions. While the former is consumed by a desire to establish the comparative historical precedence, antiquity or uniqueness inspired by regional sentiments and chauvinism, the latter is engaged in a dispassionate discerning of processes, structures and the trajectory of the evolution of institutions and traditions across regions. The glorification of individual rulers, exaggeration of regional events and the construction and privileging of competitive sub-nationalisms has been long overtaken by time, especially with the advances registered ill the discipline since the 1970s. In the past, regions, as in the case of India, were perceived to be given bounded territories and the career and achievements of the kings and dynasties and important literary figures grafted on to these spatial entities in the intellectual climate of the times, which was informed by regional sentiments; reminiscent of nationalist Indology. In brief, the present day linguistic states were sought to be historicized in most of these writings. Regions surely have a distinguishable territoriality but the sense of affiliation and cultural bonding which forges it is shaped historically over time. The chronologies, patterns, and constituent ingredients of the historical regions as they emerged through the early medieval and medieval centuries do not necessarily converge. It is evident that these are also different from the early archaeological cultures represented by the distribution pattern of the deluxe pottery of the times. Many other possibilities apart, it is not possible to distinguish between the material culture and social formations of Magadha and Kosala, for example, on the basis of the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) cultural assemblages in the two mahajanapadas (major janapadas or localities) in the middle of the first millennium BC, in the rnid-Canga plains. Similarly, the Russet Coated Painted Ware (RCPW) culture in the south was spread over territories which later became parts of distinct historical regions. Briefly stated, archaeological cultures have their own distribution patterns and boundaries, which usually do not correspond with the historical regions as they evolved through the early medieval times and beyond.

 

Integrating regional histories into the history of India represents a condescending attitude and is not the same as writing history from within and in terms of the processes in operation across regions. Even a casual comparison of some of the works within the dominant historiography and alternative histories produced during the last decade makes the general point more obvious. Besides, regional history calls into question accepted notions of causation, periodization and our understanding of the larger pattern of Indian history. Histories informed by nationalism unwittingly produced largely homogeneous, uniform narratives of India, playing down its multiplicity, vibrant regional variety, and their changing contours. The recent shift towards understanding the regions has been accompanied by a movement away from colonization as the agency of socio-cultural transformations from a privileged centre; to networks of linkages, interactions, and change, and the recognition of the fact that the emergence of the Sultanate in north India did not mark any major departure in the regions outside the Ganga valley and adjacent territories. Flowing from it, the issue of periodization in Indian history possibly needs to be revisited. Complex, plural societies across regions were not held together mechanically, but sustained through processes of emulation, competition and antagonistic tolerance. The richness and vibrancy of the Indian cultural mosaic, constituted by the regions, is beautifully captured in the national anthem. The recognition and tolerance of variety and respect for underlying cultural commonalities is lucidly enshrined in the Indian constitution. It states that India that is Bharata shall be a union of states. The notion of a monolithic unitarian nation/state is not true. Neither is the concept of India equivalent to a confederation of the regions. There is no conflict here; the two live together, cooperate and enrich each other, though the priority of one over the other is context specific. If the subsumption of the regions under the overarching idea of India does not do justice to the Indian historical experience, the opposite position asserting regionalism to the exclusion of an underlying cultural unity too is a falsification of history. The truth lies in the dynamic interrelationship of the two, in the course of which they constituted each other. Regions have not remained insular from evolutions within a larger unit. Regional history and the larger pattern of Indian history, to use a familiar expression, move in tandem.

 

Understanding the regions on their own terms or looking at the general pattern of Indian history from the perspective of the regions is not the same thing as encouraging regionalism. Bernard S. Cohn vividly makes the point.

 

The obvious distinction, conceptually, between the terms ‘region’ and ‘regionalism’ is sometimes overlooked. ‘Region’ with all its difficulties as a concept refers to means of classification of a wide variety of kinds of data, which helps analyse particular or general situations. ‘Regionalism’ refers usually to conscious or unconscious development of symbols, behaviours and movements which will mark off groups within some geographic boundary from others in other regions for political, economic, or cultural ends. The term ‘region’ relates to a form of analysis, ‘regionalism’ to a call for action .... (italics mine)

 

In other words, allowing the regions their due in historical analysis need not be viewed with apprehension. It is a necessary academic exercise and entails a corrective to tendencies to generalize from the perspective of Gangetic north India. It may be mentioned that regions are anything but fixed; they evolve historically.? While regions interact with and imbibe aspects of the pan-Indian, it is important to remember that localities and sub-regions also cohere in their making.

 

Regions emerge through the process of the shaping of common shared cultures, collective memories, a consciousness of felt community or a sense of belonging and affiliation which is constituted historically. The markers are spatially distinguishable and culturally identifiable art forms, architectural styles, food habits, dance forms, and language and script, among others. Deriving from it, one may ask how can then one distinguish between a region and a sub-region. Sub-regions are parts of a region with no entity singly constituting it insofar as they interact, overlap and intersect, while still retaining their own identities. To put it differently, it is a relationship which is analogous to that between the region and the transregional or pan-Indian. In this situation of being into it and yet out of it are embedded the historical roots of contestations and negotiations within the regions. Kalinga, Tosala/Utkala, and Daksina Kosala in Orissa clearly illustrate it. Sub-regions all through influenced the perceived regional ‘centre’, while simultaneously getting impacted by it. Unmistakably, identities in the past, as so often today, were not immutable. II Locality in historical terms is seen to approximate the janapadas in early India, or one may even equate them with the nadus under the Pallavas and Colas in south India. Conceptually, it is a relational idea dependent on the context of its usage. It could also be either source or subject based, related to an event or episode and its perception from the ‘centre’. In that sense the concept of the local keeps changing.

 

Contents

 

List of Illustrations

ix

Preface

xi

Acknowledgements

xv

List of Abbreviations

xvi

Introduction: Regions and the Constructions of Early India

1

Part I: Early Patterns Of Social And Cultural Change

1.

Brahmanical Conception of the Origin of Jatis: A Study of the Manusmrti

31

2.

Conception of the Kali Age in Early India: Perspectives from the Regions

46

3.

Varna, Jati and the Shaping of Early Oriya Society

61

4.

The Making of an Early Historical Sub region?

80

Part II: The Trajectory Of Regional Polities

5.

Ways of Seeing: History and Historiography of the State in Early India

109

6.

The Early State in Orissa: From the Perspective of Changing Forms of Patronage and Legitimation

129

7.

Characterizing Early Medieval Indian Polity: The Case of Daksina Kosala and Beyond

152

8.

Legitimation, Ideology, and State in Early India

179

Part III: The Shaping Of Regional Rural Societies

9.

Mapping the Patterns of Regional Land Systems and Rural Society

219

10.

Agrarian Changes and the Peasantry in Early Medieval Orissa

251

11.

Shifting the Gaze: Facets of Sub-regional Agrarian Economies

278

12.

Dissent and Protest in Early Indian Societies: Some Historiographic Remarks

298

Index

314

About the Author

341

 

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