The articles included in this collection were written over the past two decades. The occasion on, and
provocation under, which they were written was different in nearly every case. The necessary discipline
and coherence expected of a tightly written monograph, therefore, will be looked for in vain in this
collection. Even the elementary uniformity in many matters expected of research papers may be missing
in them. Read together, however, they will hopefully give a picture of the way in which the ‘early
medieval’ is constituted in the history of the deep south.
All linear histories are necessarily periodized. When history, a new form of knowledge for
any part of the world in the modern period, reached India, it was naturally a periodized history. Many,
however, find themselves ill at ease with the old tripartite division. One of the more convenient units is
the ‘early medieval’. There are compelling reasons to identify an intelligible period like this in the
context of south India as well, for we see a broad pattern here. The details include the transformation of
an economy characterized by cattle-keeping and subsistence agriculture into one of wet rice cultivation
and a considerable surplus; replacement of simple exchange with the instituted process of trade and the
subsequent development of urbanism; transmutation of a relatively undifferentiated society into one
divided sharply into castes and the consequent’ casteization’ and peasantization of tribes; acceptance of
an organized religion with its ideas and institutions suited to the new economic and social order; the
formation of the state with a ksatriya-ized monarchy presiding over it; and a large number of other
There is considerable difference between these phenomena in the context of the south and the
pattern obtaining in the north, a major difference being the earlier graduation of the north to a state
society where it even got elaborated and refined as an ‘empire’. This shows that there have been multiple
transitions there. In the case of south India, however, things proceeded on different lines. The phase
immediately preceding what I have chosen to call the ‘early medieval’ was in no way comparable to its
counterpart in the north; but comparison becomes possible when it comes to broad patterns and even in
details. Detailed studies will bring out the patterns, of which the essays presented here are a modest
The author hopes that the essays included in this collection will give a picture of how one can
make an alternative reading of early medieval south Indian history. This is particularly relevant against
the background of the historiographical scene of south India: the conventional picture represented by
the writings of Nilakanta Sastri, the much publicized alternative offered by Borton Stein, the systematic
analysis of data in the writings of Y. Subbarayalu and Noboru Karashima and the refreshing questions
raised by James Heitzman and Lelie Orr. Added to it is the relatively new ground in relation to the
history of Kerala. The defense of the present volume, therefore, is that it presents a reading of the
history of south India different from what is available now: it will hopefully interest the informed
scholar and the inquisitive student as well as the lay reader.
I have benefited immensely from my long association with M.G.S. Narayanan. He was
responsible for initiating me into this field and I owe him a debt of gratitude. R. Champakalakshmi has
borne with me all through. B. Surendra Rao, my colleague, read the first draft of all these articles. His
suggestions and criticisms have helped me to refine them. So also, Raghava Varier and Rajan Gurukkal
have helped me in refining my tools of enquiry by criticizing and commenting on them. I thank each one
of them, assuring them that the countless defects are in spite of them. Manu helped me with the proofs
and the index. Parvathi, as always, excused my absences silently and Krishnan, Narayanan and
Nilakanthan encouraged me in various ways. The editors of Oxford University Press would never leave
me unless I put this volume together and attended to the details of the execution. How do I thank all of
From the Jacket
Written over two decades, this distinctive collection explores-for the first time-the notion of ‘early
medieval’ in south India. Presenting an alternative history of the deep south, Kesavan Veluthat
re-examines the problems and patterns in the history of Tamilkam in general and early medieval Kerala
and Karnataka in particular.
Was there an ‘early medieval’ distinct from the preceding early historical formations in south
India? What were the processes involved in this transition? Is it possible to explain the processes and
structures characterizing the early medieval period? In this context, the volume investigates areas like
the role of temples and corporate bodies, the structure of land-rights, patterns of surplus extraction, the
nature of the state, evolution of landlordism, and the emergence of regional identity.
Integrating both epigraphic and literary sources in at least three regional languages, and
inscriptions, the author studies using computer-aided, statistical analyses. Deviating from the
‘conventional’ and ‘unorthodox’ positions, he underscores how early medieval south India merits a
distinct historical analysis.
This interdisciplinary volume will be indispensable for teachers, students, and researchers of
early medieval history, particularly of south India. It will also be useful for scholars of sociology,
cultural studies, and religion.
Kesavan Veluthat is Professor and Chairman, Department of History, Mangalore
University. He has served as joint Secretary (1991-3) and Sectional President of the Indian History
Congress (1997) and has held visiting professorships at Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris (1999)
and Maison des Sciences des L’Hommes, Paris (2003-2006). His publications include Brahman
Settlements in Kerala: Historical Studies (Calicut, 1978) and Political Structure of Early Medieval
South India (Delhi, 1993).
Back of the Book
‘Kesavan Veluthat is among those historians of south India who have contributed substantially to the new
interpretations of south Indian history and to the definition of what has been called the early medieval
period. His analyses question “hitherto available answers” and this collection of essays provides
‘….a welcome addition to the few available standard works on early medieval south India…
[Kesavan Veluthat is] a good scholar in Malayalam and Tamil epigraphy as well as in Sanskrit…He is at
home in dealing with matters pertaining to the political organization, agrarian relations, and Agamic
religion in south India…The collection will form an authoritative compendium of historical knowledge
on medieval south India for several years to come.
“The volume convincingly demarcates the early medieval quite intelligibly in the context of
south Indian history. Thanks to the rigour of conceptualization. The essays pertain to the systemic.
Structural and institutional transformation of the economy, society, polity, and culture in a seminal way
along with several other entailing developments.’
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