In a conscious bid to avoid the categorization of 'south' India Streaming the Past: Peninsular India in History changes the framework of the historical meta-narrative of the nation, which has failed to integrate the history of pre-modern peninsular India within it. This book demonstrates that a collection of varied essays is, in fact, a woven tapestry with perforated boundaries and a stage for interdisciplinary voices to speak to one another in several ways. Put differently, the volume streams the past to create a level playing field for individual historical research designs to interact with the larger patterns of India's history.
Focusing on peninsular India, the essays cover diverse topics stretching from megalithic times to the eighteenth century. They rely on classical languages and historical materials to source information, employ versatile methods and examine wide-ranging themes including archaeological sites, trade routes, iron technology, water management, coinage, social hierarchies, goddesses and narrative traditions, performing arts and culture, forms of protests, crime and punishment, and narratives of death alongside socio-economic and political processes. Individually and collectively, the book intervenes, disturbs and challenges the dominant gaze of history-writing in India, and argues for a more wide-angled and cosmopolitan understanding of India's complex history
Nilanjan Sarkar is Deputy Director, south Asia centre, London School of Economics and political science.
Vikas K. Verma is Assistant professor in History, Ramjas college, University of Delhi.
EDITED VOLUMES ARE curious meeting places: the essays here are written by a group of whom several remain unmet, their paths yet to cross by circumstance. But in their academic interests, diverse and varied as can be imagined, they merge, and then emerge in conversation not just with one another but with a region, and a person.
Considering the time frames, sources and issues discussed in this volume, readers will at first struggle to see where and how we all meet. But gradually one begins to decipher connections, overlaps and commonalities-`pieces' of history, with ideas referring to and embellishing one another, texturing a historical canvas marked by variety. This volume is a collective Endeavour animated by method, material cultures, natural resources, trade, the economy, and invented and imagined practices, to explore the region south of (and surrounding) the Vindhyas till the ends of the land, where it meets the seas-the peninsular mass of the Indian subcontinent, appropriated in historiography by the term 'south' India, somehow implying the inevitability of the north in determining its identity.
The 'national' histories of India have, from early colonial times, a distinct and peculiar skew: it has always been the political North and its power-centres that have determined the perspective of 'Indian' histories. The categorization of the remainder of the subcontinent as `regions' is its most enduring outcome-they are 'regional' in relation to Delhi and its neighbourhood. This is frankly astonishing: while it is true that several places in northern India (especially Delhi) were politically important and coveted for centuries, it is equally true that their political influence was often limited to surrounding areas (or at best to large swathes in the northern parts of the subcontinent), and it was not until the late seventeenth century that the north (under the Mughals) had a truly pan-subcontinental political presence. From ancient times, complex, powerful and consequential histories were unfolding in places like Patliputra, Kalinga, Ujjain, Gatigaikonclacblapuram, Gat*, Orchha, Dwarasamudra, Hampi, Chittaur, Golconda, Mysiir, Strat, amongst several others, not to forget the extreme north (Kashmir), and the entire north-east whose history, even today, remains shamefully absent in India's historical understanding of itself. It is not the geographical but political Northernness of Delhi and its environs in relation to other areas in pan-Indian, 'national' historical narratives that is incorrect, unfair and disturbing.
Up until the British arrived in India, histories of 'India' were largely unknown, perhaps even impossible; the largest, broadest histories in pre-colonial India were written in relation to one's political possessions and relations with others.' Perspective was determined accordingly-Delhi, Tirhut, Rewa, and Bijapur were all on a level playing field in the textual archive, each privileging its own patron as the perspective of the text. Political chronicles and histories were monuments of the self, almost always a combination of the self, the other, the self in relation to the other, and the other in relation to the self. While powerful and long-lasting polities have predictably left deeper and more voluminous archival traces, the textual-historical map is mostly a patched network of us and them, insider and outsider, patron and client, core and periphery, and much else-but not of one enduring centre in relation to 'regions'?
This North-centric dystopia in perspective owes in large measure to colonial historical engagement with the Indian subcontinent. By the time Aurangzeb died in AD 1707, the Mughals-immediate predecessors of the British-asserted political dominance over the largest part of the subcontinent: there is no precedent to match such presence. The colonial powers therefore eyed Delhi as their base even though it would not become their political capital before the early twentieth century. To be fair, Delhi's claim to centrality in the north was for good reason: for several centuries, its environs had provided the political capitals of successive rulers, dynasties and empires, and the region as a whole could claim a historical political maturity not easily available to another region in the northern part of the subcontinent. Just modern Delhi provides evidence of human settlement from prehistoric times, and from the time of the establishment of Indraprastha has been politically visible in history. But to have a long, continuous association with political history does not give any region the privilege to determine the mapping of historical knowledge for an entire landmass, one as historically rich as the Indian subcontinent. The reasons for this skew need to be sought elsewhere, in Anglo-British consciousness, in the literatures and attitudes brewing in the British Isles from as early as the sixteenth century, in the English East India Company and, most significantly, in the colonial Indian Civil Service, whose officers played a decisive role in the plotting of history onto the map of historical knowledge, achieved through the vast and conscious knowledge-gathering apparatus of its officers.3
This is not the place to examine the complex and versatile registers through which 'India' appeared on the European colonial horizon from the sixteenth century onwards. But the emergence of Britain's self in relation to its engagement with India provides some useful clues to understand the unfolding of events as flag followed trade, and settlement turned into occupation. 'India for the English East India Company was not in practice equivalent to the place referred to by the Portuguese as the Estado da India';4 it was to be much more even when commerce alone was deemed supreme. As early as AD 1687, Joshua Child, who had managed the affairs of the Company for over two decades, wrote about the need for 'the foundation of a large, well-grounded, secure English dominion in India for all time to come'.5 This would simmer in several forms in Britain, not all of which had to do with India directly or particularly:
The empire may have been acquired in a fit of absentmindedness, but the discourse that justified it does not give that impression. The discourse was formed by its distancing from Spanish cruelty, by a construction of Ireland ill at ease with that distancing, by the feminization of the Orient that from Virgil onward had been entrenched in Western perceptions, by situating that feminization in Milton's highly hierarchical universe, and by appropriating for imperial purposes the structures and valuations of that universe.6
It is interesting to note that those studying literature have captured this nuance better than historians. Several literary scholars have underlined how engagement with the Other became an exercise in the articulation of the Self, playing a crucial role in the emergence of Britain (and more generally Europe) for itself. Studying the colonial imaginary as we go forward into the nineteenth century, we notice that significan changes to imperial engagements would stem from intellectual ferment at home, particularly the rise of Utilitarianism: [i]t is this, and the whole character of the body of ideas of which it is a part, which distinguishes the liberal imperialism of James Mill from that of such figures as William Jones.'? This would mark a fundamental shift from what Leask calls the iatrogenic illness' exemplified by the Romantics, the 'Orientalist', feminizing gaze that had so marked the socio-historical consciousness of the earlier generation in Britain.8
But the consciousness of the (Mughal) North being politically dominant was palpable in British thinking even in the eighteenth century. As early as the 1780s, 'Hastings and his circle mainly sought to portray themselves as inheritors of the Indian polity as refounded by the Emperor Akbar. They needed to inherit the knowledge, and particularly the political knowledge of the former rulers.' Francis Gladwin's translation of the 'AM-i Akbari (Institutes of Akbar) of Faz1 'claimed to depict the original constitution of the Mughal Empire', which was clearly seen to hold the key to the success of Mughal domination.9 This, coupled with their understanding of the discipline of `History', affected their construction of Indian history; it was logical for the two to fold into one another.1° Through the long nineteenth century, as the colonial bureaucracy expanded to the farthest corners of the subcontinent, historical knowledge began to get 'scientifically' organized and narrativized, often around 'core' points of reference-place, region, religion and practices.'
Thus, alongside administration and governance-first of the Company, and then of the Crown-officers foraged for 'knowledge' to rationalize the sensory assault on them by focusing especially on, and inventorying, India's rich cultural heritage.12 Indian historical scholarship remains indebted to the resources created by the colonial machinery at the time, often in the remotest parts of the land. There is no doubt that various kinds of nuanced histories being imagined and written about the subcontinent today are reliant on this bedrock of knowledge collated by colonial administrators, and several may have remained to be written for a much later time if scholars did not have access to the knowledge generated by these archives: an especially relevant example is the work conducted under the auspices of the Archaeological Survey of India.' But this vast corpus, collected as it was to an imperialist agenda, was an outcome of two interrelated factors. First, colonial administrator-historians-even the most sympathetic ones-approached the history of the land from their understanding of what History ought to be. Central to this was a connected, unfolding story (a master narrative) which would be seamlessly interwoven to provide as complete a picture of as large a unit as possible; and for them, the single , unfiled unit was India a landmass whose political contiguity needed to be concretized through narrative for their own comprehension, benefit and establishment.
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