The Early Medieval in South India

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Item Code: IDK936
Author: Kesavan Veluthat
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 0195696638
Pages: 368
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8” X 5.5”
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Book Description


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 attendant developments.

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 beginning.

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 them adequately?

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 valuable insights.’

Romila Thapar, Professor Emeritus of History,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

‘….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.

-Y. Subbarayalu, Professor, French Institute
of Pondicherry, Pondicherry

“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.’

-Rajan Gurukkal, Soundararajan
Visiting Professor, Centre for Contemporary Studies,
Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore


1Into the ‘Medieval’-and out of It19
2The Temple in Medieval South India61
3Land Rights and Social Stratification83
4Labour Rent and Produce Rent100
5Nadu in the Socio-political Structure109
Medieval Kerala
6The Keralolpatti as History129
7Epigraphy in the Historiography of Kerala147
8Literacy and Communication in Pre-modern Kerala168
9The King as Lord and Overlord183
10A Capital City as a Sacred Centre229
11Medieval Kerala: State and Society249
12Landlordism in Medieval Kerala277
13Evolution of a Regional Identity295
In the Neighbourhood:
Early Medieval Karnataka
14Velevali in Karnataka315
15Landed Magnates as State Agents325
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