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Inscribing Identities Proclaiming Piety: Exploring Recording Practices in Early Historic India

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Item Code: HAN903
Author: Snigdha Singh
Publisher: Primus Books, Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2022
ISBN: 9789355532909
Pages: 501
Other Details 9.5x6.5 inch
Weight 818 gm
Book Description

About The Book

Inscribing Identities, Proclaiming


Piety: Exploring Recording Practices in Early Historic India focuses on votive inscriptions from the second century BCE to the second century CE found in four areas: Bharhut, Sanchi, the Western Ghats and Mathura. In Barhut and Sanchi, votive inscriptions have been found on the architecture of the stupas and in Mathura on statues, while they have been found in caves and tanks along the Western Ghats.


Focusing on the differences between the ecclesiastic and the laity, this volume examines and highlights the gendered differences within them. Gender relations have been constructed and analysed on the basis of markers such as occupation, place of residence and kinship patterns of monastic and lay donors. This book is an attempt to understand how the donated gifts were gendered, and how nuances of social identification made the construction of social identity a striking one. Its focal points are the social complexities within and without the sangha along with ideas of agency and social identity irrespective of varna identity.

About the Author


Snigdha Singh is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Miranda House, University of Delhi. Her research interests include gender relations represented in inscriptions and visual sources, with a special focus on the early historic period. She has co-authored two books: Beyond the Woman Question: Reconstructing Gender Identities in Early India (2018) and 'Waters' of Western Rajasthan: Myth, Tradition, Life and Livelihood (2020).




IN THE EARLY 1980s, women's history began to appear as a field that many women working broadly in the field of social history felt drawn to. It was not unusual to find essays/ books titled 'In Search of Our Pasts', 'Did Women Have a Renaissance? Gender as an Analytical Category', The Creation of Patriarchy, Women as Force in History (published earlier but circulated seriously in India in the 1980s and onwards), The Fourth Estate, and Women, History and Theory, which includes Joan Kelly's famous essay 'The Doubled Vision of History'. These publications coincided with the early stages of the women's movement in India where women were on the streets, challenging the routinized and extraordinary forms of violence against women. The universities became the grounds from which agitators/demonstrators dissented and, ultimately, entered the space in which serious discussions on gender inequality, violence against women and, more pertinently, how 'malestream' mainstream knowledge was, as the late Sharmila Rege pointed out in an early essay, taking place. These dramatic developments led to reflections and early pieces of writing and the critique of social science disciplines, providing young women with the momentum to rewrite their disciplines by gendering their research.


Feminist scholars, working broadly in the field of early Indian history, first began to lay the ghosts of the past aside. They led the initiative towards a gendered approach of writing social history by confronting constructions of the 'woman's question' by nationalist writers, especially in nineteenth-centuryBengal, who had saddled Indian women with the construction of the free and equal Vedic woman, as exemplified by Gargi and Maitreyi. Attendant consequences of this approach was the thesis of 'decline' of status in the post-Vedic period attributed to theories of invasion which circulated wildly since it exonerated Hindu/Indian men from any responsibility towards the changes in the 'declining' status of women, even as many sought to attribute it to indigenous causes. For example, while most writers considered foreign invasions or Muslim invaders as the reason for this decline, Dayananda attributed the decline to the fratricidal war in the Mahabharata. It is not surprising that the first pieces of writing by gender-sensitive historians first had to labour to undo the simplified rendering of women's status in the Vedic/ancient period in order to then complicate the question of 'status'. These early lines of enquiry sought to examine the past through the lens of categories such as muted or invisible groups or groups, providing a better context for examining women's histories. Having laid the groundwork, they proceeded to examine ancient sources in depth and, as part of that creative moment, many new fields of research developed. It is notable that the first pieces of research by feminist historians examined a range of sources available for a reconstruction of history. Thus, Brahmanical as well as Buddhist sources were mined for what they might reveal of early Indian historical developments, in which unique forms of stratification such as caste/varņa emerged along with kingship, the household, and inequality between men and women. Soon enough, research students began to mine the Buddhist textual corpus for evidence on women in early society which could speak to questions that all women were raising about history, culture and tradition.





THE NOTION OF gendered identities is related to social, cultural, and religious ideas. Gendered identities, one can say, are burdened with various social, economic, religious, and cultural attributes, the values of which shift according to historical context. Therefore, the study of gender is about challenges to social, economic, and religious structures. What seems to be important is that the concepts and models of gender are not static and must be understood in reference to their particular economic, social, and historical contexts.


Constructs of gender identity in this work are explored vis- à-vis the early historic period, which is envisaged as a period of urbanism, accompanied by the formation of a number of new monarchies or chieftainships. The aggressive and expansive character of early Indian urbanism' can be witnessed during this time frame. Studies based on archaeology as well as those based on textual analysis identify this as a period of appreciable change. According to Romila Thapar, this period was portentous in terms of social change in comparison with what had been experienced earlier.

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