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South Indian Society in Transition (Ancient to Medieval)

South Indian Society in Transition (Ancient to Medieval)
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Item Code: NAL713
Author: Noboru Karashima
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9780198063124
Pages: 322 (28 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 inch x 6.0 inch
weight of the book: 540 gms
About the Book

South India underwent a process of tremendous social change in the period between the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. This was characterized by transformation of landholding and production systems; emergence of new jatis; development of maritime trade, merchant guilds, and towns; and birth of new religious ideas and beliefs. Mapping this shift from 'ancient' to 'medieval', this volume offers a new understanding of the emergence of medieval state and social formation in south India.

Combining fifty years' experience of studying Tamil inscriptions with a nuanced historical rigour, Noboru Karashima rejects the 'segmentary state' model as a category for understanding the Chola state. He argues that the Chola kings tried to build a centralized state apparatus taking control of the East-West trade which in turn triggered widespread social change. The author examines Chinese ceramic sherds recently discovered in south India and translates the description of the Chola state in Chinese dynastic annals to present a new picture of the south Indian state.

The book further reviews debates surrounding land relations, caste, and commerce in south India and surveys the socio-political conditions leading to the establishment of the Vijayanagar rule. Illustrated with maps and figures, it will be invaluable for scholars, teachers, and students of ancient and medieval south Indian history.


About the Author

Noboru Karashima is Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo, Japan. He also serves as Professor Emeritus at the Taisho University, Japan. Former President of the Epigraphical Society of India, he is currently the President of the International Association of Tamil Research. His publications include South Indian History and Society (Delhi, 1984); Towards a New Formation (Delhi, 1992); History and Society in South India (Delhi, 200I); A Concordance of Nayakas (Delhi, 2002).


For the past ten years I have been pursuing the issue of social change which occurred during the period from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries in Tamil Nadu, south India. My desire has been to perceive and share as a historian who experienced as a child the Second World War and is now living in a changing society under globalization, the various feelings that people in those centuries must have had towards changing society.

The change which I have examined in this book is the change of a society from ancient to medieval. During this transitional period there emerged many new things. First, private landholding began to spread in the Chola state through land grants by the state to Brahmanas and important officials, replacing to a certain extent traditional common landholding. Privileged people living in the Kaveri delta started to purchase land, which affected the fate of the common people who had been living in a traditional agrarian society. Many farmers were deprived of their land and brought to ruin. The state also had to change its policy towards landholding and revenue collection to protect Vellala farmers, who were the mainstay of the agrarian state.

This transition was also accelerated by the coincidental development of maritime trade in the Indian Ocean, by which artisans and merchants gained power. Ex-hill-tribes who had entered the Chola army also joined agrarian society by forming new jatis and gaining land for them. In contrast, Brahmanas and Vellalas, who had formed the landowning privileged class in traditional society, began to decline. In conjunction with this social upheaval, new religious ideas and beliefs were born. I have tried to clarify these changes which occurred during the transition from ancient to medieval society.

In this book, I have collected fourteen recent essays which deal with these changes or which afford relevant information on the study of change. The essay tided 'Emergence of Medieval State and Social Formation in South India', which sums up my understanding of the changes mentioned above, forms the Introduction.

Section I contains four essays which deal with the change in the landholding and production system. Chapter 1 studies the change in produce-sharing of temple land by determining the legal meaning of the kudinikki and kudininga condition, which has not been properly understood in past studies. Change in the landholding and land revenue policy of the Chola state is me theme of Chapter 2, which examines royal orders for protection of old landholders (kaniyalar). Recently some Japanese scholars have characterized the mirasi holding in British Madras State and the watan holding in Maratha state as a produce-sharing reproduction system. Chapter 3 examines its relevance and applicability to the period and area of my study. The use of kil (minute fractions) in descriptions of land extent in Tamil inscriptions has been puzzling us for a long time. Chapter 4, presenting a solution, throws light upon the land survey conducted by Rajaraja I in his efforts to centralize government.

Section II, which studies the emergence of new jatis and social change, comprises four essays. Chapter 5 clarifies the change in the imprecations contained in inscriptions and relates this change to the emergence of new jatis which made up the lower section of society and were against Brahmanical ideology. Chapter 6 studies the supra- local assemblies called chitrameli periyanadu and valangailidangai groups, which were composed of low jatis, including the new ones. They were often in conflict with Brahmanas and Vellalas. From the twelfth century some of the ex-hill-tribes grew into local chiefs in the hilly and dry areas, demanding padikaval from local people on the pretext of protecting them. Chapter 7 studies this process of their growth. Interestingly, inscriptions of the Pudukkottai region reveal the commercialization of this padikaval. Chapter 8 discusses the process and reason for this commercialization. Chapter 9 clarifies the change in the character of nagaram (town). It was only from the twelfth century that towns played a role as commercial centres in relation to the vigorous activities of merchant guilds represented by ainurruvar.

Section III consists of four essays which deal with overseas trade and Chinese sources describing the Chola and Pandyan states. Chapter 10 studies the organization and activities of merchant guilds such as anjuvannam, manigramam, and ainurruvar. New information obtained through a research project, which I organized in collaboration with Indian and Sri Lankan scholars, has clarified the functioning of these merchant guilds. Chapter 11 discusses the discovery of a large number of sherds of Chinese ceramics brought to south India and Sri Lanka around the thirteenth century. This is the result of another international project organized for the study of this subject. Medieval Chinese sources sometimes describe countries (often ports) in south India or those which are thought to have been located in south India. Chapter 12 identifies two such countries. The Songshi, the annals of the Song dynasty (AD 960-1279) in China, gives an interesting description of the Chola (Zhunian) state, which, however, has never been properly translated into English. Chapter 13 provides a translation with detailed notes. A brief study of the alleged Chola king appearing in the Songshi and the relationship between the Cholas and Kadaram (Sanfoqi) is also included.

Three of the above fourteen essays are the outcome of collaboration with Y. Subbarayalu and P. Shanmugam, who have been helping me for a long time in my south Indian epigraphical research. I am grateful to them for their constant assistance and permission to include those essays in this book. I am thankful to Subbarayalu who has drawn five maps to illustrate this book. My thanks are also due to K.V. Ramesh, M.N. Karti, M.D. Sampath, and K.M. Bhadri, successive Directors of Epigraphy, and P. Venkatesan and S.V.P. Halakatti, Directors of Epigraphy in charge, Archaeological Survey of India, for their kind permission to access unpublished inscriptions preserved in their office in Mysore and their generous help in my research.

I sincerely hope that this volume, together with my former publications on south Indian history, will contribute to the development of south Indian historical studies based on epigraphical research.



Emergence of Medieval State and Social Formation in South India

These Brahmana brothers have now forgotten the old good habits of Brahmanas and Vellalas and are steeped in the bad behaviour of the low jatis.

The main source of ancient and medieval south Indian history is inscriptions, which have survived in good numbers for the period from the eighth to seventeenth centuries. If we read these inscriptions, we can recognize the changes that occurred in state and social formation at certain stages during this millennium. These changes may be suggested even by a short passage in a single inscription. I have quoted above a passage from a Tamil inscription (SII, xxvi-333) of the thirteenth century surviving in Tirukkachchur in Chingleput District, which expresses, I believe, a perception of the social change felt by the people of that locality at the time. To make it into a narrative (history), however, we have to examine and study many more inscriptions.

The purpose of this essay is to argue for the emergence of medieval state and social formation during the 200 years of upheaval between the collapse of the Chola state in the thirteenth century and the establishment of the Vijayanagar administration under nayakas in the fifteenth century. The inscriptions to be examined are mostly in the Tamil language and accordingly the arguments will be confined for practical purposes to the situation in the Tamil country. The focus will be on changes in the landholding system, as land was the most important means of production in ancient and medieval Tamil society, and changes in people's relationship to it, or relations among different groups of people mediated by their relationship to land, seem to have caused the changes in state and social formation. The dates of the inscriptions examined range from the ninth century to the fifteenth century and cover the Chola (c. 850-c. 1279), Pandya (c. 1279-c. 1370), and part of the Vijayanagar (c. 1370-) periods.

Segmentary State or Centralized State?

According to Burton Stein, south Indian states from Pallava times to the Vijayanagar show the characteristics of the segmentary state, which he defined as follows: The state is composed of many segments forming a pyramid as a whole. Each segment has basically the same structure and competes with other segments. Sovereignty in the state is dual, namely, 'political' and 'ritual'. Political sovereignty or control is exercised only within each segment by its chief, but ritual sovereignty, which only the chief of the primary segment at the pinnacle of the pyramid can exercise, is accepted by the chiefs of all other segments. Therefore, the segmentary state is not unified politically but integrated ritually. For the state, therefore, there is no clear-cut boundary and its territory is defined by the extent of the acceptance of the ritual sovereignty of the primary segment by other segments.

In the case of the Chola state, Stein regards a nadu as a segment, and he asserts accordingly that the Chola kings were able to control politically only the narrow area of the Kaveri delta with the help of their patrimonial administrators. He rejects the image of a centralized state applied to pre-colonial India and criticizes Nilakanta Sastri for speaking of 'the almost Byzantine royalty of Rajaraja and his successors with its numerous palaces, officials and ceremonials and its majestic display of the concentrated resources of an extensive empire'. Stein denies the existence of any central administration covering the whole country and also questions the actual occurrence of the naval expedition made by Rajendra I to the Malay Peninsula (Sri Vijaya).

After the publication of this segmentary state theory, many criticisms have appeared from among Indian scholars." I also criticized it by pointing out that Stein's theory was nothing but a new version of the old theory of the stagnation of Oriental society based on unchanging village communities, with the village of the old theory having been replaced by the segment (nadu). There are many points to be criticized in his theory, but the crucial point is his categorical denial of centralization or even the efforts made towards it by the Chola kings of the middle period. There is much evidence of their efforts, in which they were successful to some extent.

First of all, Rajaraja I built in his capital, Thanjavur, a huge Siva temple, which was a departure from the foregoing sepulchral temples, enshrining a linga named after himself, a living king (Fig. 1). His intention in constructing this temple was obviously to flaunt the greatness of the state over which he ruled. And tremendous amounts of treasure were donated to this temple by the Chola royal family and high-ranking officials of the state. The king himself donated the revenue of fifty-six villages in the Chola-mandalam and other mandalams, including those of conquered territory in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Sri Lanka (SII, ii-4, -5, and -92). The villages in the Chola-Mandalam were all minutely measured and assessed, and those in other mandalams were also carefully assessed in paddy and/or gold. Measurements are given for Sri Lankan villages too, and the tenure was stipulated for the tax-paying landholders of some of the villages outside the Chola-mandalam. How can we expect a ritual sovereign in a small segment to exercise this much administrative power in conquered territory even across the sea?

Rajaraja's efforts to centralize the state administration are well attested by his conducting of land surveys and his standardizing of land measurements and grain measures. His son, Rajendra I, who followed his father by building another grandiose temple (Fig. 2) in his new capital, Gangaikondacholapuram (meaning 'town of the Chola king who took the River Ganga'), also tried to standardize the measuring rod. To weaken the power of the nadu, where a traditional agrarian community called nadu had been formed, Rajaraja introduced in the Chola-mandalam a new territorial division called valanadu in between nadu and mandalam, into which he tried to concentrate power for local administration. Some valanadus were formed by cutting even the boundaries of a nadu, Kulottunga I, who ruled towards the end of the eleventh century, extended this valanadu system to Jayangondachola-mandalam by transforming the kottam, the traditional division above the nadu in the former Pallava country, into the ualanadu.

As for the officialdom for the centralized administration, the existence of which was denied by Stein, studies made by P. Shanmugam and Y. Subbarayalu have clarified its existence and elucidated the activities of such offices as the king's secretariat and the revenue department. Both offices were well organized and had many officers who appear in inscriptions with titles bestowed on them by the king. Brahmarayan was a title given to meritorious Brahmana officers such as srikariyam and senapati, and muvendavelan to Vellala officers in the secretariat and revenue department. Pallavarayan and Vilupparayan were also titles given to important officers. A copper-plate inscription of Rajendra I recording the grant of fifty-six villages to 1080 Brahmanas refers to more than forty officers who executed this grant, with information on their names, designations, native villages, and so on.




  List of illustrations vii
  List of Tables and Appendices x
  Preface xi
  Acknowledgements xv
  List of Abbreviations xvii
  Introduction: Emergence of Medieval State and Social Formation in South India 1
Section I: Change in Landholding and production system
1 Kudininga- devadana: State, Temple, and Occupants of Temple Land 27
2 Kaniyalar: Landholding Policy of the Chola State 56
3 Kani and Mirasi: Reproduction System Based on Produce-sharing 76
4 Kil in Tamil Inscriptions: Centralization and Land Survey 91
Section II: Emergence of New Jatis and Social Change
5 New Imprecations in Tamil Inscriptions and Jatis Formation 99
6 Periyanadu and Valangail Idangai: Assemblies of Lower Jatis 115
7 Local Cheifs and Padikaval 136
8 Commercialization of Padikaval in the Pudukkottai Region 155
9 Nagaram: Commerce and Towns AD 850-1350 165
Section III: Overseas Trade and Chinese Sources
10 South Indian Merchant Guilds in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia 199
11 Chinese Ceramic-sherds Discovered in south India and Sri Lanka 224
12 Ponicherry and Periyapattinam Described in Chinese Sources 252
13 Zhunian: The Chola Kingdom in the Chinese Annals 263
  Index 283
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