ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Invention of Classical India

The Affordances and Limits of Historical Materialism

The ‘Early Medieval’ Origins of India by Manu V Devadevan, Cambridge University Press, 2020; pp 516, `850.

Sanskrit literature or kāvya, the cult of divine kingship, the caste system, astronomy and the invention of zero, spectacular temple architecture, and the making of geopolitically self-conscious regions by narrating past royal actions—all of these are features scholars of Indian history and interested non-scholars have long associated with “classical” India. Manu V Devadevan’s new book synthesises multiple scholarly strands to make the empirically richest and theoretically most ambitious case yet for the distinctiveness and foundational character of the “early medieval” period in India for these classical traits. The term “early medieval” itself is older than Devadevan’s book, having been the topic of an influential collections of essays by B D Chattopadhyaya (1994); central to Kesavan Veluthat’s The Early Medieval in South India (2009); as well as to Daud Ali’s Courtly Culture and Political Life in Early Medieval India (2006). Devadevan qualifies Chattopadhyaya’s argument that the political fragmentation of the subcontinent in 600–1200 CE was continuous with the preceding Gupta regime even as it was accompanied by the emergence of the state at regional levels, “the peasantization of tribes and caste formation” and “cult appropriation and integration.” With Veluthat, Devadevan argues that a new mode of production distinguished the early medieval from the “early historical.” This novelty lay in new forms of land control over the surplus revenue from expanding agriculture based on extra-kin labour. This is one of the book’s leitmotifs through its 13 chapters.

Political Economy and Culture

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Updated On : 13th Apr, 2023
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