Babur [right] and Humayun with Courtiers (Detail), Late Shahjahan Period, ca. 1650.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Interpreting epigraphic sources referring to long-term commerce and mercantile concerns of Chola State

The articles given deal with the discovery , interpretations and propositions made  over the inscriptions found in the vast geographic expanse ranging from south Asia , South-East Asia to as far as China. They refer to the long-term commercial endeavours of the south Indian mercantile people in the early medieval period. The first two articles are authored by N. Karashima and the last one is penned down by Y. Subbarayalu. Karashima’s first article throws light on the readings of the inscriptions found from south India , Sri Lanka and Myanmar whereas the second article lists total seven inscriptions found from South east Asia and  China . Among them one particular inscription of Sumatra in  Indonesia has been thoroughly dealt by Subbarayalu in the last discussible article .As a whole ,  I would like to look at the matter holistically  keeping in mind that the enormous  commercial expansion in India and abroad  received considerable fillip during the heyday of the Chalukyas and Cholas in Karnataka and Tamil nadu respectively. As Karashima considers that his predecessor in the work of the study of the oceanic commerce in the early medieval period , was Meera Abraham who had dealt with only 150 epigraphs mainly concentrating upon two major guilds which are  Manigramam And Ainurruvar .  Later under the leadership of Karashima , The Taisho university project undertook  a thorough research . Their study is  based on the evidence of total 314 inscriptions from south India and abroad .
From the study it is evident that Ainurruvar was undoubtedly the most significant and wide-ranging merchant guild of this period. The term ‘Ainurruvar’ means ‘the five hundred members’ and the very name proves the enormity of the body of both size and extent. It was primarily an organization of Brahmins known as Mahajans or chaturvedins at that time . Karashima postulates that it is still quite unclear that how this body was formed and formulated and there is a debate as well regarding the original place of its growth . However the findings suggest that it  may be originated in Aihole in Karnataka but it first took its grandiose outlook in Tamil nadu . Mysore , which is now in Karnataka became the pivot of their commercial activities when the  Cholas witnessed their  heyday .  Chola conquerors like Rajendra I or Rajadhiraja I occupied those regions including Mysore  .
In this case the study shows a strange factor in this context that the occurrence of the inscriptions in Tamil nadu seemed to decline in Tamil nadu in 11th and 12th century when the Cholas seemed to have been in the zenith of their  power . I would like to emphasize this point in my own way and what I make out is that it is not always possible to equate the flourish of the commercial sector with the heyday of the chief political power in the throne and we should study the non-agrarian sector without the spectacle of the mainstream politics especially when the mercantile class itself emerges as a separate , independent entity in the society and it had its own course of  origin , growth , expansion and decline . Later I would like to emphasize that the imperial government was not necessarily directly involved in the expansion of oceanic commerce of South Indian people .

Again we come to Karashima’s study where he at length  mentioned about the diversity of the contents of the  inscriptions , their common features and their inherent differences .
As far as the contents are concerned , we get varied epigraphic accounts like- some grants mention patronage to  temple-building or a tank-constructing work (s we find in pagan inscription of Myanmar where a reference was made towards a tank named “ nanadesi-vinnagar’ or in pudukottai inscription where the reference is made to “ainiurruvar –pereri’ ) Some inscriptions declare personal charity , lavish donation to a person or to group . Some declare the resolution or consensus among the merchant groups or  a artisans’ body .
 Actually typologically Karashima categorized all there inscriptions into two sorts . the very first sort consists of the records of earlier century  which mention the conferment of the title “eri-virapattinam’ on a certain town by the Ainurruvar guild itself . the term ‘eri-virapattinam’ itself has been a matter of great attention as there are many interpretations of it by several scholars preceding Karashima and his followers . It has been variedly interpreted as mercantile town , fortified mart , market town protected by warriors , emporium connecting nagaram(town) and pattinam (port) . Champakalakshmi ascribes it as ‘privileged town ‘ . But the interpretations of Karashima is somewhat different from them . He finds from Samuttirapatti inscription that the merchants of Ainurruvar conferred the title of eri-virapattinam ‘ to town where they dwelled along with their guardsmen known as ‘virakodiyar’ . These particular Virakodiyar group was warriors with arms and ammunition who protected the merchants from antagonism posed by rivals . They were employed and remunerated by the townsmen . As , in many cases they were referred to as “our son ‘ or the sons of Ainurruvar , its is clear that they gelled pretty well with merchants of the guild. Karashima seems that these warriors must have some connections with the chola army whose composition is still unclear  as He cites  the famous polonnaruva inscription of Ceylon where a Buddhist temple was to be protected by the virakodiyars and this temple was patronized by the merchants living there . The association with the army helped the warrior protectors to augment their power to control the safety and flow of commercial endeavours in south India and Ceylon .

Now , we come another sort of epigraphic sources according to Karashima and it consists of the epigraphs which record the grant to the temples by the income known as Pattana –pagudi in tamilnadu and Dharamyam in Karnataka of the ainurruvar guild itself . The income or pattana-pagudi was made of by commercial transactions . the greatest examples can be found at the inscriptions of Sarkar periyapalaiyam , Piranmalai , Kovilpatti and miraj .
At the end of this article I   conclude that as the 11th century inscriptions are more vocal about the warriors and the later inscriptions speak more of the Tamil merchant , it can be assumed that primarily the control of that state more extant with employment of the class of warrior-protectors called virakodiyar , but later the control of state declined and Tamil merchants became much more independent .

Karashima’s second article focuses on the Tamil inscriptions found from South east Asia and china . Actually , both in South East  Asia and China , Sanskrit inscriptions are found in greater number than the Tamil ones . As the Sanskrit inscriptions mainly dealt with the eulogy of the local political figures , henceforth the Tamil epigraphs have been considered as the core source of information regarding the commercial activities undertaken by the south Indian merchants living there permanently or not . Among such seven inscriptions , chronologically the oldest one datable to 3rd- 4th c. is found at south Thailand . The epigraph shows a presence of a flourishing bead and jewelry industry whose glory was augmented by a colony of Tamil merchants living their and the collaboration resulted great commercial success. The was discovered in 2nd Tamil inscription to reckon was discovered in  Takua pa and this site yielded some art objects resembling Pallava art tradition. From the transcription of that particular inscription we get to know that a tank named “sri avnainaranam ‘ which a title of pallava king narasimhavarman III  of 9th century was constructed under the patronage of merchants probably of  Manigramam. So this is definitely a good evidence to show the acknowledgement by the merchant class to the supervising political power . But whether this acknowledgement was ritualistic or state-ordained is not ascertained beyond doubt .     The 3rd epigraph of Barus in Sumatra in Indonsian Archipelago has been fairly dealt in detail in Subbarayalu in the third discussible article. The epigraph was found in Loboe toewa and it was issued in AD 1088 . A merchant body called “ the five hundred of the thousand directions met at Velapuram in baros and made a grant to two individual and to a group . The inscription refers to saka era and also to a colony of Tamil merchants in Baros who were as much privileged as to designate a old port town of Barus in  Tamilian manner. So , it can be interpreted as the extension of larger coimmerical activities of the Ayyavole-5oo guild within and beyond south India in 11th c.   (Subbarayalu concluded that this guild is found in several coastal towns including isakhapattinam under the heyday of the Cholas ). The two more epigraphs from Thailand are important to reckon . One stone inscription of a Buddhist temple records a grant made by a a rich merchant named Danma senapati to Brahmins . Another inscription sculpted with head of Ganesha conveys a donative deed by important personage named Dipankara for the merit of a local king . Though the donor seemed to be army commander in designation , but he could be rich merchant who praises merit of a local king by donation. In the 13th c.  The next inscription from Pagan in Myanmar is also related to a merchant guild of Nanadesi who patronized the installation of a front hall in a Vishnu temple there , (and also to the installation of a door and a lamp in the temple ). the last inscription of Guangzhou in china dated to 13th c. reveals the endeavour of a tamil merchant named Champanda Perumal by the permission of Chechchai khan installed an image of lord Shiva in a temple named Tirukkanichchuram . We find traces of Hindu Diaspora in Guangzhou in that time and that was made by the commercial colonization of Tamil merchants there.

 Now in the final review it can be suggested that all these Tamil inscriptions found from South east  Asia and china are however quite silent about factor of the political authoritative control over the mercantile class or the vice-versa. Undoubtedly three major guilds grabbed all the attention –viz.Ainurruvar , Manigramam and nanadesi. We hardly get utterances regarding commitments of these overseas merchants or entrepreneurs to the core political authority of their original homeland  which is south India itself . However with scanty and occasional references to the existing ruling head , the merchants were more vocal about their own deeds, endeavors , arena of their network , their charitable mind and so on. I am quite sure that the nitty –gritty of  the south Indian commerce was not directly dictated by the central ofiice . The central office definitely had their motive of gaining control of the prospectful regions in the maritime space and it is extant from their overseas expeditions where they were eager to control the trade-routes leading to China . The merchants in their turn were great in making their own glorious career !  These nonresident south Indian mercantile people nicely managed themselves to settle themselves in alien lands and they  sustained their livelihood of  trade and commerce pretty well . They were able in such a vigour that they were intent to undertake charitable and constructive work in the foreign land as the signs of colonizing alien land in order to expand their domain of activities .Hence they were able to form diasporas in abroad . They took pride upon these endeavors in their proud utterances in the apparently humble declaration of charitable works which are extant in all these inscriptions. 

- Aritri Chakrabarti

Monday, April 18, 2011

New ideas regarding the Medieval History Club

Dear all,

We sure have got to a flying start and the response that the club has received so far has been extremely heartening. I was wondering how we can make the activities of the club more dynamic and interesting and, may be, also a bit more open to people who are not strictly interested in medieval studies, without hampering our own focus on the period.

These are a few points that came up while discussing the issue with some of my friends.

  • Visual sources:
So far we have only focused on literary sources. But we should keep in mind that sources can be visual as well. As such we need to toy with them as well.

1. We could screen ‘medieval films’ (films dealing with plots set in the medieval times, like Elizabeth, Mughal-e Azam, Rashomon etc.) regularly. There is no need to study beforehand for this. We all can just meet, watch a film and then discuss it. It will be spontaneous – how and why we liked the film, how the film creates its own ‘medieval world’, what are the visuals it uses that convinces us, the audience, that we are seeing a ‘medieval’ film etc.

2. We can study paintings. Paintings, as you know, are a major source for writing histories of the medieval times. A painting throws light on the social context of the times, ideologies expressed through it, how paintings, very much like texts, can be used to fabricate events and present them in the particular way that the patron prefers.

3. We can visit archaeological remnants, or when we cannot manage that, we can see architecture through photographs. Photographs of palaces, temples, mosques, mausoleums, forts etc. can help us understand different styles of architecture, various symbolisms in play, how architecture is used to project visions of power and ideology of the patron, among other things.

  • Literary sources:
We will, of course, continue our exercise of reading primary literary sources, as we have been doing in the past two sessions. Here again, we can invite scholars and young researchers who would not only discuss the area under discussion, but also show us how primary texts are read. This exercise we have been able to doin the last two sessions. We can read various types of documents -- political chronicles like AkbarnamaBaburnama, travelogues like the ones we have already read,religiousi texts like Meera Bai’s bhajans or Nizamuddin Auliya’s Fawaid ul-Fuad, among others. It would also be great if specialists would read and discuss in the club sessions selected portions of the texts like these. We could read with them.

There are some basic ways to deal with sources. These are some universal methods that every historian across ancient/medieval/modern has to learn. Hence workshops of reading visual and literary sources in the above way need not be confined to those specifically interested in the medieval. Thereby we can address a general audience, without losing focus of our medievalist concerns.

  • Finally, the format has to be closely-seated discussion-centric, as in the first three sessions, and not the classroom format, which circumstances pushed us into in the last session.

Please let us know what you think of the above proposals. If you have any suggestions/criticisms, please share them with us.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chola Expansion in the broader context of trading activities.

I was mainly reading two articles by Hermann Kulke and Tansen Sen and this is a brief understanding of their views, based on their perception as understood from the two articles.

One must broaden the horizon and include the greater geography of south and eastern asia and even the west to understand the Chola maritime expeditions, instead of focusing solely on the south asian peninsula. We need to keep three points in mind while trying to understand the contemporary relations: a potent trading system under Song China, a strategic location of Sri Vijaya and a commercially expanding Chola empire. Tansen Sen views the conflict between Sri Vijaya and Chola as intense competition to access the viable markets in Song China.

One thing must be kept in mind as Hermann Kulke pointed out that Rajendra’s expedition was a unique case in point because otherwise the relation between the peninsula and south east asia was peaceful. Several causes have been put forward ranging from digvijaya to looting and plundering to removing sri vijaya as a hurdle towards commercial expansion, or may be all of them worked at some levels.
The possibilities of a trade war cannot be ridiculed because of sri vijayan diplomatic attempts to stall chola trade with the song market. This is evident in a chinese document from sri vijaya that gives the false data that the cholas were under Sri Vijayan suzereinty.

Hermann Kulke identifies the three major dynasties rising in the 10th century and of major concerns in this context as the Fatimid in Egypt, Cholas, and Song in China. Trade with the gulf and malabar is recorded in documents of Jewish traders of Cairo and Aden. The kingdom of Angkor too extended frontiers dominating part of Laos and Thailand and northern part of Malay Peninsula. The attack of Chola on Sri Vijaya has to be thus seen on the broader context of rise of new powers, shifting trade routes on which all these powers wanted to capitalise upon, and a struggle for market share.
The redifinition of trade routes and growing importance of new states that affected the dynamics of trading networks in south and east asia is evident from various facts: A chinese account suggests the growing military and piracy skills of the Sri Vijaya. Regarding india and china, hermann Kulke suggests that though the former was still the holy land, the latter was arguably the middle kingdom to be reckoned with and most kingdoms tried to win it’s favour by sending tributary missions. Its importance in chinese trade is evident from the meticulous recording of the chinese on tributaries and gifts. The reunification of china under the song dynasty further added to its importance.

Diplomatic relations of Sri Vijaya with the Chola state is evident too, like in the Leiden grant of 1005 where Rajendra granted the revenue of a village to maintain the Buddhist shrine constructed by the Sailendra king at Negapattinam. Initially during the trade rivalry both the states tried to maintain friendly relations. That the conflicts need to be seen from a larger picture is evident from the fact that Sri Vijaya had conflict with Angkor too, though sources are scarce on this.

Kulke has tried to bring in the role of guilds in trying to influence chola court to eliminate trading rivalry in Sri Vijaya. However the chola kings always tried to maintain a diplomatic relation with the south east and east asian powers. Kulottunga tried to do so, and consecrated them also with rituo- political missions.

The decline of cholas didn’t necessarily mean a decline of eastern trade. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries show heightened functioning of Ayavvole and Manigramam merchants in south india and ceylon. In the 13th century there’s evidence of large presence of south indian merchants in china. Muslim rule brought the subcontinent into the fold of international muslim trade in the indian ocean.

-Sohini Chattopadhyay (Dept. of History, Second Year, Presidency University, Kolkata)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A New Taxonomy for the Chola State: Contemplating a Shift from the Agrarian to the Non-Agrarian

As the concept note of the session suggests, the period in question i.e. 600-1300 c.e., witnessed significant political shifts and is marked by the absence of a “centralized” empire congruent to the size and nature of that of the Mauryas.

Hermann Kulke in his introduction to “The State in India 1000-1700”- says that the study of the state in India have been one of the most controversial issues of contemporary Indian historiography. The various opposing and agreeing concepts that have emerged to define the Indian state could be divided into some major groups- 1.Oriental despotism related to the Marxian notion of Asiatic mode of production later used by Karl Wittfogel in his theory of hydraulic bureaucracy where put schematically the state represented by the despot laid supreme and central claim on the agrarian resources; 2. Indian nationalist historiographical model of a unitary, centrally organized empire; 3. The Indian feudalism model of a decentralized and fragmented feudal state that presupposes the existence of an earlier strong state, weakened by the feudalization; 4. The segmentary state model which provides for the condition of transition to a strong state from a multicentred structure.
The central concern of all the mentioned concepts -is the degree of central authority of the state, but the central concern for any conceptual formulation regarding the nature of a polity could not be limited by the concern with aspects of stability in its power structure, the aspects of resource mobilization demanded equal attention, which as B.D. Chattopadhyay says, “logically, cannot be separated from the process of the redistribution of resources to integrative elements within the state structure.”[i]

The apparently disparate approaches- from the Asiatic mode of production to the Indian nationalist model that stressed on the overarching centrality of the state power on the one hand and the feudal and the segmentary state approaches that laid stress on the decentralized nature of the state on the other hand, had a commonality in their emphasis on the aspects of resource mobilization in terms of the agrarian revenue. The nature and scale of appropriation of agrarian revenue and the degree of control on the chief means of production, i.e. the land, the peasantry and the irrigation water made the basis for the classification into centralized and decentralized state structures.

It has been considered that the historiography of the state in “early medieval” South India received a new turn with Burton Stein’s propagation of the model of ‘Segmentary state’- inspired by the 1956 anthropological study of Allur society in Africa by A.W. Southall. B. Subbarao in 1958 distinguished certain segments in the structure of the polity- 1) areas of attraction, 2) areas of relative isolation and 3) tribal areas or areas of isolation. Stein in 1969 elaborated the concept of nuclear areas of corporate institutions, the core components being the Brahmadeya or the Brahman controlled villages and the Perinayadu or Satsudra settlements, situated mainly in the fertile areas of drainage basins of the major rivers and coastal districts of Corromondal coast- having rich agrarian economy. They had highly autonomous and self governing institutions and maintained ‘some relations’ with the Chola rulers in the forms of providing tributes and participating in the plundering expeditions. Stein says that despite considerable revenue earning came from the agrarian sector in the areas around Tanjore, the major royal income came from the looting expedition.[ii] Therefore for him yet again-somehow correlated to the degree of control on the land revenue resources, the Chola state was invariably a multicentred state.

Critics of Stein like Subbarayalu or James Heitzmann have stressed on the fallacies of treating the entire Chola rule as a single historical unit and for applying the segmentary concept for the whole period. Subbarayalu suggests the segmentary idea can be applied only for the phase up to 985 c.e. James Heitzmann in his 1987 article “State formation in South India 850-1280”[iii] elaborated on the line of Subbarayalu and his scale for classifying the nature of the polity were, “the relationship of state institutions with local and intermediate areas of power and their ultimate relationship with forms of production and control of resources in an agrarian world.”[iv] The core political geographical areas of Heitzman’s work were:
a) Kumbakonam taluk- near the capital always under direct control of the Chola kings. The economy was based on rice production with elaborate artificial irrigation system dependent on the Kaveri and its effluents.

b) Tiruchirapalli taluk on southern banks of kaveri with elaborate riverine irrigation and rich rice producing economy.

c) Tirrruturaippundi taluk situated near ocean facing to the south east. He calls this a ‘political backwater’ integrated within Chola Empire but having no impact on political affairs.

d) Tirukkoyilur taluk-a poorly waterd land area with tank irrigation and having a mixed economy of some agricultural production and animal husbandry.

e) Pudukottai- a dry cultivation area with some man made lake irrigation.

Heitzmann classifies the first two areas as central political areas, the third as intermediate and the last two as peripheral. Suggesting in his methodology of analyzing the ‘progressive move from segmentary to a more centralized state’- the control on agrarian resources was the deciding factor.

In such schema of analysis that operates on a given ontological position of the central importance of the agrarian resources in classifying a state, mercantilism sustains only as a marginalized concept and naval expeditions as in George Spencer’s 1976 article churns no explanation other than that of an arbitrary act of plunder, which if we recall-according to Stein was perhaps the main source of royal income.

However for being the chief source of income the plundering acts do not remain arbitrary anymore, they acquire an urge of systemization. The earlier explanation therefore needs to be reviewed.

An alternative approach was suggested by B.D. Chattopadhyay in the presidential address of the 1983 session of the Indian History Congress. He proposed that the segmentary state approach tends to relegate different foci of power to the periphery and does not really see them as components of the state structure. This allows us only to see the politics of plunder and not the state which acts for the integration and control of the growing networks of trade and exchange that could diversify and expand its resource bases enormously and also redefine the given role of the peripheral regions like that of Tirruturaippundi.
The alternative epistemological approach thus proposed and the emerging works identifying the importance of the contribution of the non-agrarian sector of the economy to the making of the state, like Champakalashmi, B.D. Chattopadhyay VK Jain have led to the turn of conceptualizing the importance of maritime commerce in the making of state and society in South India (Karashima, Subbarayalu, Kulke, Prof. Ranabir Chakrabarty).
This has prompted redefinitions for the acts of maritime violence from arbitrary plunders to an act of manipulating control on the oceanic trade, where as Neil Streensgard says the use of violence would be subordinated to the rational pursuit of profit. James Tracy[v] in this mode of analysis suggests-the great invasion of Srivijaya by the Cholas in 1025 was not directed by impulses of unrestrained violence and arbitrary loot but coordinated by concerns of trading monopoly with the Chinese empire which preferred dealing with a single power in a given region and the act of the Cholas have been explained by Tracy as that of a newcomer to the trading activities in the region, reacting to hostilities by show of force just as the European interlopers would do many centuries later.

The rethinking of the given alternatives of resource mobilization therefore not only redefines the acts of a state from plunder to controlled mercantilist concerns but also questions the allotted taxonomies for the nature of the state by rethinking the relation of the Chola centre with its various components that had been considered as peripheral.

[i] Political processes and the structure of polity- B.D. Chattopadhyay (from The State in India 1000-1700 (ed.) Hermann Kulke; Oxford University Press; New Delhi 1995.) p. 225.
[ii] Kulke; p.20.
[iii] Kulke; pp. 162-194.
[iv] Kulke; p.163.
[v] The political economy of Merchant empires: State power and world trade 1350-1750- (ed.) James D. Tracy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Timing and venue of the Fourth Session changed

Due to some technical difficulties, the upcoming Fourth Session of the Medieval History Club has been postponed by two days to Wednesday, 13 April. The session will happen in the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture, University of Calcutta, 1, Reformatory Street, Alipur, Calcutta - 700027 between 2 pm - 5 pm. For details, please see the link below.