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Enriching the Early Medieval

Jaya Tyagi

By Kesavan Veluthat
Oxford Collected Essays, 2009, pp. xii 356, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXXIII NUMBER 8-9 August/September 2009

The title of the book is not the Early Medieval of South India—which would have implied that the author is studying one phase amongst the many phases in the history of South India. By underlying The Early Medieval in South India, Veluthat separates the two—Early Medieval and South India as if they are two different (and contentious!) concepts that have to be brought together, deliberately and consciously and with considerable effort into the realm of historical scholarship. Veluthat does just that—he makes a strong plea for the recognition of the Early Medieval as a separate and a distinct phase in the historical development of the southern regions, emphasizing that the phase is not distinguishable as much for political and dynastic changes as for ‘expansion of agriculture in a big way, social differentiation leading to creation of a hierarchy, transformations of tribes into peasants / castes, emergence of trade as an instituted process involving notions of pricing and profit in place of old exchange systems based on need and reciprocity and, above all, the authentic arrival of the institution of the state’. Veluthat, conscious of the various ways in which the early medieval has been perceived, ranging from pan-Indian studies on ‘feudalism’ and the search for kali age crises to regionally specific ‘integrative’ approaches, manages to deftly engage with these perceptions while maintaining a distance from the need to slot historical material and data into preconceived theoretical constructs.   Given that tripartite periodization (ancient/medieval/modern) has come in for increasing flak, (even when fine-tuning early, middle and late phases within these) and that, the use of a sweeping term like ‘South India’ can raise brows, it is fitting that Veluthat begins the Introduction with an apology while raising the question as to ‘whether there could be uniform digits of periodization in the case of such a ‘South India’. Apology notwithstanding, the Introduction is refreshing, short (with no footnotes) and explains why there is a need for ‘a new look at the early medieval’. Veluthat raises questions as to whether the early medieval is distinct from the preceding ‘early Historical formation in South India’, and tries to identify when it appeared and what were the processes involved in its transition. Identifying the temple and the Brahmana grants as major markers for the transition to early medieval, Veluthat shows how the control of surplus and the legitimation of the new polity ...

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