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Interpreting Epigraphy

Rajan Gurukkal

By Y. Subbarayalu
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 274, Rs. 675.00


This collection of seventeen scholarly essays published by Subbarayulu over the last three decades in various journals and books deals with the socio-economic and political formation in South India during the period of the Cholas. Organized under two sections—one pertaining to studies in epigraphy and the other to society, economy and the state under the Cholas—the book, by and large demonstrates the most scientific method of using epigraphic material and the craft of historical interpretation.   The five essays in the first section beginning with a methodological introduction to South Indian epigraphy go in their order, into a detailed analysis of the earliest three inscriptions of (about fifth century C.E) Peninsular India, a merchant guild inscription of 1088 C.E from Sumatra, two personal names associated with titles, and reinterpretation of certain terms illustrating the usefulness of concordances of names. Of the twelve essays, the first three are devoted to the study of the revenue system of the Chola state, the next, on property rights, three on corporate bodies of landlords and merchants, one on relations between landlords and cultivators, and the rest on the institutional and structural characteristics of the Chola state. The essays on the revenue system start with contemporary modes, means and measures of classification of land for fixing the tax, and go about delineating the classification of taxes and quantification of the major land tax. There is a detailed estimation of the volume of the primary land tax in an essay and a profound analysis of sale deeds and property rights in another, unveiling the character of contemporary economy.   The two essays that deal with the corporate bodies at the village and supra-village levels, remove some of the historiographical misconceptions about aluganam and mulaparudai found in the brahmin settlements and argue that like the urar of non-brahmin villages, they were just bodies of landlords basically. An essay is entirely devoted to the discussion of urar in the supra-local contexts, particularly in the context of relations with the higher government. He has shown quite lucidly how from the middle of the eleventh century, the periyanattar becomes a multi-ethnic body of landholders in keeping with the changes in the ethnic composition of the landholding community itself. It was more or less during the same period the supra-local social integration among non-agricultural communities also set in under the aegis of the merchant communities. There is a detailed study ...

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