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Pan-Indian and Regional Perspectives

Suchandra Ghosh

By Bhairabi Prasad Sahu
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 340, Rs. 850.00


I begin with a quote from B.D.Chattopadhyaya, ‘The volume makes a point that the pan-Indian patterns of civilization and historical processes may be best understood from their intersections with how these patterns shape and get reshaped in the context of regions’. Indeed The Changing Gaze, Regions and the Constructions of Early India by Bhairabi Prasad Sahu succeeds very well in grounding regional trends in broad historical processes. This is a collection of twelve essays published between 1996 and 2011 and some others presented at seminars and conferences during 2007-11. Thus the work based on more than two decades of sustained research and now being put together, provides fresh insights into the historical processes that went into the making of regions. There is quite a neat division relating to the focus of the essays. While one half concentrates on the processes of historical transformations in early and early medieval India, the other half deals at length with the present state of Orissa and Chhattisgarh.   The book is divided with three thematic parts and sets the stage for further probing into the work. ‘Early Patterns of Social and Cultural Change’, ‘The Trajectory of Regional Polities’ and ‘The Shaping of Regional Rural Societies’. Each part has a natural flow and the reader is gradually taken on a journey from a pan Indian pattern to a specific case study. For e.g., after being introduced to the brahmanical conception of the origin of Jatis and then of the Kali age, the essay on Varna, Jati and the Shaping of Early Oriya Society follows. However as Sahu himself cautions, these essays were never an attempt at generalizations versus specificities, rather these try to portray a scenario where a symbiotic attitude could be perceived between the national and the regional or the general and the specific.   The book begins with a succinct introduction underlining why understanding the regions on their own terms is a necessary academic exercise. The issues and themes discussed in the essays are touched upon along with a broad survey of earlier researches. The centrist perspective in historical research is critiqued and thus the desire to shift the gaze from the centre to the periphery and herein come the choice of Orissa and Chhattisgarh. The author’s desire to understand the structure and pattern of Indian history in terms of the regions and trans-regional processes keeps him away from treading the path of ...

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