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A 'Melting Pot' of Fluidity and Dynamism

Ranjeeta Dutta

By Samira Sheikh
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2010, pp. xi+265, RS.750.00


For more than a decade, researches in pre-colonial south Asia have attempted to show that the historical processes during the early and medieval period defied the current day notions of a fixed regional boundary, codified religious identities and immutable social categories of caste and occupation. The present work is situated in such an academic context. Based on an exhaustive analysis of epigraphy, texts, oral tradition and ethnographic reports, the book explores the evolution of Gujarat from the end of the twelfth century, when the ruling Chalukya dynasty was declining to the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the regional Sultanate of Gujarat was well consolidated. That the distinct homogeneous Gujarati cultural and regional identity espoused today has little historical basis is the central idea in this work. The history of Gujarat, especially during the period chosen for this study, was characterized by ecological diversity, constant migrations of invaders, traders, pastoralists and peasants—all of which kept altering the demographic, political and cultural map.Such constant processes of change made this area a ‘melting pot’ in which a range of religious traditions, sectarian affiliations, economic activities and political negotiations interacted, thus imparting fluidity and dynamism. Seen in the context of changing configurations, the author questions the communalization and homogenization of the past that have influenced the historical consciousness today and have led to the construction of stereotypes which essentialize the religious communities, particularly the religious minorities. This book asserts the idea that there is a historical past that has to be analysed in its own terms and that the contemporary preoccupations with issues of regional and religious identities merely legitimize a particular kind of political agenda, of which Gujarat, the subject of current study, has been a victim. Three issues are discussed in the five chapters that form the core of the book. One is the issue of ecological diversity in this region that influenced the occupational and social structure, in which trade and merchants remained dominant. Two, a large number of religious configurations that made Gujarat a ‘religious marketplace’ in which constant interactions and competition over patronage led to multiple identities that could never be agglomerated under the modern umbrella categories of ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’ and ‘Jainas’. Third, there were complexities that characterized the political negotiations and contestations creating a fluid situation of power, hierarchy and control. Based on the patterns of settlement histories and topography, the first three chapters discuss ...

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