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Shereen Ratnagar

By Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya
Permanent Black, Delhi, 2003, pp. 283, Rs. 575.00


This is a collection of previously published research papers, unpublished conference papers, and endowment lectures written between the 1970s and the 2000s. In the first section after the introduction are four essays that relate to the interface between archaeology and text: seeking the literal truth of the epics; investigating the emergence of complex society and the state in the Deccan and in Punjab; and the nature of the early cities of Bengal. Then follow five essays, the first of which, inspired by the work of A.K.Ramanujan, quotes copiously from diverse literature to compose a general picture of the spatial dimension of cities and how city life was envisaged in the past. Three essays that follow are linked by the theme of the state and its autonomous interstices, the transformation of tribal societies, and the incorporation of the worship of the goddess in Brahmanical religion. The last essay in the second section shows that the idea of Indianness around AD 1000 involved the acceptance of religious, ethnic, and linguistic heterogeneity. In the third section are essays on economic history and historiography. Everywhere there is a consciousness of the misuse of the past in contemporary India. The whole is marked by a sober tone even in the course of debunking some of the vulgar ideas that are now gaining currency about the Indian past. More important, there is an enviable confidence in dealing with the Sanskrit/Prakrit sources, and reference to a range of translated literature in regional languages.   The volume could perhaps have benefitted from some aggressive editing that could have brought certain important arguments into sharper relief and hence made things simpler for the lay reader. For instance, the eighth essay on the historical background of the construction of medieval temples asks why there was a change from the classical art of Sanchi or Karli to the effusiveness of Dilwara or Khajuraho, but in spite of a deftly delineated picture of the historical background of the later period (tribal families carving out kingdoms, new groups in trade and bureaucracy, new cults and deities, multiple religious centres, etc.) that clearly shows we are not dealing with a degenerate society, leaves us in the dark as to the appropriate framework for explaining the ornate and erotic art of Khajuraho.   I think my point about the lay reader is important because there are many messages inscribed in the book. In the introductory ...

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