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Celebrating Scholarship

Suchandra Ghosh

Edited by Kesavan Veluthat and Donald R. Davis, Jr.
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 315, Rs. 1195.00


The editors of Irreverent History begin the preface by stating that ‘the present work celebrates the life and scholarship of Professor Muttayil Govindamenon Sankara Narayanan’. Indeed one of the most celebrated historians of India is offered a bouquet of sixteen essays by scholars, many of them his students. This tribute to MGS as he is popularly known, actually celebrates introspective readings of the past which MGS always stood for. Those who are acquainted with his work know about his absolute commitment to historical method. His statements are always buttressed by solid evidence and his command over the different genre of sources is amazing. While reviewing MGS Narayanan’s masterpiece Perumals of Kerala: Brahmin Oligarchy and Ritual Monarchy—Political and Social Conditions of Kerala Under the Cera Perumals of Makotai (c. AD 800–AD 1124 ), Rajan Gurakkal commented that this book was a mine of new knowledge enabling other studies. His book could also be a model for writing regional history as most of the times while writing regional history authors’ own sentiment overpowers the rationality of writing from hard evidence. MGS’s book was ‘regional history at its best, written without any sentiments of regionalism, and placing Kerala within the larger context of south India’ as Kesavan Veluthat puts it. Why the book is called Irreverent History is clear from the opening essay which is written by Kesavan Veluthat, one of his senior students. The volume is justifiably divided into two sections, one exclusively on Kerala History and Culture and the other on Epigraphy, Connected history and Conceptual frameworks dealing with the Indian subcontinent in general. The preface by the editors provides a crucial overview of the admirable range the essays in this volume offer. As mentioned earlier the introductory essay by Veluthat first illuminates us on the use of the word ‘Irreverent’ for Narayanan and then places his contributions in the historiographical context of Kerala. Veluthat’s choice of the word ‘irreverent’ emanates from Narayanan’s own attitude to earlier writings on the history of Kerala which he dissected and finally rejected. He respected only his sources and nothing else.  The first section with six essays shows how Narayanan’s own opus enabled other studies. To begin with we have Cristophe Vielle whose essay ‘How did Parasurama Come to Raise Kerala?’ traces the historical processes by which the myth of Parasurama became intimately associated with the creation of Kerala from the ...

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