Rethinking Early Medieval India: A Reader.

Author:Ali, Daud
Position:Book review
 
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Rethinking Early Medieval India: A Reader Edited by UPINDER SINGH. Delhi: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2011. Pp. xiv + 354. Rs. 1240.

This book is a collection of essays conceived of as a "Reader" that the editor, Upinder Singh, feels constitutes a "rethinking" of what has come to be called "early medieval" India. It brings together thirteen essays, written over a period of approximately the last twenty years, on a variety of subjects and regions, all relating to the period, approximately, of 600 to 1350 or so C.E. As the editor points out in her introduction, this period was traditionally understood as one of political disarray, social stagnation, and cultural decline--an image that post Independence scholars of a Marxist persuasion partly accepted, but which since the 1980s has been steadily revised, as the field of "early medieval" studies has come into its own. The essays are divided into four sections. In the first, -Theoretical Models and Political Processes," we are presented with well-known essays by R. S. Sharma, Burton Stein, and Hermann KuIke, representing feudalist, segmentary, and processualist theories of state (de)formation, respectively. In the second section, entitled "Village, Town and Society," we face a more varied list of contributors--Kesavan Veluthat on land rights in Kerala, Noboru Karashima, Y. Subbarayalu, and P. Shanmugam on commerce and towns in Tamil South India, Cynthia Talbot on medieval Andhra, and Devika Rangachari on women in medieval Kashmir. In the third section, on "Religion and Culture: Within and Across Regions," the editor presents essays by Leslie On on women in medieval Tamil Nadu, Kunal Chakrabaiti on the Puranas and Bengal, and Kapila Vatsyayan on the dissemination of a bodily motif in Indian dance and sculpture. The final section, "Mapping Language, Ideas and Attitudes," includes essays by Sheldon Pollock on the Sanskrit "cosmopolis," the editor Upinder Singh herself on Karnandalca's Nitisli ra, and B. D. Chattopadhyaya on the representation of Muslim and Hindu kings in Sanskrit sources.

There is no space here for (nor would there be much point in) summarizing the diverse arguments of each of the essays contained in this volume. They are all worth reading, though they remain mixed between those that speak well to one another and stand-alone essays that introduce new topics or cover otherwise neglected areas. Some of the essays in the first two sections come from a Marxist perspective, while others...

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