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Historiography of Local and Regional State Formation in Early Medieval India - II

Admin November 16, 2021

Because of a bias  in favour of Delhi-Agra grid, the political history of early medieval India has been for a long time dominated by the history of Northern India. It is high time that the  neglected regional histories found their right place in the historiography. — Prof. Nandini Sinha Kapur


The bias towards Delhi-Agra grid was corrected to some extent by those historians who focussed on formation of regional sultanates in Malwa and Gujarat. Although based on dynastic approach, we need to mention the works of U.N. Day on Malwa and Edward Clive Bayley and S.C. Misra on Gujarat.” Recently, the works of Burton Stein on Vijayanagara Empire and Richard M. Eaton on the spread of Islam in Bengal” have filled the gap by highlighting the importance of regional states in southern India and Bengal. However, these monographs continued to focus on the post-twelfth-century period.

But the historiography that highlights the continuity of the processes of regional state formation cutting across the conventional divide of the early medieval and medieval periods is yet to find its place. The fact that autonomous spaces with uneven changes from within witnessed processes of state formation beyond the early medieval period has been recognized. Transactions from the pre-state to the state-society have been documented through medieval to modern times.

We must take note of the formation of states in different regions of Orissa, central India, Bihar, Bengal, and Assam from the early medieval to the late medieval periods Orissa witnessed a stepwise continuous process of territorial integration of nuclear areas from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries.43 None of the rulers during the fifth-sixth centuries was able to extend his power into neighbouring nuclear areas, nor socio economic developments of these areas had yet reached a stage which could sustain political power. Bhaumakaras of Uttara Tosala were the first dynasty which integrated the whole coastal region of Orissa, northern parts of Uttara Tosala, Dakci Ga Tosala and Kongoda in the south into their state with its capital at Jajpur.” They were also acknow ledged by several rulers of smaller nuclear areas in the hinterland such as the Sulkis of Kodalaka Mandala and the Bhañjas of Khinjali Mandala.

Somavamsis of Dakºiòa Koœala conquered Khiñjali Mandala and coastal Orissa and integrated them for the first time with their state in western Orissa. When King Anantavarman Codaganga (one of the eastern Gangas of Kalinga) in c.1112 conquered central Orissa and extended his rule from modern Midnapur district in present West Bengal up to the northern banks of Godavari in Andhra Pradesh in the subsequent period, Orissa witnessed the emergence of the ‘great regional king dom’ under the Gangas and the Süryavamúîs (AD 1112-1568). James Heitzman’s studies on south India focussing on the processes of state formation under the Colas and the later Ganga state in Orissa are examples of chronological specificities.

Gonds formed large kingdoms in central India mostly covering parts of present Madhya Pradesh around the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.” Four kingdoms of the Gonds with their capitals at Garha Deogarh, Kherla and Chanda ruled for nearly four hundred years Nevertheless, there is evidence of a certain degree of development of bureaucratized centralized machinery cutting across the principle of sub-infeudation, in the kingdoms of Garha and Chanda. Process of ‘Rajputization’ associated with the ruling elite amongst the Gonds is clearly evident from the two aristocratic subdivisions, the Raj Gonds and Khatolas while DhurGonds came from the mass of the ordinary peasants. Raj Gond rulers of Gondwänä also formed kingdoms in medieval Chattisgarh. The largest of Chattisgarh states, Bastar had a Raj family which claims descent from Pandu king, Birabhadra of Indraprastha.

Similarly, Bhumijs in Barabhum” and Mundas in Chhotanagpur had formed kingdoms in the medieval times. Surajit Sinha rightly observes that, the actual process of the formation of the states, as far as could be ascertained, has taken varied courses in the different instances discussed above. Some, like the Munda Räjäs of Chhotanagpur, the Bhumij state of Barabhum and the Raj Gond kingdoms of Gondwana, appear to have emerged mainly through internal developments out of a tribal base. There are also cases of immigrant Rajput adventurers gaining powers in the tribal tract by manoeuvring the narrow-range, clan-bound tribal chieftaincies, and in a few cases, even by conquest (for example, Bastar, Surguja, Jashpur and so on).’Hence the regional states formed by the Nagavamsis in Chhotanagpur in which the Mundas played an important role,” by the Mallas in Bankura and Surbhum areas of Bengal with significant Bagdi connections, by the Tai-Ahoms in Assam from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries,” and by the Dimasas in the Cachar area of Assam from the thirteenth to the early nineteenth centuries are also worth noting in the historiography on state formation in early medieval and medieval India. The present work on Mewar highlights amongst others, the importance of the study of those processes of regional state formation which went beyond the twelfth century in the making of the regional state of Mewar.

The other major problem tackled in the present work concerns the origin of the Rajputs and their states. Rajputs, have variously been considered to have descended either from Kºatriya-Vedic origin or from Scythian (Central Asian) stock or from a varied caste origin such as brahmana, kºatriya, etc. This is a result of separate treatment meted out to the Rajput dynasties of western India. Similarly, Rajput states including that of the Guhila of Mewar have either been viewed as mere dynastic houses with endless military achievements,  or post-tribal feudal states or ‘that Rajasthan had been divided into a number of small kingdoms’.” The other popular perspective on the medieval Rajput state is that of Bhat-bant. However, some early traditional accounts of the history of Mewar and Rajasthan, such as the writings of Gauri Shankar Hirachand Ojha, Kaviraj Shyamaldas and Harbilas Sharda, are of immense value as they abound in local legends, contemporary accounts, topographical details and unpublished inscriptional records.

Although some of the recent monographs on the fifteenth-century Guhilas such as Ram Vallabh Somani’s Mahârânâ Kumbha (Jodhpur, 1968), Tara Mangal’s MahârâGâ Kumbhaaur UnkäKäl (Jodhpur, 1984), Neelam Kaushik’s Rajasthän ke Cündäwaton kâ Itihasa (Jaipur, 1988), etc,, are well-researched, their perspective remains dynastic and confined to a particular point in time. Even a recent anthropological study on the tribal population of Mewar in the historical period fall short of expectations, as historical sources from early medieval Mewar have been ignored. Finally, what has been neglected is that the important political developments characteristic of early medieval India and reflected in the exaggerated genealogies of the small kingdoms.

Author is a Ph D Programme Coordinator, SOITS, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Delhi

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