Literary Marathi emerged from the shadow of Sanskrit at the beginning of what Sheldon Pollock has termed the ‘vernacular millennium’. It suffered a set-back with the destruction of the Yadava dynasty of Devagiri but re-emerged vigorously as a literary and administrative language two centuries later. By then, Marathi-using soldiers and administrators were spreading across peninsular India and retaining their language even as they ruled and fought in areas far removed from their linguistic home. But the high diplomatic and official language of Mughal India was Persian, even as the rise of Marathi-speaking gentry culminated in the establishment of the Bhosle kingdom as far south as the Kaveri delta. Maratha power also spread into North India. Southern Brahmans were closely associated with this. This lecture will examine how the rival pulls of the ancient sacred language and the new language of West Asian courtly governance competed in this milieu.
In an important book published in 2001, Nicholas Dirks wrote that when “thinking of India, it is hard not to think of caste.” It was a “central symbol for India, indexing it as fundamentally different from other places as well as expressing its essence.” This lecture will examine the long process by which the Spanish-Portuguese “casta” was transmuted into the modern Indian “caste” and came to be viewed as embedded in the structure of Hinduism.
The last six centuries of the past millennium saw the emergence of major empires that dominated every part of the world. Inevitably, then these imperial formations governed diverse and polyglot peoples. They also developed complex systems of governance that deployed unprecedented numbers of scribes and accountants, often drawn from groups culturally distinct from the military elites. Literati serving Western empires have been much studied of late; but the phenomenon did not originate with them. This paper examines one such prominent group – the Brahmans of peninsular India – through five centuries. It explores little-known aspects of their professional training. It then analyzes how they rose to a dominance that persisted even into the colonial era and deeply impacted the contemporary politics of India to the present day.
Asian empires from the time of Machiavelli through Bernier to Marx have been represented as despotically crushing local society under the weight of their absolutist rule. This image was then adopted in India by the "Aligarh school" of history that has then constructed a view of the Mughal state and economy that sees it as centered on imperial power. I will re-read some of their sources and then challenge their model by using Marathi sources that significantly undermine their arguments.