Empire and Legacy in South India
Court Politics in Vijayanagara and its successor states, 1330-1770.
L.P.J. (Lennart) Bes MA
Focusing on court politics in the South Indian Empire of Vijayanagara and three of its successor states (Tanjavur, Ikkeri, and Ramnad), the subject of my research is ‘empire and legacy’. The main questions are what the empire and its successors had in common with regard to four related aspects of court politics—dynastic succession, balance of power, royal legitimation, and systems of honour and protocol—and which factors determined the extent to which Vijayanagara’s legacy lived on in its successors.
Although the courts of Vijayanagara and its offshoots were politically and culturally closely related, all states differed from one another in fundamental ways, most notably their political origin and socio-ecological characteristics. Whereas some dynasties were formed as a result of usurpation (e.g. Tuluva- and Aravidu-ruled Vijayanagara), conquest (Maratha-ruled Tanjavur), or secession (Ramnad), others gained power by rising up the imperial military ranks and attaining increasingly autonomous governorships (Nayaka-ruled Tanjavur) or arose from local chiefs incorporated into the expanding empire (Ikkeri).
Likewise, while some kingdoms encompassed densely populated riverine areas, comprising rather stratified societies (Tanjavur), others were situated in arid (Ramnad) or upland (Ikkeri), sparsely inhabited zones, supporting more fluid social relations. At its height, Vijayanagara naturally held sway over all these regions. Furthermore, during this period India went through a transition of militarization, commercialization, and increasing Islamicate influence.
The question is then to which degree court politics were shaped by the legacy of political forebears, by dynastic, ecological, and societal conditions, and by regional, pan-Indian, and Eurasian developments. In order to study these spatial and temporal differences and commonalities, a three-fold comparative approach is proposed. First, this research makes a comparison between the courts of Vijayanagara and its heirs. Second, it compares the successors to each other. Third, it contrasts both the empire and the successor states with their immediate neighbours, northern India, and other Eurasian regions.
Sources used for this study include chronicles and inscriptions produced by all of the courts in question, as well as records created by the Portuguese and the Dutch during their presence in South India.
* ‘Toddlers, Widows, and Bastards Enthroned. Dynastic Successions in Early-Modern South India as Observed by the Dutch’, Leidschrift, 27/1 (2012).
* ‘The Setupatis, the Dutch, and Other Bandits in Eighteenth-Century Ramnad (South India)’, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 44/4 (2001).
* Dutch Sources on South Asia, c. 1600-1825, 3 vols (New Delhi: Manohar, 2001-2012), with Jos Gommans and Gijs Kruijtzer.