AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 316

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Session 316: Creating an Interface: The Challenges of Interpreting Varieties of Material & Textual Evidence from South Asia, Part B: Texts, Monuments, and Material Culture

Organizer and Chair: Alka Patel, University of California, Irvine, USA

This two-part panel seeks to highlight emerging methodologies that rely on various corpora of evidence in the writing of South Asia’s precolonial history. Recent interest in the precolonial past of South Asia has brought together scholars from very different disciplines, including religious studies, archaeology, literature, art history and history. Some of the most innovative work has come from scholars working with materials outside of the traditionally defined boundaries of their own disciplines, or from scholars correlating and combining different types of evidence (material, sculptural, monumental, epigraphic, numismatic, narrative, mystical, poetical, annalistic) and methods of interpretation. Such studies have clearly demonstrated the benefits of “border crossing” and underscored the potential for a more nuanced appreciation of how seemingly unrelated bodies of evidence function together within a cultural formation. There has, however, been little explicit discussion and reflection to date on the technical and procedural aspects of interdisciplinary methodology, or on the wider implications and possibilities that interdisciplinary work engenders. Building on Part A, the papers of part B will emphasize the potential for insight into a given historical period through a combination of textual, epigraphic, monumental and object-based evidence. Relying on the data and reflecting on methods of interpretation, the presenters will demonstrate the benefits and challenges of working in the various media of evidence available to investigators of the past, specifically crossing the borders of object (building, portable object) and text (historical chronicles, treatises and inscriptions).

Material evidence for Indian court culture in the sixth to eighth century: the Chalukyas of Badami
Julie Romain, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA

This paper considers the material evidence left by the Chalukyas of Badami (circa 550 – 750 CE) as a case study of the relationship between courtly culture and temple production in early medieval India. The Chalukyas were one of the most powerful dynasties to rule over central India from the sixth to eighth centuries. Equally impressive are the number of extant temple sites and epigraphic evidence associated with the Chalukyas, providing a wealth of sources for the study of early medieval Indian court culture. Art historians associate the seventh and eighth centuries with the rise of free-standing stone temple architecture, and the evolution of the major northern nagara and southern dravida temple categories. However, the eclecticism of Chalukya temples indicates that there was a degree of fluidity between these categories and experimentation in architectural forms. This has been attributed to the fortuitous position of Chalukya sites overlapping an imaginary border between northern and southern Indian temple classifications. A famous inscription of the Chalukya King Vikramaditya II (r. 733-745) relates his admiration for the workmanship of the Kailasanatha temple at the rivaling south Indian Pallava capital of Kancipuram. His admiration was so great that he not only spared the temple from destruction but recruited Pallava architects to work on his own temple at Pattadakal. Using this as a point of departure, this paper will discuss the role of temple architecture in Indian court culture through analysis of extant monuments as well as descriptions of temples in court poetry, plays, and eulogistic inscriptions.

Finding the Keshava Deva Temple Through Text and Memory
Edward Rothfarb, Independent Scholar, USA

The Keshava Deva temple in Mathura, India, lauded by the French traveler Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who saw it in 1650, as “…one of the most sumptuous edifices in all India,” was destroyed at the behest of the Mughal emperor Alamgir (Aurangzeb) in 1669. Dedicated to the Hindu deity Krishna, this lofty structure was erected by Raja Bir Singh Dev Bundela (r. 1605-1627), the king of Orchha and arguably one of the most significant Rajput patrons of architecture in his day. My research focuses on the Orchha king’s architectural patronage. Within that corpus of building the ghost of the destroyed Keshava Deva temple, perhaps Bir Singh Dev’s most lavish architectural effort, remains provocative and frustrating. What did it look like? What could it have revealed to us had it survived? While one attempts to connect that which is lost with comparable extant examples, epigraphy and literature also provide informative glimpses of this destroyed structure. Yet unlike physical remains, written sources are highly mediated. Their voices, official and unofficial, indigenous and foreign, hostile and glorifying, reveal divergent views of the temple and of its patron. In this paper I offer some of those voices, the contexts that informed their writing, and the composite picture that emerges of the lost Keshava Deva temple.

"Use perfumes and share them with one another”: olfactory history as socio-political history.
Emma J. Flatt, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA

Through a case study of South Asian olfactory history, this paper will reflect on the possibility of writing different histories through the use of sources generally not considered within the province of a historian. Bringing together a variety of textual and visual evidence from perfume manuals, a materia medica, an astrological encyclopaedia, magical incantations, letters, epigraphy, miniature paintings and poetry this paper will examine the uses of perfumes and olfactory substances in the courts of Indo-Persian sultanates of the Deccan. Such an approach constitutes a first step towards understanding the social and historical construction of a sense of smell in 15-17th century South Asia. Focusing particularly on the use of perfume as a material stimulant to situations of sociability, I will discuss some of the ways in which perfumes and olfactory substances mediated social relations in the courtly societies of the Deccan. These include ritual gifting of perfumes between superiors/inferiors and among friends; preparing and choosing appropriate perfumes for particular situations; the perfuming of particular environments; manipulating emotions, health and cosmology through the use of olfactory substances. The majlis, the palace, the bedroom, the coffin and the body all became sites of olfactory control where the choice of perfume or smell signified the acceptance, negotiation or contravention of social and ethical norms to the carefully calibrated noses of the courtly society.

On the Road with Muhammad b. Tughluq in the Deccan, 1321-26: Integrating Inscriptions, Chronicles, and Architecture
Richard M. Eaton, University of Arizona, USA

This paper will retrace Muhammad b. Tughluq's footsteps on his Deccan campaign of 1321-24, plus the first two years of his reign as sultan. The goal is to combine inscriptional evidence with architectural and literary evidence in interpreting his relations with a half a dozen temples in the Deccan, both as prince and as sultan.