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Inscribing the Other, Inscribing the Self: Hindu-Muslim Identities in Pre-Colonial India

  • Cynthia Talbot (a1)

The nature of medieval Hindu-Muslim relations is an issue of great relevance in contemporary India. Prior to the 200 years of colonial subjection to the British that ended in 1947, large portions of the Indian subcontinent were under Muslim political control. An upsurge of Hindu nationalism over the past decade has led to demands that the state rectify past wrongs on behalf of India's majority religion.' In the nationalist view, Hindu beliefs were continually suppressed and its institutions repeatedly violated during the many centuries of Muslim rule from 1200 C.E. onward. The focal point of nationalist sentiment is the most visible symbol of Hinduism, its temples. As many as 60,000 Hindu temples are said to have been torn down by Muslim rulers, and mosques built on 3,000 of those temples' foundations. The most famous of these alleged former temple sites is at Ayodhya in North India, long considered the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama. The movement to liberate this sacred spot, supposedly defiled in the sixteenth century when the Babri Masjid mosque was erected on the ruins of a Rama temple, was one of the hottest political issues of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Tensions reached a peak in December 1992, when Hindu militants succeeded in demolishing the mosque.

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Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 1993 Western Conference of the Association for Asian Studies meeting in Mexico City and the 1994 national meeting of the Association for Asian Studies in Boston. I am deeply indebted to Richard M. Eaton and Phillip B. Wagoner, my fellow panelists on both occasions, whose ideas have so heavily influenced my own. Their editorial assistance is also gratefully acknowledged, as is the help of Susan M. Deeds.

1 On Hindu nationalism, see Gold Daniel, “Organized Hinduisms: From Vedic Truth to Hindu Nation,” in Fundamentalisms Observed, Marty Martin E. and Appleby R. Scott, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 531–93;Veer Peter van der, Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

2 Entry for the date 1688 in Hindu Timeline,” Hinduism Today, 12 1994.

3 For discussion of the Ayodhya situation, see Engineer Asghar Ali, ed., Politics of Confrontation: The Babri-Masjid Ramjanmabhoomi Controversy Runs Riot (Delhi: Ajanta Publications,1992);Thakur Ramesh, “Ayodhya and the Politics of India's Secularism,” Asian Survey, 33:7 (07 1993), 645–64.

4 For an older example of Hindu nationalist historiography, see Majumdar R. C., “Hindu-Muslim Relations,” in The Struggle for Empire, vol. 5 of The History and Culture of the Indian People (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1957), 498.

5 Thapar Romila, Mukhia Harbars, and Chandra Bipan, Communalism and the Writing of Indian History (Delhi: People's Publishing, 1969);Mukhia Harbans, “Communalism and the Writing of Medieval Indian History: A Reappraisal,” in Perspectives on Medieval History (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing, 1993), 3345.

6 Freitag Sandtia, Collective Action and Community: Public Arenas and the Emergence of Communalism in North India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).

7 Pandey Gyanendra, The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990).

8 Gayly C. A., “The Pre-History of ‘Communalism’? Religious Conflict in India, 1700–1860,” Modern Asian Studies, 19:2 (1985), 202.

9 Pandey, Construction of Communalism, 199.

10 Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 1991).

11 Smith Anthony D., Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986).

12 Veer Van der, Religious Nationalism, 1224;Rogers John D., “Post-Orientalism and the Interpretation of Premodern and Modern Political Identities: The Case of Sri Lanka,” Journal of Asian Studies, 53:1(1994), 1023;Lorenzen David N., “Introduction: The Historical Vicissitudes of Bhakti Religion,” in Bhakti Religion in North India: Community Identity and Political Action, Lorenzen D., ed. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 213.

13 Pollock Sheldon, “Ramayana and Political Imagination in India,” Journal of Asian Studies, 52:1 (1993), 264.

14 The inscriptions examined for this study, which all contain some reference to Muslims, were culled from a larger corpus of about 1,600 records issued in Andhra in this time period. The existence of another 400 inscriptions from the same era and place has been reported by the epigraphical branch of the Archaeological Survey of India, but the majority of these records are either heavily damaged or no longer available for consultation.

15 Pollock, “Ramayana and Political Imagination,” 282.

16 Venkataramanayya N. and Samma M. Somasekhara, ed., “Vilasa Grant of Prolaya Nayaka,” El, 32:239–68. Parts of the inscription are translated in Sarma M. Somasekhara, A Forgotten Chapter of Andhra History (Madras: Ananda Press, 1945), 20, 3536, 4445.

17 The last two Sultanate expeditions into Kakatiya territory (in 1321 and 1323 C.E.) were led by the man then known by the title Ulugh Khan, who became Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq in 1325. The Khiljis had conducted several earlier campaigns against the Kakatiyas, beginning in 1303 C.E. Although this inscription indicates that there were eight Sultanate campaigns during the reign of Kakatiya Prataparudra, Muslim sources describe only five (Venkataramanayya N., The Early Muslim Expansion in South India [Madras: University of Madras, 1942], 2324, 3143, 8385, 99108, 115–19).

18 Author's translation from Sanskrit; Venkataramanayya and Sarnia Somasekhara, “Vilasa Grant,” verse 21.

19 Author's translation from Sanskrit, “Vilasa Grant,” verse 28.

20 Parasher Aloka, Mlecchas in Early India; a Study in Attitudes towards Foreigners (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1991), 121–4 and 240–3;Thapar Romila, “The Image of the Barbarian in Early India,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 13:4 (1971), 420–1.

21 Parasher, Mlecchas in Early India, 45 and 213.

22 Thapar Romila, “Imagined Religious Communities? Ancient History and the Modern Search for a Hindu Identity,” Modern Asian Studies, 23:2 (1989), 224.

23 North Indian uses of these terms are frequent as well, see Avasty Ram Shankar and Ghosh Amalananda, “References to Muhammadans in Sanskrit Inscriptions in Northern India—A.D. 730 to 1320,” Journal of Indian History, 16 (1936), 2426 and 17 (1937), 161–84;Prasad Pushpa, Sanskrit Inscriptions of the Delhi Sultanate (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990).

24 Smith, Ethnic Origins of Nations, 49.

25 Armstrong John A., Nations before Nationalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 37. For more on boundaries between groups, see Klein Kerwin L., “Frontier Tales: The Narrative Construction of Cultural Borders in Twentieth-Century California,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 34:3 (07 1992), 464–90.

26 Nationalism, Mauritian Style: Cultural Unity and Ethnic Diversity,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 36:3 (07 1994), 566–7.

27 Mahmood Cynthia Kepley, “Rethinking Indian Communalism: Culture and Counter-Culture,” Asian Survey, 33:7 (1993), 722–37;Doniger Wendy, “Hinduism by Any Other Name,” Wilson Quarterly, 15:3 (1991), 3541.

28 SH, 16.4;NDI copper-plate 10 and Kanigiri 23;El 13.1;Ramesan N., “The Kraku Grant of Harihara II,” in Epigraphia Andhrica, vol. 2, Venkataramanayya N. and Sastry P. V. Parabrahma, ed. (Hyderabad: Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1974), 7387.

29 Ernst Carl W., Eternal Garden: Mysticism, History and Politics at a South Asian Sufi Center (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), 2223.

30 Wink Andre, Early Medieval India and the Expansion of Islam, vol. 1, pp. 190 and 5, of Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990).

31 Ernst, Eternal Garden, 2425.

32 Vos George de, “Ethnic Pluralism: Conflict and Accommodation,” in Ethnic Identity: Cultural Continuities and Change, Vos George de and Romanucci-Ross Lola, ed. (Palo Alto: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1975), 918;Keyes Charles F., “The Dialectics of Ethnic Change,” in Ethnic Change (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981), 710.

33 Thapar, “Imagined Religious Communities?,” 7778Pollock, “Ramayana and Political Imagination,” 286.

34 In this early period, the majority of Muslims in India most probably were either foreign immigrants or their descendants. They were thus marked with many distinctive non-Indian features in areas such as dress and food, in addition to their separate languages and religious beliefs. As the number of converts to Islam increased, the initial sense of ethnic separateness must have faded, explaining why ethnic referents were largely discarded in favor of the religious label Musalman in the Andhra of later centuries. Very little research has been conducted on conversion to Islam in medieval South India, unfortunately, so it is not possible to pinpoint when the trend emerged.

35 Chappell David A., “Ethnogenesis and Frontiers,” Journal of World History, 4:2 (1993), 267–75;Kopytoff Igor, “The Internal African Frontier: The Making of African Political Culture,” in The African Frontier: The Reproduction of Traditional African Societies, Kopytoff Igor, ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987).

36 Miller David Harry, “Ethnogenesis and Religious Revitalization beyond the Roman Frontier: The Case of Frankish Origins,” Journal of World History, 4:2 (1993), 277–85.

37 Talbot Cynthia, “Political Intermediaries in Kakatiya Andhra, 1175–1325,” Indian Economic and Social History Review, 31:3 (1994), 261–89.

38 Ramayya J., ed., “Madras Museum Plates of Verna,” El, 8:9–24.

39 People of less elevated status typically made religious gifts to temples rather than to Brahmins in this period, and had their benefactions recorded in stone at the endowed temple. The most widespread gift was that of milk-bearing animals to provide oil for temple lamps.

4 O Author's translation from Sanskrit; Venkataramanayya and Sarma Somasekhara, “Vilasa Grant,” verse 37.

41 Author's translation from Sanskrut in Ramayya; “Madras Museum Plates,” verse 12.

42 Smith, Ethnic Origins of Nations, 5867Armstrong, Nations Before Nationalism, 201–40.

43 For example, Gerhard Dietrich, “The Frontier in Comparative View,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 1:3 (1959), 205–29;Bartlett Robert and MacKay Angus, ed., Medieval Frontier Societies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989);Lamar Howard and Thompson Leonard, ed., The Frontier in History: North American and Southern Africa Compared (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981);McNeill William H., “The Great Frontier: Freedom and Hierarchy in Modern Times,” in The Global Condition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 563.

44 The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). An additional exception is Richards John F., “The Islamic Frontier in the East: Expansion into South Asia,” South Asia n.s., 4 (10 1974), 90109.

45 Thompson Leonard and Lamar Howard, “Comparative Frontier History,” in The Frontier in History: North American and Southern Africa Compared, Lamar H. and Thompson L., ed., 7 and 10.

46 Richards John F., Mughal Administration in Golconda (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 78.

47 Based on translation of Rao T. A. Gopinatha, “Srisailam Plates of Virupaksha: Saka Samvat 1388,” El 15:24.

48 SII 16.47; Saltry P. V. Parabrahma, “The Polepalli Grant of Achyutaraya,” in Epigraphia Andhrica, vol. 4, Saltry P. V. Parabrahma, ed. (Hyderabad: Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1975), 133–40; N. Ramesan, ed., “The Jadavalli Grant of Sadasivaraya,” in Copper Plate Inscriptions of the State Museum, vol. 2 (Hyderabad: Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1970), 2128.

49 Wagoner Phillip B., “Understanding Islam at Vijayanagara” (Paper presented at the meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Boston, April 1994).

50 Burns Robert I., “The Significance of the Frontier in the Middle Ages,” in Medieval Frontier Societies, Bartlett R. and MacKay A., ed., 307–12.

51 Castaner Jose Enrique Lopez de Coca, “Institutions on the Castilian-Granadan Frontier,” in Medieval Frontier Societies, Bartlett R. and Mackay A., ed., 127–50;McKay Angus, “Religion, Culture and Ideology on the Late Medieval Castilian-Granadan Frontier,” 217–22.

52 For more positive coverage of Hindu-Muslim relations in medieval India, see Sherwani H. K., “Cultural Synthesis in Medieval India,” Journal of Indian History, 41 (1963), 239–59;Siddigi W. H., “Religious Tolerance as Gleaned from Medieval Inscriptions,” in Proceedings of Seminar on Medieval Inscriptions (Aligarh: Centre of Advanced Study, Dept. of History, Aligarh Muslim University, 1974), 5058.

53 Gordon Stewart, The Marathas, 1600–1818 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 4158;Richards, Mughal Administration in Golconda, 1833.

54 Ranjanam K. Lakshmi, “Language and Literature: Telugu,” in History of Medieval Deccan, vol. 2, Sherwani H. K. and Joshi P. M., ed. (Hyderabad: Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1974), 161–3. An example of a bilingual inscription is ARIE No. 48 of 1970–71.

55 Stein, Vijayanagara, 29;Sastri K. Nilakanta and Venkataramanayya N., Further Sources of Vijayanagara History, 3 vols. (Madras: University of Madras, 1946), vol. 1, 106–8 and 267.

56 Fritz John M., Michell George, and Rao M. S. Nagaraja, Where Kings and Gods Meet: The Royal Centre at Vijayanagara, India (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1984), 122–45.

57 Wagoner Phillip B., “‘Sultan among Hindu kings’: Dress, Address, and the Islamicization of Hindu Culture at Vijayanagara” (Paper presented at Rockefeller Humanities Workshop, “Shaping Indo-Muslim Identity in Pre-Modern India,” Duke University, Durham, NC, 04 1995).

58 Dun K. Iswara, Inscriptional Glossary of Andhra Pradesh (Hyderabad: A. P. Sahitya Akademi, 1967), cxxv;Ranjanam Lakshmi, “Language and Literature: Telugu,” 172.

59 The Ideology of Silence: Prejudice and Pragmatism on the Medieval Religious Frontier,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 26:3 (1984), 442–66.

60 Wagoner Phillip B., Tidings of the King: A Translation and Ethnohistorical Analysis of the Rayavacakamu (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1993), 178 n. 49; Prasad, Sanskrit Inscriptions, 56.

61 Rao C. V. Ramachandra, Administration and Society in Medieval Andhra (A.D. 1038–1538) under the Later Eastern Gangas and the Suryavamsa Gajapatis (Nellore: Manasa Publications, 1976). 8586.

62 I thank Thomas R. Trautmann for bringing the correlation between the geographical location of these lords and the distribution of horses and elephants to my attention. For more on elephants in ancient India, see Trautmann, “Elephants and the Mauryas,” in India: History and Thought, Essays in Honour of A. L. Basham, Mukherjee S. N., ed. (Calcutta: Subarnarekha, 1982), 263–6. For a discussion of the quality of horses during the medieval period, see Digby Simon, War Horse and Elephant in the Delhi Sultanate (Oxford: Orient Monographs, 1971), 2131.

63 The Kaluvacheru grant of the Reddi queen Anitalli, partially published in Somasekhara Sarma, Forgotten Chapter, 111–2. This Sanskrit inscription identifies the Lord of Elephants as the king of Utkala (a sub-region of Orissa), the Lord of Horses as the ruler of the territories in the west, and the Lord of Men as Kakatiya Prataparudra, the Andhra king. In this instance, the Lord of Horses in the west must refer to the Bahmani Sultanate, which controlled the territories to the immediate west of northern Andhra during the early fifteenth century.

64 Tidings of the King, 6069.

65 Venkayya's Andugula Narapati Vijavama, cited in Ranjanam Lakshmi, “Language and Literature: Telugu,” 165.

66 SII 10.753.

67 Mahalingam T. V., ed., Summaries of the Historical Manuscripts in the Mackenzie Collection, vol. 2 (Madras: University of Madras, 1976), 3637.

68 Rao C. V. Ramachandra, ed., Ekamranathuni Prataparudracaritramu (Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh Sahitya Akademi, 1984), 5971.

69 Further expression of the idea that Muslim kings were god-like in the same manner as Hindu kings is found in an episode from the Prataparudra Caritraumu. This story, repeated in the later Rayavacakamu as well, concerns the Delhi sultan's mother, who one night viewed the sleeping bodies of her son and the captive, Kakatiya Prataparudra. The brilliant light issuing forth from their forms made her realize that both the Delhi sultan and Prataparudra were manifestations of the gods Vishnu and Shiva (Rao Ramachandra, Prataparudracaritramu, 6667Wagoner, Tidings of the King, 122–3).

70 SII 16.175 of 1550 C.E.; unfortunately, only the first few lines of the inscription survive. It was issued by Santa Bhikshavritti Ayyavaru, the head of the Virasaiva monastery at Srisailam, who also asserts that the three lords were his disciples.

71 Dutt Iswara, Inscriptional Glossary, iii.

72 Venkataramanayya N. and Sarma M. Somasekhara, “The Kakatiyas of Warangal,” in Early History of the Deccan, G. Yazdani, ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), 691.

73 Sundaram K., Studies in Economic and Social Conditions of Medieval Andhra (Machilipatnam and Madras: Triveni Publishers, 1968), 1.

74 Prior to the Kakatiya period, most inscriptions from western Andhra were composed in Kannada (the language of the Karnataka region to the west), while inscriptions in southern Andhra were often composed either in Kannada or Tamil (the language of Tamil Nadu to the south). The description of the geographical distribution of Telugu inscriptions is derived from my own work in progress. It is based on the mapping of roughly six thousand inscriptions issued within the boundaries of modern Andhra Pradesh between 1000 and 1650 C.E.

75 Author's translation from Telugu, II. 12–15 of SII 4.659.

76 Author's translation from Telugu, II. 157–162 of El 6.22.

77 Washbrook David, “‘To Each a Language of His Own’: Language, Culture, and S??iety in Colonial India,” in Language, History and Class, Corfield Penelope J., ed. (London: Blackwell, 1991), 179203;Lelyveld David, “The Fate of Hindustani: Colonial Knowledge and the Project of a National Language,” in Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament, Breckenridge Carol A. and Veer Peter van der, ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 189214.

78 Kaviraj Sudipta, “The Imaginary Institution of India,” Subaltern Studies VII, Chatterjee Partha and Pandey Gyanendra, ed. (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1992), 26. Kaviraj does not believe that language formed the basis for pre-modern communities in India, however. Whatever the situation might have been in the Bengali-speaking area, which was Kaviraj's case study, I believe that the medieval South Indian evidence sufficiently demonstrates the existence of elite linguistic identities there.

79 Lelyveld, “Fate of Hindustani,” 201;Washbrook, “To Each a Language,” 180.

80 Smith, Ethnic Origins of Nations, 7984.

81 Early Kakatiya records are HAS 13.6, 7, 12; IAP-K nos. 14, 15, 19, 22, 24; IAP-W nos. 14, 22, 25, 29. Later Kakatiya inscriptions are ARIE no. 126 of 1958–59; HAS 13.3, 56; IAP-W no. 37; SII 4.1071, 1095, 1107; SII 6.212.

82 SII 6.796.

83 For some other historical memories of the Kakatiyas, see Talbot, “Political Intermediaries,” 281–3.

84 Sastri Hirananda, Shitab Khan of Warangal, Hyderabad Archaeological Series No. 9 (Hyderabad: H. E. H. the Nizam's Government, 1932), 3 and 10.

85 Based on translation of Ibid., 23.

86 Based on translation of Ibid., 24. P. V. Parabrahma.

87 SII 26.622; Sastry P. V. Parabrahma, Select Epigraphs of Andhra Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh Archaeological Series No. 31 (Hyderabad: Government of Andhra Pradesh, n.d.), 7677.

88 However, other types of sources do engage in an anti-Muslim polemic. Notable among these are the Rayavacakamu (Wagoner, Tidings of the King) and the village, family, and temple histories (kaifiyat) collected by Colin Mackenzie around 1800, many of which mention anarchy and destruction in the decades after the battle of 1565 (Sastri Nilakanta and Venkataramanayya, Further Sources, 2:245–50).

89 In contrast to the 862 records originating in the eight decades between 1490 and 1570 C.E., the eighty-year span from 1570 to 1650 C.E. yields only 318 inscriptions—a mere third of the earlier total.

90 At present, lists of sites where Hindu temples were destroyed and mosques or tombs (dargah) built in their place are being circulated by nationalist scholars. The data upon which these lists are based are not always provided, making the evidence suspect. Muslim chronicles and Perso-Arabic inscriptions are sometimes utilized, but neither of these types of sources is totally reliable. Sita Ram God is one scholar compiling such lists, see his “Let the Mute Witnesses Speak,” in Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, A Preliminary Survey, Shourie Arun et al., ed. (New Delhi: Voice of India, 1990), 88181; and Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, Pt. 2 The Islamic Evidence (New Delhi: Voice of India, 1991). Thanks are due to Richard M. Eaton for acquainting me with these works.

91 Michell George, “City as Cosmogram: The Circular Plan of Warangal,” South Asian Studies, 8 (1992), 12.

92 Sherwani, “Bahmanis,” 208.

93 Although I believe Goel's lists are greatly inflated, this statement would be true even by his reckoning. In the approximately 140 sites of temple desecration that he records for Andhra Pradesh (“Let the Mute Witnesses Speak,” 88–95), the dates for the alleged incidents are given in sixty instances. Five date from the fourteenth century (phase one), six come from phase two, and nineteen date from 1565 to 1650 C.E. (phase three). The remaining thirty or so cases stem from the century after 1650, with a notable bunching of incidents in the late 1600s, when the Mughal empire was absorbing the former Qutb Shahi kingdom of Golkonda.

94 SII 16.296.

95 The Ahobilam Kaifiyat is summarized in Sastri Nilakanta and Venkataramanayya, Further Sources of Vijayanagara History, 3:246.

96 Sitapati P., Sri Ahobilia Narasimha Swamy Temple (Hyderabad: Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1982), 15.

97 SII 5.1312.

98 SII 10.755 and SII 5.1260. The same chief additionally granted a village to the famous temple at Simhacalam, also in northeaster Andhra. This leads K. Sundaram to surmise that the Simhacalam temple had been plundered at the same time as Srikurman (The Slmhacalam Temple [Simhacalam, A.P.: Simhacalam Devasthanam, 1969], 33 and 104).

99 Sitapati P., Srisallam Temple Kaifiyat, 2 vols. (Hyderabad: Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1981), 13.

100 Sitapati, Ahobila Temple, 16;Sastri Nilakanta and Venkataramanayya, Further Sources, 3:246.

101 “Temple Desecration and the Image of the Holy Warrior in Indo-Muslim Historiography” (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Boston, April 1994).

102 The other inscriptions on this slab are published as SII 5.1289–1311.

103 Ernst, Eternal Garden, 2229 and 3859.

104 Richard M. Eaton, “Islamic Iconoclasm in India—Some Case Studies” (Paper presented at Annual Conference on South Asia, Madison, WI, November 1994).

105 This is true of the North Indian poet-saints, Kabir and Guru Nanak (Lorenzen, “Vicissitudes of Bhakti,” 12) as well as Eknath from Maharashtra (Zelliott Eleanor, “A Medieval Encounter between Hindu and Muslim: Eknath's Drama-Poem Hindu-Turk Samvad,” in Images of Man: Religion and Historical Process in South Asia, Clothey Fred, ed. [Madras: New Era Publications, 1982]).

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