The square fortifications which surrounded Ramnad town delineated the centre of the kingdom. The king and his courtly entourage took up a prominent position inside the most impressive residential buildings in the kingdom. The centrally placed court of the king was also a focal point for trade activities. Beyond the square fortress of Ramnad town were other settlements which took part in the ritual sovereignty of the Setupati, thus adding an enormous outer layer to the king's surroundings.
In this chapter, the territory which composed Ramnad kingdom will be the subject of investigation. Today, territory is classified in terms of geo-graphically bound space. Drawing maps is how unexplored, uncharted space is defined and territorial disputes are resolved. My aim here is to show that in pre-colonial south India, the territory under a kingdom's control was not defined in terms of Western cartographic criteria. Instead of creating a map of Ramnad kingdom, I will explore indigenous concepts of territory to show how pre-colonial south Indian kingdoms defined themselves.
Before looking at indigenous ways of defining territory, it is important to recall the segmentary state model of pre-colonial polities, which was first applied to the study of south Indian kingdoms by Burton Stein in his book Peasant State and Society. 264 This model provides a theory of state which is flexible enough to help us understand the fluid nature of south Indian kingship. The segmentary state sees kingly authority as being spread throughout a pyramid-shaped hierarchy. At the top of the pyramid is the highest-ranking king. Beneath him are smaller sub-states whose authority is structured in a similar manner to that of the king at the top. Below these sub-states are smaller sub-states. In this way, the pyramid works its way down to its foundation, where we find small villages that Stein calls 'peasant micro regions'. Food production originates from this base, so these regions can survive independently if they need to. The peasant micro-regions at the bottom maintain the most secure position of all the units in the segmentary state, while the king at the top of the pyramid holds the most delicate position within the model; if his position slips, it is unlikely that he will regain it.
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Publication information: Book title: The Courts of Pre-Colonial South India: Material Culture and Kingship. Contributors: Jennifer Howes - Author. Publisher: RoutledgeCurzon. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 174.
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