The Courts of Pre-Colonial South India: Material Culture and Kingship

By Jennifer Howes | Go to book overview

8

RAMNAD'S RIVALS

So far, this book has focused on a diachronic reading of south Indian kingdoms, beginning with sixteenth-century Vijayanagara, then seventeenth-century Madurai and eighteenth-century Ramnad. One aim of this chronology has been to establish a chain of stylistic inheritance which runs alongside an ideological inheritance. As has been shown, an ideological connection did exist: Ramnad looked upon the Nayakas of Madurai as the bestowers of their legitimacy, while Nayaka Madurai similarly set up Vijayanagara as the endowers of their right to rule. These kingdoms also drew upon the stylistic elements of their predecessors' courts, as is seen through the architectural and planning traditions they used. The connection between the material and ideological sides of south Indian courtly culture, as presented through a diachronic analysis, can be made more abstract through two approaches. First, this fusion of material and ideological circumstances conforms with the idealized pyramidal model of the segmentary state, which places Vijayanagara at the pinnacle, Madurai beneath it and Ramnad under them both. Second, the material hierarchy interpretation of courtly material culture also fits squarely with the diachronic reading. Each kingdom was a scaled-down version of the most important one, so the Vijayanagara Raya was the top-ranking king, and correspondingly had the largest court, while the courts of lower-ranking rulers were correspondingly smaller.

A synchronic reading of Ramnad and its neighbours has so far only been taken into account when data on Ramnad is lacking or can be strengthened by comparisons with its contemporaries. For example, I have briefly considered the battle frescos at Srirangapattnam, Pudukkottai's staff lists and the location of the domestic quarters in Shivagangai palace, but only in so far as they supplement what we know about Ramnad. To aid our understanding of the kingdoms that Ramnad interacted with, I will here consider in more depth some of these contemporaneous neighbouring sites.

The segmentary state model can be equally useful when considering a synchronic reading of south Indian polities. Instead of viewing the idealized pyramid model of the entire segmentary state, we can consider a horizontal

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