Category Archives: Readings

“Caste in Tamil Nadu” 3 essays by MSS Pandian (EPW)

(I) Caste in Tamil Nadu – A History of Nadar Censorship

Published in EPW, vol. XLVIII, n°3,  on January 19th 2013

Representations have been made by some of the political parties of Tamil Nadu to have a particular chapter in an NCERT Class IX textbook removed; the chapter is being attacked for discussing the past of the infl uential Nadars as “untouchables” and for highlighting the role played by 19th century Christian missionaries in the community’s subsequent upward mobility. The present clamour for a censored caste history has a right-wing Hindu character to it. If memories of degradation are an enabling resource in producing alliances against continuing forms of oppression, in this instance erasure of such memories is what is being sought by an upwardly mobile caste.

Continue reading here.

(II) Caste in Tamil Nadu – Slipping Hegemony of Intermediate Castes

Published in EPW, vol. XLVIII, n°4, January 26th 2013

The case of violence against the dalits by the Vanniyars in Dharmapuri recently is not a sign of resurgent casteism as the media and others are claiming. The state has definitely benefited from the anti-caste movements in the past and the dalits are experiencing upward mobility. The violence is a desperate acknowledgement of the dalit reality and the inability of the intermediate castes to exercise caste power over them as in the past.

Continue reading here.

(III) Caste in Tamil Nadu – Denying Difference

Published in EPW, vol. XLVIII, n°8, on February 23rd  2013

Tamil Nadu has a long tradition of implementing reservations on a preferential basis for different groups. The Arunthathiyar Special Reservation Act (2009) allots the Arunthathiyars 3 percentage points out of the 18% reservation for the scheduled castes. While having benefited the Arunthathiyars, the Act continues to be contested by other scheduled castes.

Continue reading here.



Noboru Karashima’s keynote address-Tamil Studies Conference

Professor Noboru Karashima delivered the keynote address during the tamil Studies Conference, which took place in Toronto on the 11th and 12th of May, entitled: “The past as known from tamil inscriptions”, which was fascinating.


Inscriptions on stones or copper-plates, which occur in substantial numbers, are the basic source-material for the ancient and medieval history of India, as much of India lacks history books compiled in these periods. It is particularly so in the case of Tamil Nadu, as there remain in Tamil Nadu the largest number of inscriptions from the past. First I will explain this situation by showing the language-wise and chronological distributions of inscriptions. What sort of information can we obtain from those inscriptions and how can it be obtained? In order to elucidate these points, I will take up, as examples, my study of the two issues, namely, (1) the notion of the village community and (2) the challenge to the caste system in the past, made through the examination of Tamil inscriptions of the Chola period (10th to 13th centuries). First, the view expressed by Metcalfe, The Indian Village Communities are little Republics, having nearly everything that they want within themselves, produced later the theory of the Stagnant Orient or Oriental Despotism. There is a volume of inscriptional data on the nature of villages in the Chola period to question this understanding. Second, many people believe that the caste system has been well maintained in South India without much challenge since it was introduced from the North during the Pallava period until the beginning of the last century. An analysis of the imprecations in Chola and Pandyan inscriptions throws anew light on this issue. For such studies, the importance of statistical analysis of inscriptional data, the method of which I introduced into this field of study, need to be emphasized.

The website TamilNet, has covered the talk and uploaded the presentation, which can be found here: Karashima_paper_toronto_2012

Related posts in Clac:

Interview of N. Karashima by P.Menon, here.

“Epigraphical Study of Tamil Villages” by N. Karashima, here.

Tamil Studies Conference 2012: “Traces of the past”, here.


South India under the Cholas

South India Under the Cholas by Y. Subbarayalu

This book explores different aspects of state-society interactions in medieval south India under the reign of the Cholas. Divided into two parts-Epigraphy and History, and State and Society-the first provides an in-depth analysis of Tamil epigraphy and inscriptions. While interpreting inscriptional terminology, it discusses the socio-economic milieu, merchant guilds, and other sociological aspects. The next section traces the evolution of the medieval state, economy, and society. It discusses land surveys, Chola revenue system and sale deeds, and property rights. The author examines, in detail, the emergence of new organizations like Urar, Nattar, and Periyanattar, and maritime trade guilds, and social classes like landholders, cultivators, slaves, and the left and right hand divisions. The introduction contextualizes these essays in current research scenario and historiography and also provides a brief overview of the evolution of the Chola state and society.

OUP India c. 272 pages | 13 tables, 5 maps | 215x140mm

978-0-19-807735-0 | Hardback | 22 December 2011

For a review by of Subbarayalu’s book by the historian R. Champakalakshmi in The Hindu (24/04/2012), read here.

For a review by of Subbarayalu’s book by the historian Kesavan Veluthat in Frontline (11-24/02/2012), read here.

Table of content:

Part I: Epigraphy and History
1: Tamil Epigraphy: Past and Present
2: The Social and Economic Milieu of the Pulangurichi Inscriptions
3: The Merchant Guild Inscription at Barus in Sumatra
4: Sociological Aspects of the Personal Names and Titles
5: Interpreting Inscriptional Terminology

Part II: State and Society
6: Measurement and Classification of Land
7: An Overview of the Chola Revenue System
8: Quantifying Land Revenue of the Chola State
9: Sale Deeds and Property Rights
10: Urar, Nattar, and Periyanattar
11: Alunganam and Mulaparudai: Two Early Village Bodies
12: Landholders, Cultivators, and Slaves
13: Social Change and the Right and Left Hand Divisions
14: Anjuvannam: A Maritime Trade Guild of Medieval Times
15: Erivirapattinam: Warriors and the State
16: The Chola State
17: Characterizing the Chola State


How do you destroy Indian history?

“Our past is being moth-eaten” article by Dinyar Patel

Dinyar Patel, a Ph.D. candidate from the Department of History of Harvard University, published an article in The Hindu (19/04/2012) on the alarming situation in Indian archives.

“India’s archives and libraries are in a state of ruin. We would lose our history and heritage if the government does not act to save them. […] India is a country that is justifiably proud of its illustrious past. But this pride does not always translate into proper custodianship and preservation. Most Indians would cringe at how sources of Indian history are treated in government institutions. In spite of the plethora of capable administrators and skilled archivists in this country, many institutions do not follow clear, up-to-date, and verifiable standards for document preservation.”

Read more here.

Fragile Prospects of Epigraphy

‘Epigraphy staring at an uncertain future’


article by R.Krishna Kumar published in The Hindu (Mysore edition) 12/02/2012


Reckoned to be the bedrock of ancient Indian historical studies, epigraphy is at the crossroads and stares into an uncertain future given societal preference for remunerative career choices rather than academic and scholarly pursuits […]

Speaking to The Hindu , Director (Epigraphy) T.S. Ravishankar said it was time to review the present scenario related to epigraphic studies and called for intensive and extensive surveys to record, document and copy the epigraphic material […]

Read more here.



History speaks many languages

An interview with Sanjay Subramanyam

by Thomas Grillot & Anne-Julie Etter

published in La vie des Idees (27-01-2012).


History cannot be written as if nations had always been around, and as if men had not found countless ways to ignore their frontiers. Historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam invites his peers to make use of the riches that lie in the multilingual archives of humanity to reveal connections that were once relevant to huge areas of the world.

A polyglot and an historian, Sanjay Subrahmanyam has placed at the center of his research connections between sources and historiographies in different languages (Persian, Urdu, Telugu, Tamil, Portuguese, English, Spanish, German, French, Italian and Dutch). He gracefully submitted to a French and English interview, the Gallic part of which can be accessed on La Vie des Idées. Answers to the same questions turned out to be largely complementary. We invite our readers to read both interviews as a whole.


For the interview in English, please click here.

For the interview in French, please click here.




Interview of N. Karashima by P.Menon

In an interview, Japanese scholar Noboru Karashima speaks on his recent work, the state of historical research in universities and government institutes in India, and his deep concern over the uncertain future of the discipline of epigraphy in India.

By Parvathi Menon

Published in The Hindu 02/12/2010

It is now over 50 years since Noboru Karashima, now Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo, published his first study on the medieval economic history of South India – a small essay on land control in Allur and Isanamangalam villages in the Cauvery delta, based on a study of Chola inscriptions. With that he pioneered a methodological framework for studying inscriptions, and for interpreting the mass of information that this historical source contains. He is today a pre-eminent scholar on the medieval history of south India. He has also contributed significantly to a rich tradition of Japanese social science research on India, with his hallmark of careful empirical research. In this interview given to Parvathi Menon in Bangalore, the Japanese scholar speaks on his recent work, the state of historical research in universities and government institutes in India, and his deep concern over the uncertain future of the discipline of epigraphy in India.

To read the article from The Hindu click here.

Epigraphical Study of Tamil Villages

Recent publication by Noboru Karashima

A new article by Noboru Karashima  “Epigraphical Study of Ancient and Medieval Villages in the Tamil Country” was recently published in Review of Agrarian Studies, Volume 1, Number 2 (July-December, 2011).

Abstract: In­scrip­tions on stones or cop­per-plates, which occur in sub­stan­tial num­bers, are the basic source-ma­te­r­ial for the an­cient and me­dieval his­tory of India, as much of India lacks his­tory books com­piled in these pe­ri­ods. For pre-mod­ern vil­lage stud­ies as well, there­fore, we have to de­pend on in­scrip­tions.

In this paper I ex­plain how the re­mains of in­scrip­tions can be used for vil­lage stud­ies by re­fer­ring to my ex­am­i­na­tion of Tamil in­scrip­tions of the Chola pe­riod (10th to 13th cen­turies). Through their ex­am­i­na­tion I have at­tempted to clar­ify the changes that oc­curred in the land­hold­ing sys­tem in the mid­dle Chola pe­riod, and the great so­cial change and up­heaval that these rep­re­sented.

I also demon­strate the im­por­tance of sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis of in­scrip­tional data, of tech­niques that I in­tro­duced into this field of study. Many in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant fea­tures of an­cient and me­dieval vil­lages can be known from in­scrip­tions, in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion on vil­lage types, cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices, taxes on vil­lages, and the peo­ple who lived in the vil­lages.


The online version of the Review of Agrarian Studies is available for free at or

Review of Agrarian Studies

New Indian peer-reviewed journal


  The Review of Agrarian Studies is a new bi-annual peer-reviewed journal of the Indian Foundation for Agrarian Studies, a charitable trust based in India and established in 2003. The journal is published from Kolkata and appears both in electronic and printed form – the latter in collaboration with Tulika Books, one of India’s most important publishers of books in the social sciences. The Review of Agrarian Studies invites articles on agrarian studies – on the forces and relations of production in agriculture and in rural areas, on living standards, and on different aspects of social formations in the countryside. It also carries theoretical and empirical articles on social, economic, historical, political and scientific and technological aspects of agriculture and rural societies.

The online version is available for free at or

Writing and the Recognition of Customary Law

Writing and the Recognition of Customary Law in Premodern India and Java

by Timothy Lubin – Washington & Lee Legal Studies Paper No. 2011-18


Explaining what made ancient Greek law unusual, Michael Gagarin observes that most premodern legal cultures “wrote extensive sets (or codes) of laws for academic purposes or propaganda but these were not intended to be accessible to most members of the community and had relatively little effect on the actual operation of the legal system.” Dharmaśāstra certainly can be called a “scholarly” exercise, and it was also intended as propaganda for the Brahmanical cosmopolitan world order. However, this written, scholastic tradition came to provide a model for articulating law “in principle” and “on the ground” in diverse settings even beyond India. This lecture addresses the implications of writing for customary or regional law in South and Southeast Asia. Dharmaśāstra (“Hindu law”) canonizes a particular model of Brahmin ācāra, and as a procedural principle recognizes the general validity of other, even divergent, customary norms, but does not actually promulgate them as justiciable statutes. From the point of view of Śāstra, such rules remain lex non scripta. However, there are a couple of modes in which writing came to play a role in the “recognition” (in Hart’s terms) of customary norms as legal rules: (1) in documents and inscriptions (lekha, pattra, vyavasthā); and (2) in regional adaptations of the Dharmaśāstra genre. The functions of these two broad modes differed but also overlapped, especially in Southeast Asia. I argue that the interplay between them fostered the emergence of formal legal institutions tied simultaneously to the administrative and judicial apparatus of a state and an overarching, transregional conception of legitimate authority.

Keywords: writing, recognition, custom, customary law, comparative, ancient law, India, Java, Hindu, Indic


The full paper is available on SSRN



Political governance and religious traditions

Book review of Hinduism and Law (2010) Edited by Timothy Lubin, Donald R. Davis, Jr and Jayanth Krishnan. Cambridge University Press

by Amita Dhanda

Published in The Hindu 13/12/2011.

Direct link to the article here.

The continuance of the English common law in post-Independence India and the overbearing influence of Western legal philosophy on Indian legal education have invited critical comments. Both developments, it is argued, have prevented the evolution of a normative system that accords with the Indian genius. Without entering into the difficulties of indigenising the legal system, it can be safely stated that the absence of accessible reading material signally influences the absence of Eastern legal jurisprudence in the curriculums of Indian Law Schools. The essays in the book under review address this problem of Indian legal education by placing the Dharmasastras in their period and time and by demonstrating their contemporary relevance. Hinduism and Lawseeks “to erect the framework of a new field of study on the model of other work in law and religion that focusses on the mutual connections between particular religious traditions and particular legal systems.” The editors draw a distinction between this new field and ‘Hindu law’, which they describe as “the theoretical and practical law as described in Dharmasastra literature.”


Hindu Law is a part of the mosaic, not the entire concern of the book. Consequently even in the part titled ‘Hindu Law’, the interconnection between religious traditions and legal systems is brought home in Davis’s historical overview of Hindu law from classical to colonial times; Olivelle’s narration of the textual history of the Dharmasatra; Michael’s essay on the interplay between the precept and practice of classical Hindu law; and McCrea’s piece on the rules of interpretation which guided Sastric contradictions. Rocher and Sturman show how the demands of political governance influenced what was recognised and what was ignored in the construction of Anglo-Hindu law, while Williams brings forth the political considerations that influenced the debates revolving around the Hindu Code Bill. The influence of these concerns is yet again demonstrated by Narula, in her discussion on the Uniform Civil Code.

Contemporary issues

The book places a number of contemporary issues in a historical context and thereby helps in deepening one’s understanding. For example, the complexity of the ‘affirmative action’ question can be comprehended when Jenkins’ piece on the subject is read along with Vajpeyi’s essay on ‘Sudradharma’. Lubin’s essay provides an opportunity to revisit the primeval questions of power and expertise and whether authority should vest in the holder of political power or technical expertise. From the standpoint of legal pedagogy, it is profoundly significant that the essay deliberates on this question based on materials that are distinct from the Western positivist tradition. Insofar as the book introduces the field of ‘Hinduism and Law’, it extends an invitation for further work in the area. Be it the contention of Cox that literature was not just a mirror of the times but a source of guidance to the rulers, or Yelle’s hypothesis that ordeals were only the options of last resort, or Malik’s invitation to explore the interplay between the real and the symbolic, with his piece on direct petitioning whereby people importune the Goludev deity in Uttarakhand by writing out (sometimes, even on judicial stamp papers) the issue requiring divine intervention. In the same exploratory mode is Jayanth Krishnan’s piece on the relationship between the Hindu diaspora and the legal systems of different countries. Krishnan admits that his work does no more than open the field for further research. This invitation for research needs to be especially taken up in respect of South Africa because a lot of extant literature, from Indians as well as South Africans, would question his contention that Gandhiji and the Hindus were only seeking out for themselves and not engaging with the discrimination faced by the ‘Blacks’. Be that as it may, the book has established connections between bodies of knowledge that were hitherto unconnected and, thereby, initiated a discourse in which all scholars of the polity and the law should be engaged.

For the summary and table of contents, please see   Other news & events.

Recent Publication: Hinduism and Law

Hinduism and Law: An Introduction

2010. Edited by Timothy Lubin, Donald R. Davis, Jr and Jayanth Krishnan. Cambridge University Press


Covering the earliest Sanskrit rulebooks through to the codification of ‘Hindu law’ in modern times, this interdisciplinary volume examines the interactions between Hinduism and the law. The authors present the major transformations to India’s legal system in both the colonial and post colonial periods and their relation to recent changes in Hinduism. Thematic studies show how law and Hinduism relate and interact in areas such as ritual, logic, politics, and literature, offering a broad coverage of South Asia’s contributions to religion and law at the intersection of society, politics and culture. In doing so, the authors build on previous treatments of Hindu law as a purely text-based tradition, and in the process, provide a fascinating account of an often neglected social and political history.


Table of contents:

Introduction -Timothy Lubin, Donald R. Davis, Jr and Jayanth Krishnan

Part I. Hindu Law:

1. An historical overview of Hindu law Donald R. Davis, Jr
2. Dharmaśāstra: a textual history-Patrick Olivelle
3. Hindu legal practice in premodern India -Axel Michaels
4. The creation of Anglo-Hindu law -Rosane Rocher
5. Marriage and family in colonial Hindu law -Rachel Sturman
6. Hindu law as personal law -Rina Verma Williams

Part II. Law in Ancient and Medieval Hindu Traditions:

7. Hindu jurisprudence and scriptural hermeneutics -Lawrence McCrea
8. Indic conceptions of authority -Timothy Lubin
9. Śūdra Dharma and legal treatments of caste -Ananya Vajpeyi
10. Law, literature, and the problem of politics in medieval India -Whitney Cox
11. Hindu law as performance: ritual and poetic elements in Dharmaśāstra -Robert Yelle

Part III. Law and Modern Hinduism: 12. Temples, deities, and the law Richard Davis

13. In the divine court of appeals: vows before the God of justice -Aditya Malik
14. Contemporary caste discrimination and affirmative action -Laura Dudley Jenkins
15. Law and Hindu nationalist movements -Smita Narula
16. Legally and politically layered identities: a thumbnail survey of selected Hindu migration patterns from South Asia -Jayanth Krishnan