Royalty in Colonial and Post-Colonial India: A Historical Anthropology of Mysore from 1799 to the present
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This dissertation aims to combat the general neglect into which the study of Indian princely states has fallen. Covering nearly 40% of the Indian subcontinent at the time of Indian independence, their collapse soon after the departure of the British has discouraged both anthropologists and historians from choosing Princely states as an object for study in terms of both chronological as well as social depth. We are left therefore with major gaps in our understanding of the Princely State in colonial times and its post-colonial legacies, gaps which this thesis aims to fill by focussing on relationship of king and subject in one of the largest and most important of these states – the Princely State of Mysore. One of the few influential texts concerning colonial princely states is Nicholas Dirks’ The Hollow Crown (1987), a study of the state of Pudukkottai in pre-colonial times, whose thesis is suggested by its title. Essentially Dirks argues that Royalty was integral to ritual, religion and society in pre-colonial South India, and that these ties were torn apart under colonial rule (although little evidence is given to prove this), when the Princely ruler was deprived of all political and economic control over the state. This dissertation takes up, qualifies and contradicts this argument in several important ways by using a combination of historical and anthropological methodologies. Our examples are drawn from the state of Mysore, where the royal family was actually (re-) installed in power by the British following the defeat of the former ruler Tipu Sultan in 1799. After 1831, Mysore further saw the imposition of direct British control over the state administration. Mysore has thus been regarded as more of a puppet state than most. However, this dissertation argues that the denial of political and economic power to the king, especially after 1831, was paralleled by a counter-balancing multiplication of kingly ritual, rites, and social duties. At the very time when (as might have been predicted) kingly authority might have been losing its local sources of power and social roots, due to the lack of income and powers of patronage, these roots were being reinforced and rebuilt in a variety of ways. This involved the elevation of the king’s status in religious and social terms, including improvement of the City and Palace, strategic marriage alliances, and the education and modernisation of the entire social class (the Urs) from which the royal family was drawn. Above all, kingly authority was progressively moved away from a material to a social and non-material base, with the palace administration being newly reconstructed as the centre and fountain of the politics of honour within the state. It is for this reason that when the Princely states of India were abolished after independence, and their pensions cancelled after 1971, they were not forgotten. Thus, as described in the conclusion, the idea of kingship lived on in South India and continues to play a vital and important role in contemporary South Indian social and political life.