Political Processes and Structure of Polity in Early Medieval India : Problems of Perspective
THE PROBLEM I refer to concerns the study of polity in early medieval India. There is hardly any need to underline that this erstwhile 'dark period' of Indian history (a characterization deriving incidentally from the 'absence' of vast territorial empires in the period) is fast emerging as one in which significant changes were taking place1—a useful reminder that historical assessments never remain static and need to go through a process of constant re-evaluation. As one interested in the study of early medieval India, my feeling has been that the problem of the political formation of this period is in an urgent need of re-evaluation, and while it will be presumptuous to think in terms of a single empirical work which will cover the problem at the level of the entire subcontinent, one can at least pose the problem, constant reminders regarding regional variations notwithstanding, at the subcontinental level from the perspective of the possible processes in operation. My own interest in the study of early medieval polity derives not so much from the recent spate of publications on early state and the possibility of analyzing early Indian political systems in the light of new ideas2 but from more pragmatic considerations. The foremost among these is the resurrection, through the study of polity, of an interest in the study of the political history of the period. I apprehend that this sentiment is likely to raise a murmur of protest and I am also likely ta be reminded that we have had enough of political history which may be sanctioned well-earned rest for some time to come. I wonder if this is really so, since I would like to think that historical re-evaluation of the nature of change in a period implies re-evaluation of its sources in their entirety. As a teacher of ancient Indian history I notice a growing trend among students to whom "social and economic history" is what really matters since political history with its endless dates, genealogical charts and catalogues of battles involves senseless cramming and serves no intellectual purpose at all.3 Given the nature of ancient Indian political historiography4, the distaste is understandable, but if in sheer frustration we turn away from a serious study of political history, we shall, perhaps unwittingly, be subscribing to the equally dangerous lapse of compart-
Centre for Historical Siudies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.