Expressions of Power: Representations and Practices of Kingship Beyond the Vindhyas, ca. 3rd century CE-8th century CE


Mekhola Sophia Gomes

PhD defended at: 

Jawaharlal Nehru University


In this Ph.D. thesis, I trace the history of the relationship between inscriptions and the workings of power in early India. I contend that a study of inscriptions is key to a history of expressions and practices of power in early India. Between the third and eighth centuries CE, inscriptional records of gifts by ruling elites increasingly assumed an identifiable form and format. This thesis focuses on the period ca. 200-700 CE on polities in the Deccan, especially on the inscriptions of ruling lineages that D.C. Sircar referred to as the “successors of the Sātavāhanas,” particularly the Ikṣvākus, Vākāṭakas, early Kadambas, and Pallavas. The ideations and practices of power of these ruling lineages owed much to their political predecessor in the Deccan, the Sātavāhana dynasty. Using Middle Indo-Aryan and Sanskrit inscriptions of the Ikṣvāku, Vākāṭaka, early Kadamba, and Pallava dynasties as illustrations, I suggest that transformations in inscriptional forms and discourses came together to articulate supra-regional visions and practices of power in the Deccan between the third and eighth centuries CE.
I ask: what can we know about expressions and practices of power in early India through a reading of inscriptions that grapples with discursive content along with material forms, processes of production, and reception of epigraphic records? To this end, each chapter is arranged in two parts-the forms and languages of power. By forms of power, I refer to material forms of inscriptions as well as formulae such as invocations, imprecations, exhortations, and auspicious expressions that were reiterated across inscriptions in this period. I also explore the contexts of the production of epigraphic texts, their circulation, and reception. By languages of power, I mean discursive strategies through which power was expressed within inscriptional records. A distinct feature of inscriptional discourse in this period was the delineation of eulogies of ruling elites in the form of genealogies. Eulogistic genealogies expressed claims and imaginations of power through rituals, epithets, titles, and kin-networks. The thesis also demonstrates how networks of descent and marriage emphasized the status not just of individual male rulers but were part of a larger elite political culture in which both women and men participated. Inscriptions represented interests, networks, and visions of power of the polities that produced the records. At the same time epigraphs were also tools through which new relationships and imaginations of power were forged. Thus, inscriptions simultaneously reflected as well as fashioned and reproduced power. Ultimately, this thesis is an attempt at illuminating transformations in cultures and practices of authority, rule, and power in the Deccan region of early India.