Upinder Singh: On the Politics of War and Violence in Early Medieval India

Abstract: Arguing for a need to move beyond the dominant concerns of the historiography of early medieval India, this article emphasises the importance of historicising and incorporating the ideas of political theorists into the historical construct of the polity of this period. Its focus is a close textual analysis of Kamandaka’s Nitisara, an influential political treatise composed at the advent of the early medieval, which offers a graphic morphology of the monarchical power politics of its time, one that was rooted in the genre and scholarly tradition within which the text situated itself, the historical context in which it was produced and the ideas and perspectives of its author. 

The text maps a political world and reveals a political theorist’s engagement with the problems of the limits and control of monarchical power and violence. In crucial respects, the Nitisara’s arguments on these issues are significantly different from those of its more famous predecessor, the Arthasastra. While the Arthasastra reflects a model of an arrogant, absolutist state, the Nitisara represents a later, less exultant reflection on political power, one in which non-violence has significantly tempered the discussion of violence, especially with regard to punishment, the royal hunt and war.

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