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Shahani, Savitri Jivatram (1965) Comparative study of traditional political organisation of Kerala and Punjab. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The problem of the thesis is the relationship of caste, or caste systems, to forms of political organisation, before the bureaucratic centralisation of the British had made caste politically irrelevant in formal terms. Anthropological studies of caste indicate that there was a multiplicity of chiefs usually belonging to one caste, spread over a region, and having relatively intense political interaction with each other. Two traditional systems are examined in detail. These are Kerala up to 1792 and Punjab up to 1848. Both systems have a social stratification into castes. Kerala has the typical Hindu caste system, polarised in terms of purity and pollution between Brahmins and Untouchables. It was relatively independent of external political opposition till 1792. Punjab, subject to greater political flux, also has a stratification into castes, but the bases of stratification are not so clearly formulated in terms of purity and pollution, and there is a significant development of a sect - the Sikhs - who denied stratification into castes. Such denial served a purpose in organising the system against external political opposition - from the Muslims - but did not successfully abolish such stratification. In both systems, there existed a political system characterised by the dispersal of power among chiefs of one or two castes who interacted closely with each other in relationships of conflict or alliance. Various factors contributed to the containment of conflict among the segeral competing chiefs. Competition for power was confined to the chiefs. It never occurred between social strata. The system of dispersal of power gave way to a politically centralised system in South Kerala from 1729 and in Punjab from 1790. In both cases, one of the competing chiefs annihilated and absorbed rival chiefs. A small initial advantage in resources was strengthened by them by the use of mercenary armies and a salaried administrative cadre, instead of the hereditary warriors and hereditary officials characteristically used by the chiefs in the older system. The local centralisation in the two regions failed to displace the earlier system, as did the pre-Islamic Hindu empires with their wider centralisation. In every case, the caste stratification persisted. Caste stratification, where it provides the only system of ranking, is incompatible with centralisation. Factionalisation or dispersal of power is its necessary political concomitant.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:06

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