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From millennia to the millennium : an anthropological history of Bastar State Huber, Walter Alexander


In this thesis I present an anthropological history of a remote and little-known area of India, the ex-Princely State of Bastar. While numerous ethnographic studies have been made of the predominantly tribal people of Bastar, there have been no attempts to contextualize properly the anthropology of what is now Bastar district. It is for this reason that an historical approach was chosen. This approach has led to the uncovering of a number of salient, anthropological problems: firstly, the identification of tribes in India, which process has engendered both definitional difficulties in the anthropology of India and less than felicitous behavioural consequences for those involved in the process itself; secondly, the nature of the political structure of Bastar State, leading to questions as to how it, and similar 'tribal' or 'Hindu-tribal' states of Middle India, came into being -- as well as an inquiry into the features which maintained Bastar's integrity; and lastly, a consideration, via a biographical account of the last king of Bastar, of the millenarian character of contemporary Bastar history and, in close relation, the problem of divine kingship. In response to the first problem I show that from an 'emic' perspective the term tribe is an incontestably valid and meaningful concept in understanding the majority of Bas-tar peoples. From an anthropologically objective point of view I take on the scholarly controversy of 'tribe' versus 'caste' in India in order to demonstrate that also on the level of disciplinary discussion the term 'tribe' has a meaningful place, at least in reference to Bastar. In regard to the second problem, i.e., of Bastar state formation, my description initially concentrates on the political aspects of the Hindu-tribal symbiosis, showing that the early Hindu (Kakatiya) monarchy of Bastar and the area's distinct tribal polity were nevertheless permutations of each other linked by weak central authority. This is followed by a cultural focus on Bastar divine kingship by which it is shown that the true integrity of the kingdom rested on a ritual plane. Extending the theme of divine kingship into modern times, the narrative of Bastar's last Maharaja details the confrontation of religious with secular power, and how the outcome of this confrontation led to a millenarian movement headed by a Hindu holy man believed to be the reincarnation of the last king. I conclude this thesis by drawing all these themes together, mainly in light of the writings of the doyen of Indian anthropology, Louis Dumont. With particular regard to his writings on Indian kingship and his theory of caste, I show the case of Bastar to be an important exception, and although not disproving Dumont's theories, I demonstrate the need for their modification. In the last analysis, the discussion in this thesis centres on divine kingship as a problem in the dualistic nature of power.

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