South Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - In Imitation of the Ancients: Elite Literacy and Political Imagination in Early Modern Assam, 1714 -1744

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Kadamba, Lower Ground Floor

This paper looks at the poetic and aesthetic productions of the court of the Ahom (Assamese) ruler Siva Simha or Sutanphaa (1714-1744). The paper studies one of the most lavishly illustrated courtly productions, the Śankhachudavadha Kāvya (1726) written by the court poet Kavirāja Chakrabarti in arguing for the emergence of the idea of powerful kingship in eighteenth-century Assam. In the absence of any extensive study on Kavirāja Chakrabarti we know very little about his role as a court poet. In attempting to fill this gap my work situates the court poet within a larger space of elite literacy. The changing patterns of recruitment practices in the eighteenth-century Ahom court made way for political conditions that favored the rise of a Sanskritic literacy in the region. This was enabled by patronage of mobile intellectuals from Mithila and Gangetic Bengal, especially Brahmans and Kayasthas from important centers of smārta and śāstric learning. These men from the plains found their way not just to the court of the Himalayan Swargadeos but to important monastic centers as well. They encouraged the use of new writing techniques and ushered in a literary culture marked by its own ideas of courtly refinement and elite learning. This, as I argue, was most forcefully expressed in their response to the classical Sanskrit authors and their textual corpus. Reading the Śankhachudavadha Kāvya as an Assamese courtly epic or Axamiyā mahākāvya I wish to shed light on elite literacy and political imagination in the frontiers of Brahminical expansion in early modern Assam.

Samyak Ghosh

Columbia University, United States

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1 - In Imitation of the Ancients: Elite Literacy and Political Imagination in Early Modern Assam, 1714 -1744



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