Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - Command in Copper: Cultures of Writing and Practices of Power in Early Indonesia and India

Saturday, July 7
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Maple, Lower Ground Floor

Copper-plate inscriptions have long been an important source for studying the histories of early Southeast and South Asia. However, little attention has been paid to their material forms, the institutional contexts within which the inscriptions were produced, and the circuits through which they circulated and operated. In this paper, I argue that there is much to be learned about ideations and practices of power in early Indonesia and India from considering the texts of copper-plate inscriptions in relation to their material forms and socio-cultural contexts of production, publication, and circulation in their specific contexts.


From the ninth century CE onwards, Sanskrit virtually ceased to be used as a language of power in the Indonesian archipelago. Yet the lexicon of Old Javanese, which increasingly became the language of inscriptions, borrows heavily from Sanskrit. I examine Old Javanese inscriptions on copper-plates and stone stele, which continued to be suffused with Indic imaginations of the rule. I also read Sanskrit inscriptions dated between the fifth and eighth centuries CE from southern India, including those issued by rulers of the early Kadamba and Cālukya dynasties. The paper explores how Indic discourses and practices of power were transformed as they traveled across regions, and acquired new expressions that were articulated precisely through particularities of place. Specifically, I ask: how were Indic imaginations of the rule as expressed in inscriptions from India reconfigured within Java in the period roughly between 400 and 900 CE?


Mekhola Gomes

Ambedkar University Delhi, India

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