The parasol, as symbol of royal prestige and authority, requires steadfast human or inanimate reinforcement. While the figure of the ruler is the obvious focal point for any study of Theravada kingship or the state, much can be gained by attending to its vast array of supports: institutional, personal, textual, sacred, symbolic. This panel examines these crucial, but often overlooked elements of the Theravada state in South and Southeast Asia from its beginnings to the establishment of modern colonial regimes in the nineteenth century.
The “Theravada Sphere” encompasses a vast geographical space from Cambodia to Burma, from Sri Lanka to Sipsongpanna. In this area, Theravada thought and practice permeated material culture as well as peoples’ worldviews, social institutions, and structures of public administration, facilitating meaningful comparative inquiry. Hence this panel transcends the frame of arbitrarily-drawn regional boundaries and directs attention towards the development of polities in the Theravada sphere.
Research on the premodern states and societies of this Theravada Sphere still must confront various challenges, including fragmentary and widely dispersed sources in many languages, few reliable source editions and translations, and tenacious popular and scholarly prepossessions.
Dedicated to source-based research, our papers demonstrate that royal courts across the region – from Cambodia to Burma, from Lan Xang to Lanka – manipulated texts, symbols, institutions, and practices in order to sustain their “parasols of power”.