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2 - The ‘Brahman Raj’: kings and service people c. 1700–1830

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

Susan Bayly
University of Cambridge
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The great paradox about the warrior dynasts who were the focus of the preceding chapter is that their world of predominantly martial and kingly values came to be so rapidly transformed by the spread of a significantly different set of caste ideals. These principles, which have much in common with the Brahman-centred values identified in Louis Dumont's account of ‘traditional’ caste ideology, belong to the second part of the two-stage process described in Chapter 1. It is this second stage - which brought ideals of Brahmanical rank and purity to the fore in Indian life, without ever fully supplanting the ideals of the lordly man of prowess - to which the discussion will now turn. Once again there will be an emphasis on Marathas, Rajputs and other builders of great kingdoms and chiefdoms. But, unlike the Maharashtrian dynast Shivaji Bhonsle, who proclaimed himself part of a pan-Indian network of arms-bearing Rajput lordliness, the grandees to be discussed in this chapter are those for whom supra-local Brahman, writer and merchant connections became the focus of their identity as dharmic ‘caste Hindus’

The key change to be explored here is that within only a few generations, the post-Mughal rulers' dominions had become widely known and praised for the size and wealth of their resident Brahman populations, and for the ‘pure’ forms of worship and social refinement which had been embraced by many of their subjects. This was true even of some domains where the rulers were Muslim. As far as the Hindu-ruled kingdoms were concerned, by the mid-eighteenth century, networks of Brahman service specialists had actually taken over dynastic power in a number of important post-Mughal realms, most notably in the Maratha domains.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1999

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