Debate and controversy have bedevilled the subject of social banditry. The early writing on social banditry saw it as primitive rebellion, as prepolitical and antithetical to class consciousness. Another approach identified it with weak state formation. The literature on South Asia saw social banditry as absent having been eroded by the institutional structure of caste. This article examines and critiques some of these theses on banditry. It argues, firstly, that social banditry can be simultaneous with a phase of intensified state formation. The specific theme investigated here is the interaction of the king, peasant and bandit in an Indian kingdom under late colonialism. A window to this universe is opened up by a folk epic from the oral tradition of a community of Muslims called the Meos. Far from being prepolitical, banditry raises crucial questions with respect to authority and legitimacy. This narrative not only interrogates the legitimacy of kingship, it also challenges the authority of the colonial state. Secondly, the article challenges the argument of South Asian exceptionalism to banditry that is perhaps easier to refute. Thirdly, as this article demonstrates, banditry need not relate to a pre-industrial capitalist world. Our bandit narrative indicates the reverberations of industrialism and attendant exchange relations and institutions in the colony even though it belongs to an area of ‘indirect’ rule.