Modern Asian Studies

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Modern Asian Studies (2009), 43:175-210 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

Research Article

Notes on Political Thought in Medieval and Early Modern South India


a1 Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA Email:
a2 Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA Email:
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This essays deals with a neglected and significant strand of Indian political thought by describing and analysing the corpus known as nīti in the context of medieval and early modern South India (in particular with reference to the Telugu-speaking region). Works of nīti are presented here within a larger context, as they evolve from the medieval Andhra of the Kakatiyas into the Vijayanagara period, the Nayakas, and beyond. They are also opposed and contrasted to other texts written within the broad category of dharmashāstra, which seem to deal with a far more conservative project for the management of society and politics within a caste-based framework. Authors and compilers dealt with include Baddena and Madiki Singana, but also the celebrated emperor-poet Krishnadevaraya (r. 1509–29). An argument is made for the continued relevance of these texts for the conduct of politics in South Asia, into and beyond the colonial period.


This essay is a shorter version of a more extended analysis of nīti and dharma texts in medieval and early modern South India, which may eventually take a monographic form. Early versions of this essay have been presented at St. Antony's College (Oxford), the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), the Centre for the Study of Social Sciences (Kolkata), the University of British Columbia, the EHESS (Paris), the Humanities Institute (Wisconsin-Madison) and the Center for India and South Asia (UCLA). For critical comments and suggestions, we are particularly grateful to Partha Chatterjee, Don Davis, Carlo Ginzburg, Claude Guillot, Roland Lardinois, Patrick Olivelle, Anthony Pagden and S.R. Sarma.