Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

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Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (2007), 70:487-509 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 2007

Research Article

The service retinues of the Chola court: a study of the term vexs1E37am in Tamil inscriptions

Daud Alia1

a1 School of Oriental and African Studies, email: da7@soas.ac.uk
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ali d [Google Scholar]


Drawing on the large corpus of Chola period Tamil inscriptions, this paper attempts to clarify the meaning of the apparently obscure and neglected term in Tamil epigraphy, known as vexs1E37am. The paper argues that the term in Chola period sources should best be understood as a “palace establishment” composed mostly of women (and sometimes men) of servile status. A relatively comprehensive review of the term in inscriptions and literature sheds significant light on the organization of the lower echelons of labour in the Chola royal household and the conditions under which men and women of this status were incorporated into such service. The paper argues for a reconsideration of the importance of the vexs1E37am as an institution in Chola times, as well as the lives of its members, concluding with reflections on how the institution changed over time.