The Journal of Asian Studies

Research Article

Princely States and the Hindu Imaginary: Exploring the Cartography of Hindu Nationalism in Colonial India

Manu Bhagavan


In the early twentieth century, Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, was a philosophy premised on exclusivist notions of “nation-ness” and “nation-state-ness.” India, proponents claimed, had since the earliest times been the pitrabhumi and the punyabhumi of Hindus—their fatherland and holy land. This ideal realm was corrupted by Muslim and Christian “invaders,” foreigners who defiled and split asunder “Akhand Hindustan,” the one India of Hindus. In the context of British rule of the subcontinent, Hindu nationalists mirrored colonial claims and held up the native princely states as exemplars of “tradition,” as territories unspoiled by foreign hands and thus representative of the “true India.” The idea behind Akhand Hindustan came from a prominent member of the princely state bureaucracy, K. M. Munshi. Here the author explores how and why princely states were idealized in the Hindu imaginary and what role reformers, particularly Munshi, played in perpetuating this hard-line ideology. By exploring the regions on which early Hindu nationalism was mapped, the author illuminates the teleology of Hindutva while providing a better understanding of the place of princely states in the politics and society of colonial India.


Manu Bhagavan ( is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Hunter College, the City University of New York.