Temples and Political Development
Most studies of recent Indian administrative history have tended to concentrate almost exclusively on the formal institutions of politics—the framework of British administration and the Indian organisations which dwelt in and around it. The Raj, then, has been studied almost wholly on its own terms and ‘Indian politics’ date from some time around the 1880s. But India is, and almost certainly always was, an immensely ‘political’ society; scant resources are generally distributed through the mechanisms of political conflict. If we come down from the workings of national and provincial politics to the locality, we find, particularly in the nineteenth century, a flourishing political arena where formal, institutional politics barely impinged at all. Factors important solely within the local perspective were the stuff of local conflict. One of the most important elements that we can identify in south Indian society is the temple. A gopuram (temple-tower) dominates the landscape of almost every village and pilgrims flock to the major shrines. Quite apart from their religious importance and their aesthetic merit, the temples play large roles in the social and economic life of their areas. The first part of this article examines these roles in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and looks at how these roles drew the temples into the forefront of local politics.
KeywordsPolitical Development South INDIA Revenue System Indian Politics Local Temple
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