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Water Management and Settlement Patterns in South India from c. eleventh century to sixteenth century A.D.

  • Author(s): Kalra, Kanika
  • Advisor(s): Smith, Monica L.
  • et al.
Abstract

This study examines the relationship between water infrastructure, agricultural intensification, and political complexity in the Raichur region of southern India (or the Deccan) from the 11th – 16th centuries AD. In this period, regional polities expanded their territorial control and competed for strategically and economically valuable areas, such as the Raichur frontier. Using archaeological data, inscriptions, and other historical evidence, this inquiry demonstrates that the spread of state society into the frontier zone of Raichur did not by itself necessitate monumental investments in agricultural intensification. However, when these frontier zones were contested for economic and strategic reasons, local elites came to amass greater allegiance and control over resources that allowed them to construct and maintain hydraulic infrastructure. The use of archaeological data dismantles neat divisions of periodization and dynastic divides that often mark the study of early medieval and early modern South Asia, hitherto largely based on written materials. Instead, it elucidates how regional powers depended on the capacity of local elites to control and extract critical resources such as agricultural surplus from frontier areas through their control over water resources.

The primary data for this dissertation were collected through a systematic surface survey at three places in the Raichur district: Gabbur, Maliabad, and Kalmala. Each of these places presents a different narrative of historical development from the eleventh to the sixteenth century. The combination of archaeological survey with study of epigraphic data and satellite imagery helped overcome issues of chronology and visibility in an ever-changing landscape, to reveal a narrative of uncertainty and contestation that remains invisible in court chronicles as well as inscriptions. The spatial distributions of different water technologies, when juxtaposed against epigraphic data, demonstrate the varying courses of agricultural intensification and political processes in the region. A landscape approach to archaeological remains allows this study to reveal the long life cycles and after-lives of reservoirs constructed in the Raichur frontier, and to explore how they affected and were affected by the regional politics of southern India.

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