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Secondary state formation during the early iron age on the island of Sri Lanka : the evolution of a periphery


This study focuses on the problem of state formation on the island of Sri Lanka during the second half of the first millennium B.C. Conventional wisdom on the peopling of the Island and the emergence of complex social formations were shaped by the chronicle episodes that allude to a migration. These episodes suggest that emigration waves stemming from the core regions of north India played a key role in the development of new socio- political formations on the Island. Contrary to this stand, I propose that initial state formation on the island of Sri Lanka was an endogenous development stimulated by a sudden surge in a long-distance cross-cultural exchange in South Asia. A surge in demand for exotics in the emerging states in the Gangetic core region intensified long- distance trade interactions within and beyond the subcontinent penetrating core influence into the tribal interaction spheres operated away from the core areas of north India. Megalithic or Pandukal cultural complex of southern regions of peninsular India and Sri Lanka was one such tribal sphere operated away from the direct influence of the early states of north. However, from around the beginning of 400 B.C. (along with the rise of mahajanapada polities in the north), northern Indian trade networks began to steadily penetrate into the southern tribal sphere. This trend instigated a major socio-political dislocation leading to a massive structural reorganization process in the dominant tribal areas of the south. The inevitable out come of the above process was the formation of state level societies in the southern regions of the subcontinent. Initial Sri Lankan states thus were part of this secondary urban process. Two successive processes are key to the formation of state level societies in Sri Lanka. First, a surge in long-distance trade instigated drastic changes in the existing socio-political and economic system, leading to the emergence of a new, highly complex political economy that led to the integration of urban production and hinterland resources. Second, strategic intervention to undermine social mechanisms important for the sustenance of traditional tribal social structures and introduction of a new state ideology based on Buddhist religious principles played a vital role in the consolidation and expansion of the initial state. In this process materialization of ideology, i.e. creating monumental symbols and sacred spaces, both in the center and in the hinterland, was a key strategy on the part of the newly emerged state in bringing semi-autonomous hinterland populations under state control

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