Theses Doctoral

Formations of the King: Politics, Pleasure, and Law in Early Eighteenth-Century Brahmaputra Valley, 1700-1750

Ghosh, Samyak

This dissertation is about the formations of the king as knowledge of the political in early eighteenth-century Brahmaputra Valley, in present day northeast India. Here, I identify three areas as the sites of the political: courtly-monastic politics, pleasure, and law. Each chapter of the dissertation presents a contemporary iteration of the king that contributed to the understanding of the political in early eighteenth-century Brahmaputra Valley. In doing so, I propose an understanding of kingship founded in the person of the king. Drawing on expressive literature, epigraphs, and visual sources written in the first few decades of the eighteenth century in the court of the Tungkhungia kings of Brahmaputra Valley and the Vaiṣṇava monasteries in the region, I argue that the person (and the body) of the king was the site of the political in the courtly-monastic spaces.

This understanding of a personalised kingship in the courtly-monastic spaces was in dialogue with transregional political imaginations of kingship, both imperial Mughal and subimperial Rajput of early modern South Asia. In the dissertation, I bring together sources in Assamese, Persian, Sanskrit, and Tai-Ahom towards revealing the ways in which a distinct local articulation of the king in areas of politics, pleasure, and law was located within translocal and transregional networks of learning stretching across the regions lying to the western and southern borders of the territories of the Tungkhungia kings. Through a conceptualisation of early eighteenth-century Brahmaputra Valley as a “contact zone” between Mughal-Rajput, Tai-Ahom, and Burmese cultural forms that clashed and grappled in the wake of Brahman arrival in the court of the Tungkhungia kings I historicise the multiple iterations of the king towards understanding the intellectual conditions that emerged as foundations of a new political imagination.

Moving away from cultural histories of kingship in early modern South Asia where studies of cultural productions have remained the lens for analysis of kingship; in this dissertation I look at the formations of the king within specific areas of intellectual inquiry towards writing a history of the multiple iterations of the king, across institutions, in early eighteenth-century Brahmaputra Valley. The dissertation, thus, intervenes in the study of kingship in early modern South Asia and the World, demonstrating the centrality of the person of the king, in contemporary understandings of the political, rather than the “body politic” that is immutable and imperishable. The dissertation, thus, with its focus on early eighteenth-century Brahmaputra Valley, brings to light theories of the political emerging from the margins of imperial histories of early modern South Asia and the World.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Chatterjee, Partha
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 14, 2022