Sohoni on Eaton and Wagoner, 'Power, Memory, Architecture: Contested Sites on India's Deccan Plateau, 1300-1600'

Richard M. Eaton, Phillip B. Wagoner. Power, Memory, Architecture: Contested Sites on India's Deccan Plateau, 1300-1600. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014. Illustrations. xxvi + 395 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-809221-6.

Reviewed by Pushkar Sohoni (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research)
Published on H-Asia (May, 2017)
Commissioned by Sumit Guha

Power Memory & Architecture

The primary focus of this book by Richard M. Eaton and Phillip B. Wagoner is the three cities of Kalyana, Raichur, and Warangal, as exemplars of fortified secondary urban centers that served as economic, political, and social links between agrarian hinterland societies and courtly elites in the capital cities of their respective sultanate kingdoms of the Deccan. These cities are contextualized in the period between the thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries, particularly as contested spaces in the sixteenth, and their monumental architecture is understood as “the most visually prominent expression of societal culture” (p. 32).

While the chapters are sufficiently described in the introduction, a small outline is provided here. Eight chapters are organized into four sections containing two chapters each. The first chapter gives a brief history of the Kalyana Chalukyas and their successor dynasties, and their encounter with the Delhi sultanate in the thirteenth century. Rejecting conventional models of antagonism, Eaton and Wagoner demonstrate that the two literary cosmopolitan systems of Persian and Sanskrit were in fact “preoccupied with the universality of dominion, with codifying and explicating law...; and with proper etiquette and comportment, especially in the context of royal courts,” and produced similar discourses (pp. 25-26). The conquest and annexation of the Deccan by the sultanate of Delhi is explained as the catalyst for the diffusion of ideals from the Persian cosmopolis into the Sanskrit cosmopolis, and not a cultural rupture. The second chapter, on the conquest of the Deccan by the Delhi sultanate, tries to understand the sultanate’s subsequent actions as victors who had to politically engage with the built landscapes of the defeated regimes. While explaining why Hindu temples were the “most culturally and politically significant structures encountered,” the discussion is not limited to simplistic ideas of desecration, but shows a range of reactions, from patronizing, occupying, rebuilding, rehabilitating, redefining, imitating, or even destroying the religious buildings that were inherited from the past (p. 40). Such discourse is illustrated with a range of examples, from Pillalamarri, Devagiri, Bijapur, Bodhan, Warangal, Rajahmundry, Kalyana, Sholapur, Manvi, and Kondapalli, which were all sites taken over by the Delhi sultanate in the early fourteenth century.


Perhaps the only minor criticism would be that the seventh chapter does not neatly fit the theme of the book; while it does engage architecture and political history in novel ways, it does not directly address questions of received architectural memory and power, though the conclusion does eventually accommodate the chapter in the narrative of contested secondary urban centers. Other than that, the absence of the northwestern Deccan is striking, given that the area was under Chalukya rule and has several monuments from their reign. They were followed in this region by the Yadavas, an important post-Chalukyan polity, who also had their monuments razed, reappropriated, and reused in the sultanate period. The northwestern Deccan was later integral to the Bahmani kingdom (which had declared independence in the erstwhile Yadava capital of Devagiri or Daulatabad). The region was also the heartland of the Nizam Shahs, a powerful sultanate of the post-Bahmani Deccan, who were the progenitors of the Maratha kingdom. The northwestern Deccan completes the triad of linguistic zones that Firishtah mentioned as comprising the Deccan. Thus, a third of the cultural history of the Deccan, as represented through time by the Yadavas, the Nizam Shahs, the Marathas, and the modern state of Maharashtra, all entities associated with the Marathi language, is largely absent. But a book should not be judged by what is missing, and what is presented is of outstanding value, in terms of extensive data, imaginative scholarship, and rigorous methods. Hopefully, this book will provide inspiration for several other scholars to do similar work.