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The Saint, the Warlord, and the Emperor: Discourses of Braj Bhakti and Bundelā Loyalty

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This paper investigates the way in which bhakti was used by upwardly mobile Rajputs in their struggle to come to terms with their role as local powerbrokers for the centralizing imperial regime. I will present the case study of the Bundelās in the mid-sixteenth century. I will study their complex relationships with the newly established Mughals and their expressions of devotion, particularly in connection with the newly (re)established pilgrimage center of Braj. The paper documents a shift from an older form of religion to bhakti under Madhukar Shāh (r. 1552-92). This change may well have functioned as a bid for local legitimacy, an assertion of regional independence vis à vis the Mughal empire, and was directed against its imperial rhetoric. However, this study also shows that although Madhukar promotes bhakti for his own purpose, the bhakti saint-advisor of the king explicitly resists such socio-political functionality of the religious insights he has to offer. Cette contribution se situe au milieu du XVIème siècle, une période qui vit le régime impérial des Moghol récemment instauré se centralisant. Elle explore la bhakti comme vecteur de l'ascension sociale des Rajput qui n'acceptèrent de sitôt de jouer le rôle de conseillers locals du pouvoir impérial. L'examen des Bundelās vise à dévoiler leurs relations complexes avec les Moghol et leur discours dévotionnel, particulièrement celui relatif au centre de pèlerinage de Braj récemment (r)établi.

La contribution témoigne d une part que sous le règne de Madhukar Shāh (1552-'92) une forme plus ancienne de réligion se transforma en bhakti, ce qui soulève des interrogations sur la construction de la légitimité des ces seigneurs locals qui revendiquèrent l'indépendance régionale vis-à-vis l empire Moghol. D'autre part elle démontre que bienque Madhukar favorisât la bhakti pour ses fins propres, le saint-adviseur résista nettement de réduire bhakti à un rôle socio-économique.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Asian Languages and Literature, University of Washington, Seattle, USA;, Email:


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