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Study of Poligar Violence in Late 18th Century Tamil Country in South India

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image of African and Asian Studies
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This paper is written in an effort to understand the nature and the causes behind the brutal acts of violence unleashed by the poligar military households of South India. It particularly focuses on the poligar rajah Kattabomma Nayakar, who has, since the early 1950s, assumed the role of an ancestor figure of Tamil nationalism. I have relied mainly on colonial archival materials and a few folkloric accounts as my sources and used the anthropological insights of F. G. Baily, Victor Turner, and Steward Gordon in their studies of the political conflicts. In this paper, I do not so much question the reliability and accuracy of the colonial materials. However, I examine their interpretations and the motivations that many historians seem to have overlooked. This is particularly so in the case of poligar led violence as its true causes are often misrepresented and misunderstood in colonial records. We could even say that there is a vested colonial interest in misunderstanding these acts of violence, which are often used as citations to justify the subsequent colonial policies directed not only against the poligars but also against the entire the civil population of the Tamil country. In this paper, I argue that the poligars such as Kattabomma Nayakar were rebels with a cause. They saw themselves indulging in most cases in activities that stood within the bounds of the poligars' traditional mode of conduct. Further, I will also demonstrate how the political violence is intimately linked with political mobility and state formation in pre modern South India. A wider applicability of the results of this study to other parts of South Asia is useful in illuminating the causes and the nature of the political conflicts in various cross cultural settings.


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