Divya Cherian, Columbia University
Fall from Grace? Untouchables and Hindus in Eighteenth-Century Marwar
In the course of the seventeenth century, Marwar, like large parts of the Indian subcontinent, had come under the sway of Krishna devotion. The Vallabh Sampraday, in particular, drew the large and active merchant population of the region into its fold. In 1766, Maharaja Vijay Singh, the Rathor king of Marwar, formally joined the Vallabh Sampraday, further cementing the already close ties between his state and the merchant community. This paper will show that from the 1760s, the merchants of the kingdom, sometimes joined by brahmans, waged localized struggles to mark off an exclusive domain, defined in opposition to the achhep (literally, ‘untouchable’), a category that explicitly subsumed Muslims. They did so not only in the arenas of residential space, economic resources, and water supply, but also in the spatial and ritual practices of the localized, temple-centric Krishna communities that had by the eighteenth-century gathered in the towns and villages of Marwar. With Krishna devotion in general and the Vallabh Sampraday in particular enjoying the prestige that came with royal affiliation and the generous patronage of the court and of wealthy merchants, the presence and practices of these devotional communities enjoyed prominence in the everyday life of the kingdom. By supporting merchant efforts for segregation, demarcation, and exclusion in the ritual, economic, social, and spatial life of the kingdom, the Rathor state under Vijay Singh aided the emergence of a self-conscious Hindu community in early modern Marwar, one that defined itself in caste terms, in opposition not to the Muslim qua Muslim but to the ‘untouchable,’ and which mobilized around the locus of Krishna devotion.
Bio: Divya Cherian is a historian of early modern South Asia with an interest in social and cultural history. Her research is centered on caste, religious identity, and law in eighteenth-century Marwar. Divya received a PhD in history from Columbia University and an MPhil and MA from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, New Brunswick.