Textures of Time: Writing History in South India 1600-1800

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Along with the clock and the railroad, did the British colonists bring the questionable gift of history to India? Is it true that historical consciousness did not exist in India before its conquest by the British at the end of the nineteenth century, and that the more pristine South India in particular was blessed with an organic, holistic, untainted, child-like temporality?

Generations of Western writers have claimed this to be true: that Southern Indians in pre-colonial times were indifferent to historical fact, and approached their past unsystematically at best, through myth, legend, and story. Nearly a thousand years ago, the great scholar Al-Biruni complained that, "unfortunately, the Hindus do not pay much attention to the historical order of things. They are very careless in relating the chronological succession of kings, and when pressed for information invariably take to tale-telling." Until now this has been the received wisdom of the West, repeated with little variation by post-colonial historians.

Textures of Timesets out not merely to disprove that idea, but to demonstrate through a brilliant blend of storytelling and scholarship the complex forms of history that were produced in South India between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Through a nuanced reading of the rich language of folk epic, courtly poetry, and prose narratives, the authors reveal the divide between fact and fiction in South Indian writings and make a clear case for the existence of historical narrative in pre-colonial India.

Employing a careful reading of and extensive translations from the relevant texts, the book thus sets out to shake some of the deepest-rooted prejudices that exist in the received wisdom on late medieval and early modern India.

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About the author (2003)

Velcheru Narayana Rao

Velcheru Narayana Rao is Krishnadevaraya Professor of South Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and an author of A Poem at the Right Moment.

David Schulman

David Schulman is Professor of Indian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of several monographs and translations, including The Wisdom of Poets.

Sanjay Subrahmanyam

Sanjay Subrahmanyam is Directeur d'etudes at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He is the author of several books, including Penumbral Visions.

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