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Arts & Crafts: Refined Life of People

Review of "Social Life in Medieval Karnataka" 
by Jyotsna K. Kamat, 
Abhinav Publications, New Delhi 110 016

From "HINDU" dated January 13,1981

Though essentially a very interesting and well-documented contribution to the mosaic of cultural history of India and, in particular, medieval Karnataka, the publication stands out as a refreshing pursuit for the focus it beams on the social life of the people which historians often miss.

The Study spans four centuries from 1000 1400 A.D. of the social life of the people of Karnataka (and of royalty) which was much bigger than its contemporary geographical limits. These were the days of empire building, under the Chalukyas of Kalyani, the Kalachuris, the Yadavas, and the Hoysalas, exuding their own individual cultural flavour. The Vijayanagar empire followed in the latter part of the 14th century.

It is gripping and revealing narration of the refined living of the people of those days, men and women, their food and drink, their aesthetic sense reflected in dress, hair styles, ornaments, the way they spent leisure, entertainment, recreation, the accomplishments of their women and their status in the society; and the social codes.

The insight must come as a revelation, indeed, and might disturb snobs who want to screw up their nose and tilt at the very mention of all that is ancient, old, or even medieval. The author quotes Somesvara for the fact that Karnataka had impressive contributions to the culinary art-dosa, idli, puri, and that current South Indian delicacies like tairvade or mosarvade and vade-sambar found mention in his book. A thousand years ago, the people of Karnataka were aware of the benefits of a balanced diet and had developed the correct concept of the chemistry of food to attune the body to the environment.

The chapter, appropriately and tantalizingly captioned, 'Vanity fair', has a dig at the 'Mods' as it begins 'In this century, Indians have become more conscious of fashions and the trend is to imitate the West, without consideration of our climate and social heritage. In medieval India, specially in Karnataka, people were in no way less fashionable than today. The only difference was that they used indigenous products to enhance their looks and personality ....'

The 'Vanity fair' also deals, extensively, with make-up and hair styles of women, their brassiers, and mini-wear of men and women and their love of ornaments, and their breathtaking range. The chapter ends with the comment 'In respect of cosmetics, our ancestors had achieved full mastery, except extraction of essences like scents and preservatives like spirits. As for dress and ornaments, we have become poorer in taste and materials'.

The four chaptered 142 page elegantly jacketed publication is based on part of the authors dissertation submitted to the Karnataka University for her degree of doctor of Philosophy. She has delved, painstakingly, as the impressive bibliography proves, into the literary works of the period as well as epigraphical literature, supplemented by Sanskrit and Prakrit sources and accounts of foreign travelers like Alberuni, Marco Polo, and Ibn Batuta. There are over 40 illustrations. No less a person that Dr. C. Sivaramamurti, has blessed the 'Encyclopedic' work with his scholarly foreword. It is an invaluable guide to the glory of Karnataka.

- C. M. Ramachandra. 

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