Social Life in Medieval Karnataka
by C. Sivaramamurti
I have gone through the manuscript 'Social Life in Medieval Karnataka' by Dr. Jyotsna K. Kamat. The manuscript, a very interesting one, well documented, is a very useful contribution towards the cultural history of India. As can be seen from her bibliographical notes, she has taken great pains to consult freely literary works of the period, as well as epigraphical literature. She has drawn from Sanskrit and Prakrit sources, accounts of foreign travellers, as well as from Kannada literature. This interesting study of hers is illustrated by the sculptural wealth of the period, mainly drawn from Chalukyan and Hoysala monuments.
Years ago, I had felt it was absolutely necessary that some young scholar should take up the Manasollasa of king Somesvara for a special study of medieval Deccan. This encyclopaedic work, from which a very interesting chapter has been freely drawn for understanding painting, metal casting, iconography and other studies pertaining to the silpa in Medieval India, has for a long time remained unexplored for all the rest of the most valuable information that it offers. This encyclopaedic work along with several other important books has been made use of by Mrs. Kamat to great advantage. The very opening chapter pertaining to food and drinks is bound to reward the perusal of one who desires to know the food habits of the South, how they were derived and how they have survived till the present day, in most items of eatables, which a thousand years ago were still enjoyed by the people of the time in this area in a startlingly similar manner. An unbroken succession of a mode of life, habits, usages, outlook and environmental prediction thus becomes an established fact. Similarly, in the chapter on cosmetics, dress and ornaments, she has almost given a long commentary on several lines of Bana and Kalidasa, so to say, regarding such items. The verse in the Meghaduta, ending ekas sute sakalam abalamandanam kalpavrikshah, has been made very vivid here. Bana has an elaborate description of the bath of a prince but Mrs. Kamat has gone a step further to delve into the details of all the ingredients used for making bath as pleasant as possible. Modes of prasadhana of which poets have given such magnificent descriptions, and sculptors and painters illustrations, as, for instance, the mandana of Sundari in Sundaranada and Gandhara carving are again here wonderfully elaborated. She has gone into the details of dress and jewellery. Kshemendra and Rajasekhara have drawn distinctions in modes of dress in different parts of India like the tight bodice of the Gujarat damsel and the bare-breasted one from the Dravida area. She has here dealt with special peculiarities in dress, designs and patterns of embroidery on cloth worn. She has also discussed special forms of sartorial equipment. The adornment of the braid which has been so beautifully represented in Hoysala sculptures has not escaped her attention as she has documented it from literary sources focusing on its colour effect as well. She has gone into details of footwear, another very interesting feature. Equally interesting is her description of ornaments. One can recall that in the Tamil country, during Chola times, almost an encyclopaedic variety of ornaments is mentioned in Rajaraja's inscriptions in the Brihadesvara temple. Dr. Kamat has given an excellent picture of the jewelry of the time.
In the Mrichchakatika, there is at least one interesting fact admitted by Sakara that Vyayama or exercise is good for health. Sports and games and pastimes in the Deccan about this period are elaborately described, making the chapter both interesting and instructive.
We know from history and are glad actually to have a portrait of the great queen of Vishnuvardhana, Shantala, who was a learned and versatile as she was tolerant. Dr. Kamat gives a number of examples of princesses and queens who were distinguished in learning, patrons of literature and art, heroic in spirit and could raise the position of women to admirable heights. This chapter also is a very instructive and important one. She has specially laid stress on the capacity of women to associate themselves with administration, statecraft and even to give a lead in heroic battles.
Mrs. Kamat has illustrated the material not only with literary documentation but also with innumerable sketches based on the sculptural wealth available in monuments of this period in the area. I congratulate Dr. Kamat on a very commendable performance.
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