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The Sovereign and His Signature: Cases of Eighteenth Century Little-Kings in Bengal


· Arighna Gupta University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, United States of America)


07/28 | 18:10-18:30 UTC+2/CEST


This paper is an exploration of the concept of the “sovereign” in courtly literature in late 18th century Bengal and vernacular texts produced from the Fort William around 1800 – 1805. While the eighteenth century was marked by tremendous dynamism in terms of politics, the representations of the political was equally intriguing. Breaking away from an empire-centric focus, this paper highlights local claims to the political. The first set of texts explored here were composed in the court of a “little king”, who shifted his allegiance from the Nawab of Bengal to the new realm of the East India Company in South-Central Bengal, Krishnachandra Ray. Although termed as epic-poems (one of which was a Mangal Kavya), this paper argues that these were political commentaries composed in a particular aesthetic style. This paper foregrounds the role of the signature (bhanita) in these epic-poems and argues that these might have belonged to the tradition of adab literature, imbued with political significations.
The second set of texts examined are biographies of kings produced under the Company patronage from Calcutta. This paper reads these biographies as part of a similar genre of political commentaries. While the two forms seem ostensibly similar, they also mark a shift from the earlier representations of the local sovereign who legitimized themselves always through the symbol of the divine and the Mughal Emperor, to a politically ambivalent sovereign, free from the significations of the eighteenth-century political discourse.