Mughals from the Margins: Regional Histories and Imperial Conquest in 17th-Century Southern India

Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:50 AM
Chicago Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Subah Dayal, Tulane University
Historians often cast the Mughal empire's territorial expansion, in all parts of the Indian subcontinent, as pre-given and inevitable. However, for much of the seventeenth century, peninsular India or the Deccan remained beyond empire's ambit. This paper examines how regional histories, produced away from the imperial center, envisioned empire, and explores processes of contesting, negotiating, and consolidating Mughal ambitions. It explores counter-narratives of imperial conquest and considers the meanings of all things 'Mughal' from the viewpoint of regional poet-historians, who observed royal princes, an imperial army, and its soldiers and commanders, with a mix of awe, mistrust, and suspicion. In refusing to give up their local affinities of language, region, and locale, those who lay beyond empire questioned the all-encompassing and capacious uses of the term 'Mughal', often deploying insults and humor in their writings, to ridicule imperial occupation of the Deccan. Regional observers called into question the criteria for being imperial, always emphasizing the limits of Mughal institutions, cultural forms, and practices of incorporation. In other words, this paper asks - what did an early modern empire mean for those who were not it? How was it apprehended, received, and made sense of from without? By interrogating regional histories, it argues for exploring early modern empires from the margins, and to consider non-imperial imaginaries that contested the meanings and vision of imperial conquest.