The Konkan: Regional History on an Indian Ocean Coast

Saturday, January 8, 2022: 1:30 PM
Preservation Hall, Studio 9 (New Orleans Marriott)
Ananya Chakravarti, Georgetown University
The Konkan: Regional History on an Indian Ocean Coast

South Asian historiography, which often takes as the bounds of its political imagination the geographical limits of state power, has been peculiarly blind to regions like the Konkan coast of western India, whose political fragmentation belie other forms of regional integration. This coast was, and is, the borderland mediating between the vast world of the Indian Ocean, and the mercantile, diasporic, ecumenical and imperial networks that operated within it, and the interior of the South Asian subcontinent. Despite its clear historical import, the coast has escaped the notice of historians as a coherent cultural region, due to its perennial political fragmentation. This paper presents an overview of a monograph project, which draws upon both early modern archival and ethnographic research to show how the Konkan must be understood as an interconnected and coherent region for both South Asian and Indian Ocean history. I focus in particular on two groups of mobile peoples and two cultural phenomena in demonstrating the regional coherence of the Konkan zone: 1) slaves and the Konkani migrant community of Kochi, Kerala and 2) deities of place and the Konkani language. By following the pathways of these people, their cosmologies and languages, I demonstrate how the Konkan coast may be 'mapped' as an Indian Ocean borderland.

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