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  • Power, Memory, Architecture: Contested Sites On India's Deccan Plateau, 1300–1600 by Richard M. Eaton and Phillip B. Wagoner
  • Navina Najat Haidar
Power, Memory, Architecture: Contested Sites On India's Deccan Plateau, 1300–1600. By Richard M. Eaton and Phillip B. Wagoner (New York, Oxford University Press, 2014) 396 pp. $123.20 cloth $39.95 paper

This scholarly volume presents the history of India's south-central Deccan region in a dynamic period—the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries—that witnessed great political and cultural transitions. Medieval Hindu kingdoms gave way to Muslim courts and new forms of sovereignty in the Indian subcontinent. The authors, however, eschew a simple religious binary for a broader civilizational view of the players and their cultural values, further advancing their already established research and analytical methods. Whereas previous studies generally focused on courtly capitals and primary urban centers, such as Golconda and Bijapur, this book sets out to foreground the Deccan's lesser-known frontiers of action and contested areas, particularly Kalyana, Raichur, and Warangal.

One of the most interesting approaches of the book is to view the conquest of the Deccan by the Delhi Sultanate in the early fourteenth century as an encounter between a Sanskrit "cosmopolis" (a broad social network united by language and political culture) and a Persian cosmopolis. The [End Page 528] Chalukya and Kakatiya dynasties that successively ruled the Deccan from the tenth to the fourteenth centuries were forebears of a "placeless" Sanskritic ideal; their royal values and architectural styles were shaped in part by the literary image of the warrior king Rama, hero of the Ramayana epic. The incoming Persian cosmopolis was unified by Islam and the New Persian literary traditions, and also infused with the history and culture of the Middle East, central Asia, and northern India. Both civilizational systems shared an ideal of domination, in which religion came second to pure power and a sense of continuity with the past. By the sixteenth century—the major focus of the volume—the Persianate and Sanskritic ideals had been deeply blended, and their literary and political models were inherited by the Sultanate successors of the Bahmanid and Vijayanagara dynasties that came into power.

The book addresses the currently sensitive topic of the attitudes of the conquerors to the sacred and secular spaces of the conquered. Muslim responses to Hindu temples varied; they included destruction (when the temple had political importance), re-use, and active support. The authors examine the built landscape—even the often-overlooked subject of gateways—interpreting its symbolism and its relationship to the local past. The deliberate resurrection of earlier Hindu styles by later rulers, both Hindu and Muslim, is thus placed in meaningful context. Tracing the "stormy and tragic" career of Shitab Khan through the careful study of text, architecture, and inscriptions provides an avenue for these themes.

One of the most iconic buildings of the Deccan, the Charminar in Hyderabad, emerges as the fruit of its cultural encounters. Built in 1591, the millennial year of Islam, and marking the intersection of four cardinal roadways, this ornately decorated gateway tower complex with an upper-story mosque acts as a cosmic centerpiece for the city's urban space, drawing together multiple architectural traditions from the past, while heralding the sumptuous future of the Golconda sultans.

This book is particularly valuable in light of today's cultural debates in India—and around the world—given the widespread phenomenon of writing about the past with the tools and aims of politicians rather than those of historians. The authors' detailed examination of texts, architecture, military technology, and biography offers reliable cross-references to explicate the complex history of the Deccan in this important transitional period. The book is accessible to both scholars and general readers, as well as to visitors and viewers of Deccan art and architecture.

Navina Najat Haidar
Metropolitan Museum of Art


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pp. 528-529
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