Sunday , 20 August 2017

The Dhangar Dynasties Of The Deccan

Tensing Rodrigues


As I scoured for sources of information on the dynasties of the Deccan, I came across a blog titled ‘Vijayanagara Kingdom And Goa’s Sangam Dynasty’, dated sometime 2012.[] Out of sheer curiosity, I began reading it; it was indeed interesting. According to the blogger, the Sangama dynasty that laid the foundation of the Vijayanagara empire originated in Goa. They were shepherds, and local chieftains; somewhat in line with what we supposed in the earlier article. [Revisiting The Chaadd’ddi, 06 Aug 17] The blogger, himself from Sanguem, claimed to belong to the same community as the Sangama. I tried to contact him on the phone number given in the blog; but did not succeed. Whether we accept the blogger’s claim that the dynasty had its origin as the local chieftains in Sanguem or not, Sewell asserts that the Sangama brothers were indeed of ‘kuruba caste’ (goat herds); the assertion is based on the chronicles of Fernao Nuniz and Diogo do Couto. [Sewell, 1900: A Forgotten Empire, 23]

There is further evidence of the pastoralist background of the Vijayanagara kings. But before we get to it, it is necessary to understand one crucial word which recurs in the history of Deccan kings: yadava (yaddava). The word is seldom distinguished from its cognate in the Indo-Gangetic plain: yadava. The latter constitute peasant-pastoral communities in North India and Nepal that claim descent from Yadu, a mythical Vedic king; their distinguishing attribute has been cattle raising. The best known yadava is Krisna of Mathura. The real etymology of the word is not known. Southworth considers the word to be possibly Dravidian – yadu+van meaning shepherd, as it has no known Indo-European etymology, and conjectures that even mythical Yadu could have been a back formation (that is derived from yadava). [Southworth, 1995: Reconstructing social context from language : Indo-Aryan and Dravidian prehistory, 266] That takes us to the word yadava (yaddava) as used in the Deccan. Yadava comes from yadu (yaddu) the Tamil word for sheep; yadava means a shepherd. Just as kuruba comes from kuru, which means goats. Kuruba has then probably become kunbi (kunnbi) in some areas; the community obviously has roots in goat herding.

Whether the Indo-Gangetic yadava is derived from its southern cognate yaddava is difficult to say. But the possibility is strong, given the fact that the eastern Indo-Gangetic plain, which is the homeland of the yadava, seems to have had much intercourse with the Deccan. Archeologically both share common cultural traits. According to Bronkhorst until about the middle of the first millennium BCE the doab between the Ganga and the Jamuna was characterised by what is called Painted Grey Ware (PGW), while the area east of the confluence of the two rivers was characterised by Black and Red Ware (BRW). (Bronkhorst, 2007: Greater Magadha – Studies in the Culture of Early India, 13) According to Parpola, the Late Vedic or Epic period is represented in western North India by the late PGW (c. 700 – 350 BCE) and in Central and South India by the Megalithic culture and its BRW (from c. 800 BC onwards, in some places up to the 2nd century AD); in eastern North India the period is represented by the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) (c. 550 – 300 BCE). (Parpola, 2004: From Archaeology to A Stratigraphy Of Vedic Syncretism, 482) That clearly points to the cultural similarity between eastern North India and the central and southern India, till about 500 BCE. [Who Are Kshatriya?, 12 Feb 17] We have also discussed the possible cultural exchange between the Indo-Gangetic plain and Deccan by way of the cattle caravans. [The Pastoralists of Deccan, 19Mar 17] Taking all this into account, Southworth’s hypothesis seems to have much going for it. Southworth reinforces his argument on the linguistic basis too: “it is probable that the Yadavas or ‘Outer Group’ speakers of lndo-Aryan had greater and more direct contact with the earlier peoples of the subcontinent than the Pauravas or ‘Inner Group’ speakers did.” [Southworth, 1995 :266]

One noteworthy point probably is the difference in animals that the yadava and the yaddava grazed; while the former herded predominantly cattle, the latter tended goats, sheep and buffaloes. The deliberate derivation of descent of yaddava kings from yadava ancestors therefore is not at all called for. If Krisna was a kshatriya and a king, so would be Hakka and Shivaji. Perhaps charddi>chaadd’ddi also has a similar etymology: herders. Could that be the Konkani version of yaddava? Getting back to the changing social context in the Deccan, obviously a number of communities constituted that mosaic. There were the vadukar, pure and simple; in the story of the peopling of Konkan, Crawford writes about the ‘hardy Mhars the aborigines’. [Crawford, 1909: Legends Of The Konkan, 31] Then there was the community that resulted from the intermingling of the kshatriya of the Indo-Gangetic Plain with the vadukar; this, as we have said before, probably constitutes the bulk of the contemporary chaadd’ddi. Could it be possible that the vadukar were predominantly goat herders and the kshatriya cattle herders, given their ancestral traditions? Can we then draw a fine line between kunbi and chaadd’ddi as between goat herders and cattle herders?

Many stone inscriptions of the Vijayanagara kings state that the dynasty’s founder Sangama was an yadava of the lineage of the moon. For instance a donative inscription of Harihara II states: “Sri Sangameswara was in the laudable Yadu family known as Yadavas, who are praiseworthy because of being born in the lineage of Soma.” [Upadhyay, 1945: Vijayanagar Samrajyaka Itihas, 23] Sangama was obviously from Deccan, and could not be one of the Soma lineage yadava from the Indo-Gangetic plain; but yaddava from Deccan he could definitely be. All southern royal dynasties who affirmed their kshatriya status by claiming descent from the mythical Yadu, arose from pastoralist background.

But a stronger proof of the dhangar origin of the Vijayanagara kings come from the gods they worshipped. Hampi has two majestic temples, one for Virupaksa and the other for Viththala. Virupaksa is none other than Birappa, from the pastoralists’ paired gods Viththala-Birappa. Though the Sangama brothers claimed descent from Yadu, and Hakka changed his name to Harihara (Hari = Shiva + Hara = Vishnu), they did not abandon their ancestral gods; they simply raised them to the Vedic pantheon: Birappa as Shiva (Virupaksa) and Viththala as Vishnu (Krisna). But they could not do without reminding themselves and the world of their origins: the Viththala temple at Hampi has bas-reliefs of dhangar – the only human images among the divine; the dhangar in these images stands with blanket draped over his head, arms resting on a staff and the chin resting on the arm.


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