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LORDS OF THE DECCAN : Southern India from the Chalukyas to the Cholas – Anirudh Kanisetti

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The history of the vast Indian subcontinent is usually told as a series of ephemeral moments when a large part of modern-day India was ruled by a single sovereign. There is an obsession with foreign invasions and the polities of the Gangetic plains, while the histories of the rest of the subcontinent have been reduced to little more than dry footnotes. Now, in this brilliant and critically acclaimed debut book, Anirudh Kanisetti shines a light into the darkness, bringing alive for the lay-reader the early medieval Deccan, from the sixth century CE to the twelfth century CE, in all its splendour and riotous glory.

Kanisetti takes us back in time to witness the birth of the Chalukyas, a dynasty that shaped southern India for centuries. Beginning at a time when Hinduism was still establishing itself through the Deccan, when the landscape was bereft of temples, he explores the extraordinary transformation of the peninsula over half a millennium. In vivid and colourful detail, Kanisetti describes how the mighty empires of medieval India were made: how temple-building and language manipulation were used as political tools; how royals involved themselves in religious struggles between Jains and Buddhists, Shaivas and Vaishnavas; and how awe-inspiring rituals were used to elevate kings over their rivals and subjects. In doing so, he transforms medieval Indian royals, merchants and commoners from obscure figures to complex, vibrant people. Kanisetti takes us into the minds of powerful rulers of the Chalukya, Pallava, Rashtrakuta and Chola dynasties, and animates them and their world with humanity and depth.

It is a world of bloody elephant warfare and brutal military stratagems; of alliances and betrayals; where a broken king commits ritual suicide, and a shrewd hunchbacked prince founds his own kingdom under his powerful brother’s nose. This is a world where a king writes a bawdy play that is a parable for religious contestation; where the might of India’s rulers and the wealth of its cities were talked of from Arabia to Southeast Asia; and where south Indian kingdoms serially invaded and defeated those of the north. This painstakingly researched forgotten history of India will keep you riveted and enthralled. You will never see the history of the subcontinent the same way again.

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‘Rarely has the history of peninsular India, of this period, been told as anything more than a dry and ceaseless monotony of battles between obscure and unimaginable rulers. Anirudh Kanisetti’s Lords of the Deccan has lifted the history of south India out of the dusty archives of Indian archaeology and epigraphy. Meticulously researched and narrated with a style that is at once lively and judicious, Lords of the Deccan synthesizes a wide array of innovations in recent scholarship with the older tradition of political history. Kanisetti harnesses his impressive skills as a storyteller to breathe new life into his subject, deftly interweaving the careers of individual kings, the structures and networks of noble families, and the great transformations in religious, cultural and literary life into a single coherent and riveting account of south India in this crucial period, which saw the region enter historical centre-stage and take on many contours still palpable today.’– Daud Ali

‘Lords of the Deccan is the completely thrilling and game-changing debut of a major new talent. Anirudh Kanisetti is a superb writer and a talented storyteller as well as an impressively judicious and subtle historian. He breathes life into the rajas, scholars and soldiers of two nearly forgotten medieval dynasties and resurrects for us a whole extraordinary world with flair, nuance, clarity and sophistication.’– William Dalrymple

‘Lords of the Deccan is an assured and supremely entertaining account of a clamorous, tumultuous and little-known period of Indian history – the early medieval Deccan period. Navigating these unchartered waters with considerable confidence and panache, Anirudh Kanisetti brings to vivid light both the savagery and the song of these riotous five hundred years. He does so, moreover, by dismantling the opaque language of historiography for the lay-reader and giving them the tools to truly understand the dialect of power – the temple building, the ode-writing, the painting and even the very manipulation of language and religion. With Lords of the Deccan, Kanisetti has claimed for himself a place of pride in the cartography of Indian history writing.’– Ira Mukhoty

‘Ambitious in its scope and rich in depth and detail, Lords of the Deccan is an outstanding debut. With his evocative retelling, Anirudh Kanisetti restores medieval south India to the prominence and centrality it deserves in general imagination – marrying old learning to new perspectives on everything, from kingship to the evolution of religions.’– Manu S. Pillai

‘In shining a light on the Deccan in the second half of the first millennium, Anirudh Kanisetti has given us a marvellous book. It brings to life the Chalukyas, the Pallavas, the Cholas, the Rashtrakutas and others, and in the process gives us a peninsular perspective of Indian history. This is also a story of imperial achievements in which language, literature, faith, sculpture, and artistic achievement weld seamlessly with political and military stratagems. A wonderful read.’– T.C.A. Raghavan

‘Anirudh Kanisetti takes us on a fascinating journey into the past to revive five hundred years of glorious rule of early medieval Deccan rulers and brings the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas and Cholas back into popular historical consciousness. Kanisetti’s engaging narrative style and lively account brings to life the triumphs, defeats and rivalries of those lords and ladies of the Deccan who have left behind a legacy of magnificent architecture and sculpture; sumptuous textiles and jewellery; evocative poetry and literature.’– Rana Safvi

About the Author
Anirudh Kanisetti is a history researcher and writer based out of Bengaluru and Hyderabad. He currently works at the Museum of Art and Photography. He has received grants from the Princeton Center for Digital Humanities and the India Foundation for the Arts, and his writings and work have been featured in The Hindu, The New Indian Express, LiveMint and The Print, among others.He hosts two critically acclaimed podcasts – Echoes of India and Yuddha.

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