History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2014: Q.8 (a)

History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2014: Q.8 (a)

Q.8 (a) To what extent is ‘Segmentary State’ model relevant for defining the Vijayanagar State? Critically examine.


What is Segmentary State?

The concept of ‘Segmentary State’ model was first developed by an anthropologist Aidan W. Southall to describe the political organization of certain section of African society.

‘Segmentary State’ is a form of political structure of a state, which is opposed to idea of centralised state with fixed territories, centralised administration and coercive power.

Segmentary State lacks well defined territory and are characterised by numerous centres and domains. Each of these many centres has autonomous administrative authority, and some degree of political power. Each is also largely autonomous economically and though resources do flow between hierarchical levels of segmentary structure in the form of tax and tribute, such flows are often limited.

Rather than political or economic, what moulds these segments together into a single state is an acknowledgement of a sovereign authority, particularly a sacred authority, of a single ritual centre and legitimate king.

Instead of subjugation by a despotic ruler, it is the widely shared concept of Lordship or a quasi-sacred monarch that links the disparate and often competing political units into a polity of chiefdom.

The relationship between the segments and the centre are pyramidally arranged and the distance between the segments and the centre decided the nature of relationship between the two.

As a structural model, Segmentary State lacks dynamism for   structural change.

Vijayanagara as a Segmentary State

The concept of Segmentary State was first applied to Medieval Indian states of Chola and Vijayanagara by historian Burton Stein.

In contrast to traditional territorial segments of the Cholas, the foci of Vijayanagara’s political and economic segments were military leaders (Nayakas) who were ceded territory in exchange for the service to the crown, and coastal chiefs who benefited from long distance trade.

Stein did acknowledge various attempts made by Vijayanagara rulers for greater centralisation. But despite these attempts, persistence of the variety of communal entitlements among diverse regional groups (religious communities, caste communities, artisan community etc.) inhibited Vijayanagara to exert effective centralised control over its territories. Hence, segmentary structure was highly durable in the Vijayanagara political structure.

The segmentary model for the Vijayanagara can be justified from the account of foreign travellers like Nuniz and Peas, who claimed that Nayakas around the Empire were almost ruling independently and paying the tribute and visiting the central authority once in a while.

Criticism of Segmentary State model applied to Vijayanagara

(1) Historians like Nilkant Shastri considered Vijayanagara as centralised and bureaucratized the Vijayanagar empire had a large standing army. The king exercised controlled over a large area much of which was divided into provinces under the control of military leaders, Nayakas. The Nayakas were responsible to administer and to collect revenue. Though Nayaka ruled with autonomy, the accountability and uncertainity of their office tenure acted as restrained to their powers.  Also , the king was the owner of soil.

(2) Even Stein had agreed that Vijayanagara was progressing from segmentary to more centralised form of state organisation.

(3) Disagreeing with the view of Burton Stein, R.S. Sharma, D.N. Jha and R. Champakalakshmi put the Vijayanagara state in the model of a feudal polity and society. They argued that the extent of the empire and the absence of adequate means of transport and communication made it necessary for the rulers to delegate power to these feudal segments and to depend on them.

(4) Some historians argue that in extensive imperial states, a highly centralised organisation is always non-existent and political structures entails diffused authority. This is norm in every case and not the exception for Chola and Vijayanagara. Hence, it cannot be fixed into any particular models of segmentary, feudal or centralised state.


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