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Lecture | VVIK Lecture

Violence and the State: Perspectives from Ancient India

Thursday 9 June 2022
(followed by drinks in the basement of Matthias de Vrieshof 3)


Locating the intersections between the theory and practice of political violence involves identifying the ways in which violence was folded into the structures of state and society, and the multiple, changing discourses around its forms and manifestations. This talk will discuss the ideas revealed in three texts – the Mahābhārata, Arthaśāstra and Kāmasūtra about three themes – the coercive power of the state; kingship and sexual violence; and violence against the state. The challenge is to uncover political violence in sources which sought to invisibilize it and transform it into something else. A focus on the structures, ideologies and impact of political violence not only provides insights into the history of political ideas and processes; it also allows us to think about continuities, transitions and disjunctures in early Indian history in a different way.

Biographical note

Upinder Singh is Professor of History at Ashoka University. Her interests range over various aspects of ancient Indian history and archaeology, the history of ideas, and India’s connections with the wider world. She is the author of Kings, Brāhmaṇas, and Temples in Orissa: An Epigraphic Study (AD 300–1147) (1994); Ancient Delhi (1999); The Discovery of Ancient India: Early Archaeologists and the Beginnings of Archaeology (2004); A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the Twelfth Century (2008); The Idea of Ancient India: Essays on Religion, Politics, and Archaeology (2016); and Political Violence in Ancient India (2017). She has edited Delhi: Ancient History (2006), Rethinking Early Medieval India (2011), and; and co-edited Ancient India: New Research (2009), Asian Encounters: Exploring Connected Histories (2014), and Buddhism in Asia: Revival and Reinvention (2016). Her most recent books, both published in 2021, are Ancient India: Culture of Contradictions and The World of India’s First Archaeologist: Letters from Alexander Cunningham to J.D.M. Beglar.

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