Organized Panel Session
Kathiawad (now Saurashtra), the peninsula between the Gulf of Khambhat and the Gulf of Kutch, was an important hub of mercantile activity in pre- and early colonial western India. As British administrators (C.A. Kincaid, H. Wilberforce-Bell, A.K. Forbes), local elites (Ranchodji Amarji), and contemporary scholars (Howard Spodek, Ghulam Nadri) have shown, not only was the commercial network widely spread across Kathiawad and beyond but also connected in complex ways to the mobile and the localized martial networks consisting of Rajputs, Kathis, foreign mercenaries, baharvatiyas (Robin Hood-like outlaws), and charans (bards known for bravery and poetic dexterity). This paper makes a case for attending
to a nexus of these merchant-martial networks as it appears in the devotional and the didactic works produced in Kathiawad to discuss the impact the region’s involvement in maritime and land-based trade had on the religious rhetoric found there. The writings frequently include mercantile tropes of book-keeping and gain-and-loss, and martial tropes of displaying courage, fighting and conquering, and safeguarding to describe everyday practices of interacting with the divine and to instruct their audiences on the same. This paper studies Vaishnava and Swaminarayan lyric compositions and transcribed conversations, and assesses the appeal of such tropes and the metaphorical linkages they foster. Through this exercise, Kathiawad emerges as a vital cultural-economic space in contextualizing sectarian and non-sectarian articulations of
devotional expressions, contemplative practices, and instructions on shaping a devotional selfhood.