In 1855, Rashmoni, a widow of the caste of fishermen, built a large temple on the bank of the Ganges. Then she employed three very poor rural Brahmin men to serve as priests, paying each a small cash-salary, supplemented with annuals gifts of cloth, grain and fuel. Historians of medieval India have long characterized such temple- construction as royal activity, capping their status of yajamans (colloquially jajman) or patrons of ritual (yajna). By this reckoning, Rashmoni’s actions should have also qualified her as a royal yajaman. Yet neither postcolonial nor feminist historians of South Asia have written of these lower-caste widows as royal patrons. What explains their silence? This talk aims to open up the intersections of gender, governmentality and capital through the peculiar relationship identified in jajmani in the records of the first half of the nineteenth century in eastern South Asia.
Indrani Chatterjee is a Professor of History at the University of Texas, Austin. In her pioneering work over the past twenty-five years, Chatterjee has illuminated new dimensions of a variety of underexplored themes in South Asia’s past—including slavery, the household, and monasticism—and has critically reappraised gender and sexuality as frameworks in South Asian history. Her published works include: Gender, Slavery, and Law in Colonial India (OUP 1999), Unfamiliar Relations: Family and History in South Asia (ed. Permanent Black 2004), and Forgotten Friends: Monks, Marriages, Memories of Northeast India (OUP 2013).