alliances with brahmins and kings. In other words, dominant castes came to
control local communities in dynastic territories. The extension of caste
society seems to have been a process that did not necessitate daily coercion.
It appeared as an evolving caste hegemony in which the coercive features
were concealed by beliefs in dharma that came to have wide acceptance as
they offered everyone a place in the social ranks.
Incorporation of New Groups in Caste Hierarchy The spread of jati
ranking as a characteristic of social life appears to have been driven by ritual
alliances among upwardly mobile groups. New dynastic domains were places
where the construction of ranking systems made good sense. Dynastic lineage
leaders and brahmins were important actors in building these systems of
social difference, status, ranks and power. New societies came to incorporate
new social groups and institutions created around models of behaviour,
identity, aesthetics and patronage codified in Sanskrit texts as these were
interpreted locally by brahmins who sanctified social rank. Rising families
engaged brahmin genealogists and court poets, patronised brahmins and
temples, provided feeding places for mendicants and pilgrimages, staged
festivals, fed saints, and variously joined in activities that brought gods,
priests, kings and farmers into communion. People moved up in society by
supporting and imitating brahmins.
EMERGENCE OF DOMINANT AGRARIAN CASTES
All this took place as farmers extended their control over land and labour
and as populations of peasants, nomads, pastoralists, hunters and forest
tribes were slowly obtaining new social identities. Over many generations,
people became high caste landowners, kings, protectors of dharma,
kshatriyas, vaisyas, superior sudras, inferior sudras, untouchables, and
aliens beyond the pale. Dominant agrarian castes came into existence in
different regions: Jats, Rajputs, Kunbis, Vellalas, Velamas, Reddys,
Kapus, Nayars and many others. In this extended process, ancient
identities vanished. The Hoysala kings, for instance, were descendants of
Melapas (hill chiefs in the Soseyur forests), whereas the Yadava and
Wodeyar dynasties descended from herders. Gurjaras and Rajputs had
once been pastoral nomads.