Village Defenses

Few medieval and early modern archaeological sites in South India can compare with such ruins as those at Vijayanagara and Gingee, and these sites receive most of the research attention of archaeologists, historians, and architects. By comparison, little is known about the small towns and villages that were the stage upon which ordinary people played out their lives.

Fortified villages in central and southern Karnataka, early 1800s

This study focuses on one aspect of these small communities—village defense as it was expressed in Old Mysore villages around AD 1800. The defensive measures of this period were highly patterned, reasonably effective, a common element of the cultural landscape, and are often accessible today from the examination of surface remains.

The results show significant differences between kinds of maidan villages and between maidan and malnad village defenses. It is reasonable to speculate that village defenses also varied in patterned ways across other Karnataka regions, but my research has not explored this possibility. Although fundamentally different in some important ways, the gross spatial layout of maidan villages and cities is surprisingly similar, certainly more so than one might expect at first glance.

The research demonstrates the interpretive value of comparative analysis of the gross spatial patterns of many site types, the crucial importance of considering the cultural context of such patterns, and the relevance of the villages to the understanding of such patterns. The survey of village defenses also shows that the opportunity to examine and understand pre-colonial small communities is quickly passing as these sites are destroyed by benign neglect.

The first product of this research was published in 2009 in the journal South Asian Studies. The article is entitled “Village Defenses of the Karnataka Maidan, South India, A.D. 1600-1800”.