The Frayed Margins of Empire: Early Nineteenth Century Panjab and the Hill States

indian economic and social history review, 2017, 54 (4)

29 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2017

Date Written: November 30, 2017


The historiography of the nineteenth century Panjab privileges the core constituency of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s ‘empire’, whereby the margins are represented only as conquered territories. This article shifts the perspective by highlighting the context of ‘Zomian’ margins in the making of an ‘empire’. Based on coeval travellers’ accounts, news from Lahore Durbar and British Indian governmental sources, the focus is on the impact of economic and political contingencies on the policies of Sikh Sardars, the Maharaja of Lahore and, ultimately, the British Indian government in the Western Himalayan region. We shall, however, limit ourselves to economic interaction between the hegemonic empire and Kangra hill states to bring out the dynamics of dominance and subversion. The underlying assumption of dominance and eventual integration into the ‘empire’ was rather economic: in services, materials and money. It was, however, not a relationship of political dominance only. While the subjugation of hill states alienated revenue to the ‘empire’, it also opened new markets to the hill products and services that had cultural and economic implications. The new markets were welcomed; the alienation of revenue was not. The alliance, therefore, had an uneasy aspect, nuanced by a subtle protest, that of the weak against the strong: an indirect, meek and symbolic resistance. Consequently, when the strength of ‘empire’ dwindled, such protests acquired accentuated dimensions. The process of such protests is vital in understanding the decline of Lahore ‘empire’, barely a decade after the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Keywords: Kangra, Kulu, Sikhs, Ranjit Singh, Zomia, dominance, protest, hegemony, wool mart, opium, dyers, Sood, Khatris, Western Himaayas, Panjab, South-Asia, India, Modern History

Suggested Citation

Sharma, Mahesh, The Frayed Margins of Empire: Early Nineteenth Century Panjab and the Hill States (November 30, 2017). indian economic and social history review, 2017, 54 (4) , Available at SSRN:

Mahesh Sharma (Contact Author)

Panjab University ( email )

Sector 14
Chandigarh, 160014
919463976187 (Phone)

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