The University of Iowa

‘Gurus and Overlapping Sovereignties’ is topic of March 31 SASP seminar

March 25th, 2014
Spring 2014 South Asian Studies Program Seminar

Aya Ikegame, an anthropologist from the University of Edinburgh, will present a SASP seminar on Monday, March 31, at 4:00 p.m. in 1117 University Capitol Centre, titled "Gurus and Overlapping Sovereignties: Informal Justice and Local Development in Rural Karnataka." The event is free and open to the public. Chai and snacks will be served.

Ikegame is a social anthropologist working on kingship and guruship in the state of Karnataka, southern India. In advance of Dr. Ikegame's, seminar you might be interested to read the following review of her recent book, Princely India Reimagined:

This event is sponsored by SASP and International Programs. To see the full list of SASP events for spring 2014, visit

Learn about this seminar topic below:

Hindu religious institutions called mathas in southern India have been a centre of local society for centuries. The head of the matha, the guru, not only offered religious and moral guidance, but he also settled local and family disputes, practiced medical and spiritual healing, and provided a place for learning. Many gurus mobilized local peasants and led uprisings against local lords or sometime offered support to a new king expanding his territory. Kings could not ignore the power of gurus and mathas, and they were obliged to grant land and certain powers to them. In this sense, gurus were a localized locus of power and constituted a localized sovereign within a segmented political structure.

In contemporary Karnataka, the presence of gurus in politics has been much talked about, especially when the BJP-led state government conspicuously distributed state funding to influential mathas in the name of development. By the late 20th century, many mathas have grown into welfare enterprises providing education, health care and social justice for diverse local communities. The electoral success of the BJP was said to have derived from the strong support of these locally powerful gurus. Mathas seemed to have become almost a parallel state, with an efficient administrative body that often consists of volunteers drawn from the ranks of elite devotees.

This paper, while drawing attention to the continuing ‘segmentary state’ character of the matha, argues that the working of the guru as a localized sovereign is neither parallel to the state nor an extension of the state. By analyzing disputes between villagers and local mining companies, which were brought to an informal court run by a Lingayat guru in central Karnataka, the paper discusses the complex and sometime contradictory relationship between the state and the guru.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Sarolta Petersen in advance at 319-335-3862.