The Goddess and the King: Cāmuṇḍēśvari and the Fashioning of the Woḍeyar Court of Mysore

PhD defended at: 

University of Florida

Author: 

Caleb Simmons

Defended: 

2014

This dissertation explores the ways that the court of the medieval South Indian kingdom of Mysore fashioned their rulers, the Woḍeyar kings, in genealogies and origin stories. Central to this process was the relationship between the Woḍeyars and their tutelary deity Cāmuṇḍēśvari. I examine the genealogical material of the Mysore court chronologically from the dynasty’s inception to the early modern period that reveals several developments in which the goddess of Mysore evolved from grāmadēvatā (village goddess) to the fierce goddess Cāmuṇḍi to the Purāṇic slayer of the buffalo demon and finally into Mahādēvi, Mother of the Universe. I show that the ways the goddess was imagined reflected the emergence of the Woḍeyar kingdom through several stages of political significance: local, regional, imperial, and incorporeal.

I argue that fashioning kingship in Mysore was part of a larger paradigm in which the nature of kingship was fashioned in medieval South India that transcended communal divides. Goddess devotion was central to the process of rule as an alliance with a fierce local goddess located upstart kings and kingdoms within significant space by connecting them to local sites of power and assuring the goddess’s aid on the battlefield. The goddess-king alliance was central to the construction of kingship and was ubiquitously incorporated into the origin stories of late medieval kingdoms in southern Karnataka.

Lastly, this dissertation explores the changing notion of kingship during the early modern period during Ṭīpū Sultān’s Mysore Sultanate and the restoration of Woḍeyar dynasty under Kṛṣṇarāja Woḍeyar III. I argue that the courts of both rulers continued operating under the medieval paradigms of kingship but were forced to update their approach in light of the overwhelming foreign military force and lack of administrative power, respectively. In each case, goddess devotion remained a central component of the king’s identity and the primary means through which they attempted to overcome their enemies.

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