Date of Award

Spring 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History of Art

First Advisor

Michael W. Meister





Mandavi Mehta

Michael W. Meister

The mountain kingdom of Chamba in Himachal Pradesh is believed to be one of the oldest kingdoms in continuous existence in India, from its putative foundation in the sixth century until the 20th century. The basis of this contention is the genealogical roll of the ruling family, the Chamba Vaṃśāvalī, a text whose only existing copy was composed in the 17th century. Positioning itself at this key moment in the 17th century, this dissertation attempts to trace and problematize the process of state formation in the kingdom over the longue durée, by analyzing the Vaṃśāvalī’s historical narrative in the context of extant inscriptional records, the construction of both wooden and stone Nāgara temples at the two centers of Chamba and Bharmaur, and the introduction in the 17th century of a new visual vocabulary based on painting.

A close study of the shifts and transitions in the material culture of the kingdom across the mediums of architecture, sculpture and painting sheds new light on the processes by which the rulers of Chamba formulated their ideas of kingship and identity and sought legitimacy from the past in the context of social and political developments both within their immediate neighborhood as well as North India more broadly. The 17th century in Chamba is revealed to be a period both of looking back in time to locate an ‘ancient’ and authentic past for the royal lineage of Chamba, as well as looking forward, to project an image of statehood that was in keeping with current political and cultural norms. Exploring the inconsistencies between the official history of the Chamba royal family – who claimed their descent from a Mūṣa (mouse) clan – and the visual and inscriptional evidence reveals the motivations behind the positioning of the rulers of Chamba at particular historical moments, during which they drew on both the past and the contemporary to create artistic vocabularies to give form to their aspirations and to survive.

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