Paola M. Rossi's picture
Affiliated Fellow
Paola M. Rossi

One of the main factors which has characterized the Indian history is the construction of sovereignty, relied on two complex questions: the definition of authority, whereby political legitimacy is guaranteed, and the consequent question of the foundation of a cultural Identity, in relation to the notion of Otherness. Having been extremely influential in defining Indian culture in “political” terms from the ancient periods right up until the present post-colonial reality, the relationship between the so-called “Hindu” orthodox tradition, considered as the authoritative factor par excellence, and the process of “Inklusivismus” of an-Other realities as such are the cultural dynamics on which the paradigm of sovereignty pivots. 

The present research project aims at analysing and outlining the strategies adopted within such dialectic cultural dynamism in order to establish political hegemonies, using the case of the foundation of the Kuru sovereignty between the Middle and Late Vedic period as a case study: this example of sovereignty based on a reconfiguration of political ideology introduced the pristine state formation of Vedic North India, constituting a paradigm of kingship relevant for the whole Indian tradition.

In this context, the ritualization of the political process was one of the most important turning points in the construction of the Kuru sovereignty: this implied a process of hieraticization of authority combined with the recognition of transcendent value of kingship. And the mahāvrata or “Great observance” rite can be considered as a particular example of such a process of ritualization: it is an annual festival marking the winter solstice, announcing the birth of the sun and the New Year; being originally a popular rite, not belonging to the hieratic sphere, it can reflect the pre-classical/śrauta ritual reality; likewise, it can recall the vrātya ritual or the vrātyastomas, preserving traces of Indo-Aryan warrior tribal authority.

This is therefore an important starting point for studying the discourse related to Indian sovereignty in a historical perspective, insofar as it is eminently traceable from textual sources, since there is not enough archaeological evidence to provide a proper reconstruction of the Vedic cultural context. Actually, the analysis of the Vedic linguistic phenomena, especially in the Indo-Aryan linguistic perspective, is the fundamental device of investigation.  


  • Vedic studies
  • Ritualism
  • Indo-European Linguistics

Country of origin


Period of stay at IIAS

04/09/2017 to 04/03/2018

Home institute

Research topic

Strategies for sovereignty in the ancient India: the case of the Kuru leadership and the mahāvrata rite

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