The chewing of betel as a mouth-freshener and masticate is near ubiquitous in South Asia today. While today the practice has little overt significance, usually considered a personal and public vice, the material and textual record from late precolonial times right down to the early nineteenth century tells a very different story. It is clear that betel-chewing was far more than matter of personal enjoyment and hygiene, but a highly aestheticized and ritualized practice, that formed part of a wider sumptuary field, and one that has generated an impressive ‘archive’ of materials for the historian. This paper will trace the aestheticizion and ritualization of betel use, with a special focus on South Indian materials, from early medieval down to early modern times. It suggests, among other things, that sumptuary culture was integral to the maintenance of social relations in courtly and aristocratic social environments.
Dr Daud Ali is a historian of pre-Mughal South Asia. Over the years, his research interests have expanded from early medieval societies to questions focused on the history of mentalities and practices in pre-Sultanate South Asia. He has published on a wide range of subjects, including courtly and monastic discipline, mercantile practices, conventions in erotic poetry and courtship, slavery, ideas of space, time and history in inscriptions, early Southeast Asian history, and, most recently, on gardens and landscape in the medieval Deccan. Future and ongoing projects include collaborative projects on the history of friendship in early and medeival South Asia, a translation of a Buddhist text on erotics, as well as a study of the production of the king Bhoja cycles in Western India.
Cosponsored by: Department of Art History and Humanities Office, NYU