One of the major challenges for Indian legal historians has been to try and understand the legal systems of pre-colonial India. For a variety of reasons, there are no surviving central court archives or large documentary repositories that scholars of Ottoman Turkey and China have drawn upon. There is some awareness of legal treatises and codes but it remains debatable the extent to which they were actually applied in everyday life or formed a part of legal consciousness. In a recent article, Donald Davis and John Nemec turn to medieval literary texts and story collections to trace the ways “law is experienced and interpreted by specific individuals as they engage, avoid or resist the law”. The texts include Kalhana’s Rajatarangini (The River of Kings) and Somdeva’s Kathasagar (Ocean of Stories). Departing from formal studies of law and literature in medieval India, which have tried to see how far literature departs from the Dharmasastras, this article (and what I hope is a larger project) argues that in the absence of court texts and narrative legal sources, literary narratives become important sites to understand how legal ideas could be deployed and received.
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