When the British first took over direct control of the Jagir in January 1782, all but a few villages were uninhabited and their fields largely uncultivated. Without cultivation it was impossible to collect land taxes. In 1782, however, the last of the horsemen of Hyder Ali departed from the Jagir and, as the effects of the war began to fade, villagers returned gradually to the area. The confusion of the war and its aftermath also allowed many families to establish themselves in villages in more dominant positions than they had previously enjoyed.
As part of the strategy of establishing a hold on the region, the governor of Madras and the council agreed that, in addition to regulating the villages, the reestablishment and repair of religious centers would greatly contribute toward “restoring the country to its former flourishing state, by drawing together its dispersed inhabitants.” British attempts to protect the transport of temple images were at least partly a result of the feeling that temple images were critical to maintaining civil order. This attitude incorporated knowledge of a famous episode concerning an earlier attack by the Kallars on a British armed force when a Colonel Heron had taken the temple images of the Kallar from Kovilkudi in 1755. Thus, for the British the protection of temple images apparently became a way to establish political legitimacy.
Crole in the Chingleput Manual had sought to connect the battle of Pullalur with the retrieval of the images by the Kanchipuram brahmans. He wrote:
It evidently took a long time to reestablish the confidence of the natives of the Jaghire in British ascendancy after Colonel Baillie’s defeat and Sir Hector Munro’s precipitate retreat from Conjeevaram, for we find that it was not till 1799, that is, after the taking of Seringapatam had finally extinguished Hyder’s hated dynasty that it was deemed prudent to bring back the sacred images from their exile.
Refurbishing temples and reintroducing temple worship thus required the protection of a strong and ascendant British presence. Accordingly, in 1785 the governor of Madras wrote to the commander of a Company detachment in Chandragiri that the brahmans of the “little” or Varadarajaswami (Vaishnava) temple in Kanchipuram were about to bring a number of idols from the sacred center of Tirupati to Kanchipuram. The governor of Madras, considering it appropriate that the temple brahmans be protected on their journey, requested a military guard. Like Barnard’s maps and Crole’s account of the battle of Pullalur, government protection of brahmans and idols became another way in which the British were inscribed and naturalized into the environment. The use of an armed detachment served as another active attempt to “understand” and to “fit in.” It helped to produce new knowledge. In a similar way in 1785, the Jaghire Committee of the Company in Madras wrote to the British superintendent of the Jagir (an individual later called the collector) that, since the main celebration of the Vaishnava Varadarajaswami temple in Kanchipuram was about to start, he should make every attempt to assist the brahmans so that it would proceed “with the usual pomp and ceremony.”
The construction of events surrounding establishment of British control over territory thus linked military prowess, local knowledge, and protection of the cultural expressions of civil society. That each of these aspects could be shaped by local actors as well as British ones suggests the complexity of the interaction necessary to produce knowledge of these events. Nor did the simple relocation of the images conclude British involvement. Indeed, as soon as Company employees became involved in the supervision of the temples of the Jagir, they discovered that many temple disputes had to be resolved. In the process, these disputes led both local individuals and British Company employees to argue that society was totally degenerate.
One of these conflicts, reported in 1786, took place between two Hindu groups associated with two major temples in Kanchi. The first of these brahman sects, the Smarthas, was associated with the larger of the two temples in the northeast part of Periya, or Big Kanchi. This temple was dedicated to Ekambaranatha or Lord Shiva. The other sect was Vaishnava and was associated with the temple in Chinna, or Little Kanchi, dedicated to the deity Varadarajaswami or Lord Vishnu. According to the British report, this dispute involved enmity between the “long [Vaishnava] and cross-marked [Smartha] Bramins” and concerned the rights connected to taking the patron deity in procession through the streets of Kanchi. The conflict related to a number of local issues that need not concern us here. For our purposes, we may merely note that the conflict that emerged from the interaction of local competitors and the new British authorities required the British to act on the basis of new knowledge, and in new ways. The Jaghire Committee decided to permit the procession of Varadarajaswami, the Vaishnava deity. To forestall any difficulties, however, the superintendent decided to advertise this decision by a drum known in Tamil as a “tamukku” (called a “tom tom” by the British). This followed a practice established by Tamil kings to announce state policy; it was adopted by the Company to communicate “a strict injunction to the Inhabitants to pay due respect and obedience to the orders of the Government.” Thus, even in the mode of communication used, the British interpretation of events was shaped in part by presumptions about local precedents and understandings.