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Early Medieval Bengal  

Ryosuke Furui

In the early medieval period (6th–12th centuries), diverse terrains of South Asia experienced the rise of regional political powers and the socioeconomic development that would later culminate in the formation of regions. Bengal was no exception and saw the plural strands of historical changes and developments, intertwined with each other. In terms of political process, the first phase of the strand consisted of the rise of subregional kingships after the collapse of Gupta rule in the mid-6th century and the growth of subordinate rulers under them in the subsequent centuries. It was followed by the emergence of regional kingships of the Pālas and the Candras traversing several subregions and the enhancement of their powers in relation to subordinate rulers in the period between the mid-8th century and the mid-12th century. The last phase was the integration of almost all the subregions under the Senas, with stronger control over subordinate rulers and rural society in the second half of the 12th century. In terms of social change, the emphasis was on the hierarchization of land relations from the cultivation of moderate plots by the family labor of peasant householders to the management of large landholdings with layers of overlapping land rights, of which the bottom consisted of actual cultivation by agrarian laborers. Social change also came about through the organization of hereditary occupational groups and the systematization of their mutual relations toward a jāti order. The growth of brahmins as a group—by establishing a clearer identity and imposing their authority in social reorganization—constituted another pillar of the historical process. Political and social processes conditioned, as well as were conditioned, by the economic processes of agrarian expansion and the commercialization of rural economy, which proceeded in the subregions of Bengal in different forms and paces.

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Religion and Environment in Bhutan  

Elizabeth Allison

Religion and the environment have been entangled for millennia in Bhutan. When Buddhism was introduced from Tibet in the 7th and 8th centuries, it incorporated existing animistic and shamanistic understandings of the landscape, developing a unique spiritual ecology built on long coevolution with the landscape. The notable disseminators of Buddhism in Bhutan—Songsten Gampo, Guru Rinpoche, Terton Pema Linga, the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, and others—sanctified specific sites on the landscape with their Buddhist teachings. The cultural forms introduced by the Shabdrung in the 17th century have been nurtured into the 21st century, providing a strong sense of cultural identity and historical continuity. Building on cultural and religious traditions, Bhutan’s leaders shaped a contemporary nation fed by a wellspring of ancient wisdom, connecting environmental policy and practice to Buddhist roots, in the context of rapid modernization and change. The guiding development model Gross National Happiness emphasizes the interdependence of economy, ecology, culture, and governance. Forest and conservation policies draw on Buddhist values for their relevance, as do waste and reuse practices. Bhutan’s 2008 constitution codifies the obligations of all Bhutanese to maintain culture, ecology, and religion. A long cultural and religious history interwoven with the landscape has created a uniquely Bhutanese Buddhist form of traditional ecological knowledge that contributes to ongoing cultural continuity and ecological resilience.