Remembering Professor Rangachari Champakalakshmi (1932-2024)

— On the occaision of the passing away of prof Champakalashmi we would like to share the condolence note published by her colleagues at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharal Nehru University in New Delhi.


The faculty of the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University are extremely saddened by the demise of our dear colleague and teacher, Prof. R. Champakalakshmi on 28th January 2024 in Chennai. One of the finest and leading historians of early and medieval India, a passionate and committed teacher, and a friend to many, Prof. Champakalakshmi’s loss has left a deep void in the academic world.


With her expertise in Tamil and Sanskrit languages, Prof. Champakalakshmi brought fresh perspectives not only to the understanding of southern Indian history but also to the precolonial history of India. A thorough empiricist in her methodological approach, Prof. Champakalakshmi’s priority to historical sources was well established in 1981 in a path-breaking scholarly critique of the analysis of the Chola state by the eminent historian Burton Stein. The range of her research skills was reflected in her writings on diverse themes of temple architecture, iconography, historical geography, religious traditions, and urbanization. Her monographs, Vaisnava Iconography in the Tamil Country (1981), Trade, Ideology, and Urbanization: South India, 300 BC to AD1300 (1996), The Hindu Temple: Sacred Sites (2001), Religion, Tradition, and Ideology: Pre-colonial South India (2011) and her edited book, Tradition, Dissent and Ideology (1996) along with the several essays that she had written, underlined the complexity of the socio-cultural past of southern India and critically analyzed the simplistic ideas of homogeneity and binaries of tradition and modernity. Promoting an eclectic understanding of history, Prof. Champakalakshmi’s scholarship advocated a nuanced engagement with the state, different historical contexts, change and continuity of a tradition, and socio-economic processes underlying urbanization which was usually hemmed within the frame of economic history. While breaking fresh ground in history, Prof. Champakalakshmi was mindful of the relevance of the received wisdom as was reflected in her introduction to the fourth edition of K A Nilakantha Sastri’s iconic book A History of South India: From Prehistoric Times to the Downfall of Vijayanagara written in 1958. She was nominated to the Dr. S. Radhakrishnan Chair at Central University of Hyderabad in 2001 and was the General President of the Indian History Congress in 2010. Today, history writing and research in southern Indian history owe much to Prof. Champakalakshmi’s seminal contribution.


After teaching at Lady Shriram College, University of Delhi, and at the University of Madras, from where she also earned her doctorate, Prof. Champakalakshmi joined CHS in 1972 and retired in 1997. As one of the pioneers of the academic program at CHS, the sole credit goes to Prof. Champakalakshmi for introducing the reading of the southern history of India and injecting a vigorous tradition of academic research in JNU. Prof. Champakalakshmi was the Chairperson of CHS from 1991-1993. She was energetic, dynamic, and humane, often inviting students to her residence for a cup of coffee. Her commitment to teaching and supervision has produced a rich scholarship in CHS that has been often recognized as academically significant. Meticulously correcting students’ writings, Prof. Champakalakshmi upheld academic rigour and was impatient with slip-shod work. Always regarded as a valuable mentor, she stood with her students and supported them unstintingly. Never hesitating to speak her mind and articulating firmly yet politely her beliefs, Prof. Champakalakshmi was open to differing views. CHS is indeed indebted to her legacy in its teaching and research programme.


We convey our heartfelt condolences to her sisters Sumathi Rangarajan and C.P. Radha, and other family members with a message that Prof. Champakalakshmi will always be missed by her friends, students, and colleagues. There have been many memorable moments of her presence in CHS and JNU that we are going to cherish for many years to come.


With best wishes
The Faculty
Centre of Historical Studies
School of Social Sciences
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi


Title image: Jalakandeswarar Temple, Vellore (public domain)



Cite this blog post
urbrel (2024, February 5). Remembering Professor Rangachari Champakalakshmi (1932-2024). Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations. Retrieved May 29, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/vr3w

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1 Response

  1. Dr.Ramani Narayanan says:

    Please accept my sincere & heartfelt condolences. I was her student in the Department of Ancient History & Archaeology,University of Madras between 1964 &1966. She was very supportive of my ML.tt research on South Indian Costumes upto 1600AD. Her guidance was greatly appreciated by me during 1966 &1969. She was also a great and compassionate friend . I met her in London once when she came for a Seminar in the British Museum. She was delighted to know that I continued my PhD research at SOAS,University of London under Padmashri Dr.J.R.Marr. I am sad to hear that she has passed away. I will miss her.

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