History of the South


I have written about this before and I will continue to write about this in the future. And I am not writing this because I hail from the South of India. I am not one of those who divide the country between Madrasis and the Northies. I was born in the south. I have lived in the North. I still have several friends from all over India. I studied in the US for a brief period of time, and hence, I think my views are fairly unbiassed. And now, that I have that out of my chest and out of my way, let me get to my rant.

In all of my history lessons (I studied CBSE), I have studied about the Maurya empire, the Gupta empire, the Great king Ashoka, the mughal invasions, Ghazini and his ghastly incursions into India. We studied about the World Wars, and how India participated in it, because of the British. And ofcourse finally we studied all about the Independence struggle, and Sepoy mutiny, Maulana Azad, Gandhiji, Nehru, Bhagat Singh, and the likes. In Geography, we studied in detail about the Gangetic plains, the Brahmaputra, the Himalayas, the 5 Rivers of Punjab. We even studied about the Rock Garden of Chandigarh.

By now, if you are like me, you may have gotten a pattern emerging from this. When we studied about our country’s ‘rich’ history and diverse geography, what we had been studying is pretty much the history and geography of the North. I distinctly remember, we had about 2-3 pages (out of the 250 page text book) each year dedicated the powerful rulers of the South. Some of the things that we learnt about these rulers were: The rulers of the South built splendid large temples. They fought amongst them heavily. They were dark skinned and of Dravidian origin. There were also mentions of the grand Vijayanagar empire, and two things I remember from that are the Belur and Halebid temples, and how they stopped the Mughals in their tracks from invading the South of India.

In more recent years, as I travel a bit through the erstwhile Chozha (Chola) empire and reading classics like Periya Puranam (a chronicle of the Saivite saints of the south) and Ponniyin Selvan (en semi fictitious epic of the Chozha-Pandiya times), I realize how painfully little I know about the part of the country I hail from. If I, who is from the South, know so little about my own history and geography, I can imagine how much somebody from (say) Delhi or Mumbai would know.

For the sake of elucidating the fact that there is more than what I studied, I am going to gloss over some of what I have learnt in recent times. And by no means, am I going to cover too much, or bore you with details.

The Chozha empire under the reign of Raja Raja Chozha  (the one who built the Big Temple in Tanjore) had direct or allied control of territories which spanned from parts of Burma, Cambodia, the islands of Indonesia, and further. [link]

There are inscriptions and books of historical significance in South East Asia (specifically the Malay peninsula) stating that the rulers had origins from the Chozha rulers. The temples and architecture of Angkor wat are of distinctly a fusion of the Chozha and Kalinga style. The Khmer king who built it was Suryaverman II. Does the name ring a bell? Well, Raja Raja Chozhan’s original name was “Arulmozhi Verman”. He was nicknamed Raja Raja Chozhan (king of all). The Chozha kings had captured all of the southern peninsula – inclusive of Sri Lanka. The tamil eelam guerilla force (LTTE) had the tiger in their symbol and called themselves tigers too.

The Chozha kings were for the most part great administrators and did not mind other religions to flourish. Buddhism and Jainism was spreading at that time. In most places, the state maintained a balance. The state was mostly Hindu, but there are defenitely instances of the Kings helping build Buddhist monasteries in Nagappatinam and in several places in Sri Lanka. In some areas like Sri Lanka, Buddhism gained more power and started having influence in the state – which continues to this date.

The textbooks briefly mention Mahabalipuram (Mamalapuram) and their exquisite sculptures. The Pallava kings did way more than that. They waged war against the Kalinga empire at one time and won too. Did we know that? Yes, Kalinga is currently Assam and Odisha.

There is even more that I could go on and on forever, like the siege of the Madurai Meenakshi temple by the Jains. Or of the three main saints of the south – Appar, Sundarar, Manickavachagar. (Note: We learnt about Kabir and Meera.) The text books briefly mention the few days that Swamy Vivekananda spent in Tamilnadu on his way to Chicago. Oh, he spent much more than a few days. He spent quite a few days and has a deep rooted connection in the South of India. He even made the famous “Arise, awake and stop not till you succeed” statement first in Kumbakonam near Tanjore. I now have my North Indian brethren’s attention who are now trying to pronounce that town’s name. Instead, we learnt about the dark skinned people of Dravidian origin lived in the Southern parts of India.

Now, let me put aside all of this (probably) mindless ranting. With the schools of the land following such text books (which are the standard), I have stopped blaming the people. If folks like me, who have spent their school years fully in the south are not able to appreciate the historical context from where we hail from, how can I expect my brothers and sisters from the North to know any better. Times are slowly becoming better. And by that, I am not meaning text books are changing. I mean people are becoming more aware. My north Indian friends in Bangalore and slowly beginning to shed their fear of Tamizh/Other Dravidian languages, and venturing deep into the South, to see the spectacular temples of the South. I only wish the Governments (well, all of them, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, AP, and Kerala) get together, and put together a better tourism program, which will enable this. Right now, the governments are focusing only on those areas, where they can make the money – Navagraha temples (temples for the Nine planets) in Tamil Nadu, Belur-Halebid circuit in KA, beautiful beaches of Kerala, and of AP, I do not know what they are up to (let them first figure out their statehood status). I also wish there are private players in the market, who could enable this for the inquisitive.

With that, I will stop …. I hope to have reached some readers of this blog by giving them a slightly fresher perspective on what ‘more’ is there to our country than what we just study in our text books. Let us first discover our country. We can then open the gates for the “Incredible India” to our friends from other countries. It is currently the opposite now.


PS: Please do pardon any factual inaccuracies that may be present in this article. They are probably products of the emotional cloudburst that happened while writing this article. 

Pink vs Blue

An awesome read on Co.Design on how the pink vs blue dressing for girls vs boys was not always the thing. It is a much more recent happening. What is more interesting is the fact that, it was originally the other way around – pink for boys and blue for girls. And then that changed too.

For example, a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department wrote, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

My opinion is on the same lines, but a little more brutal. I think this is similar to the whole “Hallmark” days (fathers day, mothers day, dogs day, neighbors dog day, dentist’s daughter day etc!). I think this came when the kids clothing manufacturers entered the game, and found that bleached white dresses didnt fetch them enough.

Read the Co.Design article here.

The article references a #longread Smithsonian article which is also a great read. Read that one here.

Controversial Paragraph in a British Essay by Charles Radcliffe Cooke

There are two pieces of controversial material that I found in my cursory reading of the essay. (By no means, did I read it in its entirety).

The first thing that caught my eye first was this paragraph.

Wow. The British saw this when they were here so early. In my personal opinion, this is true even of today.

The second controversial topic was one that I had blogged about earlier. – the McCaulay address to the Parliament stating that, bringing in the British system of education into India was to ensure that they brainwash us into their system and that they can have more control over the “natives”.

This essay which is dated much before that indicates that the “natives” wanted more British system of Education. The British started setting up Sanskrit Universities, but the “natives” under folks like Ram Mohan Roy wanted more of the British education, and not something that they have been learning for a long time.

Ram Mohun Roy, after praising the Government for the exertions it was making in the cause of native education, goes on to say that, however thankful the natives must feel for the interest thus shown in their welfare, yet they cannot help perceiving that the labours of the Government are being misdirected, whether through ignorance of native wishes, or from other causes not specified. He therefore thinks it incumbent upon him to place before the authorities some statement of the native opinions and desires upon the subject. When therefore it was known that a certain sum of money had been voted for the purpose of promoting and encouraging education among our Indian subjects, ” We were filled,” he says, “with sanguine hopes that this sum would be laid out in employing European gentlemen of talent and education to instruct the natives of India in mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, and other useful sciences, which the natives of Europe hare carried to a degree of perfection that has raised them above the inhabitants of the other parts of the world.”

If, he observes, the Government wished to preserve the study of the Sanskrit language, it could have done so by holding out certain premiums, and granting allowances to professors, already too numerous, by whom those who were desirous of learning the language, might be instructed; but he regards the establishment of a Sanskrit College, in which the native youth, besides spending much valuable time in acquiring a knowledge of the Sanskrit tongue, would learn that which was taught two thousand years ago, and waste their energies in speculations suggested by the Vedanta, in metaphysical subtilties and logical niceties, much as an Englishman would have looked upon an attempt to replace the Baconian philosophy by the system of the schoolmen, calculated, as it alone was, to perpetuate ignorance. Impelled by these considerations, and a sincere desire for the good of his country, and the spread of true knowledge amongst its inhabitants, Ram Mohun Eoy prays the Governor-General to expend the grant of money in the promotion and extension of Western rather than Oriental learning.

I am not saying that this is the truth or fact. But this seems to introduce more controversy does it not?

Hat tip to ChennaiKaran Plus Ultra for pointing me to this essay.


In TamilNadu, poochaandi is a word that is typically used to scare children, to make sure they sleep early, or to get them to eat properly. You will often hear mothers saying – “Poochandi varan. He will take you away.” He is given descriptions of someone who will come and take away misbehaving children. Of looking ferocious and scary etc.

More recently, while listening to a lecture by R.B.V.S.Manian, I came to know of the actual meaning of the word. I obviously googled right after, and just could not find this gem of an information anywhere. So I thought, let me do the honors.

The 3rd, 4th, and 5th century in the history of Tamil Nadu was called the dark ages. This was right after the Sangam period. This was an age when there was quite a bit of Hindu suppression that happened in this area. Buddhism and Jainism were fast gaining popularity in other parts of south India, particularly in the Mysore State (what is now Karnataka). This was a time, when it is believed that, large portions of Tamil Nadu were taken over by the Mysore rulers. It is believed that there was significant religious suppression that happened during this period. The Buddhist and Jain rulers tried in as much to convert the Shaivites and Vaishnavites to their religion.

During this period, there was a ban on anyone applying the sacred ash (vibhuthi) on their forehead (or anywhere on the body). It was also called Kandu-muttu-ketu-muttu – literally translated prohibition to see and prohibition to hear. In other words, anyone who saw someone who had applied vibhuthi would be punished. Anybody who heard about someone similar would be punished. This practice carried on even after the fifth century, when some of the tamil kings who ruled Tamil Nadu were Jains/Buddhist themselves. One of the famous kings under whom there is record of this practice happening is King Koon Pandiyan, who ruled Madurai.

Around this time, there were a group of extreme Caivites (worshippers of Lord Shiva) who used to roam around in only their langote/komanam (single strip underwear). Their principle was that, they have renounced everything to God except that single strip underwear. They were also called “aandi” – crudely translated to “naked”.

The “Aandis” wanted to rebel the prohibition on vibhuthi and smeared their entire body with vibhuthi. Poochu in tamil means “to smear”, “to splatter”. Hence these people were called “Poochandi” — “Poochu”+”Aandi”.

Now why were these people feared. Quite obviously by the dictum of the king, if someone saw these people or heard about these people, they would get punished severely. Hence folks would get very scared and run into their homes and lock themselves up.

This fearful term has come handed down generations down, and even now, mothers quiet their little children saying “Poochandi Varaan” {Poochandi is coming}.