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. 

New life into old towns …

This can be replicated in India. I can draw so many similarities to similar towns down south in India. The rich temple culture of the Tanjore district. But somehow the villages are vanishing. The temples are sometimes dilapidated. People want to go there. But there is no comfortable way to do this. They have stay in a distant town – Kumbakonam or Vaitheeswaran Kovil, or Mayavaram, and take a taxi to some of these beautiful centres of culture.

This should happen here as well. This will happen. Some day. Some day ……

(Video source: presentationzen.com)