Welcome to Tamil Nadu – A Culturally Rich Destination
Tamil Nadu, also called the Temple State of India, occupies the southernmost part of the subcontinent with the Eastern Ghats and Andhra Pradesh towards the north; the state of Kerala, Karnataka and the Nilgiri Mountains on the west; the Bay of Bengal on the eastern side and by the Indian Ocean on the south. The Gulf of Mannar also called the Ramsethu or Adam’s bridge lies to the south-eastern side of the state while it shares a maritime border with Sri Lanka which is about 250 miles in length. Tamilnadu borders the union territory of Pondicherry or Puducherry with lots of similarities in culture and history.
The capital of the state is Chennai, erstwhile Madras and the official language is Tamil which is the considered to be the world’s most ancient yet active classical language.
Excavation work in the state has revealed that the region was populated by a humanlike population, the Homo erectus during the Palaeolithic age. Historians believe that this land has continuously been inhabited by human beings from the 15000 BCE to 10000 BCE. In Adichanallur, archaeologists found traces of civilisation from the Primitive Stone Age belonging to some 3800 years before.
While the pre-humans of the Palaeolithic age lived in grasslands, in the Neolithic age human beings were living at the foothills in small sized settlements. The Iron Age spread from the north of India to the south and it has also been established through excavatory work by archaeologists that for a long time (between 2000 and 1500 BCE) a Harappan language, similar to Tamil-Brahmi script, was spoken in the region.
The Tamil region was mostly ruled by local kings called Vendhar. Between the 1st and the 4th century BCE the state was ruled by the Cholas. King Karikala Cholas was the greatest amongst the early Cholas. In the 4th century BCE, the region came under the rule of the Pallavas. The reign passed back to the Cholas in the 9th century BCE and by the 14th century BCE it was the Pandyas who became the ruler of the region that consisted of Madurai, Tirunelveli and parts of Kerala. By the end of the 3rd century CE the Pandyas went into obscurity after the place was raided by the Kalabhras.
From 300 to 600 CE, there is very little mentioned in historical literatures about Hindu kings so much so that historians’ term it as the Dark Age. The Kalabhras were hugely influenced by Jainism and Buddhism which is why most of the literature dated to this period has come from Jain and Buddhist writers. They started to use the Tamil-Brahmi script for their renditions.
By the 7th century CE, the reign of the Kalabhras came to an end and was taken over by the Pandyas and the Pallavas. The period under these rulers saw the revival of Hinduism in the region with many Saiva Nayanmars and Vaishnava Alvars creating popular devotional music and literature. The period between 600 – 1300 CE was mostly marked by rivalry between the two dynasties that indirectly led to the rise of power of the Cholas around 850 CE. Around 985 CE, with the rise of Rajaraja Chole I, the Cholas rose to become a dominant military and economic power in the region. In fact they were able to annexe Sri Lanka to their territory and their rule extended upto the Godavari basin in the north. However, by 1279 CE, the Cholas were completely overthrown by the Pandyas. Along with these dynasties, there was the Cheras who ruled the land between Alappuzha and Kasargod with Vanchi as the capital. While the early Cheras disappeared by 2nd century CE, the later Cheras came back to power in the 9th century CE. In 1311, the Delhi Sultanate under Alauddin Khilji spread its tentacles over the region. The Vijayanagar Empire took over the remnants by 1371 and then ruled over the entire South India. This period witnessed the Tamil script take over from the vatteluttu script.
The Vijayanagar Empire fizzled out by 1564 and the Deccan Sultans took over. During this time local Nayaks started to rule their areas independently. Of them, Ragunatha Nayak who ruled Tanjavur was the most popular because he promoted trade with the Danish culture. With the Danish settlement, the English empire was inspired to seek out trade formalities with Tanjavur. The East India Company built a warehouse at Armagaon in 1626. The Madras town came into existence with the building of the Fort St. George in 1644 by the British. Slowly with due permission from the Vijayanagar King, the British started to exercise their sovereign rights over a five square kilometres area of land.
Even though the French East India Company set up their base in Pondicherry for a brief period and was able to establish their supremacy over the British, eventually after the Treaty of Paris, the Delhi Emperor issued a decree in 1765 that accepted the occupation of south India by the British.
As the British Empire’s hold strengthened in the country, many local chieftains tried to oppose the British rule. During Lord Wellesley’s reign as the Governor-General of India, the Madras Presidency was established wherein it came under the direct control of the Company. The freedom struggle saw many notable Tamilians pitch in – popular ones were Tiruppur Kumaran, Aurobindo and Subramanya Bharathi. During partition, the people of the region respected each other’s religion. The first Chief Minister of the Madras Presidency was C. Rajagopalachari. By 1956, the present territories were registered under Madras state. It was renamed Tamil Nadu in 1969.
Dravidians are considered as natives of the subcontinent when a group of people from the Indus civilization spread to the south in the 2nd century BCE. The word drāviḍa has been used in Sanskrit to denote the southern parts of India. The largest Dravidian ethnic group are Tamils and Telugus.
Language – the Dravidian language was preceded by the Proto-Dravidian spoken during the Indus valley civilization. The pre-Tamil and the pre-Telugu languages split up in the 11th century BCE. Tamil literature, known as Sangam literature started its journey between 500 BCE to 300 BCE and became extinct between 300 CE to 600 CE. Through Sangam poems the evolvement of the land has been traced.
Culture – The Dravidian land was fertile with agriculture as the main profession. The land was ruled by monarchy. Civilians were loyal to the king and the royal courts encouraged dance and music and use of different musical instruments. Trading with foreigners was in full swing, especially with Romans through the port cities of Puhar and Muziris. Towards the end of 2nd century CE trade with Romans was replaced by trading with Arabs and East Africans.
Art and Architecture – Dravidian architecture evolved over different centuries and reached its zenith in the 16th century CE. The main feature of this style was the construction of Hindu temples with a high gatehouse. Kings from the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas, and Pallavas contributed towards the growth of this form of architecture. The Shore Temple built by Narasimhavarman II from the Pallava dynasty is a World Heritage Site. Stone and bronze sculptures were predominant during this era.
Religion – in the pre-Vedic era, Dravidians worshipped spirit deities, flora and fauna. A red god seated on a blue peacock was the god of the Tamils. Shiva was also worshipped by most Tamilians. The king was viewed as the representative of God.
Carnatic music – is a form of classical Indian music that has its origin in ancient south India. It is mainly sung through compositions by an ensemble of musicians with a central vocalist accompanied by a violin player, mridangam, flute, veena and tambura.
Bharatnayam – one of the oldest classical dance forms in India that originated in Tamil Nadu. It is believed to have existed during the 2nd century CE and temple sculptures of later years are witness to its refinement over the centuries. Through the dance that is performed majorly by women, mythical legends from Hindu religious books are enacted. For a long time, the dance remained inside the temples only.
Pondicherry and the coastal regions’ French connection – The French entered the country at Pondicherry after the formation of the French East India Company in 1666 through a formal permission from Aurangzeb. In 1674 they set up a trading centre here. By 1739 they had occupied Karaikal and Pondicherry got its first French Governor. In 1746 the French took over Fort St. George but restored it back to the British in 1748 through the Aix-la-Chapelle. Pondicherry was conquered by the British twice but returned back to France both times. While the British occupied the rest of India, the French were allowed to retain their estates in Pondicherry. During the fight for India’s independence, the French colony at Pondicherry became a popular place for Tamil freedom fighters to take refuge. It also saw the evolvement of Sri Aurobindo who lived in Pondicherry while he joined the freedom struggle and later became a spiritual reformer. Until 1954 it was a part of French India post which it united with India and was declared a Union Territory in 1963.