The Dawn of History in the Deep South
The Megalithic Background
- Up to the second century BC, the upland portions of the peninsula were inhabited by people who are called megalith builders. They are known not from their actual settlements which are rare, but from their funerary structures.
- The graves are called megaliths because they were encircled by large pieces of stone. They contain not only the skeletons of the people who were buried but also pottery and iron objects.
- The megaliths are found in all the upland areas of the peninsula, but their concentration seems to be in eastern Andhra and in Tamil Nadu. The beginnings of the megalithic culture can be traced to c. 1000 BC.
State Formation and the Development of Civilization
- Cultural and economic contacts between the north and the deep south, known as Tamizhakam, became extremely important from the fourth century BC onwards.
- The route to the south, called Dakshinapatha, was valued by the northerners because the south supplied gold, pearls, and various precious stones. The Pandya state was known to Megasthenes who lived in Pataliputra.
- The earlier Sangam texts are familiar with the rivers Ganges and Son, and also with Pataliputra, the capital of the Magadhan empire. Flourishing trade with the Roman empire contributed to the formation of three states, respectively under the Cholas, Cheras, and Pandyas.
Three Early Kingdoms
- The southern end of the Indian peninsula situated south of the Krishna river was divided into three kingdoms: Chola, Pandya, and Chera or Kerala.
- The Pandyas are first mentioned by Megasthenes, who says that their kingdom was celebrated for pearls. The Pandya territory occupied the southernmost and the south-eastern portion of the Indian peninsula, and it roughly included the modern districts of Tirunelveli, Ramnad, and Madurai in Tamil Nadu with its capital at Madurai.
- The Chola kingdom, which came to be called Cholamandalam (Coromandel), in early medieval times, was situated to the north-east of the territory of the Pandyas, between the Pennar and the Velar rivers. Their chief centre of political power lay at Uraiyur, a place famous for cotton trade. A clearer history of the Cholas begins in the second century AD with their famous king Karikala. He founded Puhar and constructed 160 km of embankment along the Kaveri river. This was built with the labour of 12,000 slaves who were brought as captives from Sri Lanka. Puhar is coterminous with Kaveripattanam, the Chola capital.
- The Chera or the Kerala country was situated to the west and north of the land of the Pandyas. It included the narrow strip of land between the sea and the mountains, and covered portions of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
- The Romans set up two regiments at Muziris, coterminous with Cranganore in the Chera state, to protect their interests. It is said that they also built there a temple of Augustus.
- The history of the Cheras is a continuing battle with the Cholas and Pandyas. According to the Chera poets, their greatest king was Senguttuvan, the Red or Good Chera. The early Tamil poems also mention the weaving of complex patterns on silk. Uraiyur was noted for its cotton trade.
- In ancient times, the Tamils traded with the Greek or Hellenistic kingdom of Egypt and Arabia, on the one hand, and with the Malay archipelago and China, on the other.
The Purse and the Sword
- The spoils of war further added to the royal income.
Rise of Social Classes
- The brahmanas first appear in the Tamil land in the Sangam age. The captains of the army were invested with the title of enadi at a formal ceremony. The ruling class was called arasar, and its members had marriage relations with the vellalas, who formed the fourth caste.
- They held the bulk of the land and thus constituted the cultivating class, divided into the rich and the poor. The rich did not plough the land themselves but employed labourers to undertake this.
- Agricultural operations were generally the task of members of the lowest class (kadaisiyar), whose status appears to have differed little from that of slave. The pariyars were agricultural labourers who also worked with animal skins and used them as mats.
- In the Tamil region, large landowners were known as vellalar, ordinary ploughmen were known as uzhavar, and landless labourers, including slaves, were known as kadaisiyar and adimai. [NCERT CLASS-VI CHAPTER-09]
- In the northern part of the country, the village headman was known as the grama bhojaka. The grama bhojaka was often the largest landowner. Apart from the gramabhojaka, there were other independent farmers, known as grihapatis, most of whom were smaller landowners. . [NCERT CLASS-VI CHAPTER-09]
- And then there were men and women such as the dasa karmakara, who did not own land, and had to earn a living working on the fields owned by others. . [NCERT CLASS-VI CHAPTER-09]
- Many crafts persons and merchants now formed associations known as shrenis. These shrenis of crafts persons provided training, procured raw material, and distributed the finished product. Then shrenis of merchants organised the trade. Shrenis also served as banks, where rich men and women deposited money. . [NCERT CLASS-VI CHAPTER-09]
Beginnings of Brahmanism-
Tamil Language and Sangam Literature
- The Sangam was a college or assembly of Tamil poets held probably under the patronage of the chiefs or kings. It is stated in a Tamil commentary of the middle of the eighth century that three Sangams lasted for 9990 years and were attended by 8598 poets, and had 197 Pandya kings as patrons.
- The Sangam literature can roughly be divided into two groups, narrative and didactic. The narrative texts are called Melkannakku or Eighteen Major Works. They comprise eighteen major works consisting of eight anthologies and ten idylls. The didactic works are called Kilkanakku or Eighteen Minor Works.
Social Evolution from Sangam Texts
- The texts suggest that war booty was an important source of livelihood. They also state that when a hero dies he is reduced to a piece of stone. This reminds us of the circles of stone that were raised over the graves of the megalithic people.
- This may have led to the later practice of raising hero stones called virarkal in honour of the heroes who had died fighting for kine and other things. Many of the Sangam texts, including the didactic ones, were written by the brahmana scholars of Prakrit or Sanskrit.
- A text called Tolkkappiyam, which deals with grammar and poetics. Another important Tamil text deals with philosophy and wise maxims, and is called In addition, the twin Tamil epics Silappadikaram and Manimekalai. The two were composed around the sixth century.
- The first is considered to be the brightest gem of early Tamil literature. It deals with a love story in which a dignitary called Kovalan prefers a courtesan called Madhavi of Kaveripattanam to his wedded wife Kannagi from a noble family.
- The other epic, Manimekalai, was written by a grain merchant of Madurai. It deals with the adventures of the daughter born of the union of Kovalan and Madhavi.
- Twelve findspots of Ashokan inscriptions in Brahmi script appear in the south, three in Andhra, and nine in Karnataka. Over seventy-five short inscriptions in the Brahmi script dating to about two centuries later have been found in natural caves, mainly in the Madurai region.
- They provide the specimens of the earliest form of Tamil mixed with Prakrit words. They relate to the second–first centuries BC when the Jaina and Buddhist missionaries came to this area.