History of South India

When the northern empires collapsed, India was presenting a different spectacle in its south. Around 230 BC., the Satavaahanas established their power in the south and central India. Gautamiputra Satakarni was the most powerful king of this dynasty. But this dynasty too fell a victim to their limitless campaign for expansion coupled with their clashes with the invading Shakas.

The Cheras ruled over the Kerala part of the country, long before the Sangha period. Their capital was near the present Kodungalloor. They established trade relations with West Asia and the countries of southern Europe. It was during the Chera rule that Buddhism, Jainism, and Jewish-Christian religions reached Kerala.

The Pandyas ruled over the Tamil Kingdom from the age of the Puranas to the 15th century AD., Madurai being their seat and capital. They were a great source of encouragement for literature and the famous sangham literature. Though both the Cholas and the Pallavas defeated them, they managed to recapture their territories later. And to end the story, the Pandya kingdom was amalgamated in the powerful Vijayanagara Empire.

The Chola dynasty of Tamils was founded by king Kalikala Cholan. The dynasty had played a great role in the development of Tamil art, literature and culture. They ruled over the destinies of the Tamils from the centuries before Christ through 13th century AD. During the rule of Rajaraja Cholan I and Ranjendra Cholan, the empire grew into one of the largest and the most prestigious in the whole of Asia, spreading from the river Godavari in the east to the Maldives in the west. They conquered even the northern areas of Ceylon (the modern Sri Lanka). Rajendra Cholan led successful campaigns into Pataliputra (modern Patna, Bihar) and even went up to Malay Archipelago. The Cholas clashed with the Cheras and the Pandyas many times and defeated them in crucial battles.

The Pallava dynasty contributed another significant period in Tamil history. They came up in the 4th century AD, and their capital city was Kanchipuram. Mahendravarman I and Narasimhavarman I were the most remembered rulers of the dynasty and the patronage they gave to the Dravidian art, especially to architecture and sculpture was unique. The beach temples of Mahabalipuram were some of their contributions. It was a battle with the Chalukyas that bought an end to the Pallava rule.

The Kadambas of north Karnataka (4th century AD), the Gangaas who ruled parts of Karnataka for about four centuries, the Chalukyas who ruled the central and southern India for about six centuries from the 6th century AD, the Rashtrakutas, another dynasty from Karnataka too played great roles in history. Kannada and Telugu languages developed and their literature flourished during these dynasties. It was during the Rashtrakutas that the great rock-cut temples of Ellora and Elephanta were made.

An empire that deserves special mention is the Vijayanagara Empire, one of the greatest kingdoms in South India that stood strong and well-known from 14th to 17th centuries. Their capital was Vijayanagara, remnants of which are now preserved as stone memorials in Hampi. Their rule marked a golden era of the languages of Kannada and Telugu and Tamil, as well as Sanskrit, and it was during this period that the Karnataka music was systematized in its present style. They promoted not only Hinduism, but Jainism as well.

Four centuries of rule giving all encouragements to architecture, more than 100 new temples in various towns of Karnataka, and patronage to great thinkers like Ramanujacharya, Madhva and Basavanna – this is what makes the rule of the Hoysalas (950 -1346) remarkable. The Kakatiyas were another set of rulers that came up from Warangal, a small princely state (1083 – 1323).

While the North West Indian empires crumbled, and several empires in the south of India flourished, the geographically far away north east of India remained ignored by historians. The people there had a tribal nature in all their activities. There are now seven states of modern Indian Union from these areas. The people were of the Mongoloid tribal grouping who, later merged with the Hindu mainstream. Majority of Khasi, Miso and Naga sects of these tribes were later converted to Christianity, but they retain their tribal memories and characteristics. Professor Suniti Kumar Chatterji, eminent linguist and cultural historian had opined that the tribal people of the North East are the successors of the Kiraataas of the ancient epics. The Mahabharata has several episodes in which the kiraataas come in. These areas were earlier called Assam, in English, and in the local language the name is 'Ahom'.

There had been large scale and repeated migration of the people of Mongolian origin centuries ago through the mountain passes of the Assam-Myanmar (Burma) border and the Nepal-Bhutan-Tibet zone. Of this, the largest share is from Myanmar. The Hindus and the Muslims also migrated to this area from other parts of India. The most important sect in Assam is the Bodos. They are not an independent tribe, but a section of those who speak the Bodo of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. The sects called Kachaari, Nabha, Koch and the like are also Bodos. The Bodos who assumed Hinduism call themselves Rajvanshis. Another important sect consists of the sub-divisions of Moran, Mishing, and Choodiya. Most of them have converted to Christianity. The most important racial group in Assam are the 'Ahoms'. They belong to the Thai (shan) race and are of Mongol origin, but they are practicing Hindus.

Manipur is where the Maiteyi Hindus live. They are believed to be the descendents of the Tatars who migrated from North West China during 13th and 14th centuries. Then they accepted Hinduism.

In Tripura the Tribalism and Hinduism co-exist. The temple priests are not Brahmins, but the tripuris from the tribes. The majority of the tribal populace of Nagaland and Mizoram are now Christians.

This is a general picture of the North East India.

Indologists attach great significance to the history and culture of South India for various reasons. Of this one is the development of the Dravidian family of Languages and the rich literature these languages have given expression to.

Tamil, one of the earliest of living languages, belong to this family and geographic zone. So we have to turn to South India, at least now, to see how impressive or otherwise the state of the states there was. 

While the north and the west of India saw the origin and development of janapadas, civilizations, cultures and kingdoms and princely states, the south India and the east India too saw the origin, growth and flourishing of new states, dynasties and cultures. 

The carbon dating technology has shown that the Neolithic Age Culture flourished in south India as early as 8000 B.C. The Iron age technology developed and spread in south India right at the outset of 1000 B.C. But there is no evidence to show that the forerunner of the Iron age - the copper age – developed in its full scale has not been found anywhere in the South. 

Unlike the North, the South has very long coastline. This helped the littoral states to be in touch with countries abroad right from very early times. Several royal dynasties came up and blossomed and they established sprawling and powerful states and patronized cultures to thrive in south India that comprised what is modern Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.