தமிழ் வரலாறு: A brief history of the Tamizhs of India

silver kasu of Uttama Chola (source: http://coins.lakdiva.org)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Understanding the history of Tamizhs via Itihasa and Dharma Civilizational Unity

A Note on Itihasa

Tamizh and India are inextricably linked. Understanding the history of the Tamizhs is also understanding the history of India. Indian dharmic tradition adopted an integral approach to remembering the ancient past via ‘itihasa’ [2]. The aim of Itihasa is not to merely recount the sequence of kings and wars of ancient India. Among other things, Itihasa combines history and myth to provide a more complete perspective of ‘what happened’ and in what context.  Tamizh traditions too have been dharma-centric and thus we can learn a great deal about Tamizh Kalacharam (culture), language, and heritage by reviewing its itihasa along with the recorded historical events. It is important to note that by its very nature, itihasa is devoted to realizing the deepest underlying truth, and can therefore allow a multiplicity of versions. Itihasa has neither the anxiety, nor the need to forcibly suppress all but the ‘winner’s view’ and claim that to be ‘truth’. A narrative, if offered honestly, provides a perspective of the ultimate truth. In this spirit, we attempt to offer but a glimpse of the glory of the Tamizh lands, drawing from multiple sources. The serious reader is encouraged to access the primary sources along with these references, and improve their own understanding.
Note: It is known [2] that there are key Sanskrit and Indian words that are translatable into other Indian languages, but remain untranslatable into the western vocabulary of English. Hence it makes sense to use such words as is.


Dharma, the bedrock

Dharma has been given a prime of place since ancient times all over India. The ancient Tamizh kings were famous for their adherence to dharma, gaining a reputation for  their strong ethics and sense of justice. Two examples from ancient times can be provided here. First is the famous climax of Silapathikaram, the epic story of Kannagi, the lady who confronts the king with evidence that he failed in his dharma, culminating in the uncompromising searing truth scorching the city of Madurai. The second is the story of the Chola king Ellalan (200 BCE), who was so rooted in Hindu dharma that in response to a cow that had sounded his ‘gong of justice’, severely punished his own son, the prince, for running over its calf with his chariot. For this act, he was revered by the Tamizhs as ‘Manu Neethi Chozhan’ [17] not only in India (his statue stands proudly today near the Chennai high court), but also by the people of Sri Lanka, and their kings who were his bitter rivals.

Chennai (Madras) High Court: Manu Needhi Cholan Statue“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

Thus the Tamizh narrative has its own celebrated and special place and contribution within the grand dharma-civilizational narrative of India. That these distinct narratives within India, and recursively, the sub-narratives within each of them, were not in a constant state of tension with one other is due to the philosophical unity inherent in India’s traditions (see next subsection). India’s famous pluralism that is celebrated today via the popular phrase ‘unity in diversity’ is sustainable if, and only if the diverse elements are themselves generated from a source that has ‘integral unity’ that can contribute to, and preserve this open architecture.
An understanding of the root-cause for the remarkable unity within diverse dharmic traditions is necessary for any honest researcher trying to decode why the history of India in general, and Tamizh Nadu, in particular, turned out as it did. A relatively peaceful, and prosperous state of affairs over two thousand years – a feat replicated in similar scale and duration only in other parts of India, but rarely, if ever, outside of it. In contrast, a viewing of Tamizh history using a westernized mindset or an Abrahamic lens, while not an invalid alternative, has been shown to offer limited insight. On the contrary, such  an approach, which has dominated the way India is portrayed, has largely resulted in spurious conclusions. For example, Swaminathan Gurumurthy, one of India’s most influential writer-commentators, has pointed out the painstaking data-driven project undertaken by Angus Maddison [7] in compiling the most detailed economic history of the world to date. Historical data now reveals that India (with sustained contribution from the Tamizhs as we shall see) played a lead role on the global stage for 1700 of the last 2000 years. This indisputable fact, along with India’s strong and sustained resurgence in recent decades, demolishes key conclusions about India that were based on the western universal theories championed by intellectuals like Karl Marx and Max Weber.


Philosophical and Civilizational Unity

To some, this may come across as a metaphysical idea or jargon devoid of real-world implications. In reality,  it is among the deepest, and most practically ideas within dharma that has kept India (its people, environment, culture, everything) together for several thousand years. Even if we do not intellectually grasp the full meaning of ‘integral unity’, it is the deepest sense of unity that Indians who have traversed the sacred geography of India would have personally experienced. This anubhava is more than enough to get started on the journey of understanding Tamizh and Indian history and culture using an Indian and Tamizh lens. The next three paragraphs provide brief and necessarily incomplete descriptions of what happened in the Tamizh lands across three contiguous time periods, respectively.

A Brief History of the Tamizhs

  1. Before Common Era to 1015 CE
  2. 1016 CE – 1715 CE
  3. 1716 CE – 1947
  4. Recent Past and the Road Ahead
  5. References 

BCE to 1015

Tamilakam (Tamizhakam), or the ancient Tamizh land, was an important part of Itihasa as long as the memory goes.  The Ramayana mentions: Sage Agastya crossing the Vindhyas, the Dandaka forest in the south, and reaching the southernmost tip of India (Rameshwaram). Of course the ‘Rama Sethu’ that links India and Sri Lanka is well known to many [10]. The Mahabharata also mentions several places in Southern India, and several kings from the south lined up on either side of the Kurukshetra war. The ancient Tamizh epic Silapathikaram [11] describes Tamizhakam as the region of India extending “from the hills of Vishnu (Tirupati) in the north to the oceans at the cape in the south“.

Sangam Era
A good place to start learning about the ancient Tamizh past is the Sangam literature. It is understood that only a sample of this literature survives. Our Indian ancestors mentioned long Sangam eras, with the sage Agastya (one of the Saptha Rishis) playing a prominent role, but few, if any, accompanying details are available. When viewed as Itihasa, the mention of earlier Sangams cannot simply be dismissed as mere ‘myth’.  On the other hand, the available literature brings us to within 3000 years of current day, providing considerable insight into how the Tamizhs lived during those times, their accomplishments in various fields, their global influence, and their efforts in protecting and promoting dharma inside as well as outside India.
Historical records provide evidence of the success and influence of Indian and Tamizh peoples (traders, merchants, seafarers) on other parts of the world since ancient times [11]. For example, Prof. Subhash Kak mentions in [3]:  “… David Napier shows how the forehead markings of the Gorgon and the single-eye of the cyclops in Greek art are Indic elements. Although he suggests that this may have been a byproduct of the interaction with the Indian foot soldiers who fought for the Persian armies, he does not fail to mention the more likely possibility that the influence was through the South Indian traders in 2nd-millennium BC-Greece. This is supported by the fact that the name of the Mycenaean Greek city Tiryns—the place where the most ancient monuments of Greece are to be found—is the same as that of the most powerful Tamilian seafaring people called the Tirayans ..”.
The kingdoms of Southern India, including the Cholas, and Pandyas are mentioned in the 2nd and 13th rock edits of Ashoka (earlier than 230 BCE). The Hathigumpha inscriptions (no later than 150 BCE) mentions a league of Tamizh states that were already more than 100 years old at that time [1]. Clearly, the Tamizh people were well organized and capable since ancient times. Madurai is considered to be the oldest city in Tamizhakam [11]. Data also shows that like the rest of India, dharma thought systems (represented by a variety of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain Sampradayas) held sway in the land of Tamizhs since times immemorial.  The truth claims of Karma and Maru Janmam (rebirth) were fundamental to all these systems and form the basis of the Tamizh worldview. While conquering kings were lauded in verse as heroes, kings who brought lasting peace and prosperity either by eschewing warfare or fighting for dharma, were elevated higher, thereby affirming the primacy of dharma, and the civilizational unity within India since the most ancient of times. We find it useful and accurate to adopt the phrase ‘integral unity‘ introduced in [2] to denote this unity. Scholars have also pointed to important dharmic links between Kashmir and the Tamizhakam. This unity across India is manifest in important ancient texts like the Natya Shastra that originated in Kashmir.

The dyansties of Tamizhakam
The Sangam literature mentions the three crowned kings: The Cheras, Cholas (Chozhas), and Pandyas. These kingdoms dominate much of recorded Tamizh history from ~300 BCE to 1300 CE, a period of at least 1600 years, although there were also many, lesser-known chiefs and leaders in the region. Also, after the decline of the Satavahana empire, the Pallavas held sway in South-Eastern India, with Kanchipuram as their capital and were prominent between the 3rd and 9th century CE, a period of over 600 years. The great dynasties of the Chalukyas and the Rashtrakutas played a prominent role in this region between the 5th and 10th century CE.
Tamizhakam. source: wikimedia.org
A significant portion of this era involved battles between these various kingdoms. While there was little political unity, there was almost complete philosophical and social unity among the peoples across the land in Southern, as well as other parts of India. The wars were required to be conducted according to the rules of dharma, and the civilian populace and the economy was seldom dragged into an all-out warfare. The kings were required to be upholders of dharma, and rulers who subscribed to one particular sampradaya (e.g. Jaina or Shaivite) lived in mutual respect with their subjects who were free to pursue their own belief system.  Very rarely, if ever, do we see temples of rival sampradayas destroyed by victorious kings, especially since there is no scriptural sanction anywhere for such acts. In fact, what the history of India and the Tamizh land shows is that it was far more common and expected of Indian kings to preserve and promote the temples, peoples, and dharmic institutions within the conquered regions.  We present one example:
The rivalry between two super-powers of India in the 7th century, the Pallavas and Chalukyas, was aggravated by the attack of the great Pulakeshi-2 (who had earlier defeated the famous king Harshavardhana of Kanauj in Northern India) on the Pallava domain of the equally great Mahendravarman, the painter/musician/scholar/poet king. Pulakeshi-2 narrowly failed in capturing Kanchipuram, the capital, but a lot of Pallava territory and pride was lost. Mahendravarman’s son, Narasimhavarman, avenged this military humiliation by defeating Pulakeshi-2 and conquering the Chalukyan capital of Vatapi. However, he did not destroy, but brought back the Murthi of Ganesha from there (immortalized a thousand years later in the Kriti ‘Vatapi Ganapathim’ of Muthuswami Dikshatar) to Tamizh Nadu.  From then on (if not earlier), Vatapi Ganapathi as the wise brother of Muruga, the ‘Tamizh Kadavul’,  became a beloved Ishta Devata of all Tamizhs, and remains a favorite to this day. The story does not end here. The successors of Pulakeshi-2 eventually restored the dented Chalukyan military pride and Kanchi was eventually taken. However, neither the city nor its magnificent temples were destroyed. Vatapi Ganapathi continues to bless his devotees from Tiruchenkattankudi, the hometown of Narasimhavarman’s commander-in-chief.

Central shrine
Ganapathi Temple, Thiruchengattankudi” by P. V. Jagadisa Ayyar (1920). South Indian shrines: illustrated. Madras Times Printing and Pub. Co. p. 404.. Via Wikipedia.

All-round Progress
The Tamizh contributions to Indian civilization and heritage are too many to be recounted in detail here. The people of Tamizhakam were staunch followers of dharma, and the kings and queens lead by example, serving as exemplars of heroism, strength, ethics, and duty.  Multiple literary works confirm ‘the resilience of trade independent of political stability’ [11]. A historian [11] notes that  “the Tamizh region had a distinctive and highly complex administrative structure that evolved even before political consolidation under successive Tamizh kingdoms“.  The economy included the sectors of agriculture, trade, and manufacturing. Cultivation of farmland was given a lot of importance, and arguably, ancient India possessed the most advanced agricultural science, as well as the best water management systems, including interconnected lakes, step wells, canals, reservoirs, etc. Records confirm that the merchants organized themselves into guilds. The most famous among these guilds is considered to be the ‘Ainnuruvar‘, or ‘The Five Hundred’, and find mention in inscriptions more than 1200 years old.  Trade flourished, and the region appears to have been a hub for global commerce.  Famous ports include Puhar, which is well described in ancient Tamizh epics. The sea-faring Tamizhs visited several parts of the world thanks to the traditional Indian knowledge of navigation, spreading their influence in terms of trade, dharmic thought, and also military might when needed. For example, a  very brisk trade (export-heavy) was conducted with the Roman empire, in return for Roman gold and silver. The influence of the Tamizhs on South-east Asia from Burma through Indonesia is seen to this day.  As far as manufacturing and technology, India dominated the textile industry for thousands of years. Other manufacturing included metallurgy, jewelry, craftwork, etc. For example, the ‘wootz’ steel technology [18] that originated in Southern India is world famous (and used to make the ‘Damascus blade’). The wootz steel of the Chera tamizhs was regarded as the finest in the world [13].
Trade with SE Asia. source: www.peppertrail.com
Wealth and prosperity was welcomed by the Tamizhs of India and given due importance in line with the traditional Purusharthas of kama, artha, dharma, and moksha. Yogis, Siddhas (Hindu, often Shaivite), and Gurus (Hindu, Jaina, Buddhist) were given the highest respect for their wisdom and intellectual capacity. The wisdom filled ‘Thirukkural’ of Rishi Tiruvalluvar (BCE) occupies a highly revered place to this day. The Siddhars (Siddhas) in Tamizh tradition include the Sages Agastya and Tirumular, among others. A statue of Patanjali, author of the Yoga sutras and Mahabhasya, can be found inside the Madurai Meenakshi kovil.  The Seers of Tamizhakam also gave us Kundalini Yoga. Consequently, we see a remarkably balanced progress in both material terms (commerce, agriculture, manufacturing, science and technology, art and architecture, etc.) as well as in terms of physical health, and inner-realization (Advaita, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Jaina, Buddhist metaphysics, Yoga, Siddha medicine, etc.). The great Hindu Jagadguru Adi Sankara belongs to this time period (8th century CE) and was from present-day Kerala. Tamizh as well as Sanskrit scholars were highly revered and the two ancient languages lived side-by-side in mutual respect, borrowing from, and enhancing each other, resulting in a literary output that is astonishing and of the highest quality.  History shows that saints like Adi Shankara did not retreat into ‘ivory towers’ like many intellectuals and theorists do today, but were positively engaged, hands-on, with the world, and played an active role in ensuring the positive transformation of the lives of ordinary people.
The merchants of Tamizhakam were also accorded respect for their high ethical standards and bravery. Furthermore, it is known (e.g. from the Silapathikaram) that these merchants, since ancient times, were philanthropists who donated to many charities. They were very literate, counting some of the great Tamizh poets within their ranks. Examples include Sattanar, the author of ‘Manimekalai’ [11].  The arts also flourished. The magnificent kovils (temples) of Tamizh Nadu – the Brihadishwara kovil in Tanjavur, and the Madurai Meenakshi Kovil, among others, attest to this fact. Such temples were not only architectural and engineering marvels, but an integral, central, and active part of the functioning society, and a critical component of the local and regional economy. Folk and classical music and dance and flourished side-by-side in mutual respect. The arts were given due importance during the Sangam period and after.
The products manufactured by the Tamizhs were in great demand inside as well as outside India. For example, the metal workers who produced steel and other metal products were the best in world for a very long time. Prof. R. Balsubramaniam notes in [18] that “the skilled people who produced and manufactured engineering objects were known as Vishwakarmas.  Included in this classification were carpenters, blacksmiths, potters, weavers, etc. these were the gems of India and their practical skills are what we note in the samples available… Disciples were trained from their very childhood in their traditional craft… The skill was passed on from one generation to the other.. Some of the brightest and brilliant minds who took part in the development of iron metallurgy belonged to the so-called lower strata of the Indian society“.  Prof RB also notes that India was a major arms manufacturer for the world for several centuries until the eighteenth century CE. A key component in arms manufacture was the production of high-carbon steel. The wootz steel, which was produced in Tamizhakam and other parts of India were valued all over the world.
A key instrument or institution that helped ensure the all-round progress of all the peoples of the Tamizh land were its temples, both big and small.

The Temples of the Tamizh land
The kovil (temple) emerged as the center of social and economic activity about 1500 years ago. Temples were institutions that represented a integral value system including dharmic, social and economic dimensions. The deep ideas of Vedanta and the stirring appeal of the Bhakti movement, both of which are rooted in the fundamentals of dharma, sparked a resurgence in Hinduism. The temples, which had fallen into relative decay prior to the 6th century were revitalized. The Pallava, Pandya, and Chola kings were involved in the construction of new temples, as well as the renovation and expansion of existing ones. Generous land grants were provided by kings, senior officials of the kingdoms, and merchants. Battles between kingdoms did not have an impact on the temples since the victorious kings continued to operate on the dharmic principle of mutual respect, and patronized temples even if its principal deity was tied to a different sampradaya. Breakthroughs in construction and structural engineering enabled the building of increasingly larger temples [11]. An economic process was set up that sustained the operations of even the largest temples.  Ample space became available to promote performing arts. Soon the temples became the central institutions in each locality or region. The construction of temples also provided plentiful employment for artist and artisan. The central deity of the temple was deemed a legal person (and still is), and activity was carried out in her or his name. The temple also required a variety of Pooja items, and several purchases were made. Therefore, temples were involved in both the supply as well as demand side of the economy.
Mariamman Kovil, Sholavandan. source: dinamalar.com
Temples were financial institutions too. Data [11] show that corporate bodies (e.g. guilds) greatly outnumbered individual merchants as far as borrowing funds from temples, whereas the latter constituted a majority as far as donating to the kovil. The presence and size of temples also changed the land-use and residential patterns in the region. There was no external central authority that could control the temples, which were largely managed and run by, and for the local people. The Tamizh ‘Gramam‘ was a village republic in the deepest sense. A Gramam decided how its local revenue was to be spent for education, medical care, irrigation facilities, security, etc. At a larger scale, there were Nagarams, which were well-planned and designed cities. Such an architecture resulted in the multitude of temples becoming strong decentralized locations of resources, capital, dharmic knowledge, education,  legal power, repository of art, and information. It is quite clear that the temples played a big part is ensuring the prosperity of the region. Furthermore, this decentralized model produced a viable and stable economy and education system that benefited all classes of the society for over 1500 years – a period during which the Indian economy (along with China) dominated the global scene. To this day, India has more temples than police stations, as Swaminathan Gurumurthy has noted, and a lower per capita rate of serious crime compared to several developed western countries.

Tamizh Society: An Open Architecture
The socio-economic systems were what can be accurately termed an ‘open architecture’ [8].  They were self-sustaining and decentralized, and relatively immune to which dynasty was in power.  The contribution of Tamizhakam (and Southern India) to Hinduism is extremely important. Deeply rooted in dharma, the Bhakti movement originated in the Tamizh land during the 7th century. Starting from the Shaivite Nayanars and the Vaishnavite Alvars, it spread all over India, and over the next one thousand years,  had a profound and positive influence on the peoples of India. Furthermore, all three important schools of Vedanta – Advaita, Dvaita, and Vishishtadvaita were born in this region.  The underlying unity [8] within Indic systems ensured that the various sects and schools with clashing metaphysics and concepts debated these points in mutual respect rather than try to physically exterminate each other. For example, this essay [16] by contemporary Tamizh writer Jeyamohan can be used to understand the nature of the open architecture of Hinduism that is present in the Tamizh land. Such an architecture naturally yields a ‘fractal’ of narratives – the dharmic grand narrative of India is the union of a plurality of contributing sub-narratives, each of which recursively consists of its own distinct micro-narratives, and yet all of them are fundamentally rooted in, and united by dharma.
Dharmic literary works in Sanskrit as well as Tamizh reached dizzying heights. The rulers too played their part to ensure that viability of this open society.  This social and economic model still remains alive and vibrant in India, and to this day, a majority of India’s GDP, new innovations,  and adherence to pluralism comes from this “unorganized” sector, and has helped India get through some difficult times. It is known [7] that India, along with China, were the two big economic powerhouses until 1750 CE, and Tamizh trade and commerce too played their part in this success. The Business and Commerce page discusses this topic in depth.

Some great Indian kings in this time period
Senguttuvan (Cheras, Sangam period)
Mahendravarman (Pallavas, 590-630 CE)
Narasimhavarman (Pallavas, 630-668 CE)
Raja Raja (Cholas, 985-1016 CE)
Rajendra-1(Cholas,  1012-1044 CE)
Coronation of Rajendra Chola. source: centreright.in



Many native dynasties continued to hold sway over the land, even as some of the more famous ones in the previous milennium like the Cholas, Pallavas, and Cheras faded away by the beginning of the 14th century.  The Pandyas reached their peak in the 13th century, during the reign of Sundara Pandyan before their eclipse.
The start of this era witnessed the birth of another great Hindu (Vaishnavite) saint in Sriperumbudur, Sri Ramanujacharya, who propounded the vedantic concept of Vishishtadvaita. Important Indian classical dance and musical forms were patronized by the Tamizhs during this period including Bharata Natyam, and Karnataka Sangeetham (Carnatic music/vocal). Both have their roots in Bharata Muni’s Natya Shastra, attesting to the inherent unity within Indian art [2, 3]. Toward the end this time period, the trinity of Carnatic music contributed several compositions in Sanskrit and Telugu. The now-famous Aryabhata (Kerala) school of mathematics  led by Madhava flourished during this period, producing new results in infinite series, trigonometry, astronomy, etc, and laid the foundations of modern-day calculus [14].

It came down to Vijayanagara

A key empire during this period after the Hoysalas was that of Vijayanagara. Established by the brothers Harihara and Bukka with blessings of Sage Vidyaranya in 1336 CE, it attained its peak during the reign of the great Krishnadevaraya of the Tuluva dynasty (1509-1529) [6].  The Vijayanagara empire played a pivotal role in the history of India.  Fragmented by increasing disunity and quarrels among kingdoms, Southern India became the next target for the Jihadist foreign raiders who had already made serious inroads into Northern India. The invaders had little use for the dharmic rules of engagement that the native Indian rulers adhered to – the invaders were ready to fight all-out wars. The story of the genocide and the destruction of dharmic institutions in Northern India was about to be repeated in the South [1]. Vijayanagara stood between these forces and the occupation of Southern India.
The Vijayanagara rulers ended the Madurai Sultanate by defeating them in battle, and kept the Deccani Sultans at bay for more than two centuries. In particular, the reign of Krishadevaraya saw dharmic India in all its pomp and glory. Several temples in today’s Tamizh Nadu and their sacred Murthis that were hidden away due to the Jihadi onslaught were now restored  thanks to their commitment [5]. The ancient region of Tamizhakam, which was now under the stewardship of Krishnadevaraya witnessed unparalleled prosperity thanks to a vibrant economy, a rejuvenation in dharmic art, architecture, literature, poetry, song, and dance. He patronized the Tamizh poet Haridasa. This era saw an outpouring of literary creativity in Telugu, Kannada, Tamizh, and Sanskrit. The king was a scholar, and is famous for his dharmic literary masterpiece ‘Amuktamalyada’ in Telugu, written in praise of the Tamizh Azhwar saint Andal of Srivilliputtur. The Srivilliputtur Kovil gopuram adorns the official seal of the Tamil Nadu government today.

Srivilliputhur Divya Desam temple
Srivilliputtur Andal Temple Tower” by Gauthaman. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Krishnadevaraya, along with Rajendra Chola, are among the greatest kings in Indian and world history.

Some Great Kings during this period
Sundara Pandyan (Pandyas, 1251-1268)
Krishnadeva Raya (Vijayanagara, 1509-1529)

Post Vijayanagara: [1565-1715]

The Vijayanagara empire continued to fight on after the death of Krishnadevaraya, despite internal quarrels and leaders lacking his caliber and vision. The sacking of Hampi, the destruction of its temples, and the mutilation of its exquisite sculptures and architecture after the disaster of 1565 in the name of religion by the fundamentalist invaders rank among the most barbaric acts in world history. The advent of Chathrapathi Shivaji and the Marathas provided some respite from this onslaught.  The last hundred years of this period through the 18th century witnessed the gradual waning of Islamic rule after the demise of the despotic Aurangazeb, and the arrival of the colonial powers from Europe. This also resulted in the injection of another extreme Abrahamic influence into India. The missionary De Nobili of Italy who was welcomed to the court of Tirumala Nayaka of Madurai in the 1600s, was among the first to employ the technique of inculturation (that is popular today) to convert the native population away from their native pluralistic dharmic traditions to evangelical Christianity based on the Nicene Creed. By this time, Southern India had more clearly defined areas having their own dominant language (Tamizh, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, etc.) that resemble contemporary India.

1716 – 1947

Summary: Indian struggle for Independence

The British Raj was able to defeat all other competing European powers, and with the help of Sepoys, eventually took complete control of India. The life of Indians and Tamizhs during this period can be understood by reviewing the discoveries and subsequent writings of scholars like Dharampal [12] who found “that for long periods in the late 18th and the 19th centuries, the tax on land in many areas exceeded the total agricultural production of very fertile land. This was  particularly so in the areas of the Madras Presidency (comprising current Tamil nadu, districts of coastal Andhra, some districts of  Karnataka and Malabar). The consequences of the policy were easy to predict: in the Madras Presidency, one third of the most fertile land went out of cultivation between the period 1800-1850…. the British successfully initiated an intricate system of widespread control and extortion, taking away as tax most of what the land produced, as well as the products of manufactures. He found it horrifying that this was often done at the point of the bayonet“. This centralized tax looting apparatus of the British Raj destroyed India’s decentralized architecture, and the results were catastrophic for India, and the effect is visible to this day. Famines, that were practically unheard of before, were prevalent during this period, and several millions of lives were lost. India’s sophisticated native education system (‘the beautiful tree’) was destroyed, its manufacturing and trade wrecked, intellectual property stolen and repackaged in Europe, forcing many to move to agriculture, which also took a beating under the colonial rule.  A rich and beautiful India and Tamizhakam for the first time in its glorious history became impoverished. Perhaps the last and truly great independent king of the Tamizhs during this period was Raja Serfoji-the second, of the Bhosle clan, who ruled Thanjavur between 1798 and 1832. His contributions to the welfare of the public were astounding. Visit the science and tech page for more details.

From this era of despair arose a number of warriors, as well as dharmic saints. Tamizh Nadu produced a number of selfless freedom fighters who stood up to the British tyranny and fought for India’s independence. This struggle had already begun in the 18th century by patriots like Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Rani Velu Nachiyar, and others, much earlier than the 1857 war of independence against the British across Northern India. Many Tamizhs responded to a call from Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to take up arms and joined the Indian National Army (INA) during the Second World War. Similarly, many others heeded Gandhiji’s voice and chose the alternative path of Satyagraha. Swami Vivekananda’s teachings and inspiring thoughts left a deep and positive impact on the Tamizhs, while Sri Aurobindo made Pondicherry his home. Similarly Ramana Maharishi in Tiruvannamalai influenced millions inside and outside India. Revolutionary poets like Mahakavi Subramania Bharati created a new awakening among the masses, exhorting them to transcend their differences in Jati and Varna, and unite to defeat the tyranny that was annihilating the nation and destroying dharma.

Some freedom fighters from Tamizh Nadu
Mahakavi Subramania Bharati

Subramanya Bharathi.jpg
Subramania Bharathi“. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

V O Chidambaram Pillai (Kappalottiya Tamizhan)

V.O.Chidambaram Pillai photo.jpg
V.O.Chidambaram Pillai photo“: source Via Wikipedia.

source: moneycontrol.com
Veerapandiya Kattabomman

Veerapandiya Kattabomman postage stamp.jpg
Veerapandiya Kattabomman postage stamp” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

Rani Velu Nachiyar. source: olx.in
Subramaniya Siva

SubramaniyaSiva” by http://archives.aaraamthinai.com/6mthinaithoguppu/special/shiva01.asp. Via Wikipedia.


Recent Past and the Road Ahead

Even as freedom fighters united the Tamizhs against the British, 19th century missionaries and scholars from Europe like the notorious Robert Caldwell and Max Mueller helped the colonial occupiers create or widen faultlines within the Indian and Tamizh society. For example, a Hinduphobic “Aryan vs Dravidian” linguistic and racial divide was fabricated in order to de-link the distinct Tamizh culture from its inclusive, dharma civilizational identity, and replace it with separateness and exclusivity [15]. This fictitious ‘Aryan’ race theory was embraced by the Nazis with disastrous consequences for the 20th century world. Despite this, many Indian politicians and westernized intellectuals bought into this,  although it is not surprising that many sensible Tamizhs rejected such nefarious ideologies. Devotees continue to throng temples in record numbers, and the state has steadily progressed since India’s political independence in 1947. Freedom fighter, scholar, statesman, and Bharat Ratna recipient Chakravarti Rajagopalachari served as the first and last Indian governor General of India, and later as the Chief Minister of Madras state in the 1950s. In 1969, Madras state was renamed as Tamil Nadu.  Tamil Nadu is an economic and industrial powerhouse, thanks to the natural Tamizh entrepreneurial spirit , and continues to be a center for high culture, dharma civilizational tradition, and innovative art. As they have done for thousands of years, the Tamizhs have continued their proud tradition of serving and protecting Mother India with distinction. Major Ramaswamy Parameshwaran was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India’s highest gallantry award for his selfless battlefield valor in 1987,  while Major Mariappan Saravanan, who may have been the first Indian officer to make the supreme sacrifice in Kargil, 1999, was posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra.

source: http://www.scoopnest.com/user/yuvadesh
Major Mariappan Saravanan. source: https://twitter.com/Sr1vatsanV/
General P. P. Kumaramangalam served as the 7th Chief of Army Staff. The late Abdul Kalam is widely regarded as the greatest Indian president in recent times, and was loved and respected all over India for his positive contributions as a teacher, scientist, and president. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna. Recipients of this award include Chief Minister M. G. Ramachandran, the Nobel Laureate C. V. Raman,  C. Subramaniam for Public Affairs, and the divine Carnatic vocalist M. S. Subbulakshmi, and others.
The devastating floods of 2015 saw the Armed Forces of India, and traditional organizations organize relief and rescue operations.  Unlike the west, cities in India do not yet possess robust centralized systems that facilitate a rapid and systematic response to large-scale emergencies. Undaunted, ordinary Tamizhs belonging to all classes of the society trusted and helped each other during this crisis, saving countless lives. No significant looting or vandalism was reported.  Perhaps the core dharma civilizational unity of the Tamizhs remains strong.


1. ‘A History of South India: From Prehistoric Times to the Fall of  Vijayanagar’, by K.A.Nilakanta Shastri (1976).
2. ‘Being Different: India’s Challenge to Western Universalism’, by Rajiv Malhotra. Harper Collins (2011).
3. ‘On the Chronological Framework for Indian Culture’, by Subhash Kak,
Indian Council of Philosophical Research. 2000, pp. 1-24.
4. ‘History and Culture of Tamil Nadu’ Volume 1 (up to AD 1310), Chitra Madhavan. DK Printworld (2005).
5. ‘History and Culture of Tamil Nadu’ Volume 2 (up to AD 1885), Chitra Madhavan. DK Printworld (2005).
6. ‘A Forgotten Empire (Vijayanagar): a contribution to the history of India’, by Robert Sewell et al. Sonnenschein & co (1900).
7. ‘The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective’, by Angus Maddison (2001).
8. ‘Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity’, by Rajiv Malhotra, Harper Collins (2014).
9. ‘Indian Culture and India’s Future’, by Michel Danino. DK Printworld (2011).
10. ‘Portraits of a Nation: History of Ancient India’, by Kamlesh Kapur. Sterling Publishers (2010).
11. ‘Merchants of Tamilakam: Pioneers of International Trade’, by Kanakalatha Mukund. Allen Lane, Penguin Group (2012).
12. ‘The Collected Writings, Dharampal. http://voiceofdharma.org/tbt.
13. ‘Wootz crucible steel: a newly discovered production site in South India,’ by Sharada Srinivasan, Institute of Archaeology (1994).
14. ‘Ganita Yuktibhasa (Rationales in Mathematical Astronomy) of Jyesthadeva’, K. V. Sarma, et al. Hindustan Book Agency (2008).
15. ‘Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines’, by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan. Amaryllis (2011).
16. ‘On The Question Of Being A ‘Cultural Hindu’’, by Jeyamohan, Swarajya Magazine (2015).
17. ‘The Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka’.
18. “Marvels of Indian Iron Through the Ages”, by R. Balasubramaniam, Infinity Foundation Series. Rupa (2012).
Additional References
‘A Concise History of South India: Issues and Interpretations’, by Noboru Karashima. Oxford (2014).

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