FRESH PERSPECTIVES ON SOUTH

K.R.A. Narasiah

This book is a unique collection of articles on the trajectory of South India’s history from pre-historic times to the present, contributed by both Indian and Japanese authors, and edited by the South India historian from Japan, Noboru Karashima, who is familiar to the Indian reader by his earlier scholarly writings and lectures. Divided into eight broad time divisions, the collection carries articles reflecting recent advances by erudite Indian scholars like Y. Subbarayulu and P Shanmugam, who have worked earlier with Karashima on various projects in India.

A CONCISE HISTORY OF SOUTH INDIA
by Noboru Karashima, Publishers: Oxford University Press. 1st Floor, YMCA Library Building, 1, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi – 110 001 Paperback Pages 418, Price Rs. 995

Karashima’s preface sets the book’s tone. He feels that the 1955 work of K A N Sastri, A History of South India while being excellent in content and unmatchable in research, had its own blemish, as Sastri had an inclination to emphasise the role of north Indian and Sanskrit culture in the development of south Indian society.

He hastens to add that later, due to the Dravidian movement in south India and its Tamil nationalism, the academic field was affected. Any writing that the Tamil nationalists did not like was attacked severely and history writing suffered.

In addition, there was a change in the concept of history with new trends appearing in interpreting issues. This brought in a change to highlight Subaltern studies which, in turn, ushered in study of the ruled instead of rulers, as it was the style of history writing during colonial regime.

Since Sastri’s publication, many new archaeological discoveries have been made and new theories and interpretations presented that make it necessary to have a fresh look at the history. South India not being a congenial unit, it is difficult to mark an area as south geographically or politically. Therefore, Karashima admits that this collection may not satisfy all readers.

In his prologue, Karashima raises a question about Dravidians being immigrants or indigenous. He starts with F. W. Ellis’s Dravidian proof of the languages of the south. Quoting Asko Parpola and Iravatham Mahadevan, he discusses the Indus script.

Obviously, Karashima could not have taken into account the latest publication of Mahadevan Dravidian Proof of the Indus script via the Rig Veda: A case study (November 2014 ), a remarkable assertion of Dravidian proof. Karashima concludes by agreeing with Bhadriraju Krishnamurti’s view regarding the settlement of the major Dravidian language groups in south India after the end of the second millennium BCE.

Chapter I discusses south Indian prehistory through megalithic burials and Neolithic evidence through archaeological discoveries. Shanmugam and Subbarayulu, in their papers talk about prehistoric cultures through Paleolithic tools, microlithic tools, rock gravings, Neolithic Celts and megalithic burials. Subbarayulu elaborates on stones and beads of Kodumanal along with the graffiti on potsherds of the same place.

Continuing their discussion, Karashima takes the reader through the beginnings of south Indian history through legends and Puranas and later through the edicts of Asoka. Particularly of value is the second rock edict of Asoka, where Cholas, Pandya, Satiyaputa, Keralaputa and Tambapanni (Sri Lanka) are mentioned.

there was a change in the concept of history with new trends appearing in interpreting issues. This brought in a change to highlight Subaltern studies which, in turn, ushered in study of the ruled instead of rulers, as it was the style of history writing during colonial regime.

Again, in the 13th edict, Chola is mentioned. As though to corroborate this are the near contemporary Tamil Brahmi inscriptions of Mangulam in Madurai area where Pandyan names are mentioned. Though Mahadevan puts the time of Jambai inscription as first century C.E., paleographically Karashima assigns it to the 2nd century.

Subbarayulu says Tamil Brahmi was more or less identical to the north Indian Brahmi and sherds with Brahmi script have been found in Arikamedu, Uraiyur, Kodumanal, Alagankulam and Karur. According to him, south Indian Brahmi writings may be classified into three groups: those found in Bhattiprolu, others in Andhra and Karnataka and those found in Tamil Nadu. He painstakingly explains the differences between north Indian and south Indian Brahmi.

The second chapter starts with the Satavahanas and Subbarayulu deals with Sangam and post-Sangam literature. He quotes the seventh century copper plate to say that the dam Kallanai is mistakenly told to have been built by Karikal Chola, whereas he merely tamed the river Kaveri by raising its flood banks.

The dam seems to have been built much later. In the very next paper the same author talks about religion and religious monuments in early south India. He notes the spread of Buddhism during the Mauryan period in the south indicating the proselytising zeal of the emperor himself.

During the later part of 2nd century, BCE and after, a number of Buddhist sites appeared in the Deccan. In early Tamil literature the conspicuous presence of northern features in the Tamil society of the day, according to Subbarayulu, may be due to the Brahmin poets of the Sangam period.

Chapter 4 is important as it deals with the emergence of a centralised State. After comparing statements of Sastri who considered that the Chola empire was almost Byzantine in nature and Stein, considering it merely segmentary, Karashima concludes that the ruler’s sovereignty was total, as proved by his various grants.

He elaborates on the well-developed bureaucracy of the Cholas. The organisation of merchant guilds across the ocean, especially in Thailand where evidence is found, is quoted to prove this point.

Later chapters deal with history of 18th and 19th centuries and the book ends with 20th century history which is merely factual. Elegant cover design and well illustrated text with maps and images are the book’s attractions. Fresh perspective on the historical issues already known is the forte of the narrative.

Courtesy : The Hindu

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