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Encyclopedia > South Indian

South India is a geographic and linguistic-cultural region of India. Geographically, South India traditionally includes the entire Indian Peninsula south of the Satpura and Vindhya ranges and Narmada River. The geographic term encompasses the Deccan plateau (from the Sanskrit word dakshina, meaning south), the Eastern and Western Ghats, and the coasts between the Ghats and the sea.

A map of South India, it's rivers, regions and water bodies.

As a linguistic-cultural region, South India consists of the five south Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry & Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Natives of these states are called South Indians.

South India is also called Dakshina Nad (Dakshina = South + Nad = land), Dravida Nad (Dravida = Dravidian + Nad = land), or simply Dravida. Culturally and linguistically South India is distinguished as the home of the Dravidians, but not exclusively so; ethnic Dravidians also live in parts of eastern and central India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia, and some non-Dravidian peoples (for example the Konkani) also make their home in South India.


The land

South India is a vast triangular peninsula, bounded on the west by the Arabian Sea, and on the east by the Bay of Bengal. The Vindhya and Satpura ranges and the Narmada River are the traditional boundary between northern and southern India. South of the Satpuras, at the center of the peninsula, is the Deccan plateau, defined by the Western Ghats mountain range, which runs along the western edge of the peninsula, and the Eastern Ghats along the eastern edge. The great rivers of south India, the Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri (Cauvery), rise in the Western Ghats and flow across the Deccan and through gaps in the Eastern Ghats to empty into the Bay of Bengal.

Regions of South India

The five states of South India generally follow linguistic boundaries. In addition to these linguistic regions, South India has a number of distinct geographic regions:

The Malabar Coast lies along the western shore of the peninsula, between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. The Western Ghats catch the monsoon winds, and the region is rainy and densely forested. The South Western Ghats montane rain forests, which lie in the southern portion of the range, is the most species-abundant ecoregion of the Indian peninsula.

Along the east coast between the Eastern Ghats and the Bay of Bengal lies the Coromandel Coast (Cholamandalam). Sri Lanka lies of the southeast coast, separated from India by the Palk Strait and the chain of low sandbars and islands known as Rama's Bridge (Adam's Bridge). The low coral islands of Lakshadweep and the Maldives lie off the southwest coast. The southernmost tip of India is Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin) on the Indian Ocean.

The southeastern peninsula, south of the Krishna river and its tributary the Tungabhadra, was known to Europeans as the Carnatic. It was the scene of colonial rivalries between the British, French, and Dutch in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in what is now called the Carnatic wars. The European name for the region is likely derived from Karnataka, the homeland of the Kannada people, and comes from the Kannada words karu and nadu, which mean "elevated land". Karnataka straddles the central portion of the Western Ghats, from the Arabian Sea coast to the western Deccan, and the Europeans seem to have misapplied the term to refer most commonly to Southern India's eastern coastal region, although Carnatic is sometimes used to denote the entirety of southern India.

The sophisticated Indian Classical Music of South India is known as Carnatic music. Carnatic means "pleasing to the ear" in Sanskrit. This term is often confused with the term Karnataka. Although the rendering of both words is similar in Sanskrit (कर्नाटक), their etymology is probably different.

The people

South Indians are primarily Dravidians by racial stock. They are united by the Dravidian language family. It is a distinct linguistic family which includes Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Tulu, among many others.

Konkani, an Indo-Aryan language, is widely spoken in Goa and coastal Karnataka, Kerala, and Maharashtra, where it has drawn heavy influences from Kannada and Malayalam. Most of Maharasthra, which includes the northern Deccan and Konkan regions of South India, is predominantly Marathi-speaking. Marathi and Konkani are part of the Southern Zone of the Indo-Aryan languages.

See also: Dravidian race and Dravidian languages

The south Indian people have a world view which is organic and celebrates the generative ethos of the natural world. This is manifested through the shaivite tradition in South India. The conception of femininity-motherhood is central to the South Indian weltanschauung. They have a distinct and unique concept of beauty that is reflected through the traditional clothing of South Indian women called as the saree. The chief dressing of South Indian men is the Lungi (or called Mundu only in Kerala), which is also an unstiched drape like the sari. Rice is the staple diet, with fish being an integral component of coastal South Indian meals. Coconut is an important ingredient in many of the dishes of the south Indian people.

The Economy

The People are largely agrarian, dependent on monsoons, as are most people in India. Some of the main crops cultivated in South India include paddy, sorghum, millet, pulses, cotton, chilli, and ragi. South India was and still is the "promised land" as far as spice cultivation is concerned. Areca, coffee, pepper, tapioca, and cardamom are widely cultivated on the Nilgiri Hills and Coorg. But frequent droughts in Northern Karnataka, Rayalaseema and Telangana regions are leaving farmers debt-ridden, forcing them to sell their livestock and sometimes even to suicides. Scarcity of water has been a major problem for past few years in these regions along with cities like Chennai and Hyderabad.

Education is highly valued in the south Indian community, and is seen as a gateway to a better livelihood. Many of the nation's most prominent physicists and mathematicians have been South Indians. Kerala has the highest literacy and unemployment (40%) rate in India. The population growth rate of these states is also beginning to decline rapidly relative to North India.

Information Technology is a growing field in South India. Bangalore, the largest city in the region is India's Information Technology hub, and is home to over 200 software companies. Hyderabad, the captial of Andhra Pradesh, is also an important IT center. Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, has traditionally been a strong manufacturing and trading hub of India.

South Indian worldview and culture

South Indians are racially, linguistically and culturally different from their North Indian compatriots although their cultures have influenced each other at various points in history.

Mattancherry Palace - temple courtyard in Kerala, South India

Whether or not the existing proto Dravidian culture was supplanted by invading Aryan nomads during the twilight of the Indus Valley Civilization or whether they simply coexisted and eventually merged to form another culture is a subject of heated debate to this day. See The Aryan Invasion Theory.

The South Indian world view is essentially, the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the body and motherhood. It is exemplified through its Dance, clothing, and sculptures.

  • South Indian Dance

The South Indian weltanschauung is celebrated in the elaborate dance forms of South India, the Bharathanatyam, and Mohiniaattam which literally translates as ‘the dance of the enchantress’. The Bharathanatyam expresses the celebration of beauty and the universe, through its tenets of having a perfectly erect posture, a straight and pout curving stomach, a well rounded and proportionate body mass- to the body structure, very long hairs and a curvaceous waist. These tenets bring to life the philosophy of Natyashastra (the treatise on Dance by the sage Bharatha), ‘Angikam bhuvanam yasya’ (the body is your world). This is elaborated in the araimandi posture, wherein the performer assumes a half sitting position with the knees turned sideways, with a very erect posture. In this fundamental posture of the Bharathanathyam dance, the distance between the head and the navel becomes equal to that between the earth and the navel. In a similar way the distance between the outstretched right arm to the outstretched left arm becomes equal to the distance between the head and the feet, thus representing the Natyapurusha, the embodiment of life and creation.

  • Traditional clothing

The saree, being an unstiched drape, enhances the shape of the wearer, while only partially covering the midriff. In Indian philosophy, the navel of the Supreme Being is considered as the source of life and creativity. Hence by tradition, the stomach and the navel is to be left unconcealed, though the philosophy behind the costume has largely been forgotten. This makes the realization of sharira-mandala, where in Angikam bhuvanam yasya (the body as the world) unites with the sharira-mandala ( the whole universe), as expressed in the Natyashastra. These principles of the sari, also hold for other forms of drapes, like the lungi or mund worn by men.

  • Sculptures and figurine

The traditional South Indian sculptor starts his sculpture of the divinities from the navel which is always represented unclothed by the saree. A koshta or grid of the sculpture would show the navel to be right at the centre of the sculpture, representing the source of the union of the finite body and the infinite universe.

South Indian history

South India has been at the crossroads of the ancient world, linking the Mediterranean world and the far-east. The Southern coastline from Karwar to Kodungalloor was the most important trading shore in the Indian sub-continent. This brought about a lot of intermingling of the natives with the traders. The South Indian coast of Malabar and the tamil people of the Sangam age had trade with the Graeco Roman world. They were in contact with the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Syrians, Jews, and the Chinese. There were several rulers and dynasties significant in South Indian history. These included the Chola Empire, Pandyas, Pallavas, Hoysalas, Cheras, Wodeyars, Chalukyan Empire and the Vijayanagar Empire.

See History of South India, Middle kingdoms of India, History of India.

South Indian Heritage

South Indian music

The music of the South Indian people is called as Carnatic music. It includes sensuous rhythmic and structured music by composers like Tyagaraja, Purandara Dasa, Mysore Vasudevachari and Swathi Thirunal.

See Carnatic music

Literature and philosophy

South India has an independent literary tradition going back over 2000 years. The first known literature of South India are the poetic Sangams, which were written in Tamil from 2000 to 1500 years ago. Distinct Malayalam, Telugu, and Kannada literary traditions developed in the following centuries. The artistic expressions of the South Indian people shows their admiration of the magnificence of nature and its rhythms, as in the epic Silappadhikaram by Ilango Adigal, also called as the Cilappatikaram. Other works include the Tholkappiam written by Tholkappiar, and Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukural. In South Indian literature and philosophy, women are considered very powerful. A married woman is regarded as auspicious, her shakti or mother-feminine power, protects and empowers her husband and their children. The female form is highly regarded.

Architecture and paintings

The inspirational temple sculptures of Hampi, Badami, and Mahabalipuram, and the mural paintings of Travancore and Lepakshi temples, also stand as a testament to south Indian culture. The paintings of Raja Ravi Varma are considered classic renditions of many a scenes of South Indian life and mythology. There are several examples of Dravidian mural paintings in the mattancherry palace and the Shiva kshetram in Ettamanoor.

See also South Indian architecture and also Dravidian mural painting.

South Indian diversity

The main spiritual traditions of South Indians have included both Shaivism or Shaivite philosophy, and Vaishnavism, which are both branches of Hinduism, although Jain philosophy had been influential in Southern India several centuries earlier. Shravanabelagola in Karnataka is a popular pilgrim center for Jains.

Coorg, in Karnataka is home to one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in the country and provides sanctuary to Tibetan Buddhist monks that fled Tibet fearing percecution from communist China.

There is also a large Muslim community in South India, particularly in the Malabar coast. The community's roots can be traced back to the ancient maritime trade between Kerala and Omanis and other Arabs. Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh is an historic center of Muslim culture in South India, and the Hyderabad region has a large Muslim population.

The oldest Synagogue in the former British Empire is the Cochin jewish synagogue in Kochi, in South India.

Christianity has also flourished in coastal South India from the earliest times. The last remnants of the Nasranis, the earliest Judo-Christian tradition of Syrian Christians, including the Knanaya community survives in Kerala, in South India. Goa is home to a significant Roman Catholic population. The Church of South India is an autonomous Protestant church, formed in 1947 through the merger of several Protestant denominations.

Selected bibliography

  • Beck, Brenda. 1976. “The Symbolic Merger of Body, Space, and Cosmos in Hindu Tamil Nadu." Contributions to Indian Sociology 10(2): 213-43.
  • Bharata (1967). The Natyashastra [Dramaturgy], 2 vols., 2nd. ed. Trans. by Manomohan Ghosh. Calcutta: Manisha Granthalaya.
  • Boulanger, Chantal; (1997) Saris: An Illustrated Guide to the Indian Art of Draping, Shakti Press International, New York.
  • Craddock, Norma. 1994. Anthills, Split Mothers, and Sacrifice: Conceptions of Female Power in the Mariyamman Tradition. Dissertation, U. of California, Berkeley.
  • Danielou, Alain, trans. 1965. Shilappadikaram (The Ankle Bracelet) By Prince Ilango Adigal. New York: New Directions.
  • Dehejia, Vidya, Richard H. Davis, R. Nagaswamy, Karen Pechilis Prentiss (2002) The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India.
  • Hart, George, ed. and trans. 1979. Poets of the Tamil Anthologies: Ancient Poems of Love and War. Princeton: Princeton U. Press
  • Gover, Charles. 1983 (1871). Folk-songs of Southern India. Madras: The South India Saiva Siddhanta Works Publishing Society.
  • Nagaraju, S. 1990. “Prehistory of South India.” In South Indian Studies, H. M. Nayak and B. R. Gopal, eds., Mysore: Geetha Book House, pp. 35-52.
  • Trawick, Margaret. 1990a. Notes on Love in a Tamil Family. Berkeley: U. of California Press.
  • Wadley, Susan, ed. 1980. The Powers of Tamil Women. Syracuse: Syracuse U. Press.
  • Zvelebil, Kamil. 1975. Tamil Literature. Leiden: Brill.

External links

  • http://home.pacbell.net/bklatsky/southindiapicsindex.html (photos of south India)
  • Bharata Natyam  (http://in.geocities.com/medhahari/bharatanatyam-bharathanatyam-bharata-natyam-bharatnatyam-video-dvd.html) the largest collection of streaming videos on the Web.
  • http://community.webshots.com/album/84008905iHbHtH (bharatanatyam photos)

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