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Intro to the Evolution of South Indian Society


  • In the Deccan region, encompassing major parts of present day Telangana, Andhra, Karnataka and Maharashtra, the Satavahanas established a powerful kingdom in the first century BCE.
  • In the south, the three family ruling houses, the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas were their contemporaries, ruling the fertile parts of Tamizhagam.
  • But the Tamil rulers started two centuries earlier as they figure in Ashoka’s inscriptions of the third century BCE.
  • There were many common things as well as differences in the polity and society of the Deccan and Tamil regions.



  • The megalithic burial sites of the early historic period.
  • Excavated material from ancient sites, including ports, capital towns, with architectural remains, such as in Arikamedu, Kodumanal, Alangulam, and Uraiyur.
  • Buddhist sites with stupas and chaityas located in Andhra and Karnataka regions (Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, etc.)


  • Coins of pre-Satavahana chieftains and of the Satavahanas from AndhraKarnataka region.
  • The coins issued by the Cheras, Cholas, Pandyas, and the chieftains of the Sangam Age.
  • Roman copper, silver and gold coins.


  • The Ashokan inscriptions, written in Prakrit, found in Andhra-Karnataka regions.
  • The Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions found in the caves of Tamil Nadu and Kerala such as in Mangulam, Jambai, and Pugalur.
  • The Satavahana inscriptions and other Buddhist inscriptions of the Andhra region
  • Short inscriptions found on pottery and rings and stones in Tamil Nadu and some sites outside India, like in Berenike, and Quseir al Qadhim (Egypt).


  • Tamil texts including the Sangam and post-Sangam literature.
  • The Arthasastra, the treatise on economy and statecraft authored by Kautilya.
  • The Puranas which mention the genealogy of the Andhras/Satavahanas.
  • Buddhist Chronicles such as Mahavamsa.
  • Gatha Saptasati, a Prakrit text composed by the Satavahana king Hala.

Classical Tamil Literature

  • The Classical Sangam corpus consists of Tholkappiyam, the eight anthologies (Ettuthogai), Ten Idylls (Paththuppattu). Tholkappiyam is the earliest extant Tamil grammatical text dealing not only with poetry but also the society and culture of the times.
  • The Pathinen Kilkanakku (18 minor works) and the five epics belong to post-Sangam times (fourth to sixth century CE) and describe a different social and cultural set-up.

Foreign Notices

The following Greek and Latin sources inform us about the long distance cultural and commercial connections.

  • The Periplus of Erythrean Sea, an ancient Greek text of the first century CE.
  • Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, first century CE
  • Ptolemy’s Geography, second century CE
  • A Roman Map called Peutingerian Table

**Stupas: The stupa is a heap of clay that evolved out of earthen funerary mounds, in which the ashes of the dead were buried. Buddhist stupas evolved out of the burial of the ashes of the mortal remains of the Buddha. Buddhist sacred architecture originated with the eight stupas where the ashes were divided. Hemispherical shape, the stupa symbolizes the universe; and the Buddha represents the emperor of the spiritual universe. The stupa has a path around it for devotional circumambulation.

**Women Poets of the Sangam Age : Of the over 450 poets who contributed to the corpus of Sangam poetry about thirty are women. They composed more than 150 poems. The most prominent and prolific among them was Avvaiyar. Others include Allur Nanmullaiyaar, Kaakkaipadiniyar, Kavarpendu, Nalveliyaar, Okkur Masaathiyar, and Paarimakalir.

**Ettuthogai and Paththupattu collections have about 2400 poems. These poems, varying in length from 3 to 800 lines, were composed by Panar and pulavar.

The Eight Anthologies are:

1. Natrinai;

2. Kurunthogai;

3. Aingurunuru;

4. Patitruppathu;

5. Paripadal;

6. Kalithogai;

7. Akananuru;

8. Purananuru.

Paththupattu (Ten Idylls):

1. Thirumurugatrupatai;

2. Porunaratrupatai;

3. Sirupanatruppatai;

4. Perumpanatruppatai;

5. Mullaipattu;

6. Maduraikanchi;

7. Nedunalvadai;

8. Kurinjipattu;

9. Pattinappalai;

10. Malaipadukadam.

Patinen Kilkanakku texts, which are post-Sangam works, include eighteen texts, which mostly deal with ethics and moral codes. The most important of them are Thirukkural, and Naladiyar.

Silappathikaram and Manimekalai are the two important epics useful for insights into cultural and religious history.

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