South India

South India, Tamil-Nadu and Kerala

 

Tamil Nadu

Tamil-Nadu is bordered in the North and in the Northwest by Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and in the West by Kerala. Its coastal line is bathed by the Bay of Bengal to end its course at the virgin cape or “Kania Kumari” at the Southern most tip of the Indian sub-continent where the three mighty oceans meet. Between the east coastal plains and the western high plateau, the landscape is a very colourful mix of rice fields, rubber plantations and eucalyptus, dry platforms for cotton culture and thick rain forests which shelter tigers, elephants, monkeys and cervids.

Long before the Christian era, the Tamil kings opened sea routes towards China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia spreading Hindu culture at the same time. Trade flourished with the Greco-Roman world and the period was marked by the presence and the buoyancy of poets assembled in academies called “Sangam” and who gave to the Tamil literature mostly non-religious texts, collected in anthologies which despite some rare translations, are enjoyed by only a few dilettantes.

The vitality and the economic prosperity which ensue from this maritime business prompted the successive dynasties Pallava, Chola and Pandya to build sanctuaries carved in seaside rocks and a great number of temples with imperious towers dashing toward the sky. To this day, the magnificent architecture and the sculptures illustrating whole portions of Indian mythology bear testimony to the power and the originality of the sovereigns who succeeded one another from the 7th to the 18th century.

This architecture reached a pinnacle with the construction and the layout of monumental sanctuaries like cities such as Kanchipuram, Tiruchirapalli and Madurai where profane life and religious activities mix in everyday life. It is also under the patronage of these builder-kings that the philosophical, religious, musical and dramatic literatures in Sanskrit but particularly Tamil developed.

A period of exceptional flowering, highlighted by prodigious men and women mystic poets, itinerant shivaïte and vishnavite bards whose writings and hymns today still resound in temples and within the homes when they are not associatied with the subtle movements of the classical dancers. This unique artistic and religious heritage was kept intact because it was spared until a late period from the influence and the presence of Islam.