Early History of South India


   The history of South India covers a period of more than four thousand years, during which the rise and fall of several dynasties and empires took place in the region.

The period of the known history of the area begins from the period of the Iron Age (1200 BC to 24 BC) to the 14th century AD. The Satavahanas, Cholas, Cheras, Pandyans, Chalukyas, Pallavas, Rashtrakutas, Kakatiyas, Seuna (Yadav) dynasties, and Hoysala dynasties were at their peak in different periods of history.

    When Muslim armies invaded South India, these dynasties constantly fought among themselves and against outside forces. The Vijayanagara Empire emerged in response to Muslim intervention and covered much of South India and acted as a shield against Mughal expansion in the south.

     When European powers arrived during the 16th and 18th centuries AD, the southern states, especially Tipu Sultan’s kingdom of Mysore, resisted new threats, and many parts eventually succumbed to British occupation. The British created the Madras Presidency which ruled much of South India directly administered by the British Raj, and divided the rest into several dependent princely states. After Indian independence, South India was linguistically divided into the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala.


Early History of South India
IMAGE CREDIT-https://www.thehaider.com/south/

Ancient history

prehistoric times

  • Mesolithic to 2500 BC.
  • Microlith production is attested to the period from 6000 to 3000 BC.
  • The Neolithic period lasted from 2500 BC to 1000 BC
  • This was followed by the Iron Age, characterized by megalithic mausoleums.

     Comparative excavations carried out at Adichanallur in Thirunelveli district and in northern India have provided evidence of a southward migration of the megalithic culture. Krishna Tungabhadra Valley was also the site of megalithic culture in South India.

     Geologists and anthropologists believe that South India is one of the oldest areas of human settlement. This is supported by the evidence of geological antiquity, the favorable climate of the Deccan, and the stone remains discovered in the highlands in the Narmada and Godavari basins. It can be assumed that the high regions of the Deccan, consisting of hills and valleys, supplied edible fruits and other products to ancient man.

Scientists believe that human settlement in this area is about 500,000 years old. This period can be divided into several Stone Ages.

    In 1863, Robert Bruce discovered Stone-Age tools near Pallavaram, and since then similar finds have been made in many parts of South India, as well as in the Kurnool and Godavari valleys.

     A wooden comb discovered at Gundakkal is believed to date back to the early Stone Age. Tools belonging to the period between the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages have been discovered at Sayorapuram at Thirunelveli and in the Krishna and Godavari basins. Various types of pottery and utensils have been found in Karnool’s padpada and Sanagundla fort.

     The people of the Middle Stone Age were mostly hunter-gatherers. The practice of burying dead bodies was prevalent among them. Neolithic remains have been found at Thirunelveli, Thirusirappa!!I, Salem, and North Arcot in the old Madras State, Warangal, Anantapur, and Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. So in Mysore too.

     There is reason to believe that the people of these regions lived together as families engaged in agriculture. They domesticated animals and set fire to wood and stone by rubbing them together. They could also build boats and knew the techniques of using a potter’s wheel. The fabric was made by weaving cotton and wool. Their proficiency can also be seen in making combs and ornaments out of bone, shell, and rudraksha.

     It is said that the lirigum and bull carved on the side of a hill at Kapagallu in Bellary belong to the New Stone Age. But its authenticity has not been conclusively established. Another noteworthy fact is that the specimens discovered at Raipur in Andhra and Brahmagiri in Mysore indicate that after the Neolithic Age, but before the use of iron, there was a time when brass and copper were used. was.

    Remnants from the time of iron use have been found in Thirunelveli, Anantapur, Cuddapah, Kurnool, and Karnataka.

     The most extensive area discovered since pre-historic times is believed to be Adichanellore in Thirunelveli. Complete skeletons of humans, advanced pottery, gold jewelry, and similar remains have been found in this place.

    Another prominent feature of pre-historic South Indian culture is the wide variety of tombs found. Stone Age tombs are found in Hyderabad and Mysore. Also, many similarities have been observed between the South Indian Stone Age culture and the Mediterranean Stone Age culture which flourished between 2500 and 1500 BCE. The excavations have done after 1945 throw light on the period of South Indian Stone Age culture. 

   These excavations have unearthed pottery and similar objects from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Based on evidence collected from Brahmagiri in 1947, Hamendorff concluded that the Stone Age culture of southern India existed between 100 and 400 BCE. However, the Stone Age culture of the Mediterranean region dates back to between 2500 and 1500 BCE, and some similarities exist between this and South Indian culture. Therefore, it seems safe to assume that the South Indian Stone Age culture flourished around 1000 BCE.

Iron Age

The earliest Iron Age sites in South India are Hallur, Karnataka, and Adichanallur, Tamil Nadu which date to around 1200 BCE.


 Early epigraphic evidence begins to appear in the form of Kannada-Brahmi and Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions from about the 5th century BCE, indicating the southward spread of Buddhism.

The specialty of the Iron Age is the megalithic mausoleum.


 During 1,000 BC, the present-day states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala (in southern India) were inhabited by megalithic peoples.


 An important phase of the ancient history of South India from the megalithic period to about 300 BC.

Megalithic stage

  • The literary meaning of the word megalith is ‘big stone’ i.e. ‘mega’ means big and ‘lit’ means stone. But the large stones are not associated with the megalithic culture.
  • The megalithic culture is known for its cemeteries.
  • Black and red pottery with an abundance of iron tools and tombs are the main hallmarks of the megalithic culture.
  • The megalithic culture shows that there was a sudden change from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. And, they did not experience the Intermediate Chalcolithic or Bronze Age.

Types of Megalithic Burial

The following are the major types of megalithic burials:

 Pit Circle Graves: In this type of burial, the body was first exhumed and then buried. Pottery and iron artifacts were kept in a tomb. A stone circle has been built around the pit.

Cysts: There are many forms of these tombs. Cities that are stone coffins were built from granite slabs with one or more capstones, with or without portholes. The cisterns are completely buried, half-buried, or even on bare rocks. They may include single or multiple burials. One or several stone circles were built around the cysts.

Laterite Chambers: In the Malabar region, tomb chambers were excavated in laterite rather than granite slabs.

Alignment: This is a different type of burial in which a large number of standing stones called ‘menhirs’ are arranged in a square or diagonal shape. They have been found in the Gulbarga district and south of Hyderabad. However, in Kashmir menhirs have been found arranged in a semicircle.


 Sarcophagy: These terracotta-legged urns sometimes have animal heads and are not very common.

 Kalash: The practice of burying the extracted bones in urns appears to be derived from the Neolithic period. They are mainly marked by capstones or stone circles found on the east coast.

Megalithic tools

Undoubtedly, there was a wide range of variations in megalithic construction, but distinguishing hallmarks were black and red pottery and distinctive iron tools. They are uniform throughout the peninsula.

Shapes of pottery include conical or looped lids, canned vases, bowls with pedestals, spouted dishes, etc.

Iron tools include axes with crossed straps, sickles, tripods, tridents, spears, swords, lamp hangers, arrowheads, and lamps.

The Iron Age is a time in the history of India when the use of iron for tools and weapons became common, but during this time, dated literature also began to be written. Therefore, the megalithic period marked the time when prehistory ends and history begins.

The builders of these megalithic are unknown to the northern people as no reference to these monuments is found in Sanskrit or Prakrit literature, although early Tamil literature describes these burial practices.


Sources of Megalithic Period

The earliest account of the people and kingdoms of the area are preserved in three forms

  • Ashokan inscriptions;
  • Sangam literature; and
  • Megasthenes’s accounts.

The Rock Edict II and XIII of Ashoka described the southern kingdoms of Chola, Pandya, Satyaputra, Keralaputra, and Tambapanni.

Ashoka’s kindness to these neighboring states has been very much proved by the fact that he made provisions for medicines and food items etc. for animals and humans of these kingdoms.

In the Hathigumpha inscription of Kharvela, it has been found that Ashoka was credited for defeating a confederacy of Tamil states.

A detailed description of south Indian states is found in Sangam literature belonging to the first four centuries of the Christian era.

The Tamil language is the oldest among the spoken and literary languages ​​of south India. Sangam literature was written in this language.

The Pandyan kings assembled literary assemblies called ‘Sangam’.
Sangam literature consisted of the collection of verses, lyrics, and idylls, which were composed by poets and scholars.

Sangam literature preserves folk memory about the society and life (in south India) between the 3rd Century B.C. and 3rd century A.D.

ARTICLE CREDIT-https://www.thehaider.com/south/

Leave a Comment