Around 1500 BCE, a band of fair-skinned people called the Aryans, already living a Vedic culture with European origins, invaded the peaceful Indian subcontinent in droves and caused the establishment of the Aryan civilization. The Aryans with a deep-rooted caste mindset classified people such as themselves as masters ordained by the gods to rule over the masses that were less civilized and hence candidates for subjugation. The Aryans were also less accepting of others and imposed their worldview on the dark-skinned indigenous people who were then driven southwards. Over time, the southern state of Tamil Nadu became emblematic of this group of oppressed people. The southward migration of the oppressed people resulted in the rise of various classes of subjugated groups such as the Dravidians. Max Müeller, one of the many principals who evolved the “study” of India, convinced a broad swath of the Indian population of this narrative along with Christian missionaries in the likes of Robert Caldwell and George Pope. This narrative on India has become a pervasive one and it has led to the misconception that the Hindu civilization is un-original and foreign to India.
The Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), which subsequently morphed into the Aryan Migration Theory (AMT) due to compelling evidence negating the invasion hypothesis has also run against factual headwinds (Danino 2016). These developments, however, have not prevented the misinterpretation and eventual misuse in political discourse of a convenient narrative for the supposedly marginalized groups to rise up, and reject the invaders and their ideologies in order to establish a secular society free from "Aryan influences." This is also the prevailing leftist and Marxist-influenced academic view and it remains a dominant narrative in Indian schools even today: "As such, it has long been used to neatly divide India into dichotomous categories such as North and South Indians, Aryans and Dravidians, the fair-skinned and the dark-skinned, ‘high castes’ and ‘Dalits’, all of these binaries representing the classic division between the privileged and the oppressed." (Chavda 2017).
However, evidence-based reinterpretations are increasingly providing an alternative and increasingly authentic version of Indian or Hindu history, and more importantly, a new narrative on South India or Tamil Nadu itself. There is a compelling body of archaeological, epigraphy, and literary evidence that instead suggests a concurrent, not separate, development of the South Indian/Tamil culture along with the original and indigenous Vedic culture. The notion of ‘Aryan vs. Dravidian’ is now becoming "speculative at best and resides in the domain of conjecture." (TCP 2016).
Pioneering work by Dr. Ramachandran Nagaswamy, a historian, epigraphist who has specialized in deciphering and interpreting inscriptions in Tamil and Sanskrit from artifacts throughout Tamil Nadu, has helped amplify this relatively recent revision of history (TAA 2020). His lifelong work has led to the creation of verifiable data and supporting evidence that distills a realistic and credible version of history that questions and even negates the prevailing views about Tamil Nadu, its history, and its culture. This article attempts to provide a brief summary of Dr. Nagaswamy's book (Nagaswamy 2016) based on published reviews as well as video materials available online (Nagaswamy 2020).
Dr. Nagaswamy's book, Tamil Nadu, the Land of the Vedas, is a scholarly work presented in twenty chapters covering Vedic life, devotional, philosophical, and worldly literature, inscriptions, shastras, and records of kings and their administrations. It establishes that Tamil is one of the oldest classical and regional languages of India with a history that can be traced to the 2nd or 3rd century BCE. Subsequent to that period, Tamil has continued its development along dialectical and cultural lines.
Dr. Nagaswamy shows how the Vedas served as the principal basis for the administrations of the various rulers and kings in Tamil Nadu. Placing emphasis on native knowledge and daily life, the administrators blended both Tamil and Sanskritic values and traditions. This perspective, verifiable by available documents, challenges the prevailing myth that Tamil Nadu developed independently from the rest of India.
The book uses a wide variety of evidence such as written records from administrations under the Ceraņ, Cōḻaņ, Pallavā, and Pāṇḍya kings. The author establishes that these rulers traced their genealogies to well-known names in the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa. The Cerās considered themselves descendants of the Yādavas (to which Śrī Kṛṣṇa belongs), the Cholās descendants of Rāma, Pallavās descendants of Droṇa, and Pāṇḍyās descendants of Arjuna. This line of associations suggests linkages to the concurrent lives of the South Indian rulers to the Mahābhārata protagonists who were based in the northern part of the land.
Of particular importance is that Dr. Nagaswamy relies on records from the Sangam period, which is considered to be between the 3rd century BCE and the 3rd century CE. It has been named after the Sangam academies which flourished during that era under the royal patronage of the Pāṇḍya kings of Madurai. At these sangams, scholars gathered to discuss and debate literary works. Major contributions to Tamil literature from this period include Tolkāppiyam, Eṭṭuttokai, Pattuppāṭṭu, Patiṉeṇkīḻkaṇakku, Cilappatiāram and Maṇimekalai (Dikshitar 1941).
Dr. Nagaswamy’s book further explains that the kings under the four dynasties mentioned above not only studied the Vedas and the Dharmaśātras but also performed sacrifices and rituals as prescribed in the Vedas (presumably the Yajur Veda) and made generous contributions for the upholding of Vedic and Dharmic values. Records contain references to specific yagnas such as Hiraṇya-garbha, Tulābhāra, Gosahasra, Bahusuvarṇa, Rājasūya, and Aśvamedha.
In addition, the society under the South Indian dynasties was organized according to the principles of Vedic dharma. The Brahmaṇas helped the kings in judicial and financial administrations. The Vanigas (Vaiśyas) oversaw trade, and the vellalas developed agriculture and were the principal government revenue administrators. Interestingly, the Brahmanas, Kṣatriyas, Vanigas, vellalas studied the Vedas and nearly 80% of the population studied the functional/practical aspects of the Vedas. In other words, South Indian people lived a life based on Vedic frameworks. The Patiṟṟuppattu poems point out that the ancient Tamil kings studied Vedas, Vedāṅga, and performed daily Vedic rites mentioned as Pañcamahāyagña in Vedic tradition. Avvaiyār, the greatest poet of the Sangam age, praises the three crowned Tamil kings for performing Vedic sacrifices. In birth, marriage, and death rites, the ancient Tamils followed Vedic injunctions. The kings appointed Vedic scholars as their chief ministers and presented them with lands called “Brahmadeyas." Trade, both internal and international, was conducted by the Vanigas and there are several references in the records from the kingdoms about transactions with the Romans. The Cholās recognized that the country was mainly based on a rural economy and therefore entrusted the revenue administration of the village to the Muvendavelars—the officers who belonged to the agrarian family of the Vellalas. The Cholā kings established several Nallur as exclusive cultivators' villages in addition to Brahmadeyas of Vedic Brāhmaṇas. It is also seen that it was the duty of the Brāhmaṇas to interpret the law for the benefit of the villagers (Nagaswamy 2016, 2020).
According to a book review published in The Hindu newspaper, "[w]ars in ancient Tamil country were fought according to tenets of the Dharma Śāstra, where battles with armies happened only as a last resort when individual combat failed. Moving to bhakti literature, the chapters look in detail as to how the inner message of the Shaivite and Vaishnavaite hymns is consonant with the message of the Upanishads that self-realization in thought and deed is the ultimate form of reaching freedom from this endless cycle of births and deaths" (Hindu 2017).
From a performing arts perspective, Tamil literature includes music and dance traditions that are based on Bharata's Nāṭya Śāstra. It is also suggested that the Tamil grammar work Tolkāppiyam is a derivative of Nāṭya Śāstra. One of the most important of all Tamil works, the Tirukkuṟaḷ composed by Thiruvalluvar, has been assigned to the 1st century BCE period. This pioneering work is virtually a reflection of Dharmaśāstras. In a separate book (Nagaswamy 2017), Dr. Nagaswamy demonstrates that Thirukkural is derived from the Hindu Vedic tradition: the former imitates the latter’s śāstras as well as its fundamental outlook of Dharmic life including artha, kāma, dharma, and mokṣaa. Thiruvalluvar also talks about the pañcamahāyajña—the five daily offerings every human must make—that are also mentioned in the Dharmaśāstras. Reverence to ancestors through worship was also very popular and the various rituals and practices were performed according to Vedic principles.
In a separate and concurrent work by David Shulman (Shulman 2016), the Tamil language and the associated culture has been found to have had deep roots in south India and certainly the case before the AIT narratives were proposed. Recounting a story about the great sage Agastyar, who is the author of the first formal text on Tamil grammar, Agattiyam, that served the early poets in the Sangam period, Śiva himself endowed Agastyar with knowledge of Tamil grammar before he was sent southward to balance the earth.
Dr. Nagaswamy's extensive findings fundamentally challenge the prevailing but increasingly questionable framework that asserts the development of an independent non-Bhāratīya Dravidian culture in Tamil Nadu. Dr. Nagaswamy has presented compelling evidence based on the epigraphical wealth of Tamil Nadu to show that the region has always been the Land of the Vedas. With this type of deep research and re-interpretation possible today, it is high time Hindu historical research evolves to re-interpret our collective history first and then re-educate the world based on evidence.
This article is an adaptation of a term paper submitted for the course “Reconstructing Hindu History: The Omissions,” taught by Dr. Raj Vedam.
Chavda, Abhijit., The Aryan Invasion Myth: How 21st Century Science Debunks 19th Century Indology. https://indianinterest.com/history/the-aryan-invasion-myth-how-21st-century-science-debunks-19th-century-indology/debunks-19th-century-indology/. Accessed May 2017.
Danino, M., Aryans and the Indus Civilization. In A Companion to South Asia in the Past (eds G.R. Schug and S.R. Walimbe). https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119055280.ch13. 2016
Dikshitar, V. R. Ramachandra, and V. R. Ramchandra Dikshitar. “THE SANGAM AGE.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 5 (1941): 152–61. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44304708.
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Nagaswamy, R., Tamil Nadu and the Vedas (By Padma Bhushan Dr. R. Nagaswami). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e49F52JOdwY. Accessed June 2020.
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Tamizh Cultural Portal (TCP). Tolkappiyar, Ilango, and Bharata. https://tamizhportal.org/2016/03/tolkappiyar-ilango-and-bharata-part-1-sivam-illaiyendral-sakthi-illai-sakthi-illaiyendral-sivam-illai/. Accessed March 2016.
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