In this article we will discuss about the contribution of South India to Indian Culture.
The region, south of the Vindhyas upto the Cape of Kanyakumari, has been called south India. Thus, the dividing line between the north and south India are the Vindhyas and their nearby forests. They have also obstructed free communication between the North and the South because of which all attempts to unite India under one rule during the ancient and medieval times failed.
That is why south India mostly remained free from the effects of the political changes in north India. But it does not mean that the North and the South remained entirely separated from each other. Emperor Asoka and Samudra Gupta of Magadha extended their empires and spheres of influence to the South. The same way the Rashtrakutas and the Cholas, from the South, attacked north India and temporarily influenced the politics of the North.
The attempt was repeated by the rulers of India like Ala-ud-din Khilji, Muhammad Bin-Tughluq and Aurangzeb during the medieval period. But the attempts to unite India politically always proved short-lived till the establishment of the British empire in India.
Therefore, the political relations between north and south India remained transitory and the same is true of their impact. But the North and the South remained more involved with each other culturally as compared to their political relations and therefore, developed similar cultural trends and values of life.
The administrative pattern, religion, philosophy, social structure and moral values which were evolved in northern India were accepted by the South, preserved and further developed and, then, in course of time, returned back to the North. Thus, the cultural relations between the South and the North continued unchecked since ancient times and a process of give and take was also pursued.
Of course, it was the North which influenced more the cultural trends of the South but the contribution of the South in the process of growth of Indian culture was, in no way, unimportant. It has been accepted by all scholars that southern India has also played an important role in the formation of Indian culture.
So far there had been less emphasis on the study of the history of south India as compared to the history of north India, but it is definitely realised that the more we would probe the history of the South, the greater would be its significance in the history and culture of India. K.A. Nilkanta Sastri accepts it when he writes, “From the pre-historical times to the present day, there has been no period when the two regions did not influence each other politically and culturally.”
The Mediterranean race, which has been popularly called Dravidian, came to India earlier than the Aryan race. It is believed that the Indus Valley Civilization was the creation of the Dravidians and, now, as researches are continuing, it is assumed that it was fairly widespread over the entire North. The Dravidians had developed not only city life but also international trade and, thus, had developed a superior culture as compared to their predecessors, the Proto-Australoids and also their successors, the nomadic Aryans.
Aryan culture provides the base to modern Indian culture but it is also accepted that the Aryan culture has gained much from the culture of the Dravidians from whom they captured the political power of India. Rather, it is more correct to say that the Hindu religion and culture, which has provided a firm base to Indian culture, is a product of a happy synthesis between the Aryan and the Dravidian cultures which began as early as the later Vedic age.
The Aryan ascendancy over India grew by conquests, marriages with the local populace and by other peaceful means also and, certainly, the Aryan culture remained predominant in India. But it is also certain that the Aryan culture accepted many attributes of the Dravidian culture as its own.
Particularly in religion, the worship of nature and Sakti (mother goddess in different forms) and acceptance of Siva as one of the primary gods of Indians are primarily because of the Dravidian influence. The widely used word Amma for mother is also of Dravidian origin.
The Aryan penetration in India did not remain limited only to the North but they moved towards the south as well. As referred to by Katyayana, it seems that the Aryans had entered even the remotest parts of south India by 400 B.C. Afterwards, emperor Asoka extended his empire in the South. This brought about a synthesis of the Aryans and the Dravidians in the South and also increased the area of influence of the Aryan culture.
In the South, the first powerful empire was established by the Satavahanas in Maharashtra and their administrative system had a significant imprint of the administration of the Mauryas in the North. Afterwards, during Sangama age in the South, the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas were certainly Dravidian ruling dynasties but their polity, society, and religion were marked by the polity, social system and religion of the North or that of the Aryans.
Thus, it is certain that by that time the Aryan and the Dravidian cultures were closely mixed up even in the far South. At that time, the one contribution of south India was in the field of economy. The South had extensive trade with foreign countries through sea routes which resulted in increased prosperity to India.
The Gupta emperor Samudra Gupta attacked parts of south India and extended the influence of the north Indian culture in the South once again. His successor, Chandra Gupta II, entered into a matrimonial alliance with the Vakataka dynasty of the South and, thus, extended further the influence of the North in the South.
Afterwards, not only the Vakatakas but also the Pallavas, the Chalukyas, the Rashtrakutas and the Cholas of the South, on the one hand, helped in increasing the influence of the culture of the North in the South and, on the other; by patronising fine arts and literature, helped in the enrichment of Indian culture in different fields.
Mostly, the South remained an integral part of the Indian culture as a whole and pursued all those values and traditions in polity, society and religion which were upheld in the North and were accepted as the salient features of Indian culture. In polity, like the North, the South also pursued the system of hereditary monarchy and the acceptance of Rajya-Dharma by the monarchs.
As in the North, the monarchs of the South mostly left untouched the territory, administrative system and social set-up of the conquered and satisfied themselves only by the acceptance of their suzerainty by him. Except for the Cholas, the rest of the ruling dynasties of the South fought wars on the principles of Dharma-Yudha as in the North and therefore, humanism remained the key-point of all their wars and conquests.
In the South also, the rulers, the fedual lords and the rich people maintained the traditions of generously patronising the scholars, religious and social institutions, learning, literature and fine arts and, thus, helped in enriching the Indian culture.
In society, the system of four Varnas and, afterwards, that of sub-castes was also accepted in the South, though it did not develop as much rigidly as had become prevalent in the North. The Sanskrit language remained the literary language of the South as well and influenced the literature of regional languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, etc. The Hindu religion became the predominant religion in the South as well and image- worship, particularly those of Siva and Vishnu, religious festivals and ceremonies and observance of pilgrimages remained equally popular in the South.
The same way religious toleration was observed by the rulers and the subjects alike as in the North. Thus, we find that Indian culture, as it was prevalent in the North, was basically accepted and pursued in the South as well and so India remained culturally united in ancient times.
However, south India developed certain distinct characteristics in certain fields which helped in enriching the Indian culture as a whole. In politics, the South remained mostly aloof from the politics of the North. Barring the interference of the Vakatakas, the Rashtrakutas and the Cholas in the politics of the North and affecting its course only temporarily, the South failed to have any serious effect on the political events of the North. It was only in the field of culture that the South contributed fairly towards Indian culture by its distinct features.
The credit of maintaining trade with foreign countries, both in the East and the West through sea-routes, went to south India. Many south Indian dynasties, particularly the Cholas, utilised their sea-coast for the purpose of foreign trade and sometimes for extending their political influence beyond the frontiers of India. South India carried on brisk trade for a long time with China, countries of South-East Asia, Western Asia and upto Europe as well.
As the trade was favourable, it brought about economic prosperity in India. North India carried on foreign trade with the countries of the west primarily through the mountain passes in the North-West (Khaibar, Bolan and Gomal) by land routes. But, foreign trade of India through these routes always suffered whenever there was an enemy country on its north-west frontiers or whenever it lacked political unity under a great empire.
But the foreign trade of south India, which was carried on through the sea-routes, never suffered from these handicaps and continued prospering till the capture of the Arabian waters by the Arab traders. This foreign trade created a prosperous business class with a morality and values of life that were distinct from the rest of the Indian people. The values of this class brought about their influence on contemporary literature and arts.
Of course, Tantrik philosophy helped in the growth of corruption in society and also influenced the literature and the fine arts, particularly the sculpture of its time, but it is also certain that the temples and the images constructed under the influence of Tantrik religion and the literature full of romance and sex, could not be attempted in absence of prosperity and a powerful rich business class for whose creation south India had been largely responsible.
Thus, south India affected the morality, religion, literature and fine arts of India because of its favourable foreign trade and enrichment of India. It is a different matter that this effect proved harmful in the long run.
South India contributed to the literary growth of India. The Sanskrit language remained the literary language of south India and it was patronized by every ruling dynasty of the South.
The Satavahanas, the Vakatakas, the Cholas, the Chalukyas, the Pallavas, the Gangas and the rest, in their own turn, helped in the growth of literature and learning. Many of the emperors were scholars themselves, while most of them patronized scholars and educational institutions of their times.
Kanchi became the centre of learning under the patronage of the Pallavas. However, it was not only Sanskrit literature which grew in the South, but good literary works were produced in other languages of the South as well like Tamil, Kannada and Telugu. Thus, south India enriched Indian literature.
South India contributed richly towards Hindu religion and philosophy as well.
Primarily its contribution had been on the following lines:
(i) It popularised Saivism and made it one of the most popular sects within Hinduism. Most of the popular branches of Saivism like the Lingayata, the Pashupati and the Kapalika originated in the South.
(ii) The Hindu temples became religious institutions. This process started in the South.
(iii) Kumarila Bhatt opposed ritualism and propagated the path of knowledge to attain salvation. Sankaracharva propagated monism, toured all over India, engaged and defeated Buddhist scholars in religious discourses and thus restored the prestige of Hinduism in India.
Ramanujacharya and Madhavacharya propagated dualism and prepared the way for the popularity of Bhakti-marg (path of devotion to God to attain salvation). All these saints and scholars, who helped in restoring the supremacy of Hindu religion in India, belonged to the South. Their contribution was a solid contribution of the South to Hinduism and thereby to Indian culture.
(iv) The Bhakti movement began in the South, which is the most popular form of worship among the Hindus even during the present times.
South India has contributed more than the north India in making Saivism popular among the Hindus. While the majority of the north Indian rulers were the worshippers of Vishnu, the majority of the south Indian rulers were the devotees of Siva. Therefore, most of the temples in south India were raised to honour Siva, thereby making Saivism the most popular Hindu sect in the South.
The temples in the South became not only places of worship but religious institutions for the propagation of Dharma (religion). The practice of religious assemblies in temples, collective worship, holding of religious discourses, community prayers and Kirtans started in the South. Afterwards, these practices were adopted all over India and that helped in making the Hindu religion popular among the masses.
Hindu philosophy received fresh impetus from the interpretation and writings of Kumarila Bhatt and Sankaracharya, both of whom belonged to the South. The Bhakti movement also started in the South. Nimbakacharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhavacharya, etc. who made a beginning in this field, belonged to the South.
Ramananda and Vallabhacharya who made the Bhakti cult popular in the North also belonged to the South. Ramananda was born in Mysore while Vallabhacharya’s family originally belonged to Andhra Pradesh in the South. Thus, the Bhakti cult, which is the most popular cult among the Hindus at present and has helped in making the Hindu religion the most popular religion of India, originated in the South.
South India has contributed magnificently in the growth and enrichment of Indian fine arts. The frescoes of Ajanta and Sittannavasal caves and in the temple at Tanjore are the best contributions of south India to Indian art of painting. The cave-temples were constructed mostly in the South while many grand temples, caves and monasteries are glorious contribution of the South to the art of architecture and sculpture of India.
The Buddhist stupa at Amravati, the Minakshi temple, the Sangamesvara temple, the Vishnu temple at Aihole, the Kailash temple at Ellor, the Rath temples at Mamallapuram, the Kailash temple and Vaikunth temple at Kanchi, the Cholesvara temple, the Rajarajesavara temple at Tanjore and many other such temples and their images are the greatest heritage of the South as part of the Indian culture.
Besides, the image of Jaina Tirathankara, Gomatesvara near Mysore, the bronze statue of Nataraja Siva from the extreme south and similar images have been considered the best specimens of the Indian art of sculpture. One of the ancient and popular schools of sculpture, viz., the Amravati school, grew and developed in the South. Thus, south India has contributed considerably to Indian culture in the fields of painting, architecture and sculpture.
South India also played an important role in extending Indian culture beyond its frontiers, particularly in South-East Asia and. thereby, in the formation of what has been described as Greater India.
The Hindus from the South established their colonial empire at Fu-nan (Cambodia or Kambuja); the first ruling dynasty of Champa also belonged to them; and the south maintained political, cultural and trade relations with the Hindu colonies in Indo-China and Indonesia for a long time and thus helped in the propagation of Indian culture there.
Besides, while the Muslims succeeded in influencing the Hindu culture in the North and put it on defence, it was in the South that it found security and successfully safeguarded its basic features.
The arts of music and dance developed by the Hindus were, and have been, preserved as yet in the South. Modern India owes much to the South in these fields. The same way, while most of the literary and artistic heritage of the Hindus was destroyed by the Muslims in the North, it has been preserved in south India.
Thus, south India has not only enriched Indian culture in different fields but has also succeeded in preserving it. Therefore, the contribution of south India to Indian culture is remarkable.