FROM INDUS TO INDEPENDENCE: A TREK THROUGH INDIAN HISTORY: Part 13

Canberra, 15 June 2013
PENINSULAR INDIA: OF PEOPLES AND LANGUAGES
Peninsular India is normally divided by historians into the Deccan and Southern India, the separation being effected by the Krishna and the Tungabhadra rivers. This is primarily because the southernmost part of the peninsula has a character of its own [the geographic differences have been put forward in Part 12] and perhaps more importantly, a history that is independent of the Deccan Plateau and obviously the rest of the Indian sub-continent. Knowledge of the history of Peninsular India is based on overlapping interpretations provided by linguists, anthropologists, archaeologists and historians. The linguists and historians have tended to base their narrative on deciphered inscriptions (that are numerous) and on contemporary historiographical material. The anthropologists have used the insights gained in other regions of the world to create incisive interpretations of the evolution of South Indian culture. They have also tried to trace the origins of the peoples that populate the region in a similar manner. The archaeologists are even today carrying out excavations in an attempt to unearth more evidence and corroborate the already available data. In simple terms, the history of the peninsula—the Deccan Plateau and the far south—from prehistoric times to around 200 AD is still clouded in conjuncture. While some migratory movements, as well as collisions and collusions between cultures and ethnicities can be clearly discerned, they are still strung together to make a continuous narrative without much evidence, but based only on the assurance of strong possibilities. The attempt in this chapter to discern the evolution of the peoples and languages of Peninsular India is to be seen in this light.
Peoples
In South India, the people have no distinct racial characteristics that differentiate them as a group—they are a complete mixture of a large number of strains. The first evidence of inhabitation goes back around 300,000 years to the Palaeolithic Age (Old Stone Age) and the people evolved, much like in other places where Old Stone Age dwellings have been discovered, into organised hunting groups by the Middle Stone Age period. During this period they lived on river banks in stone shelters and although they continued to subsist as hunters, their equipment became relatively advanced, using the bow and arrow and the javelin. The next step forward was into the Late Stone Age with the common use of microliths as tools—the Microlithic Age. In the Indian sub-continent, microliths have been discovered distributed from Jamalgarhi in the Peshawar district of the North West Frontier to Sawyerpuram in Tinnevelly district in the extreme south; and in Karachi in Sindh in the west to Serai Kala in Bihar in the east. The microlith-using people lived in the elevated areas overlooking lakes or other large water formations and their primary occupation seems to have been fishing and hunting. Evidence of nilgai, deer, rhinoceros and wild pigs being killed for food has been discovered. The people were fairly tall, with long heads and protruding lower lips and they buried their dead. Although pottery was known, there is no evidence of their having collected or stored grain.
The evolution and continuity from Microlithic to Mesolithic and subsequently to Neolithic is not yet known with clarity and there is a need for further study and investigation to establish the progression. However, large quantities of polished stone axes, adzes and chisels—all Neolithic tools—found in archaeological sites in Bellary, Mysore and Hyderabad, confirm the presence of Neolithic people in the region. There is also evidence that these people knew the rudiments of copper and bronze. Through the modern technique of carbon dating it has been established that the excavated sites at Sangankallu, Maski and Brahmagiri in northern Mysore; and Utnur, Piklihal and Nagarjunakonda in Andhra go back to 2000 BC. This is further confirmation of the presence of Neolithic people in the area. The rock paintings discovered in the Mahadeo hills were initially thought to be of the Stone Age, but recent studies have revealed that they originated at a much more recent date; around 7th century BC, and not earlier. These paintings confirm that iron was in common use, depict animals such as wild ass, buffalo, horse and rhinoceros as well as men wearing half-skirts made of skin. These paintings are now attributed to the microlith-using people and possibly their successors.
There are a number of megaliths—with containers where the bones of the dead are interred—found in South India. The megalithic culture is supposed to have existed approximately between 700 and 400 BC. However, the megaliths pose more questions than providing answers to the conundrums that still exist in the continuity of the historical narrative of Peninsular India. The megaliths are being investigated in a systematic manner only from 1945 and detailed ground survey has been undertaken only in Chinglepet district, Pudukottai and Cochin. From these investigations different ways in which the bones have been interred have come to light—they have been seen in urns, sarcophagi, vaults and pits with port-holes. The commonality in the megaliths is seen in the placement of the megaliths and monuments on rocky high ground and the presence of black-and-red ware in almost all the sites. Further, the megaliths of South India have commonality with those found on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, the Caucasus and Iran. The difference is only in the distribution pattern—whereas, the megaliths are restricted in the West to the coastal areas only, in South India it has penetrated far into the interior. The excavations have also brought out evidence of the culture of an iron-using people having existed around 300 BC.
The excavations at Adichannalur in Tinnevelly district indicate that the inhabitants cultivated rice. More importantly, they provide interesting insights into this period and the possible evidence of interactions with other civilisations. Here only urns have been found and there are no signs of megaliths of any kind; however, bronze ware and gold diadems (mouth pieces) not found anywhere else in South India have been found in this site. The gold diadems have a typological parallel in Palestine, Cyprus and Syria around 1200 BC. More interesting is the discovery of a three-pronged iron fork or trident in Palestine dating to the time that King Solomon ruled that replicate tridents found in Adichannalur made of the same metal. This brings into focus the question of the route and manner in which the megalithic culture reached the shores of the Peninsula. It is presumed that the culture probably originated in eastern Mediterranean and moved to the sub-continent through the trade routes, both over land and sea. Another correlation that has been made is that of the trident and its connection to the worship of the God Velan (one who carries the Vel or trident and in more recent time also called Velayudhan—one whose weapon is the Vel) or Murugan in South India. The God Murugan is associated with the Vel and a banner engraved with the wild fowl as his emblem. Murugan worship, still very prevalent in South India, tends to be dated from this time, based on archaeological evidence of finding both these artefacts. This longevity is further emphasised by the practice of Murugan devotees wearing mouth pieces while carrying the Kavadi (ritual offering) to Murugan—a custom that has survived to this day.
Racial Composition
The basic stock of the people of South India cannot be ascertained with any assurance and remains unknown. There is proof of a number of racial types having domiciled in the peninsula and therefore the racial composition of the people of the south is an eclectic mix of all the types that moved into or through the area. This is probably the best way to describe the racial identity of the peoples of Peninsular India. There is evidence that the Negrito—the pygmy man 30 inches in height, a diminutive type of Negro who originated in Africa—inhabited the peninsula in large numbers and for a considerable period of time during the Old Stone Age. This was a sort of interlude in their progress from Africa to the Andaman Islands and subsequently to the Indonesian Archipelago. The Kadars of Parambikulam and the Pulaiyans of Anamalai in the extreme south still show the influence of the Negrito in their features. Further, the design of the bamboo comb used by the women of the Semangs—the Negrito people of Malaya—is the same as the ones used by the Kadar women. This suggests the sharing of the same culture and could even mean that they are the same race. In Brahmagiri, there is proof of the Australoid type—medium statured, medium vaulted, flat nosed with robust constitution and strong jaws, and probably of Scytho-Iranian stock—having resided there. There is also strong evidence of the proto-Australoid—with long heads, protruding faces, flat noses and pronounced brow-ridges—also found in the Indus Valley Civilisation, having made their home in the peninsula. They form the basis of the jungle folks, the Kadars and the Kurumbas in South India. [The different racial types who resided in South India are not being listed chronologically as it is impossible to do so, since there would always have been overlapping timeframes of thousands of years in their successive occupation of the peninsula. This situation precludes any attempt at creating a coherent chronology.]
The proto-Mediterranean type with long narrow head and face, straight aquiline nose and dark brown hair is the predominant type in the present day Dravidian speaking people of the peninsula. However, there is also the Mediterranean type—slender, short to medium height, oval face and pointed chin—like the Telugu Brahmins and Kallars noticeable in the racial mix. There is also a theory that this type (the Mediterranean) could have been imported into the Deccan at a later stage, although it is yet to be conclusively proven. The long-headed element has been superimposed by the short-headed (round-headed) types in Maharashtra, Mysore plateau and Tamil Nadu. There are two different short-headed types that have entered South India—the Alpine and Armenoid. The Alpine type evolved in the Indus Valley Civilisation and their movement is traceable through Gujarat, Maharashtra and further south towards Coorg and Karnataka. The Armenoid type is thought to have evolved in South West Asia although their origin can be traced to the mountains of Anatolia. They are also to be found in the people of the Pamir in western Himalayas. The Armenoids are found in Tamil Nadu, but it is certain that they could not have originated or evolved in South India. Their movement can be traced through Iran, Sindh, Gujarat and thereafter into the Deccan Plateau, where similar round-headed people exist even today. Further, the absence of such people in Kerala precludes the possibility that the movement could have taken place through the seaborne trade routes; the move into the peninsula was certainly through the land. The Nordic type with large heads and light eyes entered South India during the proto-historic time and is to be found today predominantly in the Chitpavan and Konkanasta Brahmins of the Konkan coast. The Mongolian round-heads are also noticed, rarely, in the Orissa and Malabar region. There is no certainty regarding how this type reached deep in the south of the peninsula and could perhaps be attributed to the Africa-China trade route that found a half-way halting point in the Kerala coast.
Based on this assessment through available information and the different racial composition that has been ascertained to be present in the peoples of Peninsular India, it can be said with a level of assurance that makes it as close to fact as possible, that the people of South India are a mix of almost all known types of humans, in varying combinations.
The Languages
The languages of the peninsula can be divided into three main groups—Austro-Asiatic, Dravidian and Indo-Aryan. The earliest of these, the Austro-Asiatic, consisting of the Munda languages (Kharia, Jung, Savara and Gadala of the north-east Deccan) must have prevailed over the entire Deccan Plateau at one time, but is now restricted to the Mahadeo Hills. These are the pre-Dravidian languages and Munda, at one time spread across the entire north of the sub-continent—from the Punjab all the way to Bengal. The Dravidian languages evolved later; the main ones being Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. There are also few minor dialects such as Gondi that trace their origin to the highlands of Anatolia, Armenia and Iran. All four primary languages developed from the proto-Dravidian. However, they developed in distinctly individual manners and were all well-formed in pre-historic times itself. Further, they were already confined to the regions, represented by the linguistic states of contemporary India, during their initial developmental stages itself. The definable linguistic units or regions pre-date the geographic states, making this geo-linguistic continuity an outstanding and unique feature of Peninsular India. The Indo-Aryan, essentially Marathi, is the last language family to reach the Deccan Plateau and was probably brought in by the last ethnic element to arrive in the peninsula—the Nordic type.
Dravidian is also spoken in Brahui in Baluchistan and therefore it can be surmised that it was already in use in the North West when the Indo-Aryan languages of a later date arrived there. Dravidian was preceded by Austro-Asian languages and followed by the Indo-Aryan group. Languages also provide evidence of the connection between the great cultures of the Mediterranean and Indus Valley with South India. There is a close resemblance between the language of the Asia Minor and Dramila (Tamil) of South India, the connexion being primarily in terms of the structure and construction of sentences. Further, ancient place names in Afghanistan, the Iranian highlands and the plains of the Euphrates and Tigris confirm to Dravidian form. It is thought that the pre-historic non-Aryan inhabitants of the sub-continent could have been Dravidian speaking people.
Cultural Affinities
The Elamites who originated in Western Asia has been for long connected to the Dravidian culture and supports the theory of cultural affinity between the Mediterranean and Peninsular India. Examples of this connection abound. One, the Elamites practiced a system of inheritance through the female progeny, a practice that still survives in some pockets of Dravidian India. Two, there is evidence of snake worship in Persepolis and the Dravidian-speaking South India is still the stronghold of snake worship in the sub-continent. Three, the worship of the Mother Goddess is common to both these areas. The worship of the ‘Lady of the Mountains’ and the annual celebration of her marriage to the Moon God Ur is replicated in the marriage celebration of Parvati—the ‘Thirukallyanam (Divine Wedding)—that is conducted in South India with equal pomp and ceremony. These cannot be mere accidents or coincidences. Similarly, there is commonality of nature worship as well as in the structure of temples in Sumer and those of South India, which is noticeable even today. There is also the custom of the institution of temple ‘servants’, which is common with the practices of Sumer, although unfortunately it had got warped into the tradition of ‘devadasis’ in Peninsular India.
Temple worship was not common practice in the original Vedic religion. Therefore, the prevalence of this practice in South India indicates the influence of an external civilisation, in all probabilities from Sumer considering the other prominent similarities. In ancient times, there was no division between the church (religion) and the executive, being synonymous and both residing in the person of the king, who in many cases claimed direct descent from God. In fact, the word ‘koyil’ in Tamil means both temple and palace—a direct indication of this state of affairs.
A New Theory
There is a new theory being postulated that the Dravidian-speakers were iron-using Megalithic seafarers who came to the peninsula from the West by sea. During their progress or advance eastwards they are supposed to have left colonies along the coast—the megaliths in Karachi and Brahui in Baluchistan being prime examples. In this theory, the Aryan occupation of the northern part of India and the Dravidian occupation of the Deccan Plateau and the extreme south (from the sea) were contemporary events. If this is indeed true, then the Dravidian civilisation would be far younger than what it is currently thought to be; a situation that will go against the archaeological evidence so far unearthed. However, if this theory bears any credence (and it cannot be disputed or disproved off-hand) then Maharashtra would have been the place where the Megalithic iron-age civilisation and the southward movement of the Aryans on their first invasion of the Deccan clashed. The mix of cultures, language and ethnicity found in the Maharashtra region could perhaps be explained by this theory!
In any case, irrespective of the theories being advanced, far too many gaps remain in the continuity of the history, cultural development and ethnicity of Peninsular India. This leads one to the uncomfortable conclusion that the early history of the region would have to be based on half-finished studies and excavations, and educated guesses. The fog of ambiguity hovers around the history of the Deccan Plateau and the extreme Southern Peninsula.         
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About Sanu kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Defence Analyst specialising in air power and national security. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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