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Southern Dynasties: Literature, Features & Philosophy

The Emergence of Tamil Literature

Tamil literature began to emerge during the Sangam Period. By the third century B.C., Tamil had developed into a fully-formed language with its own writing system and literary uses.

  • Inscriptions in Tamil Brahmi discovered in Jain and Buddhist caves in the Tamil Brahmi hills are the earliest evidence of the language's written tradition.

  • Tamil heroic poetry, also known as Sangam literature, is the body of the Tamil literary tradition of ancient times.

Sangam Literature

Sangam literature is the collection and classification of Tamil heroic poems by the Sangam, a learned society. On the other hand, poetry had an effect on the Sangam. According to legend, three Sangams existed at one time, but only the work of the third has survived.

  • The Sangam is believed to consist of literary experts. These lists back to a time when bards travelled the countryside singing the praises of their patron chiefs.


The Sangam literature includes the Tolkappiyam, a grammar and rhetoric book, and eight anthologies of poetry (Ettuttokai):

  1. Ainkurunuru

  2. Kuruntokai

  3. Narrinai

  4. Akananuru

  5. Kalittokai

  6. Patirruppattu

  7. Purananuru,

  8. Paripatal

  9. Pattupattu (contains ten painted landscapes depicting early Tamil life).

Sangam literature is distinguished from early Indian literature, which was predominately religious in nature.

  • The first five volumes contain poems about love (akam), while the following two contain poems about heroism, including praise for rulers and their accomplishments.

  • Paripatal, the ninth collection, contains both types of poems. Numerous poems, particularly those about heroism, are brimming with vitality and strength, and are remarkably devoid of the literary conceits that characterise the majority of India's early and mediaeval literature.

The Characteristics of Southern Dynasties

The social context

Despite interregional tensions, southern autonomy was preserved at a much higher level than it had been for centuries prior to the European Union. In the absence of a highly centralised government, a similar degree of autonomy in village and district administration was observed.

With the Arabs on the west coast and with South-East Asia, extensive and well-documented overland and sea trade developed.

In South-East Asia, trade facilitated cultural transmission, as the control system absorbed Indian art, architecture, literature, and social customs selectively but freely.


Despite interdynastic rivalry and periodic invasions, the Deccan and South Indian kings favoured all three major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.

Religions began to vie for the king's attention, which manifested itself in land grants and, more significantly, the construction of massive temples that remain architectural marvels to this day.

Elephanta Island's cave temples, Maharashtra's Ajanta and Ellora structures, and Tamil Nadu's Kanchipuram structure temples are the surviving monuments of feuding regional kings. By the mid-seventh century, Buddhism and Jainism were on the decline, as minority Hindu devotional cults of Shiva and Vishnu fought for public support.

Literature and art

While Sanskrit remained the language of learning and theology in South India, as it did in the North, the growth of bhakti movements accelerated the development of poetry and prose in all four major Dravidian languages: Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada.

These works frequently borrowed themes and vocabulary from Sanskrit while retaining much of the traditional cultural storey line.

Tamil literature includes Clippatikaram and Manimekalai, two great poems, the Shaivite and Vaishnavite-Hindu devotional movements, devotional literature, and Kamban's 12th-century rewrite of the Ramayana.

Ancient India's Religion And Philosophy

From the sixth century BC, the central Gangetic region saw the emergence of a plethora of religious groups. These were classified according to their culture and traditions. Jainism and Buddhism developed into significant sects and major religious reform movements, respectively.

The post-Vedic rigidities of the varna system, combined with the Brahmins' privileged status, created social strife. New faiths arose in response to the various benefits claimed by Brahmins.

The founders of Jainism and Buddhism, Mahavira and Buddha, respectively, contested the Brahmins' authority.

The origins of new religions can be traced to the emergence of a new agricultural economy in north-eastern India. Iron tools facilitated land clearing for cultivation and large communities.

  • The first coins, which date all the way back to the fifth century BC, aided commerce and trade. Thus, the Vaishyas were elevated from their previous position of third in the varna system.

Irrelevance of Varna System: In Jainism and Buddhism, the varna system is irrelevant, which explains why Khastriyas and Vaishyas are so appealing.

As a result, both groups favoured the sects. Both religions adhere to the concept of nonviolence. Inter-kingdom warfare was effectively condemned, while commerce and trade were promoted.

Trade: Due to the prohibition of such professions in the Dharmashastras, Vaishyas who lent money at interest in response to increased trade and commerce were not regarded highly in the ancient system. They achieved social advancement as a result of the new faiths.

Apart from that, there was a strong desire among the populace at the time to return to ascetic ideals, which forbade new forms of property and a luxurious way of life. In this region, Buddhism and Jainism pushed for a simple, harsh way of life.

Ancient History of Southern Dynasties

South India comprised Chera, Pandya, and Chola tribes in the third century BCE. The southern region was ruled by the three Tamil empires of Chola, Chera, and Pandya during Ashoka's reign (304–232 BCE).

Pandya's Dynasty

The Pandyas were one of three ancient Tamil kingdoms that ruled the Tamil peninsula from prehistoric times to the late 15th century.

  • They initially reigned from Korkai, a seaport on the southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula, but eventually relocated to Madurai.

  • Pandyas are mentioned in Sangam Literature (circa 400 BCE–300 CE), as well as in Greek and Roman texts from the same period.

Chola Imperialism

The empire attained its height, during Rajendra Chola I's reign in 1030 CE.

  • The Cholas were one of three major kingdoms that ruled south India from ancient times. Karikala Chola (late 1st century CE) was the dynasty's most famous early ruler, conquering the Pandyas and Cheras.

  • The Chola dynasty, on the other hand, began to decline in the fourth century CE.

  • This period corresponds to the rise of the Kalabhras from northern Tamil land, who displaced established kingdoms and ruled the majority of south India for approximately 300 years.

The Chera Dynasty

The Chera kingdom ruled southern India from ancient times until roughly the 12th century CE.

  • The Early Cheras ruled over the Malabar Coast, Coimbatore, Erode, Namakkal, Karur, and Salem districts of southern India, which are now included in the modern Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

  • Commerce continued to benefit the Early Cheras' lands throughout their rule, with spices, ivory, timber, pearls, and stones being exported to the Middle East and southern Europe. Evidence of significant foreign commerce dates all the way back to ancient times along the Malabar coast (Muziris), Karur, and Coimbatore areas.

The Pallava Dynasty

Pallavas were considered a powerful south Indian dynasty. Their capital was Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. According to the archaeological, evidence, their ancestors remain unknown. They are, however, assumed to be Yadavas and may have been documented pertaining to Satavahanas.

The Pallavas established their kingdom in the Krishna river valley, now known as Palnadu, and later expanded into southern Andhra Pradesh and northern Tamil Nadu.

Mahendravarman I was a notable Pallava king who founded the Mahabalipuram rock-cut temples. His son Narasimhavarman I ascended to the throne in 630 CE. He battled Chalukya king Pulakeshin II in 632 CE and set fire to the Chalukya capital Vatapi.

Between the sixth and ninth centuries CE, the southern areas of South India were ruled by the Pallavas and Pandyas.


Kalidasa, the poet and dramatist who is frequently regarded as the best Indian writer of the classical era. Kalidasa was one of the "nine pearls" in the court of Ujjain's king Vikramaditya.

The majority of scholars agree that Kalidasa should be associated with Chandra Gupta II. The most compelling, speculative, argument for linking Kalidasa to the Gupta dynasty is simply the nature of his work, which appears to be the ideal reflection and most profound expression of the period's cultural values of peace and refinement.

Numerous compositions have been ascribed to the poet by tradition; historians identify at least six as genuine Kalidasa works. Kalidasa had developed into the prototypical Sanskrit author.

  • Theatre: His most renowned work in the theatre is Abhijnanashakuntalam, which is frequently regarded as the finest Indian literary endeavour of any era. As is the case with all of Kalidasa's writings, the beauty of nature is unmatched in world literature.

  • Vikramorvashi, the second drama, tells a storey as ancient as the Vedas, but in an entirely new way.

  • Third, Malavikagnimitra is a different kind of comedy—funny and playful, but no less accomplished. Additionally, the play contains datable references, the veracity of which has been vigorously contested.


Raghuvamsha and Kumarasambhava are two lengthy poems that illustrate the epic. Meghadoot is a lyric poem comprised of an extraordinary sequence of unmatched and informed vignettes of mountains, rivers, and woods interspersed with a letter from a lover to his absent sweetheart.

Kalidasa's writings depict a distinct courtly nobility. Kalidasa did more than any other writer to reconcile the ancient Brahmanic religious heritage, particularly its ceremonial emphasis on Sanskrit, with modern Hinduism's requirements.


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