Democracy in old India

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Mon Aug 21 06:16:16 UTC 2000

This is not widely known. But, indeed, the kuTavOlai process was in existence 
in CT times also.  Consider the following lines of akanAn2URu 77:7-11.

kayiRu piNi kuzici Olai koNmAr 
poRi kaNTu azikkum AvaNa mAkkaLin2 
uyir tiRam peyara nal amar kaTanta 
taRukaNALar kuTar tarIi teRuvara 
ce cevi eruvai ajncuvara ikukkum 

This is a love poem of the desolate pAlai landscape. The theme deals with the 
hero thinking about a journey through a harsh land. The description of the 
land involves vultures and dead warriors.

The vultures moving aside the armor/clothes covering dead warriors' bodies, 
tearing into the bodies and pulling out the entrails is compared to the 
officials removing the seals of pots that had been bound by ropes and 
reaching into the pots and removing the palm leaves.

Even M.G.S. Narayanan (Foundations of South Indian Society and Culture, 1994, 
p. 109) says of the CT times that "it may be inferred that people drawn from 
different ethnic and professional groups were being transformed into 
land-owning cultivators in course of time." Thus whatever may be the later 
medieval criteria regarding the eligibility of candidates, it is highly 
likely that during CT period or earlier, kuTavOlai process must have been 

The early democratic nature of Tamil society is also underscored by its 
literacy. In his paper, "From Orality to Literacy: The Case of the Tamil 
Society", Iravatham Mahadevan says, "Another noteworthy feature of early 
Tamil literacy was its popular or democratic character, based as it was on 
the local language of the people. Literacy seems to have been widespread in 
all the regions of the Tamil country, both in urban and rural areas, and 
encompassing within its reach all strata of the Tamil society. The primary 
evidence for this situation comes from inscribed pottery, relatively more 
numerous in Tamilnadu than elsewhere in the country…The pottery inscriptions 
are secular in character and the names occurring in them indicate that common 
people from all strata of the Tamil society made these scratchings or 
scriblings on pottery owned by them. On the other hand the inscribed pottery 
excavated from Upper South Indian sites is all in Prakrit and is mostly 
associated with religious centres like Amaravati and Salihundam. 
                                    (To be continued)

S. Palaniappan


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