New discovery in Tamil Nadu

George Hart glhart at BERKELEY.EDU
Sun Jun 28 20:25:38 UTC 2009

Palaniappan and I have long disagreed on what the Sangam texts say  
regarding caste.  I would only remark that Dalits (leatherworkers,  
washermen, drummers and the like) are called "izhicanoor" -- "low  
ones" -- in the poems and that the jaati (called kuTi in old Tamil)  
system clearly grew organically and is very old.  The caste system is  
far too complex to have been dreamed up and imposed by the 2-3% of the  
old Tamil population who were not technically Sudras.  Of course,  
there are innumerable caste divisions whom the tiny Brahmin minority  
would call "Sudra" or "Pancama."

As for the Mauryas -- yes, there is a famous Sangam poem that  
describes the incursion of the Mauryas into Tamil Nadu, but there is  
no evidence whatsoever that they annexed the area as part of their  
empire.  Rather, this was probably something of a raiding expedition.   
Dipak Bhattacharya, perhaps thinking of the Mauryan colonization of  
Sri Lanka, seems to envision a scenario in which the Mauryas settled  
areas of Tamil Nadu and built (fortified?) cities there to keep the  
local population subdued as happened when the Romans set up Londinium  
and other centers in Britain.  There is not a shred of evidence for  
this, as far as I know.  It would seem, rather, that there was a  
continual spread of technological innovation, mostly from North to  
South -- metals, writing, astrology, and most likely some but not all  
aspects of city building.  There was also spread of cultural elements  
from South to North -- including most probably elements of music and  
dance.  One does not encounter in Sangam literature any sense that  
Northerners were invaders -- in fact, Aryans are mentioned as circus  
performers, as they apparently brought their acts to the Tamil  
country.  It should be added that travel in India in the first  
centuries CE was quite difficult, and that Tamil Nadu was pretty well  
isolated by the mountains to the north and the wilderness of such  
places as the Eastern Ghats.  Much of the contact with the north was  
probably by sea.  It was, I would suggest, this isolation that  
accounts for the development of Tamil as a separate tradition from  
Sanskrit with its own peculiar literature and language.  Subsequently,  
Tamil was more and more incorporated into the pan-Indian tradition.   
Regarding the Mauryas, it is also notable that the Jains seem to have  
been far more important in early Tamil Nadu than the Buddhists.

And as for stirrups, John Huntington makes a convincing case that the  
finds at Porunthal could not be stirrups -- unfortunately, I cannot  
find any images from Porunthal of the so-called stirrup.

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