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Southern Kingdoms

The Peninsula proper is an old, geologically stable region with an average elevation between 300 and 1,800 meters. The Vindhya Range constitutes the main dividing line between the geological regions of the Indo-Gangetic Plain and the Peninsula. This range lies north of the Narmada River, and when viewed from there, it is possible to discern the prominent escarpments that rise between 800 and 1,400 meters. The Vindhya Range defines the north-central and northwestern boundary of the Peninsula, and the Chota Nagpur Plateau of southern Bihar forms the northeastern boundary. The uplifting of the plateau of the central Peninsula and its eastward tilt formed the Western Ghats, a line of hills running from the Tapti River south to the tip of the Peninsula. The Eastern Ghats mark the eastern end of the plateau; they begin in the hills of the Mahanadi River basin and converge with the Western Ghats at the Peninsula's southern tip.

The interior of the Peninsula, south of the Narmada River, often termed the Deccan Plateau or simply the Deccan (from the Sanskrit daksina , meaning south), is a series of plateaus topped by rolling hills and intersected by many rivers. The plateau averages roughly 300 to 750 meters in elevation. Its major rivers--the Godavari, the Krishna, and the Kaveri--rise in the Western Ghats and flow eastward into the Bay of Bengal.

The coastal plain borders the plateau. On the northwestern side, it is characterized by tidal marshes, drowned valleys, and estuaries; and in the south by lagoons, marshes, and beach ridges. Coastal plains on the eastern side are wider than those in the west; they are focused on large river deltas that serve as the centers of human settlement.

During the Kushana Dynasty, an indigenous power, the Satavahana Kingdom (first century BC-third century AD), rose in the Deccan in southern India. The Satavahana, or Andhra, Kingdom was considerably influenced by the Mauryan political model, although power was decentralized in the hands of local chieftains, who used the symbols of Vedic religion and upheld the varnashramadharma . The rulers, however, were eclectic and patronized Buddhist monuments, such as those in Ellora (Maharashtra) and Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh). Thus, the Deccan served as a bridge through which politics, trade, and religious ideas could spread from the north to the south.

Farther south were three ancient Tamil kingdoms--Chera (on the west), Chola (on the east), and Pandya (in the south)--frequently involved in internecine warfare to gain regional supremacy. They are mentioned in Greek and Ashokan sources as lying at the fringes of the Mauryan Empire. A corpus of ancient Tamil literature, known as Sangam (academy) works, including Tolkappiam , a manual of Tamil grammar by Tolkappiyar, provides much useful information about their social life from 300 BC to AD 200. There is clear evidence of encroachment by Aryan traditions from the north into a predominantly indigenous Dravidian culture in transition.

After the decline of the Sangam Age in the Tamil country, the Kalabhra rule lasted for about 250 years. Thereafter, the Pallavas established their kingdom in Tondaimandalam with its capital at Kanchipuram. Their rule continued till Tondaimandalam was captured and annexed by the Imperial Cholas in the beginning of the tenth century AD.

Dravidian social order was based on different eco-regions rather than on the Aryan varna paradigm, although the Brahmans had a high status at a very early stage. Segments of society were characterized by matriarchy and matrilineal succession--which survived well into the nineteenth century--cross-cousin marriage, and strong regional identity. Tribal chieftains emerged as "kings" just as people moved from pastoralism toward agriculture, sustained by irrigation based on rivers, small-scale tanks (as man-made ponds are called in India) and wells, and brisk maritime trade with Rome and Southeast Asia.

Discoveries of Roman gold coins in various sites attest to extensive South Indian links with the outside world. As with Pataliputra in the northeast and Taxila in the northwest (in modern Pakistan), the city of Madurai, the Pandyan capital (in modern Tamil Nadu), was the center of intellectual and literary activities. Poets and bards assembled there under royal patronage at successive concourses and composed anthologies of poems, most of which have been lost. By the end of the first century B.C., South Asia was crisscrossed by overland trade routes, which facilitated the movements of Buddhist and Jain missionaries and other travelers and opened the area to a synthesis of many cultures.

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Page last modified: 12-08-2013 17:58:25 ZULU