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A History of South India (From Prehistoric Times to The Fall of Vijayanagar)

A History of South India (From Prehistoric Times to The Fall of Vijayanagar)
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Item Code: NAF852
Author: K.A. Nilakanta Sastri
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9780195606867
Pages: 508 (20 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch

About the Book


This classic text provides a comprehensive account of the much-neglected history of peninsular India from the earliest times to seventeenth century. delineates the role of south India in the shaping of the history of the subcontinent. The exhaustive narrative traces the changing political

formations, institutional forces, and administrative structures and also gives a panoramic view of social and economic conditions, literature, religion,

philosophy, and art and architecture. An introduction by R. Champakalakshmi locates the relevance of Shastri's work in the larger context of history writing h India. This book will interest students, teachers, and scholars of ancient Indian history, as well as lay readers, specially those interested in the history of south India.


About the Author


K.A. Nilakanta Sastri (1892-1975) was Professor of History at the University of Madras.




The aim. scope and plan of the book are explained in the introductory part of Chapter I. and this Preface is meant primarily to be an acknowledgement of the assistance I have received in the preparation of the book. It was not. however. till I began to plan the chapters of the book and the details of their sections that I came to realize how little equipped I was for the task and how much I had to depend on the co-operation of others for its fulfilment. But the help I so much needed was forthcoming in ample measure. particularly from my colleagues in the allied departments of study in the University. and this enabled. me to press on with the work in spite of difficulties and complete it in a little over a year from its commencement.

Chapter II on the geography of South India in relation to its history owes a great deal to the invaluable aid of Mr V. Kalyanasundararn of the Geography Department. who. in addition. drew all the maps accompanying the book, with the assistance of Mr R Tirumalai (Research Scholar) on the historical side. In writing Chapter III on the prehistory of South India Professor T. Balakrishnan Nayar of Presidency. College gave me aid of no less importance. Chapters IV-XIII. comprising the core of political history and a sketch of social and economic conditions. and Chapter XV on Religion and Philosophy. are based primarily on published sources and the work of earlier authors in the field to which references are given at the end of every chapter; but they incorporate also the results of much unpublished work, my students' as well as my own. carried on in the· University for over seventeen years, and this must be taken into account for any differences from current views that the reader may notice. Chapter XIV on Literature covers very wide ground and indebtedness to my friends is correspondingly heavy: to the late Dr T. R. Chintarnani and to Dr V. Raghavan, both. of the Sanskrit Department. for the section on Sanskrit; to Mr S. Vaiyapuri Pillai for that on Tamil: to Mr M. Mariappa Bhat for Kannada; to MrS. Kameswara Rao (Research Scholar] and Dr N. Venkataramanayya for Telugu;

and lastly, to Mr. K. Kanakasabhapati Pillai (Research Fellow) and Mr P. Krishnan Nayar of the Malayalam Department for Malayalarn I must not omit to make special mention of the fact that the task of sketching the history of South Indian architecture and art was rendered particularly easy by the excellent guidance furnished by Percy Brown's monumental survey of the subject which leaves all the older work on the subject at a great distance.

I wish to make it clear that though I have availed myself of the co- operation, very wi Ilingly given, of so many scholars, they are in no way responsible for the views that find expression in this book.

The sources of the various illustrations are indicated in the list of plates and our thanks are due to the authorities concerned for permission to reproduce them here.




K.A. Nilakanta Sastri's pioneering work, A History of South India From Pre Historic Times to the Fall of Vijaya nagar, has the unique

·distinction of being the only standard" text book on south Indian history for over four decades. Having run into four editions and sixteen impressions, its importance for both the student and the teacher at the graduate and post-graduate levels cannot be overestimated. In more than one sense it has enthused students of history in seeking a better understanding of south India's role in the shaping of the sub- continent's history and culture, particularly those who have long since realized the inadequacy of studying the history of India by focussing on the region north of the Vindhyas, practically neglecting or at best only marginally touching upon developments in peninsular India, despite the impressive volume of material evidence available in the rich epigraphic sources and textual traditions of south India.

From the sixties, the historiography of India has undergone a significant and welcome change and most of the earlier works have come to be generally classified as tradition/conventional, primarily to distinguish them from the new works based on an integrated approach to the study of Indian history providing fresh insights gained by more scientific methodologies and conceptually significant analytical frameworks. As a result, different and more meaningful perspectives have emerged which have led to refreshingly new visions of the past. In fact compartmentalized treatments of political, social, and economic h.stories as isolated chapters in traditional historiography, has given place to history in its totality, underlining the inter-relatiortships among various spheres of human activity. However, the relevance of Sastri's work as a masterly narrative of political history has hardly diminished even after significant historiographical advances have been made both in terms of the history of the sub-continent and regional histories, particularly of south India.

In contemporary historiographical assessment, Sastri's work has been termed as traditional/conventional, along with those of others like T.V. Mahalingam, Venkataramaniah, C. Meenakshi, and Robert Sewell to mention only a few. This assessment is not meant to set aside these works as irrelevant but mainly to underline the differences in the recent trends in historical writing, which have pointed to the need for a closer look at the material evidence with a critical approach and better insights available both in conventional and new histories. New and hitherto untrodden avenues of research have been opened up by the new approaches, creating an awareness and interest lacking in those 'conventional' works, which either imitated Sastri's narrative method without his masterly technique and interpretive acumen or chose to confine themselves to dynastic history, administrative history, institutional history, temple studies, and descriptive art history. The failure, in such works, to adopt an integrated approach analysingthe inter-relationships between political and socio-economic processes and changes, between religion and social change and between ideology and politico-economic institutions has made most of them repetitive and imitative, perpetuating a stereo typical narrative, without the interpretative ability evinced in Sastri's works.

The merits of conventional history are best illustrated by Sastri's which is a basic text, as it contains several unassailable interpretive historical statements and a firm chronological base for an incredibly long span of peninsular history from the beginnings to the seventeenth century, which has stood the test of in-depth researches on dynastic history, difficult problems of dates and periodization based on political changes despite minor differences in details. In fact Sastri'shas been the only periodization known to the student of south Indian history till at least the sixties and seventies, when the need for a more logical basis for periodization in Indian history was recognized and the importance of socio-economic processes and changes was emphasized rather than mere dynastic or political ch~.n.8es. Hence the earlier division into the Hindu, Muslim, and British periods based on religious and racial affinities of the ruling powers was given up in favour of an admittedly more logical division into ancient, medieval, and modem on the basis of significant differences in the nature and organization of society and economy, as also the nature of the sources available for these" periods. For south India, the Hindu, Muslim, and British nomenclature has never been a logical division not only because of its communal overtones but also because of the absence of a 'Muslim' political domination with the exception of the Bahmani regime contemporaneous with the more powerful Vijayanagar regime, often characterized in conventional history as a Hindu response to Muslim threat of violation of Hindu culture. However, the need for a more acceptable division both for the sub-continental and regional histories based on regional differences was consistently emphasized and hence sub-periods within these broader divisions and transitional phases were recognized and adopted. Sastri's work follows no such divisions as it sets itself a broad canvas of historical changes over two millennia focussing on major dynasties and their changing power structure. It is also to an extent reflective of the socio-economic processes in south India leading to changes in dynasties and their power structure. This may be attributed to Sastri's intuitive recognition of the changing context in which successive dynasties in the Deccan and South India emerged to power with changing institutional forces and administrative structures. This would also explain why Sastri's work remains basic to the study of south Indian history and points to the ways in which further research based on the new approaches and methodological advances can enhance ou,r understanding of south India's contribution to the pan-Indian historical processes.

Before going into a detailed discussion of the areas in which new perspectives have emerged, it would be appropriate and useful to highlight the major contributions of Sastri's work in general, and the present text in particular, to the understanding of south Indian history and to make a comparative assessment with the changing perspectives provided by further researches and new approaches.

The chronological framework provided by Sastri in his present text as also in his works on the Pandyas, Chalukyas, and Vijayanagar, albeit based on political changes, remains largely unchanged and dynastic histories written till date have made no significant contributions in terms of dates and succession of political events revising Sastri's chronology. His grasp of the primary sources has remained unmatched by other scholars' familiarity with the same sources, which has merely added hitherto unknown inscriptions and texts to the volume of sources already known. Sastri brought to bear upon his works his knowledge of both Sanskrit and regional languages, particularly Tamil, a rare expertise among historians, although his predilections towards Sanskrit far outweighed the importance he assigned to the vernacular while assessing their value for regional histories. In fact, he believed that without the influence of Sanskrit no language of the Dravidian family could have developed its rich literary tradition and culture. While the great synthesis of the northern and southern linguistic and literary traditions is indeed one of the most fascinating aspects of Indian cultural processes, it is now increasingly recognized that these processes owe much more to regional languages and local traditions than has been granted by traditional scholars. Hence the stress laid by D.O. Kosambi even in the sixties that no generalization-for India as a whole is valid without a proper assessment of regional historical developments. The process of what Sastri calls 'aryanization' has now moved away from the predominantly racial connotations assigned to it and is now understood more correctly as a process of cultural interaction, mutual assimilation and synchronic development rather than the imposition of the culture of a 'superior' race over 'less developed/inferior' cultural regions. Often termed as Sanskritization/acculturation by sociologists and historians, these processes have now become the focus of major researches leading to a better understanding of Indian historical and cultural traditions. Pan- Indian and regional histories are no more looked at as independent or isolated but rather as inter-related arid mutually interactive developments. Hence regional histories have become as important for understanding sub-continental history as broader all India perspectives are for situating regional developments in their proper context. Sastri's work in many ways illustrates this point, through its political narrative if not through an integrated narrative of the socio-economic and religious along with the political.

Chapterization in Sastri's text follows the traditional method of dynastic changes, while society, economy, and religion are relegated to isolated chapters at the end of the political narrative. Yet, his intuitive understanding of the nature of political changes led him to underline the major historical changes by marking the dawn of history with 'aryanization' using traditional and legendary accounts and treating the Mauryan age as the period of the opening up of peninsular history. The post-Mauryan period (200 BC to AD 300) is one of dispersed political units ill the whole of the sub-continent but at the same time marks a distinct pattern of regional developments in the Deccan and southern India (Tamil Nadu and Kerala), which Sastri recognised by discussing the Satavahanas and their successors in the Deccan and the Sangam age in Tarnilakarn in separate chapters. This epoch (second century BC to third century AD) has now been understood as representing the early historical period in Indian history with 'the development of trade and commerce, both inland and maritime, as a major economic activity in the whole of the sub-continent. Sastri's understanding of the differences between Deccan and southern India is mainly geographical and cultural, while his discussion of the economy of this period is isolated and fragmented, marginally touched upon in the chapter on the Sangam

age but merely surveyed and relegated to the chapter on economy at the end of the political narrative. The period also represents the beginnings of an agrarian organization, which in the subsequent centuries i.e. fourth to the sixth centuries AD, led to a transformation of the nature of polities in peninsular India reflecting a sub-continental trend. That it was a period of transition to the evolution of territorial monarchies of early medieval India (7th to 13th centuries AD) is missed by Sastri's inclusion of the Vakataka and Ganga kingdoms, which differed significantly in their administrative structures from those of the Satavahanas, as successors of the Satavahana polity and by his characterization of the same period in Tamil history as a dark age due to the absence of historical records (copper plate land grants to brahmanas and the temple) till the emergence of the Pallavas and Pandyas in the 7th century AD similar to those of the Vakatakas and other Deccan dynasties of the 4th-6th centuries AD.

Hence in his chapter 'Conflict of Three Empires', Sastri's political narrative focuses on the power struggle among the first three kingdoms of peninsular India, located in the Malaprabha and Krishna valley in the Deccan and Palar-Cheyyar and Vaigai Valleys of Tamil Nadu, again the emphasis being on the geographical differences and territorial concerns of the major ruling families. What Sastri has not attempted to show is the agrarian character of their resource bases and the brahmanical tradition which for the first time brought into existence powerful. ruling families with the' support of the Var1Ja based brahmanical social order and Vedic-Puranic religious ideology. These are incidental to Sastri's main narrative of political history. Subsequent researches have shown that Sastri's periodization i.e. sixth to ninth centuries, when these three powers rivalled one another for hegemony, is valid also from the point of view of the changes that took place in society and economy and the beginnings of new institutions of politico- economic significance like monarchy, brahmadeya and the temple and a nascent power structure leading to the development of regional states in the following period i.e. ninth to the thirteenth centuries under the Cholas and Chalukyas (Sastri's chapter-The Balartce of Two Empires) with full-fledged administrative and socio-economic institutions, ultimately shaping regions and their cultures. However these changes are not the main focus of Sastri's narrative, which is confined to the succession of political events.

The post-Chela and post-Chalukya history of the Tamil region and the Deccan respectively are dealt with by Sastri as the age of the four kingdoms viz., the later Pandyas in Tamil Nadu, the Yadavas of Devagiri











Survey of the Sources



The Lind in Relation to History



The Earliest Peoples and Cultures



The Dawn of History: Aryanization



The Age of the Mauryan Empire



The Satavahanas and Their Successors



The Age of the Sangarn and After



Conflict of Three Empires



The Balance of Two Empires



The Age of the Four Kingdoms



The Bahmants and the Rise of Vijayanagar



The Empire of Vijayanagar



Social and Economic Conditions






Religion and Philosophy



Art and Architecture






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