Dravidian people

For other uses, see Dravidian (disambiguation).
Dravidian People
Total population
approx. 217 million speakers   
Dravidian languages
predominantly Hinduism, and other Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity.

Dravidians are native speakers of any of the Dravidian languages of South India. There are around 200 million native speakers of Dravidian languages.[1] They form the majority of the population of South India. Dravidian-speaking people are natively found in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan,[2] Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.[3]

Historically the word "drāviḍa" is used to denote the geographical region of South India,[4] and was devoid of any ethnic or linguistic identity.[4] In Prakrit, words such as "Damela", "Dameda", "Dhamila" and "Damila" evolved from "Tamila" could have been used to denote an ethnic identity.[5]

Tamil has a literary tradition dating back to the 3rd century BCE.[6] The third century BCE onwards saw the development of large Dravidian political states: Chola dynasty, Pandyan dynasty, Chera Dynasty and a number of smaller states. The Satavahana dynasty, Rashtrakuta dynasty, Western Chalukya Empire, Kakatiya dynasty, Hoysala Empire, the Vijayanagara Empire and the Mysore kingdom were established by the Dravidian people.

The Chola Empire was one of the biggest maritime empires in medieval India, stretching from Southern India to Southeast Asia including Philippines, Malaysia, Southern Thailand and Indonesia.[7] Medieval Tamil guilds and trading organizations like the "Ayyavole and Manigramam" played an important role in the Southeast Asia trade.[8] Traders and religious leaders travelled to Southeast Asia and played an important role in the cultural Indianisation of the region. Locally developed scripts such as Grantha and Pallava script induced the development of many native scripts such as Khmer, Javanese Kawi script, Baybayin, and Thai.

The largest-Dravidian ethnic groups are the Tamil People from Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, the Kannada people from Karnataka, the Telugu people from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the Malayalam people from Kerala, and the Tulu people from Karnataka. Certain communities of Marathi people from Maharashtra are considered as Scytho-Dravidians.[9][10]

Dravidian visual art is dominated by stylised Temple architecture in major centres, and the production of images of stone and bronze sculptures. The Nataraja sculpture from the Chola period, has become notable as a symbol of Hinduism.


The Sanskrit word drāviḍa is used to denote the geographical region of South India.[4] Southern Brahmins are known as Pancha Dravida while northern Brahmins are known as Pancha Gauda, denoting geographical region.

In Prakrit, words such as "Damela", "Dameda", "Dhamila" and "Damila," which later evolved into "Tamila," could have been used to denote an ethnic identity.[5] It is unclear if it was a self designation or a term denoted by outsiders. Epigraphic evidence of an ethnic group termed as such is found in ancient India where a number of inscriptions have come to light datable from the 6th to the 5th century BCE mentioning Damela or Dameda persons. The Hathigumpha inscription of the Kalinga ruler Kharavela refers to a T(ra)mira samghata (Confederacy of Tamil rulers) dated to 150 BCE. It also mentions that the league of Tamil kingdoms had been in existence for 113 years by that time.[11] In Amaravati in present-day Andhra Pradesh there is an inscription referring to a Dhamila-vaniya (Tamil trader) datable to the 3rd century CE.[11] Another inscription of about the same time in Nagarjunakonda seems to refer to a Damila. A third inscription in Kanheri Caves refers to a Dhamila-gharini (Tamil house-holder). In the Buddhist Jataka story known as Akiti Jataka there is a mention to Damila-rattha (Tamil dynasty).

Thamizhar is etymologically related to Tamil, the language spoken by Tamil people. Southworth suggests that the name comes from tam-miz > tam-iz 'self-speak', or 'one's own speech'.[12] Zvelebil suggests an etymology of tam-iz, with tam meaning "self" or "one's self", and "-iz" having the connotation of "unfolding sound". Alternatively, he suggests a derivation of tamiz < tam-iz < *tav-iz < *tak-iz, meaning in origin "the proper process (of speaking)."[13] The term Thamizhar was likely derived from the name of the ancient people Dravida > Dramila > Damila > Tamila > Tamilar.[14]

While the English word Dravidian was first employed by Robert Caldwell in his book of comparative Dravidian grammar based on the usage of the Sanskrit word drāviḍa in the work Tantravārttika by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa,[4] the word drāviḍa in Sansrkit has been historically used to denote geographical regions of Southern India as whole. Some theories concern the direction of derivation between tamiẓ and drāviḍa; such linguists as Zvelebil assert that the direction is from tamiẓ to drāviḍa.[15] The modern word Dravidian is devoid of any ethnic significance, and is only used to classify a linguistic family of the referred group.[5]


Although in modern times speakers of the various Dravidian languages have mainly occupied the southern portion of India, Dravidian speakers must have been widespread throughout the Indian subcontinent before Indo-Aryan migration into the subcontinent.[16] The Brahui population of Balochistan in Pakistan has been taken by some as the linguistic equivalent of a relict population, perhaps indicating that Dravidian languages were formerly much more widespread and were supplanted by the incoming Indo-Aryan languages.[17]

Proto-Dravidian may have come to the subcontinent by migrations of agriculturalists from the Near East. The Indus Valley Civilisation (2,600-1,900 BCE) may have been the first manifestation of the Dravidian peoples and languages in south Asia. From there they spread to south India.[18]

Ancestral components

Reich et al. (2009) discerned two major ancestral components in India,[19][20][21] namely the Ancestral North Indians (ANI) who are "genetically close to Middle Easterners, Central Asians, and Europeans," and the Ancestral South Indians (ASI) which are clearly distinct from ANI[19] and "not closely related to groups outside the subcontinent."[22] Basu et al. (2016), discerned two additional components, Ancestral Tibeto-Burmese (ATB) and Ancestral Austro-Asiatic (AAA), noting that the ASI and the AAA were early settlers of India who differentiated after their arrival in India.[23][note 1] The ANI and ASI mixed in India between 4,200 and 1,900 years ago (2200 BCE-100 CE), whereafter a shift to endogamy took place,[21] possibly by the enforcement of "social values and norms" by the "Hindu Gupta rulers."[25] Northern Indians and higher castes are more related to West Eurasians, while southern Indians and lower castes are less related to West Eurasians.[26]

Moorjani et al. (2013) describe three scenarios regarding the bringing together of the two groups:

  1. migrations before the development of agriculture (8,000–9,000 years before present (BP);
  2. migration of western Asian people together with the spread of agriculture, maybe up to 4,600 years BP;
  3. migrations of western Eurasians from 3,000 to 4,000 years BP.[27]

According to Metspalu, the ANI diverged from the present populations of West Eurasia 12,500 years ago,[28] while according to Moorjani et al. (2013) these groups were plausibly present "unmixed" in India before 2,200 BCE.[21]

Lazaridi et al. (2016) "While the Early/Middle Bronze Age ‘Yamnaya’-related group (Steppe_EMBA) is a good genetic match (together with Neolithic Iran) for ANI, the later Middle/Late Bronze Age steppe population Sintashta-Andronovo (Steppe_MLBA) is not." [29] "ANI ancestry related to both the steppe and Neolithic Iran is found across South Asia making it difficult to associate it strongly with any particular language family (Indo-European or otherwise)."[29] "Nonetheless, the fact that we can reject West Eurasian population sources from Anatolia, mainland Europe, and the Levant diminishes the likelihood that these areas were sources of Indo-European (or other) languages in South Asia."[29][30]

Near-eastern agricultural origins

According to David McAlpin, the Dravidian languages were brought to India by immigration into India from Elam.[31][32] According to Renfrew and Cavalli-Sforza, proto-Dravidian was brought to India by farmers from the Iranian part of the Fertile Crescent.[18][33][34][note 2] According to Mikhail Andronov, Dravidian languages were brought to India at the beginning of the third millennium BCE.[35]

Kivisild et al. (1999) note that "a small fraction of the West Eurasian mtDNA lineages found in Indian populations can be ascribed to a relatively recent admixture."[36] at ca. 9,300 ± 3,000 years before present,[37] which coincides with "the arrival to India of cereals domesticated in the Fertile Crescent" and "lends credence to the suggested linguistic connection between the Elamite and Dravidic populations."[37]

According to Gallego Romero et al. (2011), their research on lactose tolerance in India suggests that "the west Eurasian genetic contribution identified by Reich et al. (2009) principally reflects gene flow from Iran and the Middle East."[38] Gallego Romero notes that Indians who are lactose-tolerant show a genetic pattern regarding this tolerance which is "characteristic of the common European mutation."[39] According to Romero, this suggests that "the most common lactose tolerance mutation made a two-way migration out of the Middle East less than 10,000 years ago. While the mutation spread across Europe, another explorer must have brought the mutation eastward to India – likely traveling along the coast of the Persian Gulf where other pockets of the same mutation have been found."[39]

According to Palanichamy et al. (2015), "The presence of mtDNA haplogroups (HV14 and U1a) and Y-chromosome haplogroup (L1) in Dravidian populations indicates the spread of the Dravidian language into India from west Asia."[40]

Asko Parpola, who regards the Harappans to have been Dravidian, notes that Mehrgarh (7000 BCE to c. 2500 BCE), to the west of the Indus River valley,[41] is a precursor of the Indus Valley Civilisation, whose inhabitants migrated into the Indus Valley and became the Indus Valley Civilisation.[42] It is one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming and herding in South Asia.[43][44] According to Lukacs and Hemphill, while there is a strong continuity between the neolithic and chalcolithic (Copper Age) cultures of Mehrgarh, dental evidence shows that the chalcolithic population did not descend from the neolithic population of Mehrgarh,[45] which "suggests moderate levels of gene flow."[45] They further noted that "the direct lineal descendants of the Neolithic inhabitants of Mehrgarh are to be found to the south and the east of Mehrgarh, in northwestern India and the western edge of the Deccan plateau," with neolithic Mehrgarh showing greater affinity with chalocolithic Inamgaon, south of Mehrgarh, than with chalcolithic Mehrgarh.[45]


Indus Valley Civilisation

The Pashupati seal from the Indus Valley Civilization

Dravidian identification

The Indus Valley civilisation (2,600-1,900 BCE) located both in Pakistan and India is often identified as having been Dravidian.[46] Cultural and linguistic similarities have been cited by researchers Henry Heras, Kamil Zvelebil, Asko Parpola and Iravatham Mahadevan as being strong evidence for a proto-Dravidian origin of the ancient Indus Valley civilisation.[47][48] The discovery in Tamil Nadu of a late Neolithic (early 2nd millennium BCE, i.e. post-dating Harappan decline) stone celt allegedly marked with Indus signs has been considered by some to be significant for the Dravidian identification.[49][50]

Yuri Knorozov surmised that the symbols represent a logosyllabic script and suggested, based on computer analysis, an underlying agglutinative Dravidian language as the most likely candidate for the underlying language.[51] Knorozov's suggestion was preceded by the work of Henry Heras, who suggested several readings of signs based on a proto-Dravidian assumption.[52]

Linguist Asko Parpola writes that the Indus script and Harappan language are "most likely to have belonged to the Dravidian family".[53] Parpola led a Finnish team in investigating the inscriptions using computer analysis. Based on a proto-Dravidian assumption, they proposed readings of many signs, some agreeing with the suggested readings of Heras and Knorozov (such as equating the "fish" sign with the Dravidian word for fish, "min") but disagreeing on several other readings. A comprehensive description of Parpola's work until 1994 is given in his book Deciphering the Indus Script.[54]

Decline and migration

Paleoclimatologists believe the fall of the Indus Valley Civilization and eastward migration during the late Harappan period was due to climate change in the region, with 200-year old drought being the major factor.[55][56][57] The Indus Valley Civilization seemed to slowly lose their urban cohesion, and their cities were gradually abandoned during the late Harappan period followed by eastward migrations before the Indo-Aryan migration into the Indian Subcontinent.[56]

Dravidian and Indo-Aryan interactions

The Dravidian language influenced the Indo-Aryan languages. Dravidian languages show extensive lexical (vocabulary) borrowing, but only a few traits of structural (either phonological or grammatical) borrowing from Indo-Aryan, whereas Indo-Aryan shows more structural than lexical borrowings from the Dravidian languages.[16] Many of these features are already present in the oldest known Indo-Aryan language, the language of the Rigveda (c. 1500 BCE), which also includes over a dozen words borrowed from Dravidian. The linguistic evidence for Dravidian impact grows increasingly strong as we move from the Samhitas down through the later Vedic works and into the classical post-Vedic literature.[58] This represents an early religious and cultural fusion[59][note 3] or synthesis[61] between ancient Dravidians and Indo-Aryans.[62][60][63][64]

According to Mallory there are an estimated thirty to forty Dravidian loanwords in Rig Veda.[65] Some of those for which Dravidian etymologies are certain include कुलाय kulāya "nest", कुल्फ kulpha "ankle", दण्ड daṇḍa "stick", कूल kūla "slope", बिल bila "hollow", खल khala "threshing floor".[66]:81[66] While J. Bloch and M. Witzel believe that the Indo-Aryans moved into an already Dravidian speaking area after the oldest parts of the Rig Veda were already composed.[67]

According to Thomason and Kaufman, there is strong evidence that Dravidian influenced Indic through "shift", that is, native Dravidian speakers learning and adopting Indic languages.[68] According to Erdosy, the most plausible explanation for the presence of Dravidian structural features in Old Indo-Aryan is that the majority of early Old Indo-Aryan speakers had a Dravidian mother tongue which they gradually abandoned.Erdosy (1995:18) Even though the innovative traits in Indic could be explained by multiple internal explanations, early Dravidian influence is the only explanation that can account for all of the innovations at once. Early Dravidian influence accounts for several of the innovative traits in Indic better than any internal explanation that has been proposed.[69] According to Zvelebil, "several scholars have demonstrated that pre-Indo-Aryan and pre-Dravidian bilingualism in India provided conditions for the far-reaching influence of Dravidian on the Indo-Aryan tongues in the spheres of phonology, syntax and vocabulary."[70]

With the rise of the Kuru Kingdom a process of Sanskritization started which influenced all of India, with the northern part becoming dominantly Indo-Aryan speaking.[71]

Early kingdoms

Tamiḻakam during Sangam period

Ancient Dravidians had three monarchical states Chola, Pandyas and Cheras, headed by kings called "Vendhar" and several tribal chieftainships, headed by the chiefs called by the general denomination "Vel" or "Velir".[72] Still lower at the local level there were clan chiefs called "kizhar" or "mannar".[73] The kings and chiefs were always in conflict with each other mostly over territorial hegemony and property. The royal courts were mostly places of social gathering rather than places of dispensation of authority; they were centres for distribution of resources. Ancient Sangam literature and grammatical works Tolkappiyam, the ten anthologies Pattuppāṭṭu, and the eight anthologies Eṭṭuttokai shed light on ancient Dravidian people.[74] The kings and chieftains were patrons of the arts, and a significant volume of literature exists from this period.[75] The literature shows that many of the cultural practices that are considered peculiarly Tamil date back to the classical period.[75]

Agriculture was important during this period, and there is evidence that networks of irrigation channels were built as early as the 3rd century BCE.[76] Internal and external trade flourished, and evidence of significant contact with Ancient Rome exists.[77] Large quantities of Roman coins and signs of the presence of Roman traders have been discovered at Karur and Arikamedu.[77] There is evidence that at least two embassies were sent to the Roman Emperor Augustus by Pandya kings.[78] Potsherds with Tamil writing have also been found in excavations on the Red Sea, suggesting the presence of merchants there.[79] An anonymous 1st century traveller's account written in Greek, Periplus Maris Erytraei, describes the ports of the Pandya and Chera kingdoms in Damirica and their commercial activity in great detail. Periplus also indicates that the chief exports of the ancient Dravidians were pepper, malabathrum, pearls, ivory, silk, spikenard, diamonds, sapphires, and tortoiseshell.[80] According to Clarence Maloney, during the classical period Tamils also settled the Maldive Islands.[81]

These early kingdoms sponsored the growth of some of the oldest extant literature in Tamil. The classical literature, referred to as Sangam literature is attributed to the period between 300 BCE and 300 CE.[82][83] These Sangam poems paint the picture of a fertile land and of a people who were organised into various occupational groups. The governance of the land was through hereditary monarchies, although the sphere of the state's activities and the extent of the ruler's powers were limited through the adherence to the established order dharma.[84] The people were loyal to their kings and roving bards and musicians and danseuses gathered at the royal courts of the generous kings. The arts of music and dancing were highly developed and popular. Musical instruments of various types find mention in the Sangam poems. The amalgamation of the southern and the northern styles of dancing started during this period and is reflected fully in the epic Cilappatikaram.[85]

Imperial and post-imperial periods

The Varaha cave bas relief at Mahabalipuram from the 7th century AD

The names of the three dynasties, Cholas, Pandyas, and Cheras, are mentioned in Tamil Sangam literature and grammatical works like Tolkappiyar refers to them as the "Three Glorified by Heaven", (Tamil: வாண்புகழ் மூவர், Vāṉpukaḻ Mūvar ?).[86] Later, they are mentioned in Mauryan Empire's Pillars of Ashoka (inscribed 273–232 BCE) inscriptions, among the kingdoms, which though not subject to Ashoka, were on allied terms with him.[87][88] The king of Kalinga, Kharavela, who ruled around 150 BCE, mentioned in the famous Hathigumpha inscription of the confederacy of the kingdoms that had existed for over 100 years.[89] The Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras, and Pallavas were followers of Hinduism, though for a short while some of them seem to have embraced Jainism and later converted to Hinduism. Buddhism flourished alongside Hinduism and Jainism.[90] The earliest Buddhist Mahayana sutra was developed in southern India during this period.[91][92] After the fall of the Mauryan Empire, the kingdoms were allied with the Satavahana Dynasty. The kings of the Satavahana dynasty were the earliest rulers who issued coins with Dravidian languages.[93]

Typical layout of Dravidian architecture which evolved from koyil as a king's residence

These early kingdoms sponsored the growth of some of the oldest extant literature in Tamil. The classical literature, referred to as Sangam literature is attributed to the period between 300 BCE and 300 CE.[94][95] The poems of Sangam literature, which deal with emotional and material topics, were categorised and collected into various anthologies during the medieval period. These Sangam poems paint the picture of a fertile land and of a people who were organised into various occupational groups. The governance of the land was through hereditary monarchies, although the sphere of the state’s activities and the extent of the ruler’s powers were limited through the adherence to the established order ("dharma"). Although the Pallava records can be traced from the 2nd century AD, they did not rise to prominence as an imperial dynasty until the 6th century.[96] They transformed the institution of the kingship into an imperial one, and sought to bring vast amounts of territory under their direct rule. The Bhakti movement in Hinduism was founded at this time, and rose along with the growing influence of Jainism and Buddhism.[97] The Pallavas pioneered the building of large, ornate temples in stone which formed the basis of the Dravidian temple architecture. They came into conflict with the Kannada Chalukyas of Badami. During this period, The great Badami Chalukya King Pulakesi II extended the Chalukya Empire up to the northern extents of the Pallava kingdom and defeated the Pallavas in several battles.[98] Pallava Narasimhavarman however reversed this victory in 642 by attacking and occupying Badami temporarily.[99] However a later Chalukya King Vikramaditya II took revenge by repeated invasions of the territory of Tondaimandalam and his subsequent victories over Pallava Nandivarman II and the annexation of Kanchipuram.[100] The south Indian ruler Vikramaditya II also defeated the Arab invaders and protected southern India.[101] The Pallava dynasty was overthrown in the 9th century by the imperial Kannada Rashtrakutas who ruled from Gulbarga. Amoghavarsha was the greatest King of the south Indian Rashtrakuta dynasty who was described by an Arab scholar as one of the 4 great kings of the world in the 9th century.[102] King Krishna III, the last great Rashtrakuta king consolidated the empire so that it stretched from the Narmada River to the Kaveri River and included the northern Tamil country (Tondaimandalam) while levying tribute on the king of Ceylon.[103]

The Tamil Chola Empire at its height, 1030AD

Under Rajaraja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola, the Cholas became dominant in the 10th century and established an empire covering most of South India and Sri Lanka.[96]The empire had strong trading links with Chinese Song Dynasty and Southeast Asia.[104][105] The Cholas defeated the Eastern Chalukya and expanded their empire to the Ganges. They conquered the coastal areas around the Bay of Bengal and turned it into a Chola lake. Rajendra Chola improved his father's fleet and created the first notable marine of the Indian subcontinent. The Chola navy conquered the Sri Vijaya Empire of Indonesia and the Malaysia and secured the sea trade route to China.[96] Cholas exacted tribute from Thailand and the Khmer Kingdom of Cambodia. The power of the Cholas declined around the 13th century and the Pandyan Empire enjoyed a brief period of resurgence thereafter during the rule of Sundara Pandya.[96] The Pandyan Dynasty reached its peak in the 13th century during the reign of Sadayavarman Sundara Pandyan I and Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I. The Pandyan Empire was threatened by the constant Islamic invasions of South India. During the 15th and 16th century the Vijayanagara Empire became the dominant power of South India. The Vijayanagara Empire reached its zenith during the reign of the south Indian Emperor Krishnadevaraya who defeated the Turkic invaders of the Bahmani Sultanate.[106] After the decline of the Vijayanagara Empire in 1646, South India was dominated by small states like the Nayak Dynasty.

The western Tamil lands became increasingly politically distinct from the rest of the Tamil lands after the Chola and Pandya empires lost control over them in the 13th century.[107] They developed their own distinct language and literature, which increasingly grew apart from Tamil, evolving into the modern Malayalam language by the 15th century.[108]

Language and people


Main article: Dravidian languages
Dravidian language tree
A phylogenetic representation of Nostratic as proposed by Bomhard (2008). Dravidian Languages are sometimes considered as part of the Nostratic hypothesis.

The most commonly spoken Dravidian languages are Telugu (తెలుగు), Tamil (தமிழ்), Kannada (ಕನ್ನಡ), Malayalam (മലയാളം), and Brahui (براہوئی) and Tulu. There are three subgroups within the Dravidian language family: North Dravidian, Central Dravidian, and South Dravidian, matching for the most part the corresponding regions in the Indian subcontinent.

Dravidian grammatical impact on the structure and syntax of Indo-Aryan languages is considered far greater than the Indo-Aryan grammatical impact on Dravidian. Some linguists explain this anomaly by arguing that Middle Indo-Aryan and New Indo-Aryan were built on a Dravidian substratum.[109] There are also hundreds of Dravidian loanwords in Indo-Aryan languages, and vice versa.

Dravidian ethnic groups

The largest Dravidian ethnic groups are the Tamil People from Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Sri Lanka, the Kannada people from Karnataka, the Telugu people from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the Malayalam people from Kerala, and the Tulu people from Karnataka.


Religious belief

Ancient Dravidian religion constituted of a non-Vedic form of Hinduism in that they were either historically or are at present Āgamic. The Agamas are non-Vedic in origin [110] and have been dated either as post-Vedic texts [111] or as pre-Vedic compositions.[112] The Agamas are a collection of Tamil and Sanskrit scriptures chiefly constituting the methods of temple construction and creation of murti, worship means of deities, philosophical doctrines, meditative practices, attainment of sixfold desires and four kinds of yoga.[113] The worship of tutelary deities, sacred flora and fauna in Hinduism is also recognized as a survival of the pre-Vedic Dravidian religion.[114] Dravidian linguistic influence on early Vedic religion is evident; many of these features are already present in the oldest known Indo-Aryan language, the language of the Rigveda (c. 1500 BCE), which also includes over a dozen words borrowed from Dravidian. The linguistic evidence for Dravidian impact grows increasingly strong as we move from the Samhitas down through the later Vedic works and into the classical post-Vedic literature.[58] This represents an early religious and cultural fusion[59][note 3] or synthesis[61] between ancient Dravidians and Indo-Aryans that went on to influence and shape Hinduism, Sramana, Jainism, Buddhism, Charvaka, and Ājīvika.[62][60][63][64]

Sage Agastya, father of Tamil literature

Ancient Tamil grammatical works Tolkappiyam, the ten anthologies Pattuppāṭṭu, and the eight anthologies Eṭṭuttokai shed light on early ancient Dravidian religion. Seyyon was glorified as the red god seated on the blue peacock, who is ever young and resplendent, as the favored god of the Tamils.[74] Sivan was also seen as the supreme God.[74] Early iconography of Seyyon[115] and Sivan[116][117][118] and their association with native flora and fauna goes back to the Indus Valley Civilization.[119][120] The Sangam landscape was classified into five categories, thinais, based on the mood, the season and the land. Tolkappiyam mentions that each of these thinai had an associated deity such as Seyyon in Kurinji-the hills, Thirumaal in Mullai-the forests, and Kotravai in Marutham-the plains, and Wanji-ko in the Neithal-the coasts and the seas. Other gods mentioned were Mayyon and Vaali who are all major deities in Hinduism today. This represents an early religious and cultural fusion[59][note 3] or synthesis[61] between ancient Dravidians and Indo-Aryans, which became more evident over time with sacred iconography, traditions, philosophy, flora and fauna that went on to influence and shape Indian civilization.[62][60][63][64]

Meenakshi Amman temple, dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi, tutelary deity of Madurai city

Throughout Tamilakam, a king was considered to be divine by nature and possessed religious significance.[121] The king was 'the representative of God on earth’ and lived in a "koyil", which means the "residence of a god". The Modern Tamil word for temple is koil (Tamil: கோயில்). Ritual worship was also given to kings.[122][123] Modern words for god like "kō" (Tamil: கோ "king"), "iṟai" (இறை "emperor") and "āṇḍavar" (ஆண்டவன் "conqueror") now primarily refer to gods. These elements were incorporated later into Hinduism like the legendary marriage of Shiva to Queen Mīnātchi who ruled Madurai or Wanji-ko, a god who later merged into Indra.[124] Tolkappiyar refers to the Three Crowned Kings as the "Three Glorified by Heaven", (Tamil: வாண்புகழ் மூவர், Vāṉpukaḻ Mūvar ?).[86] In the Dravidian-speaking South, the concept of divine kingship led to the assumption of major roles by state and temple.[125]

The cult of the mother goddess is treated as an indication of a society which venerated femininity. This mother goddess was conceived as a virgin, one who has given birth to all and one, and were typically associated with Shaktism.[126] The temples of the Sangam days, mainly of Madurai, seem to have had priestesses to the deity, which also appear predominantly a goddess.[127] In the Sangam literature, there is an elaborate description of the rites performed by the Kurava priestess in the shrine Palamutircholai.[128]

Among the early Dravidians the practice of erecting memorial stones "Natukal and Viragal’' had appeared, and it continued for quite a long time after the Sangam age, down to about the 16th century.[129] It was customary for people who sought victory in war to worship these hero stones to bless them with victory.[130]

Architecture and visual art

Nataraja, example of Chola Empire bronze has become notable as a symbol of Hinduism.

Throughout Tamilakam, a king was considered to be divine by nature and possessed religious significance.[121] The king was 'the representative of God on earth’ and lived in a "koyil", which means the "residence of a god". The Modern Tamil word for temple is koil (Tamil: கோயில்). Titual worship was also given to kings.[122][123] Modern words for god like "kō" (Tamil: கோ "king"), "iṟai" (இறை "emperor") and "āṇḍavar" (ஆண்டவன் "conqueror") now primarily refer to gods.[124] Tolkappiyar refers to the Three Crowned Kings as the "Three Glorified by Heaven", (Tamil: வாண்புகழ் மூவர், Vāṉpukaḻ Mūvar ?).[86] In the Dravidian-speaking South, the concept of divine kingship led to the assumption of major roles by state and temple.[125]

Mayamata and Manasara shilpa texts estimated to be in circulation by the 5th to 7th century AD, are guidebooks on the Dravidian style of Vastu Shastra design, construction, sculpture and joinery technique.[131][132] Isanasivagurudeva paddhati is another text from the 9th century describing the art of building in India in south and central India.[131][133] In north India, Brihat-samhita by Varāhamihira is the widely cited ancient Sanskrit manual from the 6th century describing the design and construction of Nagara style of Hindu temples.[134][135][136] Traditional Dravidian architecture and symbolism are also based on Agamas. The Agamas are non-Vedic in origin[110] and have been dated either as post-Vedic texts [111] or as pre-Vedic compositions.[112] The Agamas are a collection of Tamil and Sanskrit scriptures chiefly constituting the methods of temple construction and creation of murti, worship means of deities, philosophical doctrines, meditative practices, attainment of sixfold desires and four kinds of yoga.[113]

Chola style temples consist almost invariably of the three following parts, arranged in differing manners, but differing in themselves only according to the age in which they were executed:[137]

  1. The porches or Mantapas, which always cover and precede the door leading to the cell.
  2. Gate-pyramids, Gopuras, which are the principal features in the quadrangular enclosures that surround the more notable temples. Gopuras are very common in Dravidian temples.
  3. Pillared halls (Chaultris or Chawadis) are used for many purposes and are the invariable accompaniments of these temples.

Besides these, a south Indian temple usually has a tank called the Kalyani or Pushkarni – to be used for sacred purposes or the convenience of the priests – dwellings for all the grades of the priesthood are attached to it, and other buildings for state or convenience.[137]

Theatre, dance and music

Kathakali is the traditional theater form of Kerala.

Literary evidence of traditional form of theatre, dance and music dates back to the 3rd century BCE.[138] Ancient literary works, such as the Cilappatikaram, describe a system of music.[138] The theatrical culture flourished during the early Sangam age. Theatre-dance traditions have a long and varied history whose origins can be traced back almost two millennia to dance-theatre forms like Kotukotti and Pandarangam, which are mentioned in an ancient anthology of poems entitled the Kalingathu Parani.[139] Dance forms such as Bharatanatyam are based older temple dance forms known as Catir Kacceri as practised by courtesans and a class of women known as Devadasis.[140]

Notable dance and theatre forms are


Dravidian speakers in southern India wear varied traditional costumes depending on their region, largely influenced by local customs and traditions.

Martial arts

Kalaripayattu martial art form which originated during the Sangam period from Kerala

Warlike culture

Literary evidence of martial arts in southern India dates back to the Sangam literature of about the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. The Akananuru and Purananuru describe the use of spears, swords, shields, bows and silambam in the Sangam era. Various martial arts including Kuttu Varisai, Varma Kalai, Silambam, Adithada, Malyutham and Kalarippayattu, are practised in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.[142] The warm-up phase includes yoga, meditation and breathing exercises. Silambam originated in ancient Tamilakam and was patronized by the Pandyans, Cholas and Cheras, who ruled over this region. Silapathiharam, Tamil literature from the 3rd century BC to the 2nd century AD, refers to the sale of Silamabam instructions, weapons and equipment to foreign traders.[143] Since the early Sangam age, there was a warlike culture in South India. War was regarded as an honorable sacrifice and fallen heroes and kings were worshiped in the form of a Hero stone. Each warrior was trained in martial arts, horse riding and specialized in two of the weapons of that period: Vel (spear), Val (sword) and Vil (bow).[144] In addition to this, they were engaged to fight in ankam, public duels to the death, to solve disputes between his opposing rules.[145] Among some communities, young girls received preliminary training up until the onset of menses.[145] In vadakkan pattukal ballads, at least a few women warriors continued to practice and achieved a high degree of expertise.[145]

Katar, South Indian dagger which was popular throughout South Asia

Ancient Dravidian speakers had a practice of erecting memorial stones Natukal, and it continued for quite a long time after the Sangam age, down to about the 16th century.[129] It was customary for people who sought victory in war to worship these hero stones to bless them with victory.[130] They often carry inscriptions displaying a variety of adornments, including bas relief panels, frieze, and figures on carved stone.[146]

The Wootz steel, also known as Damascus steel originated in South India and Sri Lanka.[147][148] There are several ancient Tamil, Greek, Chinese and Roman literary references to high carbon Indian steel since the time of Alexander's India campaign. The crucible steel production process started in the sixth century BC, at production sites of Kodumanal in Tamil Nadu, Golconda in Telangana, Karnataka and Sri Lanka and exported globally; of the Chera Dynasty producing what was termed the finest steel in the world, i.e. Seric Iron to the Romans, Egyptians, Chinese and Arabs by 500 BC.[149][150][151] The steel was exported as cakes of steely iron that came to be known as "Wootz."[152]

The Tamilakam method was to heat black magnetite ore in the presence of carbon in a sealed clay crucible inside a charcoal furnace. An alternative was to smelt the ore first to give wrought iron, then heated and hammered to be rid of slag. The carbon source was bamboo and leaves from plants such as Avārai.[152][153] The Chinese and locals in Sri Lanka adopted the production methods of creating Wootz steel from the Chera by the 5th century BC.[154][155] In Sri Lanka, this early steel-making method employed a unique wind furnace, driven by the monsoon winds, capable of producing high-carbon steel and production sites from antiquity have emerged, in places such as Anuradhapura, Tissamaharama and Samanalawewa, as well as imported artifacts of ancient iron and steel from Kodumanal. A 200 B.C Tamil trade guild in Tissamaharama, in the South East of Sri Lanka, brought with them some of the oldest iron and steel artifacts and production processes to the island from the classical period.[156][157][158][159] The Arabs introduced the South Indian/ Sri Lankan wootz steel to Damascus, where an industry developed for making weapons of this steel. The 12th century Arab traveler Edrisi mentioned the "Hinduwani" or Indian steel as the best in the world.[147] Another sign of its reputation is seen in a Persian phrase  to give an "Indian answer", meaning "a cut with an Indian sword."[155] Wootz steel was widely exported and traded throughout ancient Europe and the Arab world, and became particularly famous in the Middle East.[155]

Traditional weapons

Traditional martial arts also includes various types of weapons.

List of Dravidian people based on state

Name Countries with significant populations Population Notes
Telugus  India 72.1 million[160] They belong to the central Dravidian subgroup. Telugus are native to Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Puducherry. There is also a minority group in Sri Lanka and Singapore.
Kannadigas  India 36.9 million[160] Kannadigas belong to the south-Dravidian subgroup. Kannadigas are native to Karnataka in India.
Tuluvas  India 2 million (approx.) They belong to the south Dravidian subgroup, and are found in coastal Karnataka in India.
Malayalis  India 32.2 million[160] Malayalis belong to the south-Dravidian linguistic subgroup, and are native to Kerala, but are also found in Puducherry and parts of Tamil Nadu
Tamils  India
 Sri Lanka
78 million[161] They belong to the south-Dravidian linguistic subgroup. Tamils are native to Tamil Nadu and Northern-eastern Sri Lanka but are also found in Puducherry, parts of Kerala, although they are also widespread throughout in many countries like South Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius, Réunion, Seychelles, the United States, Canada, and parts of European countries.
Brahuis  Pakistan
2.5 million Brahuis belong to the north-Dravidian subgroup. The majority are found in Balochistan, Pakistan, with smaller numbers in Southwestern Afghanistan.

See also


  1. Basu et al. (2016): "The absence of significant resemblance with any of the neighboring populations is indicative of the ASI and the AAA being early settlers in India, possibly arriving on the “southern exit” wave out of Africa. Differentiation between the ASI and the AAA possibly took place after their arrival in India."[24]
  2. Derenko: "The spread of these new technologies has been associated with the dispersal of Dravidian and Indo-European languages in southern Asia. It is hypothesized that the proto-Elamo-Dravidian language, most likely originated in the Elam province in southwestern Iran, spread eastwards with the movement of farmers to the Indus Valley and the Indian sub-continent."[34]

    Derenko refers to:
    * Renfrew (1987), Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins
    * Renfrew (1996), Language families and the spread of farming. In: Harris DR, editor, The origins and spread of Agriculture and Pastoralism in Eurasia, pp. 70–92
    * Cavalli-Sforza, Menozzi, Piazza (1994), The History and Geography of Human Genes.
  3. 1 2 3 Lockard: "The encounters that resulted from Aryan migration brought together several very different peoples and cultures, reconfiguring Indian society. Over many centuries a fusion of Aryan and Dravidian occurred, a complex process that historians have labeled the Indo-Aryan synthesis."[59] Lockard: "Hinduism can be seen historically as a synthesis of Aryan beliefs with Harappan and other Dravidian traditions that developed over many centuries."[60]



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