There is this meme going around - one you may have come across on Twitter - where a bunch of historical maps of India are displayed side by side with the 2019 map, indicating that southern India has always been outside of “pan-India” culture and politics.
This idea was brought up once again after the 2019 election results, where south India was seen to resist the Modi wave and take its own political course.
This singling out of a region - in particular, south India - in Indian history is not only a dangerous idea, it’s above all, patently false.
Historically, if you look into the writings of Sangam poets, i.e., ancient Tamil literature, you’ll notice that for them, the Indian cultural matrix extended from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari. There wasn’t any distinction drawn up between the north and south.
This was the case even with rulers in the north.
For instance, Samudra Gupta, who was an emperor in the fourth century, included Kanchi in his triumphal policy of Digvijaya, referring to the conquest of all territories.
Not only that. All great Tamil kings from Cheran Chenguttuvan to Rajendra Chola considered installing their royal insignia in the Himalayas and bringing sacred water from the Ganga for the consecration of temples in Tamil land - more as a sign of unification than mere military triumphalism.
The Tamil land has been ruled by Kalapiras, Rashtrakutas, Hoysalas, and others. Similarly, the regions north of Tamil land have been ruled by Pallavas and Cholas.
And yet, these dynasties that ruled over varied linguistic territories still had one culture, and they never saw themselves as a separate entity.
Even the rulers of the Vijayanagara Empire gave themselves pan-Hindu titles rather than regional labels.
During the Maratha resistance to the Mughal Empire, most Tamil chieftains sided with the Marathas. The cultural and spiritual bonds were reinforced by a large number of Maharashtrian Brahmins employed in Rameswaram.
Even during the freedom struggle, Tamil Nadu made a substantive contribution. Bharathi, V O Chidambaram, Subramania Siva, and others, were staunch nationalists who fought for India’s freedom as one.
In fact, the pan-Indian war cry and now the national salute 'Jai Hind' was coined and first used by Dr Shenbagaraman - a freedom fighter from southern India. He is remembered by people as 'Jai Hind' Shenbagaraman.
As you can see, there was not a single instance in the history of the Tamil land where it divorced itself from the pan-Indian cultural and historical matrix.
India is, after all, a collective manifestation of all the languages and provinces - each contributing organically to her presence and continued evolution.
So, to talk in terms of an isolated Tamil or southern identity is not only historically false, but is also in a way a negation of Tamil self-identity.
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