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Tamil Nadu - History

The history of the Tamils presents an exciting pageant of a powerful civilization whose origin dates back to ancient times. It is clear that the Tamils, who belong to the Dravidian race, were the first major occupants of the country and settled in the north-western part of India long before the coming of the Indo-Aryans. Excavations have revealed that the features of the people of the Indus Valley Civilization bore a strong resemblance to this race.

However, with the advent of the Aryans, the Dravidians were pushed back into the deep south where they ultimately settled.

As is the case with most of the early history of the state, it is impossible to pin-point the exact period, when the great Tamil Sangam (Academy) flourished, though it can be said with some certainty that two Sangams were held well before the Christian era and the third between 100 and 250 AD. The Tamil Sangam, which marks the Golden Age of Tamil literature is the one major source of knowledge about the administration, art, architecture and economic conditions that existed then. Among some of the greatest compositions of the four centuries of Sangam age are Tiruvalluvar's Thirukkural which consists of 1330 couplets about morality in private and public life combined with some of life's greatest truths, compositions of the saint-poetess Avviayar, Pathupatu or ten Idylls which is a compilation of the work of several authors on philosophy, intermingled with descriptions of the natural world and Ettuthogai or the eight anthologies. Of these, the last is historically the most important as it contains a description of the daily life of the people. This collection of poems is the earliest record of its kind as far as the history of the Tamils is concerned.

Even after the end of the Sangam age, Tamil writers, under the patronage of Royal Dynasties, continued to produce excellent literature like the two Tamil epics Silapathikaram written between 200 - 300 AD by Ilango Adigal, the son of a Chera King, and Manimekalai by Sattanar also written between the 2nd and 3rd century AD. Both contain vivid descriptions of life during their times. Over the ages, the south was to see other great poets like the Nayanmars and the Alwars and, later, the poet Kamban who composed the Tamil version of Ramayana.

The Pallavas ruled between the 6th and 8th century AD over a large portion of Tamil Nadu with Kanchipuram as their base. Their reign was marked by battles with the Chalukyas of the north and the Pandyas of the south. Among the greatest Pallava rulers were Mahendravarman-l and his son Narasimhavarman.Among the famous temples built by the Pallavas are the temples of Kanchipuram, the Kapaliswarar and Parthasarathy temples at Chennai, and last but not the least, the magnificent poetry in rock and stone at Mamallapuram. Kanchi has been described extensively by the Chinese traveller Huan Tsu Ang who visited the city in the middle of the 6th century AD, and according to him it was a major centre of learning. Among its more famous citizens was Dharmapala, the Vice-Chancellor of the Nalanda University. Quite probably the most ancient of the dynasties of the south, the Cholas had their headquarters first at Uraiyur and later at Thanjavur and ruled over most of modern Tamil Nadu (as well as Karnataka.)

The early Cholas reigned between the 1st and 4th century AD and the first and most famous king of this period was Karikalan. What remains of his reign today is the magnificent civil engineering achievement of the Grand Anicut which was constructed during the 2nd century and is used even to this day. The later Cholas, who went on to become a force to reckon with by defeating both the Pallavas and Pandyas, made their appearance in the 9th century under the leadership of Vijayalaya Chola and continued to dominate the South until the 13th century.The greatest of the later Cholas was Rajaraja Chola (985-1014 AD) under whose reign several islands in the Indian Ocean including (Lakshadweep, Maldives) and Sri Lanka were conquered. It was during the reign of Rajaraja that Chola architecture attained its peak with the building of the Brahadeeshwarar (Big) Temple at Thanjavur .

Rajendra Chola-I, the son and successor of Rajaraja, consolidated and expanded the empire that was left to him by his father. The Chola empire stretched as far as central India, Orissa and parts of West Bengal. In commemoration of his victory over the latter, Rajendra-I constructed a new capital which he named Gangaikondancholapuram. Here, he built another temple to Brahadeeshwarar which is similar to the one built by his father at Thanjavur.

Meanwhile, the Pandyas remained subservient to the Cholas and their opportunity to strike back came over two centuries after the death of Rajendra-I, when they overthrew a weakened Chola empire in 1267. The Cholas were great administrators and builders, not just of temples but of other public structures too. In the field of art, metal casting and making of bronze figures developed to a speciality, an outstanding example of which is the beautiful sculpture of the Cosmic Dancer at Chidambaram. Even today, Thanjavur is known for its bronze and other metal carvings - a remnant of the legacy that was left behind by the greatest dynasty that ruled the South.

To the people of Madurai, the Pandyan name is synonymous with the city itself. Legend has it that Madurai was founded by the first Pandyan King Kulasekara in the 6th century BC.The city is believed to be built at the spot where a few drops of nectar from Lord Siva's locks fell when he came to bless the people.Pandyas are also associated with Madurai's older, and perhaps more absorbing and enthralling legend of the goddess Meenakshi, who was born to the Pandya King Malayatwasan and his Queen Kachanamala.

Madurai has been praised by the Greek traveller Magasthenes in the 3rd century. The Pandyas had trading contacts with Greece and Rome and were powerful in their own right though they were subjugated during various periods by the Pallavas and Cholas. With the decline of the Cholas, the Pandyas rose to prominence once again in the early 14th century before their challenge was snuffed out once and for all and the city of Madurai completely destroyed and ransacked by the Khilji invaders from the North in 1316.

Of the four dynasties mentioned, the Cheras are comparatively less important as far as this State is concerned.

The Cheras ruled over the south-west coast and their empire included the modern state of Kerala and parts of Western Tamil Nadu.The downfall of the Pandyas brought into Tamil Nadu a new powerful force in the form of the Vijayanagara empire which had its headquarters at Hampi in Karnataka. They overthrew the Muslims who had invaded Madurai and established supremacy, though it was their governors or Nayaks who actually brought back the lost glory to this city. The contributions of the Nayak dynasty to art and architecture of Madurai, Thanjavur and Tiruchi made Tamil Nadu a favourite destination with many tourists and pilgrims. Among the best examples are the Meenakshi temple at Madurai which was in a state of ruin before it was rebuilt by Thirumalai Nayakar. The Nayak's rule continued long after the collapse of the Vijayanagara empire and following them some parts of Tamil Nadu saw a period, of Maratha rule, Muslim rule under the Nawabs of Arcot and later, the advent of the Europeans and the struggle for supremacy resulted in the ultimate victory of the Europeans and symbols of their authority stands still at Fort St. George in Chennai.

The Palace(Thanjavur)

The Palace, adjacent to the temple is a vast structure of fine masonry, built partly by the Nayaks around 1550 AD, and partly by the Marathas.

Ramanathapuram (Around Rameshwaram)

The district headquarters and an ancient town, Ramanathapuram, is worth visiting for its Ram Vilas Palace. This palace of the Sethupati Rajas, houses oil portraits of the Rajas, of the past centuries. Ceilings and walls are decorated with early eigteenth century murals, depicting subjects such as business meetings with the English, and battles with the Maratha Sarabhoji, as well as scenes from epics.

Tiger Cave (Mamallapuram)

It is a shady and peaceful group of rathas , 5 km north of Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram).Tiger Cave ia unspoilt by the touts, souvenir junk stalls and bus loads of rubbernecks. To get there,take any bus from Chennai or rent a bike.

The Gate (Chidambaram)

The 200-year-old Gate is of historical and architectural interest. The residents of Tarangambadi have to pass through it on their way in and out of the town.

Thirumalai Nayak Mahal (Madurai)

This palace is an excellent example of Indo-Sarcenic architecture. It was built in 1523 A.D and originally was four times larger than what it is today. The gardens, the defensive wall all have gone what remains is the main entrance gate, the dancing hall and the main hall. The palace was renovated in 1866-72 by Lord Napier and later further restoration works were carried on. Today the main attraction of the palace is light and sound show which is based on the life of Tirumalai Nayak and Silapathikaram.

Tamil Nadu represents the quintessence of Dravidian culture, and the chronicle of Dravidian maturation, except during the last 300 years, when the British added a "Continental tinge" to Tamil culture.

Tamil Nadu is the state most famed for its temple architecture, thanks to the Chola supremacy, amounting to 1500 years (4th century BC to 6th century AD, and 9th century to 13th century AD)—the longest reign by any Dynasty in Indian history.

The Cholas were great temple builders, as can be discerned by the architectural style of the Brahadeeshwar Temple at Thanjavur that pioneered a startling perspective to temple conception. They introduced Bharat Natyam as a temple dance, and several martial dances such as Simha Attam, Silambam, Marpor and Jalli Kattu. Wrestling matches and martial games were also common during the reign of Narasimhavarman, a Pallava king, during religious festivals, in front of temples. A lot of emphasis was given on physical fitness, and winners of these games received privileges from the king.

Over the centuries, the Dravidian Dynasties nurtured temple music and art at Thanjavur, Tiruchirapalli and Madurai. Nataraja—the dancing Shiva—was conceived by Vira Chola Raja at Chidambaram (940 AD).

Saint Thyagraja lived in the 17th century, and he initiated Carnatic Music, a new genre in music. He enriched the musical reservoir of Sama Veda with his own vision and aesthetics, thereby inaugurating a singularity of rhythm, note and scale that thrives even today. Silk weaving became a privileged livelihood as silk was considered to be a sacred offering to the royalty and to God. Kancheepuram flourished as a centre of silk. The Cholas also conceived temple paintings having an extraordinary finesse.

Art Gallery (Chennai) This art gallery is famous for its bronze.You can also find a few example of the Tanjore school of painting.

Museum (Chennai) The museum called the Temple Art Gallery, is located within the temple and contains beautiful stone and brass images, examples of South Indian scripts, friezes and attempts to explain the Hindu pantheon and many other legends associated with it.

Kalakhsetra Kalakhsetra or "The Abode of Arts", is an ornament to the city of Chennai. It was established by Smt. Rukmini Arundale who dedicated her entire life to the performing arts. Situated in the ancient.

The National Art Gallery Located in Egmore, the National Art Gallery is housed in a building built in 1906 in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. The building itself is a work of art and was originally intended to be the Victoria Memorial and Technical Institute but was made the National Art Gallery in 1951. On display in this gallery are 10th and 13th century bronzes, 16th and 18th century Rajasthani and Mughal paintings, 17th century Deccani paintings and 11th and 12th century Indian handicrafts. (Timings : 8am to 5pm. Closed on Fridays and national holidays)

The Government Museum Established in 1857, the Madras museum is undoubtedly one of the country's best museums. It has sections devoted to geology, archeology, anthropology, numismatics, botany, zoology and sculpture besides which there is a good collection of arms and armour as well as several other specimens of anthropological interest. The museum's prize possessions however, are the relics from the 2nd century AD Buddhist site at Amaravati. Prehistoric exhibits from the Stone and Iron Ages, exquisite carvings and a fairly large collection of South Indian musical instruments and jewellery also add to the invaluable collection in the museum. The bronze gallery with it's ancient icons and modern bronzes is perhaps the best found anywhere in the world. (Timings : 8am to 5pm)

Cholamandal Artists Village Located on the Mahabalipuram Road, 18 km from the city, this artists commune was started in 1966 and is perhaps, the first of it's kind. The artists and sculptors who live and work in this seaside colony in idyllic surroundings, exhibit and sell their work, which consists of contemporary art, sculpture, batik, terracotta and graphics. These are often exhibited and also sold. Cholamandal also has an open-air theatre in which dance performances and poetry reading competitions are held.

Kapaleeswarar A masterpiece of Dravidian architecture, this ancient Shiva temple is the biggest in Chennai. There are some fragmentary inscriptions dating back to 1250 AD. The magnificent 37 metre gopuram depicts intricate carvings of old legends.

Art Gallery(Thanjavur) A superb collection of bronze statues from the 9th to 12th centuries.

Art Gallery(Ooty) Lalith kala Academy It is situated about 2 kms., from Udhagamandalam in the main Mysore road. It has various collections of contemporary paintings and sculptures all over from India.

Saraswathi Mahal Library (Thanjavur) This library has one of the most important oriental manuscripts collections, in India. Established around 1700 AD, the library contains a collection of over 44,000 palm leaf, and paper manuscripts in Indian and European languages. Over eighty per cent of its manuscripts are in Sanskrit, many on palm leaves, some very rare or even unique. The Tamil works includes treatises on medicine, and commentaries on works from the Sangam period.

Annamalai University (Chidambaram) It is a residential University founded by the Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar. It is a great centre of Tamil learning and carnatic music; now offers educational facilities in various disciplines including Medicine,Agriculture, Engineering, etc.

Flora & Fauna Museum (Kodaikanal) Also worth a visit is the Flora & Fauna Museum at the Sacred Heart College at nearby Shembaganur. It's a six-km hike and all uphill on the way back. The museum is open from 10 to 11.30 am and 3.30 to 5 pm, and is closed on Sundays. There are numerous waterfalls in the area - you'll pass the main one, Silver Cascade, on the road up to Kodai.


 
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