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Friday, 7 October 2011

South India - Introduction

Dateline: Circa 900AD-Circa 1600AD
After the decline of the Gupta empire the country had disintegrated into a number of smaller kingdoms. Soon certain kingdoms would emerge more dominant and control a greater area. In the north the new invaders set up the Delhi Sultanate. Southern India however remained unaffected by such developments and instead had its own set of warring kingdoms. South India would remain essentially unchanged during the period of Islamic rule in the country, since it was not exposed to the new culture in the way the North was. Hence it remains till today, an example of the pre-Sultanate ideas in India. In this section we shall look at South India economy, society, art etc. with special reference to two Southern kingdoms, Chola and Vijayanagar.
Dateline: Circa 900AD-Circa 1600AD
After the decline of the Gupta empire the country had disintegrated into a number of smaller kingdoms. Soon certain kingdoms would emerge more dominant and control a greater area. In the north the new

South India - Art and Architecture

South India developed its own distinct architectural style which was essentially Indian for they had not been exposed to foreign techniques as North India had. The earlier system of carving temples out of rock had now ended and the trend was to build free standing structures. A Chola temple had a shrine which was approached by one or more halls. Outside there was a tall pyramidal structure known as the shikara , which was richly decorated. The temples was then surrounded by an enclosed courtyard. The entrance gates of these courtyards were also fine works of art in themselves, modelled after the shikara's ,they often were more elaborate then the shikhara . The temples of this period had a new floor plan, a star shaped one as opposed to their earlier rectangle. The star shaped floor plan gave more room for such artistic works then the earlier rectangular one, and this was perhaps the reason it was adopted. A temple consisted of the shrine room, ante chamber and various halls and aisles,

South India - Society

The centre of all social activity during the Chola period was the temple. A temple was either constructed by the king or else it was built by the village through revenue collection and donations from the trade guilds. The temple was where the assemblies were held and where schooling was done. A new concept of Devadasis (female servants of Gods) came about with women becoming actively involved in the running and management of the temple. They joined the temple at a very young age, and the more talented were selected for training in the dance form of Bharatanatyam, which involved very difficult training.
The caste system had by now become a marked feature of the society. The Brahmins (priests) had by now established themselves as the most privileged section of society. They had tremendous political influence and were exempt from tax. The remaining caste strictures were all essentially the same as before, although the concept of untouchable castes had further spread, they were not even allowed to enter the temples. The Brahmins in fact were strong supporters of the caste system, because they knew that their position depended on the disunity of the rests of the castes. Castes were also related to economic activity, and one could acquire privileges normally given to another caste by performing similar work.

South India - Vijayanagar Economy

The economy of the Viajaynagar empire was essentially unchanged from that of the Chola period. Blacksmiths and carpenters were now in great demand and hence occupied a higher social scale. Meanwhile the guilds continued to have a considerable influence on the economy. The guilds themselves were hierarchical with artists guilds working under merchant guilds, who were now powerful distributors who could influence the functioning of the artists guilds considerably. The economic power of the merchant guilds was considerable and they began commanding political influence as well. Any taxation policy would first have to be cleared with the guild leaders, who were also to some extent representatives of public opinion. The system of credit was controlled by temples who lent money to those who required it and often invested in various development project. Those who could not pay back their dues would have their land taken over by the temple. The temple was often the single largest land owner and consumer of a village, the hub of village economic activity, providing various employment opportunities. Their economic influence forged a closer link between them and the monarchy.

South India - Vijayanagar Government

The kingdom of Viajaynagar was ruled by a monarchy, which in theory was supposed to be hereditary. However the environment during the Viajaynagar empire was very turbulent, there was significant opposition to their rule in South India as well as from the Delhi Sultanate in North India. Hence only a strong king could survive who also possessed military and diplomatic skills. Weaker kings were almost always overthrown, as is evident from the fact that the Viajaynagar empire had three different ruling dynasties.
The king ruled as an autocrat and although he was advised by a council of ministers he was not bound to consult them or to accept their recommendations. He had complete authority and even the highest minister remained in power only as long as he commanded the kings favour. There was however an administrative machinery in order to govern the large empire. A central government with a number of departments was put in place and had a well organized secretariat with its own officer. The treasury was divided into two, one through which all the states income and expenditure was routed and the other which was a reserve, to which the kings continuously added and could fall back on in times of need. The major expenditure was in

South India - Rise of Vijayanagar

After the decline of the Chola power, South India once again disintegrated into a number of smaller kingdoms. Among these, Viajaynagar emerged as the dominant power in South India. The Viajaynagar empire which would last for about 300 years would become a centre for Hindu culture and would result in its survival today in South India, for in North India a more composite culture would develop as a result of the blending elements of Hindu and Islamic ideas. The kingdom was founded by HariHara who built the magnificent city of Vijaynagara (City of Victory) in 1343, after which the kingdom was named.
The Viajaynagar era has often been described as a period of revival of Hinduism in Southern India, but this is not entirely correct. Viajaynagar was not a kingdom which attempted to spread Hinduism or check the spread of Islam. It did not form alliances with other Hindu kingdoms to defeat the new Islamic rulers of the North India. Viajaynagar kings were great patrons of religious institutions and the arts and as a result during their reign Hindu traditions continued undisturbed. They were able to instill in South Indians a tremendous sense of religion and values, which was instrumental in the survival of Hindu culture in South India even today, despite enduring 200 year of European rule.

South India - Chola Economy

The Chola kingdom had a strong and well developed economy. Villages were completely self sufficient and were able to satisfy most of the needs of the villagers. They grew their own food, manufactured their own clothes and had their set of craftsmen and other professionals to full cater to the majority of their requirements. Hence there was no major surplus for everything was used within the village itself. This however began to change with the growth of towns and foreign trade. The demand for commodities went up and villages then began producing surplus goods for sale, with the monetary system entering the rural economy.
Guilds continued to be an important part of industry and were centered mainly In the towns. Besides manufacturing there was now the new concept of merchant guilds, who specialized in the procurement and distribution of goods. With the flourishing foreign trade of that time there was tremendous internal as well as external demand for goods and hence they formed a vital part of the economy. They were actively supported by the state, which would assist them if they faced difficulty in negotiations with a foreign country. The state however did not interfere directly with the functioning of the guilds. The guilds were