Born in 1966, Dr. Selvakumar is a faculty member in the Department of Epigraphy and Archaeology, Tamil University, Thanjavur. He completed doctoral research and post-Doctoral research from Deccan College, Pune. He was a faculty member at Centre for Heritage Studies, Tripunithura, Kerala, from 2003 to 2007 and a NTICVAM (Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum) Visiting Researcher at the Centre for Maritime Archaeology, Southampton University. His research interests include archaeology of India, prehistory, heritage management, maritime history and archaeology, archaeological theory, heritage management, history of science and technology, Indian Ocean Cultural interactions, and ecocriticism.
Abstracts of the lectures
1. Introduction to South India: geography, languages and a historical overview
India is called a melting pot of cultures. Numerous groups that experimented with the nature and created their culture in their ecological niches have contributed to the emergence of Indian culture. Because of the complex processes of culture, there exist certain variations in the regional cultures, while at the same time they share many common traits. Southern India covers the modern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala. Tamil Nadu and Telangana. The Dravidian languages of Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil are spoken in this region. The reason for the development of distinct languages in this region lies in its history. South India is one of the regions of India that witnessed very early human settlements. This region perhaps witnessed human occupation from about 2 MYR (million years) ago. Evidence of Neolithic ashmounds and habitations, which are the earliest agro-pastoral cultures of South India, is found in Andhra-Karnataka-Tamil Nadu region. The Iron Age saw the construction of numerous burial monuments called megaliths, which are found all across South India. The early polities and urban centres emerged in this region in the last part of the first millennium BCE. The region was well connected with the Indian Ocean exchange networks. Very early on, the region, because of its coastal landscapes, developed maritime interactions and processes of urbanization and development in the coastal areas. The medieval period saw the development of political powers and state formation, administrative system, social change and the construction of temples. Water harvesting, irrigation and agricultural developments of this time are reflected in inscriptions. During the colonial times South India developed numerous ports and coastal urban centres. This lecture introduces South India and presents a historical overview.
2. Early Society in South India: Evidence from Literature
The Tamil texts called Sangam literature present a vivid description of early Tamil society and serve as an important source of information for the Early Historic period. The major works of the Sangam corpus are Ettutogai (Eight Anthologies) and Pattupattu (Ten Idylls), collectively known as Patinenmelkanakku (18 major works). The first three centuries of the Common Era are the widely accepted period for the composition of the Sangam literature, though there are debates about the exact chronology. The Pathinenkizhkanakku (18 minor works), and the epics of Cilapatikaram and Manimekalai are the post-Sangam works, assigned from the third to fifth centuries CE. Tolkappiyam is an ancient Tamil grammatical work and its chronology has also been an issue of debate. But for the Sangam texts, the lives and thoughts of the vibrant communities of this period would have been lost; and the archaeologists and historians would only be discussing constructs such as ‘agro-pastoralists’ and ‘hunter-gatherers,’ and their material cultures. This lecture presents the early society of South India as reflected in the Tamil texts.
3. Early Society in South India: Scripts and Evidence from Inscriptions
The development of a script is an important occurrence in the history of South India. The period from ca. 300 BCE is classified as Early Historic, because of the presence of script; but recent research suggests that this period might have begun around 500 BCE. Ashokan inscriptions in Brahmi, the Bhattiprolu inscription and Tamil Brahmi inscriptions from South India represent the Early Historic phase that saw the use of script. Inscriptions found on pottery, coins, rock shelters and relic caskets help us to understand the early history and maritime connections of South India. The inscriptions are often associated with the activities of polities, merchants and Buddhist or Jain monks. They give glimpses of the names of the individuals and the nature of the society. In a sense the script introduced new textual traditions and conventions that are well represented in Medieval inscriptions. This lecture focuses on the early epigraphical records of South India.
4. Early Society in South India : Evidence from Archaeology
Archaeological sites, ranging from small settlements to urban centres, and their artifacts supplement textual sources in understanding the history of South India. The surface explorations and excavations of key sites have documented the emergence of towns and the material cultural developments in this area. The burials and monuments broadly categorized as ‘megaliths,’ their associated habitation sites, and the non-megalithic settlements of early historic ports form the archaeological source of South India in the early centuries of the Common Era. Excavations have revealed the characteristics of the material culture, tracing the cultural cognition and the development of regional cultures, and the process of cultural interactions across the Indian Ocean. What was earlier known as Indo-Roman trade and now labelled as ‘Indian Ocean Exchange’ supported developments in the early historic period. Evidence for variation in settlements is found in the early historic period. A few large towns and ports emerged in the coastal and hinterland areas of South India, yielding evidence of Roman amphora, coins, West Asian ceramics and glass beads. This lecture presents the material cultural developments in the Iron Age and the Early Historic period (ca. 1400 BCE to 500 CE).
Material for study
- Genesis and Development of Urban Processes in the Ancient/Early Historic Tamil Country, by V. Selvakumar & S. Darsana
Material for reference (optional reading)