Southern India in the present day is a land the place language is imbued with profound that means. From as early because the Thirties, the query of what language can be taught in colleges, which language can be utilized by ruling courses, and extra importantly, what id a language signifies has been one of many nice driving forces of contemporary South Indian politics. From a North Indian perspective, the obvious instance of that is the stiff resistance to claims that Hindi alone is a “nationwide” language. From inside South India, nonetheless, the image is rather more complicated. For hundreds of years, the languages of the South have had a turbulent relationship with one another and with these of the North, rooted in problems with caste, class, aesthetics, migration and political change.
Between Sanskrit and Vernacular
The nice polities of medieval Southern India — a time period referring broadly to the lands south of the Narmada river between c. 600–1500 CE — have been among the many most constantly progressive of their time. Over almost a millennium of its historical past, we’ll see some recurring themes: An excellent openness to new concepts, a eager eye in direction of aesthetics and political utility, and to our fashionable eyes, an nearly bewildering refusal to stick to binaries in using language.
Within the 4th century CE, with the emergence of the Gupta empire in Northern India, Southern Indian elites had begun to undertake new modes of organising and presenting themselves. Essential to this was Sanskrit. As soon as a language used primarily for spiritual ritual, by the 4th century Sanskrit was additionally the language of a powerful physique of metaphysical, aesthetic, dramatic, poetic, and worldly thought. The Gupta emperors made the use and mastery of Sanskrit integral to their self-presentation as culturally-accomplished males of struggle, ruling as kings of kings. Linked to this was the patronage of Puranic, temple-based Hinduism and the help of Brahmins, each as members of the ruling class and as ritual consultants.
Inside a long time of this new politico-cultural complicated gathering momentum within the Gangetic plains, we start to see it in Southern India. New dynasties within the area comparable to modern-day Karnataka used the Sanskrit language to raise themselves from extra commonplace chiefs, in addition to to attach themselves to pan-Indian elites. Fairly than Previous Kannada — dialects of which most of their topics spoke — dynasties such because the Chalukyas and Kadambas deployed Sanskrit in grants to temples and Brahmin establishments. Empire-builders akin to Chalukya Pulakeshin II offered themselves as Sanskritic upper-caste kings descended from Puranic heroes, supporting ideas that had first taken root within the North, such because the patronage of Brahmins. By the Eighth century, in keeping with Sanskritist Sheldon Pollock, almost 80% of Chalukya land grants have been in Sanskrit. The extent of the Deccan adoption of Sanskritic tradition was such that we will solely kind the blurriest outlines of what Previous Kannada have been like earlier than the emergence of those polities.
Within the Tamil-speaking areas of the deep south, the Pallava dynasty of Kanchipuram was additionally notable for its patronage and use of Sanskrit. Nevertheless, they have been constructing a state in a really completely different language surroundings from that of the Deccan. The Tamil language already had an unlimited, prestigious corpus of literature, referred to as the Sangam literature, patronised by native chiefs and kings from as early because the 2nd century BCE. On the one hand, the utility of Sanskritic cultural concepts was irrefutable, and the Pallavas actively inspired the settlement of Brahmins in villages by means of their territory whereas additionally establishing an necessary centre for Sanskrit literary manufacturing within the deep South. Pallava court docket poets akin to Dandin have been ranked by medieval writers in the identical league as North Indian greats akin to Kalidasa. However, Pallava scholar Emmanuel Francis has proven that additionally they adopted Tamil verse kinds and royal titles of their inscriptions.
Curiously, whereas fashionable South Indian politics sees a pointy distinction between “native” Tamil and “overseas” Sanskrit, it appears that evidently the excellence was not as clear in medieval Tamil Nadu — particularly once we take into consideration the evolution of faith alongside politics and language. Prof Indira Vishwanathan examines the colourful Tamil verses of the Shaivite bhakti saints Appar and Sambandar, composed across the Seventh-Eighth centuries when the Pallava experiments with Sanskrit have been taking maintain. Competing with Jains for royal patronage, these saints travelled by means of Brahmin and Vellala (an upper-caste landowning group) villages, singing praises to the god Shiva in varied temples.
To Sambandar, himself a Brahmin whose ancestors had been settled within the area by royals, the one approach to be really Tamil was private devotion to Shiva, expressed in Tamil verse — but additionally, paradoxically, to know the Sanskrit Shaivite texts, the Agamas. These, he held, held the true essence of the Sanskrit Vedas, which (to him) had by this level change into intertwined with elite Tamil tradition. Within the Tevaram, Ebook 6, verse 301.1, he sings:
“See the god [Shiva]! See him who’s greater than the gods! See him who’s Sanskrit of the North and southern Tamil and the 4 Vedas!”
Creating regional worlds
Satirically, it might be within the Deccan — the place Sanskrit court docket tradition had been adopted with such enthusiasm — that India’s first decisive flip away from cosmopolitan Sanskrit would happen.
Within the mid-Ninth century CE, the Deccan emperor Rashtrakuta Amoghavarsha I commissioned a piece referred to as the Kavirajamargam. This was the primary textual content in human historical past to develop a idea of the connection between a vernacular language and a cosmopolitan one akin to Sanskrit, the area of elites. With it, Amoghavarsha aimed to create a register of Kannada with aesthetic and poetic qualities akin to the literature of the Sanskrit world. (In an indication of how pan-regional this world was, the Kavirajamargam was primarily based on a Sanskrit poetic handbook by the Pallava court docket poet Dandin from roughly a century earlier).
Amoghavarsha’s textual content set out guidelines for the composition and mixing of Sanskrit, Prakrit and Kannada sounds and grammatical guidelines, standardising the numerous dialects of Previous Kannada into an elite register. Literature, at the very least in keeping with Amoghavarsha and different Deccan elites, might solely be produced in a vernacular language after rigorous philological evaluation and the applying of courtly aesthetic beliefs. Folks ballads and epics should definitely have existed, however they have been (fairly condescendingly) not thought of literature. However, the impact of Amoghavarsha’s Kavirajamargam was quick and dramatic: writes Pollock, “the proportion of data in Sanskrit shrank from about 80 p.c within the interval 741–819… to fifteen p.c within the interval 819–974, and to a negligible 5 per cent by 996.”
It appears that evidently courtly vernaculars akin to this appealed to native elites, and helped carry them into imperial political constructions in a manner that Sanskrit merely couldn’t. The Kavirajamargam is among the many first indicators that the South Indian worldview now not required validation from Northern concepts; elites have been as a substitute looking for to create their very own regional literary and cultural worlds. This may be seen in new native Mahabharatas akin to Pampa’s tenth century Kannada Vikramarjunavijayam, the place hitherto pan-Indian heroes such because the Pandavas carry out rituals within the Krishna and Godavari rivers and go into exile in Deccan forests. By the eleventh century, Telugu additionally noticed its first Mahabharata; whereas this was not primarily based on a proper handbook just like the Kavirajamargam, it additionally had appreciable Sanskrit affect, particularly in poetic metres and vocabulary.
An identical development away from Sanskrit could be noticed within the Tamil areas with the meteoric rise of the Chola empire within the eleventh century. Like their Deccan contemporaries, the Cholas additionally moved in direction of producing literature in their very own language. In a neat reversal of the Pallava’s use of Tamil-inspired Sanskrit, the Cholas used Sanskrit-inspired Tamil of their royal panegyrics or meykkirtis. Chola army growth additionally led to Tamil changing into a very trans-regional language, with Tamil enclaves in Sri Lanka and even China talking it. Certainly, in keeping with Tamil scholar David Shulman, Sri Lankan Tamil continues to protect distinctive medieval linguistic options.
There was nothing akin to this outpouring of vernacular literature in North Indian courts, which continued to supply Sanskrit literature. Certainly, medieval South Indians’ curiosity in producing elite literature in their very own language, primarily based on superior linguistic and aesthetic concepts, was unparalleled within the subcontinent’s historical past. North Indians would solely comply with swimsuit centuries later. South Indian elites even point out North Indian vernaculars greater than their North Indian contemporaries: Someshvara III, Chalukya emperor of the Deccan, mentions types of Awadhi, Bangla, Oriya, Gujarati, Magadhi, and Marathi in his encyclopedic Manasollasa of the late twelfth century. Fairly tellingly, he considers them appropriate just for tune fairly than elite literature, since none of them had obtained the rigorous philological examine that South Indian vernaculars had by this level.
Universes of the vernacular
By the thirteenth century, two transregional superstates that had dominated Southern India — the Chalukya empire of the Deccan and the Chola empire of the Coromandel coast —have been in terminal decline. Kalyana, the Chalukya capital, had been situated on the crossroads of the Deccan on the intersection of the Telugu, Kannada, and Marathi-speaking zones. The empire’s political construction relied on the patronage of spiritual establishments by landowning elite castes; resulting from its transregional ambitions, it had additionally continued to patronise Sanskrit (as famous earlier, there isn’t a neat binary in South Indian linguistic historical past). Within the late thirteenth century, an unprecedented Shaivite motion by decrease castes and craftsmen shook the Chalukyaempire to its foundations. A significant component within the success of those “Heroic Shaivas” or Virashaivas was their willingness to make use of commonly-spoken dialects of Previous Kannada, set to folks metres, fairly than elite courtly languages. Certainly, Kannada scholar HS Shivaprakash argues that the necessity to attraction to massive numbers of individuals made the poems of the Virashaivasone of crucial impulses in Kannada literary historical past.
The destruction of Kalyana — which some historians hyperlink to the Virashaivas — led to smaller regional empires rising in every linguistic zone previously dominated by the Chalukyas. A spectrum of patronage from newly-emerging Marathi within the north to well-established courtly Kannada within the south, corresponding roughly to the place they have been spoken, could possibly be noticed. To the east, the areas comparable to modern-day Telangana, which had hitherto seen using each Telugu and Kannada, started to emphasize Telugu as a manner of setting themselves aside from their former Chalukya overlords. The Kakatiya dynasty of Warangal expanded to the Andhra coast, the place we now have already seen Telugu literature being produced; henceforth Telangana would more and more be recognized as Telugu-speaking, as Telugu peasant-warriors and poets from the coast moved into the Deccan. As a Shudra dynasty, the Kakatiyas shunned the high-caste constructions that the Chalukyas had used, as a substitute creating a system that used native army males referred to as nayakas (“leaders”).
This complicated linguistic tapestry was disrupted by the armies of Delhi within the 14th century. As disastrous as this was for older kingdoms, it led to 2 fascinating linguistic developments. The primary was the fusion of Hindavi, the language of Delhi, with regional Marathi, Telugu and Kannada to create Dakhni — Urdu’s older South Indian sibling, that will go on to glitter in Deccan Sultanate courts until the seventeenth century. The second was the meteoric rise of Telugu. The brand new Vijayanagara polity, which grew to dominate South India, relied extensively on Telugu nayakas from erstwhile Kakatiya territories to keep up its management — a lot of them of mercantile or “decrease” caste backgrounds. Nayakas would set up polities in Tamil Nadu within the fifteenth century, whereas the Vijayanagara imperial centre invested enormously in extremely ornate, musical Telugu compositions. After the decline of Vijayanagara within the 16thcentury, its nayakas would make Telugu crucial cosmopolitan language of the South, a dynamic that will final till nicely into the nineteenth century. After all, the image continued to be fairly complicated on the native stage — in Tirupati and Srisailam, nice centres for Telugu devotional poetry, texts have been additionally composed in Tamil and even Marathi.
From participating with the North to creating their very own regional worlds, the languages of South India have a historical past as wealthy and sophisticated as any within the subcontinent — policymakers ignore this at their peril. Nevertheless, although fashionable linguistic states and politics cut back a lot of those interactions to binaries, historical past exhibits us that languages, like folks, are difficult and ever-shifting. The very syllables that South Indians communicate in the present day have tales that transcend simplistic regional boundaries, filled with turbulent political and non secular historical past.
Anirudh Kanisetti is a public historian and creator of Lords of the Deccan
The views expressed are private
Get pleasure from limitless digital entry with HT Premium
Subscribe Now to proceed studying
Leave a Reply