The sounds and flavours of the land south of
the Vindhyas-temple bells, coffee and jasmine,
coconut and tamarind, delicious dosais and
appams-are familiar to many, but its history is
relatively unknown. In this monumental study, the
first in over fifty years, historian and biographer
Rajmohan Gandhi brings us the South Indian
story in modern times. At heart, the story he
tells is one of four powerful cultures-Kannada,
Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu, as well as the
cultures-Kodava, Konkani, Marathi, Oriya, Tulu
and indigenous-that have influenced them.
When the narrative begins at the end of the
sixteenth century, the Deccan sultanates of
Bijapur, Ahmadnagar, Golconda and Bidar have
combined to defeat the kingdom of Vi jay ana gar a,
one of the last great medieval empires of the
South. After the fall of Vijayanagara, less powerful
nayakas or sultans ruled the region. Competition
raged between these rulers and the many
European trading companies. By the seventeenth
century, only the French and British remained to
fight it out, in association with Indian rulers and
The eighteenth century saw the growth of the
kingdom of Mysore, first under Haidar Ali, a
military leader who had briefly served the Nawab
of Arcot, and then under his son Tipu Sultan, who
annexed parts of present-day Tamil Nadu and
Kerala. By now the European presence was growing
strong and assertive. And with the fall of Tipu in
the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War at the end of the
eighteenth century, the British East India Company
(now the sole European power in South India)
consolidated its holdings in the South.
In the nineteenth century, power changed
hands from the private East India Company
to the British monarchy-Queen Victoria
became the 'Empress of India' -and Britain
continued consolidating its territory. Despite the
tumultuous environment, this century also saw a
The twentieth century saw a change in the
relationship between the foreign ruler and the
Indian citizenry. No longer content with isolated
military campaigns led by rajas or nawabs,
Indians expressed their urge for freedom through
democratic outlets. National parties such as th~
Indian National Congress and the Muslim League
and regional ones like the Justice Party, Andhra
Mahajana Sabha, Dravida Kazhagam and others
emerged. Prominent South Indian leaders such as
Annie Besant, C. Rajagopalachari, E. V. Ramasami
Naicker, Varadarajulu Naidu, K. Kamaraj,
Annadurai, Kamaladevi, E. M. S. Namboodiripad,
Potti Sriramulu and others took the fight to
the British while, at the same time, carrying on
campaigns to ensure the dignity of all citizens.
After Independence, new states were carved out
from the former presidencies and princely states
along linguistic lines-Tamil Nadu, Karnataka,
Kerala and Andhra. The book ends in the present,
with a look at the new generation of political
leaders who have taken over from dominant
personalities like M. Karunanidhi, N. T. Rama
Rao, M. G. Ramachandran, J. Jayalalithaa, K.
Karunakaran and Ramakrishna Hegde. It also
covers some of the most significant figures
from other fields such as Narayana Guru,
M. S. Subbulakshmi, U. R. Ananthamurthy,
Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy and others.
A masterpiece in every sense of the word, Modern
South India is a rich, authoritative and magnificent
work of history about the South that will be read,
debated and reflected upon for years to come.
Rajmohan Gandhi's last two books are Why Gandhi
Still Matters: An Appraisa of the Mahatma's Legacy
and Understanding the Founding Fathers: An Enquiry
into the Indian Republic's Beginnings. He has taught
political science and history at Indian Institute of
Technology, Gandhinagar, lIT-Bombay, Michigan
State University and the University of Illinois, where
he currently serves as research professor.
Four years ago, in 2014, David Davidar reminded me that after the
publication in 1955 of K. A. Nilakanta Sastri's classic work, which
began with pre-historic times and ended with the fall of Vijayanagara,
not many have tried to convey South India's story in a single study.
David next asked if I would attempt a fresh history of the region.
At first I quailed. Emboldened, however, by the welcome accorded
in the previous year to my history of another large region, the undivided
Punjab of the pre-1947 era, I agreed.
Aware of my limitations, I knew I could only dare to confront
South India's modern period. Its ancient history was beyond my powers.
On the other hand, writing on South India from, say, the European
advent to present times might turn out to be, if I proved lucky, a
doable project, in fact an exciting one. I plunged into the deep waters
of such an exercise.
Readers will find out if what I have emerged with is of interest.
If they want a rationale for the account, the Introduction that follows
tries to spell it out.
For writing this book, I turned to libraries and archives, newspapers
and journals, and published works. I also talked to a great many persons.
This book's pages reveal the immense amount I owe to the authors
and researchers of studies tapped by me. In most cases, the authors
did not seek the broad picture I was after, but their details, often so
rich with meaning, have helped me construct it.
Putting the matter slightly differently, if the weaving of this cloth
is mine, most of the threads that constitute it were produced by the
toil, often inspired, of scores of others.
As must be true for anyone delving into a subject of wide and
long-standing interest, I marvelled at the skill and perseverance of
previous researchers who went after its different aspects. Their sensitive
toil humbled me, apart from also providing knowledge.
A number of these scholars were not Indian by birth. Some were
British, belonging to the race that ruled over India and Indians. I do
not hold the circumstances of their birth against them. What was dug
out was more important than who did the digging.
No matter their nationality, whether it was Indian, British,
American, European, Japanese or something else, I deeply thank the
scholars, many from earlier centuries, whose information, findings or
perspectives I have read and in many cases cited. The bibliography at
the end names them.
Libraries or archives I was able to consult include the Tamil
Nadu Archives in Chennai; National Archives in New Delhi; British
Library in London (which houses the collections of the old India Office
Library); and libraries at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, Yale University in
New Haven, Connecticut, Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar,
Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Vemana University, Kadapa,
Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, and India
International Centre, New Delhi. For these opportunities, I express
Enormously helpful, too, were conversations with numerous
historians, scholars and knowledgeable persons in different parts of
southern India. In some cases, the circumstances (and travels) that
enabled the conversations were as interesting as the knowledge they
shared. These seemed to provide material for a separate book, if only
I could put it together! To all of them, my great thanks anyway. These
generous helpers included:
Hasanuddin Ahmed, Fatima Attari, N. P. Bhatt, Kesavanarayana
Boyanapalli, P.J. Cheri an, Raghu Cidambi, Maria Couto,]. Devika,
Ganesh and Surekha Devy, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, Asim Kumar
Ghosh, Ashok Gladston, Luis Gomes, Margaret Gonzalves, V.
Gopal, Janaki Govindarajan, Venu Madhav and Neeta Govindu,
Shankar Halagatti, Neelambar Hatti, Gopal Kadikodi,
Manorama Kamat, Vaman Kamat, Girish Karnad, C. V.
Krishnaswamy, Sanjeev Kulkarni, K. Lakshmi Narayan, Pampayya
Malemath, Sunil Mani, Mammen Mathew, Damodar and Shaila
Mauzo, K. Ramachandra Murthy, Usha Murthy, (the late) Venkatesh
Murthy, S. Muthiah, M. G. S. Narayanan, M. D. and Vinaya
Okkund, Nidhin Olikara, Gautam Pingle, Urmila Pingle, Rajendra
K. S. Radhakrishnan, A. Raghuramaraju, 'Kalki' Rajendran, P.
Yenadi Raju, Vakula Ramakrishna, Biju Rao, Kandoba Rao, Pandu
Ranga Rao, Ram Mohan Rao, Surendra and Geetha Rao, Vidya
Sagar and Deepika Rao, Vikram Rao, D. Chandresekhar Reddy, S.
Jaipal Reddy, A. R. Ramachandra Reddy, G. Siva Reddy, Srinivas
Reddy, Dr Thummalapally Dharma Reddy, Rev. Dr Packiam
Samuel, T. L. Sankar, P. Saraswathi, S. C. Sardeshpande, E. A. S. and
Rani Sarma, Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed, A. Sethumadhavan, Vasanthi
Srinivasan, V. Sriram, Rahamath Tarikere, Matthew Thomas, A. R.
Venkatachalapathy, K. R. and Lakshmi Venugopal, Rafael Vieras,
Vijay Kumar of Emesco, T. Vijay Kumar, G. Vijay Mohan, and
Mallamma Yalawar and daughter Tejaswani.
To kind helpers somehow unnamed, my apologies! I want to thank
Like all histories, this one, too, is personal and unavoidably selective.
I cannot claim that the material I studied added up to a complete or
totally fair picture, or that the persons I interviewed are a representative
cross-section of knowledgeable South Indians.
In the end, despite a wish to absorb all viewpoints, this book is
only one person's understanding of information obtained from a large
number of documents or human sources, at times reached by accident
or circumstance, and not always because I knew beforehand that they
would lead me to the bottom of a subject.
Possible 'subjects' for a South Indian history were so many that
I could not possibly deal with them all. What was left out is bound
to strike some as being more important than what has been taken
up. I would be more than delighted if this effort encourages others in
their own studies of South India's modern history, focusing on what
is unaddressed here.
Every writer of a South Indian story runs into the challenge of
variety (and change) in the spelling of names and places. Bangalore or
Bengaluru? Tanjore or Thanjavur? Trivandrum or Thiruvananthapuram?
Trichy, Trichinopoly or Tiruchirappalli? Iyer, Iyyer, Aiyer, Aiyar or
Consistency is almost impossible, especially when you also want
to cite from earlier texts. There are similar choices when it comes to
miles and kilometres. Where a writer cannot be consistent, readers
Imagine a traveller in the year 1600 who, starting, say, from Vizag
(Vishakhapatnam), sails all the way along South India's lengthy eastern,
southern and western shores, and then, after reaching Goa, rides over
the peninsula's land, first along a perimeter not very far from the
seas and then on an inner 'circle', ending his journey, which perhaps
consumes a year or more, in Bengaluru.
What does the traveller take in on this enormous snail-shaped route?
The Vizag area, where he starts his southward sail, contains
undulating coastal land and, close to it, red or black hills, some reaching
up to 5,000 feet, 'whale-backed in outline and appearing to follow one
another in procession', as the author of a 1907 gazetteer would put it.!
Politically, in 1600, this hilly coastal tract is under a weak regional
chief appointed by the Muslim ruler of Golconda (later to become
Hyderabad city). This ruler is nominally subject to Delhi's reigning
Mughal but belongs to a Deccan confederacy that thirty-five years
previously had defeated the grand Vijayanagara Empire to its south.
South of Vizag along this Coromandel coast is the major port of
Machilipatnam in the delta formed by the river Krishna as it enters
the Bay of Bengal.
Small or large ports line the long coast. Perhaps our traveller gets
off his boat for a day or two when it enters the natural harbour of
Pulicat, where the Portuguese had established a base a century earlier,
in 1502. Nine years into the future, in 1609, the Dutch would displace
About 38 miles down the coast from Pulicat is the town of San
Thome, set up by the Portuguese in the 1540s. Right next to San
Thome is the much older native town of Mylapore, with which Europe
and the Arabs have long been familiar. There is no Madras city as yet.
Farther south, down a vertically straight section of the continuing
coast, is the ancient trading port of Nagapattinam, where the traveller
in the year 1600 finds traders from distant places as well as native ones,
including Muslims descended from ninth-century Arab immigrants.
Later, after the coastline makes a sudden ninety-degree turn
westward, faint outlines of northern Sri Lanka emerge on the horizon
to the left of the moving boat. As the boat proceeds through what
the future would call the Palk Straits, the island of Pam ban surfaces,
barely separated from the peninsula, from where, in the Ramayana,
Rama launched his bid to recover a Lanka-confined Sita.
Exporting pearls fished up in adjacent waters, the old port of
Tuticorin (Thoothukudi) shows up as the boat continues to sail
southwest. Beyond Tuticorin, at Kanyakumari, the Bay of Bengal
becomes the Arabian Sea, and our traveller now sails north.
Going past the land where Thiruvananthapuram would rise in
the future, he steps ashore at Kochi (Cochin), where the population
includes Christians whose forebears may have arrived more than a
thousand years earlier. Later, when the traveller walks on land again
at the port of Kozhikode (Calicut), he runs into scores of Arab and
European traders, finds Malayalam-speaking Muslims with centuries-
old ties to India, and hears of Vasco da Gama's visit more than a
hundred years previously.
In Kochi, in Kozhikode and all along his northward voyage, he
senses green hills not very far from the shoreline to his right. Landing in
the port of Mangaluru, he hears new tongues and sees brisk commercial
activity. He may not have realized it, but the languages he has so far
heard from the peninsula's natives include Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam,
Kannada and Tulu, more or less in that order.
When he arrives in Goa, our traveller runs into a flourishing
Portuguese-run city, where Konkani and Marathi are among the
His sea travels over, from Goa he starts a land journey to traverse the
vast acreage between the two coasts. The expedition is not comfortable
or risk-free: the narrow roads are mountainous much of the time,
rough all the time, and on occasion attacked by men or animals, and
the bumping bullock carts are creaky as well.
Now proceeding in a northeasterly direction, our plucky traveller
manages to trek through villages and impressive cities like Bijapur,
Gulbarga, Golconda, and Warangal, whose sultans had recently joined
hands to defeat Vijayanagara, but are now suspicious of one another
and even more of the Mughal in far-to-the-north Delhi.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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