Ignorance of south India is a matter of shame

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

While reading the Tamil poet Ilango’s epic Silappathiharam I came across these lines: “May the Pandya king prosper, who ruled over the south, after conquering the Ganga and the Himalayas in the north (Silappathiharam 11:2 : 17-22).”
At first, I thought this was only poetic exaggeration since I had heard of north Indian kings or armies which had invaded the south, but I had never heard of a south Indian king who had invaded north India.
However, I later read of credible accounts that a south Indian king (perhaps Rajendra Chola) had indeed led a Napoleonic invasion of north India up to the Ganga, and even beyond (apart from invading Sri Lanka, the Malaya peninsula, southern Thailand,etc, which shows that he had not only a strong army, but also a powerful navy ).
This shows how ignorant most of we North Indians are of the history of south India, and this is indeed a matter of shame.

All Indians (including south Indians) have read in their school history books of the great Mauryan Empire, the Gupta Empire, the Empire of Harshavardhan, the Mughal Empire and others.

But how many north Indians have heard of Krishnadeva Raya of the Vijayanagar Empire (whose statue, along with his two queens, still stands in the Tirupati temple), or of the great Chola and Pandya kings? Regrettably, very few.

Most Indians have read the Ramayana and Mahabharata, which were epics about north Indian kings, and most north Indians have read the works of Surdas, Tulsidas, Kabir, and in more recent times of the stories of Sharad Chandra, Munshi Premchand and so forth.

But how many north Indians have read the great Tamil epics Silappathihaaram or Manimekalai, or the great Tamil treatise Tirukkural by Tiruvalluvar (about whom the great Tamil poet Subramania Bharati wrote “Tamil Nadu is known throughout the world because of Tirukkural”), the Tiruppavai by the poet saint Andal, which is sung in the month of Maarghai (maagh or January) all over Tamil Nadu, or the great poetry of Subramania Bharati who wrote powerful verses for women’s emancipation around 1910 when no Indians even conceived of the idea? Very few.

North Indians know of Hindustani music, but how many know of Carnatic music, and its trinity of Tyagaraj, Muthswami Dikshitar and Shyama Shastri? Hardly any.

How many north Indians have heard of the great Keralite social reformer Narayana Guru, who belonged to the low-caste Ezhava community, and fearlessly criticized and campaigned against the inhuman caste system? Practically none.

For long, north Indians have regarded south India as a dark land populated by uncivilized barbarians, unaware of their great achievements in various fields. Indeed in the Ramayana, Kishkindha, which is believed to be in the present state of Karnataka, was regarded to be a land populated by monkeys, not humans, from whom Lord Rama raised a vaanar sena (monkey army) to invade Sri Lanka. Many north Indians still, regrettably, look down on south Indians.

When I became chief justice of the Madras High Court in 2004, in my spare time, I made a deep study of south Indian (particularly Tamilian) history, culture, and literature, and realized that the knowledge of south Indian history, culture and literature by north Indians was almost nil and was lamentable.

South Indian temples are massive and unbelievable unless one visits them, and they reveal the high level of knowledge of architecture and geometry of the ancient and medieval south Indians. For example, the Brihadishvara temple of Tanjore is simply astounding, and one wonders how the builders could use such huge stones in building it (which reminds one of the Egyptian pyramids).

The gigantic rock relief ‘Descent of the Ganges’ in the ancient port city of Mahabalipuram, capital of the Pallav Empire, is truly amazing.

If we really wish for national integration we must teach South Indian history and culture in our schools to our children. South India has produced great scientists like C.V.Raman, Chandrashekhar ‘(both Nobel Prize winners), etc, great mathematicians like Ramanujan, (Fellow of the Royal Society), and great artists like Raja Ravi Verma, etc.

To be a truly united nation, North Indians must know of all this.

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