History & Culture

Vedic route to the past

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Dr. Nagaswamy explores Tamil texts and traditions in his latest book, writes Pradeep Chakravarthy.

It’s time again to travel into the past and explore some fascinating facets of our culture. This journey becomes more exciting through the informative pages of well-known archaeologist Dr. Nagaswamy’s new book ‘Tamil Nadu – The Land of the Vedas.’ It was launched recently in Chennai at a special event that celebrated history of the land, its ideologies and people.



The book throws light on the Vedas as the fountain of Indian and South East Asian civilisations. It also challenges the myth that Tamil Nadu developed independently of the rest of India.



The book is divided into 20 groups with the first part taking us through a life lived according to Vedic tenets, the Sangam age, Tamil epics and bhakti poetry. The second examines the interplay between Vedic knowledge and Tamil traditions in the medieval period. The last part looks at the status of Brahmins today.



From the essays we learn that till the colonial period and more strongly during Chola and Pandya rule, there was a thrust on native wisdom at a practical level unlike today where we have taken a British approach to our law, military and judiciary. The book begins showcasing the Sangam kings’ approach that harmoniously blended Sanskritic and Tamil traditions. Both language texts venerated Nature and saw divine manifestation in it and in all animals. Vedic hymns had more references to natural phenomenon. In the first Purananuru song, Chera king Udiyan Cheral is praised as having the essential qualities of the five elements (pancha bhootas).



Wars in ancient Tamil country were fought according to tenets of the Dharma Sastra, where battles with armies happened only as a last resort when individual combat failed. Moving to bhakti literature, the chapters look in detail as to how the inner message of the Saivite and Vaishnavaite hymns is consonant with the message of the Upanishads that self-realisation in thought and deed is the ultimate form of reaching freedom from this endless cycle of births and deaths.



In a chapter on educational institutions, the author looks at colleges established at Ennayiram, Anur, Puttur, Tribhuvanai, Tiruvindalur and Tirumukudal. The number of students in each college ranged from 100 to 300 and the average teacher-student ratio was 1:30.



What is significant is that in all these colleges, Vedas, philosophy and Itihasa were taught but maximum importance was given to the dharma sastras or law books. Comparing this with inscriptions in Manur and Uthiramerur we learn that unlike today, to become a part of the elected representative, one needed to be educated in the law books and know the law. The essays around the judiciary elaborate on this further.



Manur inscriptions give us details on election procedures that were far more demanding than those today.



Thiruninravur records tell us that in the 11th century an elected judge’s tenure was five years and he could not be reappointed for a consecutive time of five years.



What’s more when they demit office, their immediate relatives could not occupy the position for two years. It is heartening that the author has used multiple forms of evidence to reiterate the harmonious collaboration of Sanskrit and Tamil thought in ancient and medieval Tamil Nadu where both traditions and text were used for the benefit of the common people. One hopes, scholars will take this book to the people so that the essential spirit of collaboration is brought out.



For copies of ‘Tamil Nadu – The Land of the Vedas’ (Rs. 900) write to Tamil Arts Academy, 22nd Cross St, Besant Nagar, Chennai – 90, or call 2491 6005.







The author's take

Why did you write this book?

As an ardent student of Tamil, Sanskrit and Indian epigraphy, every time I read verifiable documents, I found that there were many distortions and ignorant writing that conflicted with the actual life and contribution of the Vedic Brahmanas to Tamil History. It was necessary to correct the distortions to understand the history of an important region of not only India but Eastern and South East Asia. It became clearer that the region despite ethnic variations remained culturally inseparable.

What are the three significant findings in this book?

Earliest known history tells us that Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava kings followed the vedic system of life, religion, philosophy, art, architecture, administration and law and justice. Also there was no hesitation in adopting an universal approach as in the declaration ‘Yaadum Oore Yaavaram Kaelir’ of Tamil poets. In the process of assimilation they integrated outstanding scientific ideas and rendering them in delightful Tamil. Scholars have been focusing on heroic nature of the Tamil kings, but there are many poems where the learned counselled the king to improve agriculture , instead of killing hundreds in battle.

How can we translate this into our lives?

Develop a universal (samadarshanam) and not a narrow outlook.

Your future plans?

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 2:39:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/Vedic-route-to-the-past/article14397101.ece

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