South India

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A map of South India, its rivers, regions and water bodies.

South India is a geographic and linguistic-cultural region of India. Geographically, South India traditionally includes the entire Indian Peninsula south of the Satpura and Vindhya ranges and Narmada River. The geographic term encompasses the Deccan plateau (from the Sanskrit word dakshina, meaning south), the Eastern and Western Ghats, and the coasts between the Ghats and the sea. As a linguistic-cultural region, South India consists of the five south Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu, and the union territories of Lakshadweep and Pondicherry & Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Natives of these states are called South Indians.

South India is also called Dakshina Nad (Dakshina = South + Nad = land), Dravida Nad (Dravida = Dravidian + Nad = land), or simply Dravida. Culturally and linguistically South India is distinguished as the home of the Dravidians, but not exclusively so; ethnic Dravidians also live in parts of eastern and central India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia, and some non-Dravidian peoples (for example the Konkani) also make their home in South India.


The land

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Tanjavur temple in

South India is a vast triangular peninsula, bounded on the west by the Arabian Sea, and on the east by the Bay of Bengal. The Vindhya and Satpura ranges and the Narmada River are the traditional boundary between northern and southern India. South of the Satpuras, at the center of the peninsula, is the Deccan plateau, defined by the Western Ghats mountain range, which runs along the western edge of the peninsula, and the Eastern Ghats along the eastern edge. The great rivers of south India, the Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri (Cauvery), rise in the Western Ghats and flow across the Deccan and through gaps in the Eastern Ghats to empty into the Bay of Bengal.

Regions of South India

The five states of South India generally follow linguistic boundaries. In addition to these linguistic regions, South India has a number of distinct geographic regions:

The Malabar Coast lies along the western shore of the peninsula, between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. The Western Ghats catch the monsoon winds, and the region is rainy and densely forested. The South Western Ghats montane rain forests, which lie in the southern portion of the range, is the most species-abundant ecoregion of the Indian peninsula.

Along the east coast between the Eastern Ghats and the Bay of Bengal lies the Coromandel Coast (Cholamandalam). Sri Lanka lies of the southeast coast, separated from India by the Palk Strait and the chain of low sandbars and islands known as Rama's Bridge (Adam's Bridge). The low coral islands of Lakshadweep and the Maldives lie off the southwest coast. The southernmost tip of India is Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin) on the Indian Ocean.

The southeastern peninsula, south of the Krishna river and its tributary the Tungabhadra, was known to Europeans as the Carnatic. It was the scene of colonial rivalries between the British, French, and Dutch in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in what is now called the Carnatic wars. The European name for the region is likely derived from Karnataka, the homeland of the Kannada people, and comes from the Tamil words kar and nadu, which mean "Hilly forest land". Karnataka straddles the central portion of the Western Ghats, from the Arabian Sea coast to the western Deccan, and the Europeans seem to have misapplied the term to refer most commonly to Southern India's eastern coastal region, although Carnatic is sometimes used to denote the entirety of southern India.

The sophisticated Indian Classical Music of South India is known as Carnatic music. Carnatic music means "Classical Music" in Tamil. This term is often confused with the term Karnataka.

The people

South Indians are primarily Dravidians by racial stock. They are united by the Dravidian language family. It is a distinct linguistic family which includes Tamil (தமிழ்), Telugu(తెలుగు), Kannada, Malayalam, and Tulu, among many others. Most of the Dravidian languages have an admixture of words derived from Sanskrit, and the population of South India includes an admixture of migrants from the north of India.

Konkani, an Indo-Aryan language, is widely spoken in Goa and coastal Karnataka, Kerala, and Maharashtra, where it has drawn heavy influences from Kannada and Malayalam. Most of Maharasthra, which includes the northern Deccan and Konkan regions of South India, is predominantly Marathi-speaking. Marathi and Konkani are part of the Southern Zone of the Indo-Aryan languages.

See also: Dravidian race and Dravidian languages

The south Indian people have a world view which is organic and celebrates the generative ethos of the natural world. The conception of femininity-motherhood is central to the South Indian weltanschauung. They have a distinct and unique concept of beauty that is reflected through the traditional clothing of South Indian women called as the saree. The chief dressing of South Indian men is the Lungi, which is also an unstitched drape like the sari. Rice is the staple diet, with fish being an integral component of coastal South Indian meals. Coconut is an important ingredient in many of the dishes of the south Indian people.

The economy

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South Indian paddy fields

The People are largely agrarian, dependent on monsoons, as are most people in India. Some of the main crops cultivated in South India include paddy, sorghum, millet, pulses, cotton, chilli, and ragi. South India was and still is the "promised land" as far as spice cultivation is concerned. Areca, coffee, pepper, tapioca, and cardamom are widely cultivated on the Nilgiri Hills and Coorg. But frequent droughts in Northern Karnataka, Rayalaseema and Telangana regions are leaving farmers debt-ridden, forcing them to sell their livestock and sometimes even to suicides. Scarcity of water has been a major problem for past few years in these regions along with cities like Chennai and Hyderabad.

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Tidel Park in Chennai hosts a number of IT companies.

Education is highly valued in the south Indian community, and is seen as a gateway to a better livelihood. Many of the nation's most prominent physicists and mathematicians have been South Indians. Kerala has the highest literacy and unemployment (40%) rate in India. The population growth rate of these states is also beginning to decline rapidly relative to North India.

Information Technology is a growing field in South India. Bangalore, the largest city in the region is India's Information Technology hub, and is home to over 200 software companies.Chennai, Tamilnadu ranks next only to Bangalore in the software exports in India and grossed over Rs 10,000 crore in 2005 [1] ( Apart from Chennai , Coimbatore and Hosur are also in the software tier II cities in India. Chennai has become the most preferred BPO hub in India and South Asia [2] ( As the Health capital and Banking Capital, Chennai has attracted the presence of International companies as well as The World bank. Presence of India's leading healthcare facilities like Apollo, Malar hospitals, Cancer Research Institute facilitate as a destination for Healthcare BPO in India. Tamil Nadu has a network of about 110 industrial parks/estates that offer developed plots with supporting infrastructure[3] ([4] ( Also, the Government is promoting other industrial parks like Rubber Park, Apparel Parks, Floriculture Park, TICEL Park for Biotechnology [5] (, Siruseri IT Park, Agro Export Zones among others. Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, is also an important IT center.

Tamilnadu: Tamil Nadu is the third largest Economy in India and is among the most industrialised states in India. It ranks third in the country in total foreign direct investment (FDI) of Rs. 22,582.64 crores, next only to Maharashtra (Rs. 36,602.41 crores) and Delhi (Rs. 30,303.79 crores). The State's investment constitutes 9.12 per cent of the total FDI in the country [6] ( According to the 2001 Census, Tamil Nadu has the highest level of urbanization (43.86 percent) in India, accounting for 6% of India’s total population and 9.6% of the urban population.

The city of Tirupur in Tamilnadu is the largest garment exporter in India. In 2004, the export turnover from the town was more than Rs 5,000 crores. 56% of India's total knitwear exports come from Tirupur.

The heavy engineering manufacturing companies are centered around the suburbs of Chennai. Chennai boasts with presence of global car manufacturing giants like Ford, Hyundai, and Mitsubishi as well as home grown companies like MRF, TI cycles of India, Ashok leyland and TVS. Kalpakkam Nuclear Power Plant, Neyveli Lignite Power Plant and the Narimanam Natural Gas Plants are sources of fuel and energy. As of 2005, Tamil Nadu is one of the few Indian states with surplus power. Indias leading steel producer Salem steel plant is in Tamilnadu. [7] (

The town of Sivakasi is the leader for Printing, Fireworks, Safety matches Production in India. It contributes to 80% of India's total Safety Matches Production as well as 90% of India's Total Fireworks Production. Also Sivakasi provides over 60% of India's Total Offset Printing Solutions. Tamilnadu is leading producer of Cement in India ,it is the home for leading cement brands in the country such as Chettinad cements, Dalmia cements, Ramco cements(Madras cement ltd.,), etc.,

Tamilnadu government owns the World's biggest bagasse based Paper mills [8] ( as well as the World's sixth largest manufacturer of watches together with TATA, with a brand as TITAN (TATA Industries and TamilNadu)[9] (


Karnataka is one of more industrialised states in India. Its capital Bangalore is a hub for IT services in India. 90% of India's gold production comes from Karnataka. Recently there has been a lot of activity in the extraction of Manganese ore from the districts of Bellary and Hospet.

Kerala : Kerala's economy is predominantly agrarian in nature. In terms of per capita income and production Kerala is lagging behind many of the Indian States, but in terms of Human Development Index and life standard of the people Kerala is much ahead of most other states in India, and, in fact, in certain development indices it is on a par with some of the developed countries. This peculiar paradox often termed as the "Kerala Phenomenon" or Kerala model of development by experts, which is mainly owing to the performance of the State in the Service Sector.

Kerala's economy can be best described as a socialistic welfare economy. However, Kerala's emphasis on social welfare also resulted in slow economic progress. There are few major industries in Kerala, and the per capita GDP is lower than the national average. Remittances from Keralites working abroad, mainly in the Middle East, make up over 60% of the state's GDP.

Agriculture is the most important economic activity. Coconut, tea and coffee are grown extensively, along with rubber, cashew and spices. Spices commonly cultivated in Kerala include pepper, cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Much of Kerala's agriculture is in the form of home gardens.

Andra Pradesh: Agriculture has been the chief source of income for the state's economy. Two important rivers of India, the Godavari and Krishna, flow through the state. Rice, tobacco, cotton, mirchi, and sugarcane are the local crops. The state has also started to focus on the fields of information technology and biotechnology.

Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, is the fifth largest cosmopolitan city in India, rich in culture, enduring history and industrial growth. It is unique in being one of the few cities where tradition and technology co-exist. With a dynamic leadership, the state is steering the nation to new dimensions in the fields of Information Technology, Biotechnology, Pharmaceuticals, Business Management, Construction, etc., to emerge as a land of immense business opportunities.

Comparison between North India and South India
North India South India
Per capita income Rs. 8433 Rs. 13629
Literacy 59% 74%
Per capita expenditure on public health Rs.92 Rs.127
Proportion of households with electricity 49% 74%

Source: Business Today, January 2005

South Indian worldview and culture

South Indians are racially, linguistically and culturally different from their North Indian compatriots although their cultures have influenced each other at various points in history.

Mattancherry Palace - temple courtyard in , South India
Mattancherry Palace - temple courtyard in Kerala, South India

Whether or not the existing proto Dravidian culture was supplanted by invading Aryan nomads during the twilight of the Indus Valley Civilization or whether they simply coexisted and eventually merged to form another culture is a subject of heated debate to this day. See The Aryan Invasion Theory.

The South Indian world view is essentially, the celebration of the eternal universe through the celebration of the beauty of the body and motherhood. It is exemplified through its Dance, clothing, and sculptures.

  • South Indian dance

The South Indian weltanschauung is celebrated in the elaborate dance forms of South India, the Bharathanatyam, and Mohiniaattam which literally translates as ‘the dance of the enchantress’. The Bharathanatyam expresses the celebration of beauty and the universe, through its tenets of having a perfectly erect posture, a straight and pout curving stomach, a well rounded and proportionate body mass- to the body structure, very long hairs and broad curvaceous hips. These tenets bring to life the philosophy of Natyashastra (the treatise on Dance by the sage Bharatha), ‘Angikam bhuvanam yasya’ (the body is your world). This is elaborated in the araimandi posture, wherein the performer assumes a half sitting position with the knees turned sideways, with a very erect posture. In this fundamental posture of the Bharathanathyam dance, the distance between the head and the navel becomes equal to that between the earth and the navel. In a similar way the distance between the outstretched right arm to the outstretched left arm becomes equal to the distance between the head and the feet, thus representing the Natyapurusha, the embodiment of life and creation.

  • Traditional clothing

The saree, being an unstiched drape, enhances the shape of the wearer, while only partially covering the midriff. In Indian philosophy, the navel of the Supreme Being is considered as the source of life and creativity. Hence by tradition, the stomach and the navel is to be left unconcealed, though the philosophy behind the costume has largely been forgotten. This makes the realization of sharira-mandala, where in Angikam bhuvanam yasya (the body as the world) unites with the sharira-mandala ( the whole universe), as expressed in the Natyashastra. These principles of the sari, also hold for other forms of drapes, like the lungi or mund worn by men.

  • Sculptures and figurine
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South Indian sculptures embodying human expression

Sculptures became one of the finest medium of South Indian expression after the human form of dance. In this medium it was possible to etch the three dimensional form in time.

The traditional South Indian sculptor starts his sculpture of the divinities from the navel which is always represented unclothed by the saree. A koshta or grid of the sculpture would show the navel to be right at the centre of the sculpture, representing the source of the union of the finite body and the infinite universe.

Sculptures adorn many of the temples around the complexes and also inside them. They are also depiction of dance steps of various stylizations and have served to preserve dance forms and revive it.

South Indian history

South India has been at the crossroads of the ancient world, linking the Mediterranean world and the far-east. The Southern coastline from Karwar to Kodungalloor was the most important trading shore in the Indian sub-continent. This brought about a lot of intermingling of the natives with the traders.

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The South Indian coast of Malabar and the tamil people of the Sangam age had trade with the Graeco Roman world. They were in contact with the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Syrians, Jews, and the Chinese.

There were several rulers and dynasties significant in South Indian history. These included the Chola Empire, Pandyas, Pallavas, Hoysalas, Cheras, Wodeyars, Chalukyan Empire and the Vijayanagar Empire.

See History of South India, Middle kingdoms of India, History of India.

South Indian heritage

South Indian music

The music of the South Indian people is called as Carnatic music(కర్నాటక సంగీతం). Telugu(తెలుగు), because of it's mellifluous nature, is the main language used in Carnatic music. It includes sensuous rhythmic and structured music by composers like Tyagaraja, Purandara Dasa, Mysore Vasudevachari and Swathi Thirunal.

See Carnatic music

Literature and philosophy

South India has an independent literary tradition going back over 2000 years. The first known literature of South India are the poetic Sangams, which were written in Tamil from 2000 to 1500 years ago. Distinct Malayalam, Telugu, and Kannada literary traditions developed in the following centuries. The artistic expressions of the South Indian people shows their admiration of the magnificence of nature and its rhythms, as in the epic Silappadhikaram by Ilango Adigal, also called as the Cilappatikaram. Other works include the Tholkappiam written by Tholkappiar, and Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukural. In South Indian literature and philosophy, women are considered very powerful. A married woman is regarded as auspicious, her shakti or mother-feminine power, protects and empowers her husband and their children. The female form is highly regarded.

See also: Kannada literature; Malayalam literature; Tamil literature; and Telugu literature.

Architecture and paintings

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Tirumala Temple in Andhra Pradesh

The inspirational temple sculptures of Hampi, Badami, and Mahabalipuram, and the mural paintings of Travancore and Lepakshi temples, also stand as a testament to south Indian culture. The paintings of Raja Ravi Varma are considered classic renditions of many a scenes of South Indian life and mythology. There are several examples of Dravidian mural paintings in the mattancherry palace and the Shiva kshetram in Ettamanoor.

See also South Indian architecture and also Dravidian mural painting.

South Indian diversity

The main spiritual traditions of South Indians have included both Shaivism or Shaivite philosophy, and Vaishnavism, which are both branches of Hinduism, although Jain philosophy had been influential in Southern India several centuries earlier. Shravanabelagola in Karnataka is a popular pilgrim center for Jains.

Coorg, in Karnataka is home to one of the largest Buddhist monasteries in the country and provides sanctuary to Tibetan Buddhist monks that fled Tibet fearing percecution from communist China.

There is also a large Muslim community in South India, particularly in the Malabar coast. The community's roots can be traced back to the ancient maritime trade between Kerala and Omanis and other Arabs. Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh is an historic center of Muslim culture in South India, and the Hyderabad region has a large Muslim population.

The oldest Synagogue in the former British Empire is the Cochin jewish synagogue in Kochi, in South India.

Christianity has also flourished in coastal South India from the earliest times. The last remnants of the Nasranis, the earliest Judo-Christian tradition of Syrian Christians, including the Knanaya community survives in Kerala, in South India. Goa is home to a significant Roman Catholic population. The Church of South India is an autonomous Protestant church, formed in 1947 through the merger of several Protestant denominations.

Selected bibliography

  • Beck, Brenda. 1976. “The Symbolic Merger of Body, Space, and Cosmos in Hindu Tamil Nadu." Contributions to Indian Sociology 10(2): 213-43.
  • Bharata (1967). The Natyashastra [Dramaturgy], 2 vols., 2nd. ed. Trans. by Manomohan Ghosh. Calcutta: Manisha Granthalaya.
  • Boulanger, Chantal; (1997) Saris: An Illustrated Guide to the Indian Art of Draping, Shakti Press International, New York.
  • Craddock, Norma. 1994. Anthills, Split Mothers, and Sacrifice: Conceptions of Female Power in the Mariyamman Tradition. Dissertation, U. of California, Berkeley.
  • Danielou, Alain, trans. 1965. Shilappadikaram (The Ankle Bracelet) By Prince Ilango Adigal. New York: New Directions.
  • Dehejia, Vidya, Richard H. Davis, R. Nagaswamy, Karen Pechilis Prentiss (2002) The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India.
  • Hart, George, ed. and trans. 1979. Poets of the Tamil Anthologies: Ancient Poems of Love and War. Princeton: Princeton U. Press
  • Gover, Charles. 1983 (1871). Folk-songs of Southern India. Madras: The South India Saiva Siddhanta Works Publishing Society.
  • Nagaraju, S. 1990. “Prehistory of South India.” In South Indian Studies, H. M. Nayak and B. R. Gopal, eds., Mysore: Geetha Book House, pp. 35-52.
  • Trawick, Margaret. 1990a. Notes on Love in a Tamil Family. Berkeley: U. of California Press.
  • Wadley, Susan, ed. 1980. The Powers of Tamil Women. Syracuse: Syracuse U. Press.
  • Zvelebil, Kamil. 1975. Tamil Literature. Leiden: Brill.

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