South India is known for a lot of things- Idli, Dosa, Sambhar, temples, Madras and Tamil to name a few. Unfortunately, this is all that many non-South Indians know and see of the region, missing out on its uniqueness in many other facets. The region reigns supreme not just in culinary diversity, but also in linguistic, historical and ecological importance! These are ten facts for everyone who wants to better their understanding of the beauty of the region.
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1. Tamil is the oldest living language in the world
Tamil has a rich history spanning over two millennia. With its origins in southern India, Tamil boasts a vibrant literary tradition, encompassing classical poetry, philosophical works, and scientific treatises. Sangam literature, one of the oldest and widest spanning categories of literature in the world, is written entirely in the Tamil language.
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2. The Chola Dynasty had one of the world’s largest Navies
The Cholas were one of the South’s most powerful ruling dynasties. They had taken over the Indian ocean and all that it bordered, including Cambodia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. This, of course, required a mighty navy. The Chola Navy was instrumental in establishing hard and soft power over neighbouring nations. While the Cholas did not have dedicated warships, they had large ships that could transport thousands of soldiers at once. Besides, the Cholas wielded their maritime prowess of 500-1000 ships in diplomatic and trading spheres, and established their soft power over the territories around the Indian ocean.
3. Hampi, capital of the Vijayanagara dynasty, is home to a plethora of architectural innovations
The ruins of Hampi in Karnataka is one of the most celebrated wonders of South India. The erstwhile capital of the Vijayanagara empire houses many architectural marvels.
One of the most wondrous buildings in Hampi is the Vitthala temple. The Vitthala temple is a temple dedicated to Lord Vitthala, a form of Lord Krishna and is built like a large campus with multiple buildings. Every part of the granite temple is marvellously carved with profuse sculptures, but the most awe-inspiring features of the temple is the musical pillar section. The Musical pillars of the Vitthala temple are what they sound like- upon being struck, these pillars make sounds in tone with the classical Indian music notes – Sa, Re, Ga, Ma…. Such was the technology of the times.
There are many architectural wonders like this in Hampi. While the sheer grandeur of the ruins can stun anyone, there is a lot more than what meets the eye. While today, none of us can imagine a building without cement and mortar, the entirety of Hampi was built without any binding agent! The bricks were made in such a manner that they interlocked without the need of a binding agent. The innovations hidden amidst the sprawling ruins of Hampi are truly astonishing.
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4. More than ninety percent of India’s sandalwood comes from the South
Sandalwood is coveted for a number of reasons- its ethereal perfume, its medicinal properties and its role in religious rituals. India is one of the abodes of this divine tree. Suited to tropical climate, moderate altitude and rainfall and well-draining soil, the hilly forests of South India, Karnataka, in particular, provide ideal conditions for the growth of these trees. The fragrant tree, coveted for its luxuriant heartwood, grows widely in these states. The state of Karnataka itself accounts for more than ninety percent of India’s sandalwood production and more than half the area under sandalwood cultivation
5. The Sri Venkateswara Swamy temple in Tirupati is the most visited temple in the world
The temples of South India are famous not just in India, but across the world for their stunning architecture, their significance in Hinduism and rich history. Amongst the many temples that dot the landscape of South India, the Sri Venkateshwara Swamy temple in Tirumala is one of the most famous and beautiful. The murthi of Sri Venkateshwara Swamy in the temple is said to be a manifestation of Lord Vishnu’s divine plan to settle in the region. The temple, for this reason and many others, is believed to be very powerful, and is visited by millions of people every year. The temple, on an average, sees about thirty to forty million visitors every year and fifty thousand to one hundred thousand visitors per day, while this shoots up five fold on special occasions!
6. India’s only active volcano is located in the Andamans
India’s diversity of landscape is well known. From the beautiful hilly coastal towns of the South to the mighty Himalayas in the far north, from the deserts of the west to the marshy jungles of the East. However, did you know that there is an active volcano in India too?
Yes, this is true. In the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Arabian ocean, one of the islands, namely Barren Island, is the only active volcano in India. The first known eruption is believed to be in 1787, while the last major significant eruption was as recent as six years ago.
7. The eighteen hundred year old Kallanai Dam in Tamil Nadu is India’s oldest dam
The Cholas were one of South India’s most powerful dynasties and left behind a legacy of marvellous architecture, and far-sighted planning and governance models. The eighteen hundred year old Kallanai dam in Tamil Nadu serves as a testament to the far-sighted planning and architectural prowess of the dynasty.
The Kallanai dam, also known as the Grand Anicut today, is the world’s fourth oldest and India’s oldest water dam that is still in use. The Kallanai was built in the second century CE by King Karikalan Cholan to divert the water flow of the Cauvery and promote better irrigation in the delta region. The dam was later remodelled by the British to increase its capacity, and it still continues to be in use today. The dam is located in Trichy and is still functioning. It is a mark of the ancient architectural knowledge of the South.
8. The Nilgiri Biosphere reserve hosts the largest elephant population in India
The Nilgiri Biosphere reserve is India’s first designated Biosphere reserve. Spanning more than 5500 square kilometres and located in the state of Tamil Nadu, the reserve is one of the most diverse in not just India, but the world. Fourteen species of birds, fifty percent of India’s amphibian species, two hundred medicinal plants and one hundred and thirty two flowering plants are endemic to the reserve. As is seen, the region is one of the most biologically diverse areas in not just India, but the world. The reserve is also well known for hosting the largest elephant population of over 5500 Asian elephants in India! The Nilgiri Biosphere reserve includes the Nilgiri elephant corridor, an important natural passage that allows elephants to continue their natural nomadic way of life and maintain genetic diversity.
9. The state of Kerala has the highest sex ratio in India
Kerala is known for a number of reasons- the highest literacy rate in India, its beautiful backwaters and lush green hills. However, these are not all the accolades the state has to its name. The state is known for its progressive outlook towards women empowerment and equality, and this can be seen in the fact that it also has the highest sex ratio in India. As a matter of fact, according to the 2011 census, this is the only state where women outnumber men, with 1084 women per 1000 men!
10. The designer of India’s national flag, Pingali Venkaiah, is from Andhra Pradesh
The tricolour- a beautiful blend of saffron for sacrifice, white for peace, green for fertility with the Ashok Chakra in the middle of them all, symbolising development and progress. The Indian national flag is revered and cherished by all of us. However, not many know the flag’s history and the man behind it.
Pingali Venkaiah was born on 2 August, 1866 in Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh. At nineteen years old, he enrolled in the British Indian Army and was deployed to South Africa during the second Boer war, when they were made to salute the Union Jack. This is when Venkaiah realised the need for an Indian flag more than ever, and this was when he first met MK Gandhi, beginning his journey in India’s freedom struggle.
After the war, Venkaiah settled down back in Andhra Pradesh and began getting more involved in the happenings of the freedom struggle. He attended the All India Congress Committee session in Calcutta in 1906, when he first resolved to design the national flag. Thereafter he designed several drafts for a national flag, and in 1916, he even published a book titled ‘Bharatha Desaniki oka Jathiya Pathakam’, meaning ‘A national flag for India’ with thirty different flag designs. Gandhi personally asked Venkaiah to design flags starting from the 1921 AICC conference in Bezawada, and worked with him for a while before the national flag in its current form was finally used in 1931.