Sunday, January 3, 2010

Week 1: What is Distinctive about South India?

Distribution Source: iTunesU
Content Source: Stanford University
Format: Audio
Length: 23 minutes, 24 seconds

To me, India is an enigma. Working in finance I hear incessantly about China - its growth prospects, its massive stimulus plans, its 1.4 billion people, its human rights violations... you get the picture. But why don't I know more - and hear more - about India? According to wikipedia, India is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world.

But this post isn't about India, it is about South India. Before today I didn't realize there was such a meaningful distinction between the two, seemingly far more so than the North-South divide in the United States.

Only 233 million of India's 1.2 billion people live in South India. What jumped out at me from this short clip is how fractured South India seems to be - linguistically, politically and religiously. This in contrast to North India, which in part because of its proclivity to being invaded, seems to have a far more cohesive social structure. The lecture refers to these distinctions from the north as "Dravidian distinctions." Dravidian seems to be synonymous with the cultures and people of South India, who among other differences have much darker skin than those of the north. In searching for the origins of this word, I found that the word may be derived from the Sanskrit word 'Drava', meaning water or sea. If this were the case it would certainly make sense to identify those from South India - surrounded on three sides by water - with this word.

South India is divided into a cluster of different states, with the lines having been redrawn in the 1950s-60s. Most of these state lines were drawn based on linguistics. While the north speaks predominantly Hindi, the South has a variety of languages, among them Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu.

In the same way that the south has no unifying languages, it has no unifying politics; in the north, because of the Gangetic basin and multiple invasions, there are large, imperial political structures covering millions of people and hundreds of thousands of miles. The most concrete political areas in the south are around the Tamil and Karala regions.

Religiously, South India is mostly Hindu, with 60 million followers. The spawn-offs from Hinduism - Buddhism and Sikhism being two notable examples - have more followers outside the south. However unlike the north, both Christianity and Judaism have a marked presence in the south. Christianity likely came to South India from St. Thomas in the first century, while Judaism came when traders settled in the region (also likely around the first century). While there are tensions in the north between Hindus and Muslims, exacerbated I'm sure by the always contentious Pakistani-Indian relations and the recent Mumbai bombings, this is not the case in the south. There simply are not many Muslims in South India. Rather it is inter-Hindu problems that dominate the south, particularly the politics of the caste system. Still today lower castes cannot so much as walk on the roads of higher castes!

So, what have I learned? South India is fundamentally different from North India, and aside from the Dravidian distinction and Hindu predominance, there are not many generalizations that can be made. It would take far more than a 30 minute clip to even begin to learn the nuances... See you next week!

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