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A History of South India by KA Nilakanta Sastri

Posted by RB Kollannur on October 28, 2012


Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 13/10/2012

Publisher – Oxford; Year of Publication – 1955; Pages – 481; Cost at the time of purchase – Rs 295

I have covered a few books on history in this column, but none on Indian history. The history of the subcontinent often saddens me because as one of the oldest civilizations in the world, we have done very little to do justice to our longevity. For most of our history since the time of Asoka, North India had been easy picking for any conqueror that crossed the Khyber Pass. Similarly, we have done very little to contribute to the advancement of humanity the past two millennia, especially in comparison to the western upstarts who dominate the world today. Most of the western world are descended from Germans who were nomadic tribals as recently as 1600 years ago. Of the other ancient civilizations, only the Chinese still persevere and they are well ahead of us both societally and economically.

KA Nilakanta Sastri is one of the better recognized historians of India. “A History of South India” recounts the history of the Indian subcontinent south of the Vindhya mountain range from prehistoric times to the fall of Vijayanagar in 1646. The geography it covers also includes Goa and parts Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha that we do not normally subscribe to be South India.

The book does well as an introduction for South Indian history. The chaos of infighting within nations dominates most of this time period, painting a rather diminishing view of the people of the time. Belligerency seems to be the favourite hobby for every relative of a ruler, with rebellions and backstabbing very much common place in the palace. The most notorious among these nations were the Bahmani Sultanate who, in their two centuries of existence, ran through eighteen kings, many of them murdered.

But amongst all this chaos, the society developed with reasonable prosperity. Maritime trade remained strong despite the loss of European trade, with merchants from around the world frequenting the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The author has delved deeply into the art and literature of the regions and has brought out the quality of work on display. Unfortunately there are very few historic records. It is a field that we have fallen behind very badly from the rest of the world; that we have failed to record our history through time.

One of the primary reasons I purchased this book was because I was looking for pointers to the history of Kerala. However, Kerala gets a sparse mention in the book. Having separated from our Tamil ancestors around 6th century AD with an independent language, there remains very little documented history of our people. Regrettably, the book ignores the early colonial overtures in the subcontinent because of its strong interconnection with the later British colonialism (Which the book does not cover). So, even the documented part of Kerala history gets left out.

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One Response to “A History of South India by KA Nilakanta Sastri”

  1. […] on 29/09/2012 30)  Along Came a Spider by James Patterson – Published on 06/10/2012 31) A History of South India by KA Nilakanta Sastri – Published on 13/10/2012 32) The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton – Published on […]

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