“The Beginnings of Civilization in South India” by Clarence Maloney

Clarance Maloney:  “The Beginnings of Civilization in South India,” Journal of Asian Studies, Vol XXIX, No 3, May 1970. Read the entire article by clicking here

This article was based on Clarence Maloney’s University of Pennsylvania PHD dissertation from 1968, “The Effect of Early Coastal Sea Traffic on the Beginning of Civilization in South India.” It is, alas, little known and has not been sufficiently deployed and/or engaged with in the studies of ancient Sri Lankan and Indian history.

Clarence Maloney has spent much of his life in South Asia, has a PhD in South Asian Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and has written 9 books on the peoples and cultures of this world area. Among these books are The Peoples of South Asia  (584 pages, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1974) and People of the Maldive Islands.

maloney pic maloney book -maldives

He can be contacted at ct_maloney@hotmail.com


Managing Irrigation Together: Practice and Policy in India, with K V Raju. New Delhi/ USA/UK: Sage, 1994.

Behavior and Poverty in Bangladesh. Dhaka: University Press Ltd. (GPO Box 2611, Dhaka), 1988; 3rd edition 1991.

Rural Savings and Credit in Bangladesh. Dhaka: University Press Ltd., 1988

The Life Cycle, Gender, and Fertility in Bangladesh, by KMA Aziz and C Maloney. Dhaka: Center for Health and Population Research (ICDDRB), 1983

Beliefs and Fertility in Bangladesh, with KMA Aziz and Profulla Sarkar. Dhaka: Center for Health and Population Research (ICDDRB), 1981

People of the Maldive Islands (ethnography and culture history). Bombay and Madras: Orient Longman, 1980; 2nd edition Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2013

Language and Civilization Change in South Asia. Contributions to Asian Studies No. 11, Leiden:Brill, 1978

The Evil Eye (ed.). New York: ColumbiaUniversity Press, 1976

Peoples of South Asia (comprehensive anthropology text). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1974

South Asia: Seven Community Profiles (community studies in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh). New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1974


“Indonesia’s Great Frontier and Migration.” UFSI Reports, 1988

“Voluntary Organizations in South Asia.” UFSI Reports, 1987

“Population in India: What Is Being Done?” UFSI Reports, 1986

“The Maldive Islands: New Stresses in an Old Nation.” Asian Survey July 1976.

“Dynastic Drift: A Process of Cultural Universalization.” Prof. K A Nilakanta Sastri 8th Birthday Felicitation Volume. Chennai, 1970s

”Language and Modern Civilization in South Asia.” Contributions to Asian Studies Vol XI, Leiden: E J Brill, 1978

“Bangladesh and its People in Prehistory.”  Journal of the Institute of Bangladesh Studies II, Bangladesh: Rajshahi University, 1977

“The Maldives: New Stresses in an Old Nation.” Asian Survey Vol XI, No. 7, University of California Press, 1976

“Religious Beliefs and Social Hierarchy in Tamil Nadu, India.” American Ethnologist Vol. 2, No. 1, 1975.

“The Beginnings of Civilization in South India.” The Journal of Asian Studies  Vol XXIX, No. 3, May 1970


Filed under economic processes, heritage, historical interpretation, Indian traditions, population, sri lankan society, world affairs

10 responses to ““The Beginnings of Civilization in South India” by Clarence Maloney

  1. CT Maloney

    Thanks. “People of the Maldive Islands” was based on research before such strong outside influence affected life in the Maldives. It is half culture history and half discussion of life as it was in the mid-70s, and was the first such effort for that country. This year it was re-published by Orient Blackswan in Hyderabad with a new Preface and a short Foreword by President Nasheed..

  2. A friend, when I sent this article to him mailed me back saying “it seems to corroborate Asko Parapola and Michel Danino material”.

    Asko Parpola and Michael Danino wrote more than 30 years after Maloney (Asko Parpola even cites Maloney) and the fact that their conclusions are strikingly similar to Maloney points to the relevance of this article, which is now 43 years old.
    I give below for the benefit of readers the “Conclusion” section from Parpola: 2002 (“Pandaih and Sita On the Historical Background on the Sanskrit Epics” in Journal of the American Oriental Society), followed by excerpts from the body. (I have mailed you the Parpola article Dr. Roberts)


    In conclusion, I offer the following provisional reconstruction as a first approximation of the historical background that led to the creation of the earliest versions or the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. This is of course open to improvement and modification in the light of other evidence.

    From 800 B.C. onwards, groups of Iranian-speaking, pastoralist and marauding horsemen started arriving from the steppes of Eurasia and Central Asia in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Their main route to South Asia seems to have been via the Indus Valley to Gujarat, Rajasthan, and northern Maharashtra. These Iranians brought with them their own traditions, such as polyandric marriage, circular yurt-like houses, and funeral customs including exposure and megalithic burial. The newcomers were so fair skinned that the local population called them ‘pale’ (pandu), using a word taken over from Dravidian languages then still spoken in these regions besides Indo-Aryan. While they adopted the local Black-and-Red Ware pottery, the invaders essentially continued living as before in Central India and the Deccan, spreading also further south and adopting there the local Dravidian speech. Around 600 B.C., some megalithic raiders became maritime in Gujarat and colonized the coasts of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.

    Meanwhile some megalithic Pandus turned towards the culturally more advanced northern India. Through marital and other alliances they eventually gathered such a force that one group, the Pandavas, took over the rule even in the mightiest kingdom of north India. Another successful group was the family to which the Buddha belonged: the Sakyas, too, were Pandus, ultimately of Saka origin, as their name reveals. In north India, the Pandus quickly adopted the earlier local culture and language. Their newly won positions were legitimated with fabricated genealogies that made them a branch of the earlier ruling family, and with the performance of royal rituals. The propaganda was disseminated by professional bards, leading to the creation of the Mahabharata.

    The alliance of the Pandavas and the Yadava chief Krsna Vasudeva during the Mahabharata wars led to the birth of a new Vaisnava religion, at the centre of which was at first a trio that succeeded another with Vedic and older Indo-European roots (the Asvins and their sister): two heroic brothers (the ‘strong’ white elder brother Arjuna/Baladeva and the black younger brother Krsna Vasudeva) and their sister, whom the eider brother marries. This trio amalgamates the earlier cult of another trio worshipped from the upper Indus Valley (Madra, Kekaya, Bahlika) through Gujarat (Prabhasa) and Rajasthan (Puskara, Malava) to Prayaga at the confluence of Yamuna and Ganga and eastwards up to Gaya (cf. Parpola 1998: 217ff.), evidently including Mathura.

    The earlier trio thus absorbed into Vaisnavism consisted of the incestuous couple of father (Prajapati = Brahma = Janaka = Asvapati) and daughter (Vac = Usas = Savitri = Sita = Vijaya = Durga) and the dying and resurrected young prince-husband (Satyavat = Kumara= Rudra = Siva) to whom the father married off his daughter (an alter ego of the father). These agricultural divinities were represented by the king and the queen and by such fertility symbols as the plow and furrow, pestle and mortar, and snake and earth. In a recurring New Year festival, a young hero (representing the king and the dying sun, etc.) was sacrificed after his “sacred marriage” with the queen; wine-drinking, feasting with the meat of sacrificial victims, singing, dancing, and sexual orgies were essential elements of this festival (cf. Mahabharata 8 and Parpola 1998).

    As a result of the amalgamation, Arjuna/Baladeva was transformed into (Bala-)Rama and his wife-sister into Sita. Around 450 B.C. the new Vaisnava religion was taken from Mathura via Dvaraka by sea to Sri Lanka (by Padu-Vasudeva) and to Tamil Nadu (where southern Madhura became the new Pandyan capital). Rumours about the princess held captive in the royal palace of Sri Lanka (Mahavamsa ch. 9) reached Ayodhya soon hereafter, and Valmiki composed his epic in which the local royalties played the roles of Janaka (the father of Sita), (Bala)Rama, and Sita, and Rama’s younger brother (Laksmana thus replacing Krsna of the early Vaisnava trio).

    Although Pro-Dravidian scholars claim that the word is derived from Pandy. This strand of reasoning is not taken seriously given the other more tangible sources of material that support the Pandu lineage


    If the Pandavas were foreigners of Iranian affinity coming to India c. 800 – 400 B.C., do they have any counterpart in the archaeological record? In my opinion (cf. Parpola 1984), a good match is the “Megalithic” culture, first attested c. 800 B.C. at sites such as Mahurjhari and Khapa in Vidarbha in NE Maharashtra. These oldest graves are simple stone-circles, in which people were buried with weapons and horses; the horse-furniture especially has parallels in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and western Iran. The circular huts with wooden posts and a fireplace are similar to the yurts used by the nomads of Central and Inner Asian steppes.

    After their arrival in western India, the carriers of the Megalithic culture adopted the Black-and-Red Ware pottery (of local Chalcolithic origin) and during the following several centuries spread over wide areas, mainly southwards to the Deccan, South India, and Sri Lanka.

    In many regions, folklore associates the megaliths with the Pandavas. Numerous iron tridents suggest a Saiva religion. Martial traditions of Megalithic origin still continue in the Deccan, where horsemen accompanied by dogs worship Saiva deities with tridents in yurt-like shrines (Sontheimer 1989: 26ff.). In Tamil Nadu the Megalithic culture continued till the second century A.D. and is reflected in the Old Tamil heroic poetry. (cf. Deo 1973; 1984; Leshnik 1974; 1975; Allchin & Allchin 1982: 344f.; Mclntosh 1985; Ghosh 1989: 1, 110-30 and 243-51; Maloney 1075: 6ff.; Parpola 1984: 458f.)

    Most notable among the attempts to correlate archaeological cultures with the Ramayana (cf. Brockington 1998: 398-400) is that with the early Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW). This was suggested by B.B, Lal after excavating sites identified as being Ramayana Ayodhya, Nandigrama, Srigaverapura, and Bharadvaja’s asrama. George Erdosy (1995: 100-105) in his assessment of all radiocarbon dates places the early NBPW at 550 – 400 B.C., which nearly agrees with Brockington’s date for the first phase of the Ramayana, 500 –300 B.C.

    The archaeology of early historical Sri Lanka, so far largely ignored in this connection, has become much clearer than before only recently. Robin Coningham (1995: 159-69) gives a detailed analysis of the stratigraphy of Anuradhapura and a rapid survey of other sites (170ff.). The oldest, “Mesolithic” period is evidenced by locally manufactured stone tools. In the second, “Iron Age” period the habitation area of Anuradhapura was c. 18 hectares with circular huts indicated by postholes. People had “typical Black and Red burnished ware”, iron, and cattle. Radiocarbon-based dates are c. 600 – 450 B.C., but the period may have started as early as c. 800 B.C. In the “Early Historic 1” period (c. 450 – 350 B.C.), the site and the circular huts are larger, and there are strong similarities with South Indian Megalithic burials. The pottery is still dominated by Black and Red burnished ware. Horse bones are found, and indications of a major expansion of trade and manufacturing of conch shell, iron ore, amethyst, and quartz. In the “Early Historic 2” period (c. 350 –275 B.C.), the site is more than 66 hectares and surrounded by a defensive wall. Finds include mother of pearl, cowrie and conch shells, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, and carnelian from Gujarat, five Brahmi inscriptions on potsherds, and, towards the end, coins stamped with a single arched hill or caitya. The “Early Historic 3 and 4” periods (c. 275 – 225 and 225 – 150 B.C.) have also yielded typically Hellenistic objects.

    Widespread evidence covering the entire island suggests that Sri Lanka was inhabited only by tribes of Mesolithic hunter gatherers until c. 800 – 600 B.C, when agriculture and cattle-raising were introduced by an Iron Age culture characterized by “Megalithic” burials and Black-and-Red Ware. It is so similar to the Iron Age Megalithic culture of the Indian mainland that its spread must be ascribed to actual movements of people. But where exactly did these settlers come from? It is sensible to seek an answer from the legends in the chronicles of Sri Lanka (cf. Coningham 1995: 156-59).

    The legend of the colonization of Sri Lanka is related in the Dipavamsa (Dipavamsa, chs. 9-11) and with slight variation in the Mahavamsa (Mahavamsa, chs. 6-10), written c. A.D. 400 and 500 respectively, but based on older records (cf. Geiger 1912: ixff.; Hinuber 1996: 87-91; Lamotte 1958: 129-35). This legend derives the Simhalas from Gujarat, which is most reasonable on the basis of linguistic evidence, for the best experts classify Sinhalese with (Gujarati and Marathi (cf. Lamotte 1958: 132; Masica 1991: 451-49). Pali, too, is closest to Asoka’s inscriptions at Girnar in Gujarat, and is generally considered nowadays to have originated in western India (cf. Hinuber 1986: 20). Gujarat and Maharashtra are also precisely the areas where the Megalithic Culture seems to have spread first. At first seven hundred Simhalas led by Prince Vijaya came to Sri Lanka from Sihapura (Simhapura) in LaLa (Lata in southern Gujarat).
    “Prince Vijaya was daring and uneducated; he committed most wicked and fearful things, plundering the people”. He was therefore expelled by his father, King Sihabahu. Vijaya and his men sailed down the west coast, stopping at the cities of Bharukaccha (Broach in Gujarat) and Suppara (Surparaka = Sopara near Mumbai). In both places they were offered hospitality and honours, but during their months long sojourns Vijaya and his men exasperated the inhabitants with their “cruel, savage, terrible and most dreadful deeds” which included “drinking, theft, adultery, falsehood, and slander”. Finally they arrived at the island of Lanka. This happened when the Buddha reached the parinirvana. In nine months Vijaya and his men destroyed the host of the Yakkhas who had earlier occupied the island. Vijaya founded Tambapanni, the first town in the island of Lanka. After having ruled thirty-eight years, Vijaya sent a message to his brother Sumitta in Sihapura, asking a relative to take over the rule of Lanka after his death. Vijaya is usually dated to the years 1 – 38 from the Buddha’s parinirvana or c. 486 – 448 B.C., Pandu-Vasudeva to 38 – 39 / 448 –447 B.C., and so on (thus Lamotte 1958: 134). However, Lanka is said to have been kingless for one year (Mahavamsa, ch. 8), and Pandu-Vasudeva came from Simhapura on a separate mission. The Vijaya story may be just an attempt to fill the earlier history with a vague memory of the first immigration much earlier: it seems to me that the regular dynastic record was started only with the arrival of Pandu-Vasudeva, where after it was continuous (with regard to the oldest period, Geiger [1912: xxf.] felt “a certain distrust of the tradition and traditional chronology from the very fact that Vijaya’s arrival in Ceylon is dated on the day of the Buddha’s death”). Indeed Lassen (1852: II, 96f.) has suggested that Vijaya does not actually refer to any specific person but to an event, the “conquest” of Sri Lanka.
    The Mahavamsa (chs. 8ff.) records some events soon after Pandu-Vasudeva had arrived and married Bhadda Kaccana that could have given rise to the theme of the Ramayana: it was predicted that the son of the queen’s daughter, the lovely Citta, would destroy his maternal uncles and usurp the power. Princess Citta was therefore kept as a prisoner in the palace, in an apartment built on a single pillar, accessible only through the dormitory of the king, and the entrance was guarded by a female servant inside and by one hundred armed men outside. Bhadda Kaccana’s mother sent her seven sons (one called Rama according to the commentary) from India to Lanka to see their sister, and one of them, prince Dighayu, had a son who conceived an ardent passion for Citta.

    The term used by the Sri Lankan tradition of the previous inhabitants, yakkha/yaksa, is of course of North Indian origin and tells something of the religion of the earliest immigrants. Most probably it was Vijaya who introduced the impressive yaksa cult of exorcism and sorcery that is still alive in Sri Lanka (Kapferer 1991, 1997).

    When people migrate, they often transfer the name of their old domicile to their new habitat. Simhapura, Vijaya’s home town in Gujarat, has a namesake, Simhapura, in the Indus Valley, conquered by the Pandavas (Mahabharata 2, 24, 19); according to Xuan-Zang, this Simhapura was c. 200 km SE of Taksasila (Beal 1884: I. 143). In the next verse (2, 24, 20), the Mahabharata mentions the Cola as a people crushed by the Pandavas, and people called Cola are otherwise known only from Tamil Nadu in south India (Parpola 1984: 452). Moreover, Vijaya’s brother Sumitta, King of Simhapura, married a princess of the Madra country in upper Indus Valley (cf. also Lassen 1852: II, 102, n. 4).

    The second Simhala king was called Padu-Vasudeva. Pandu(ka) figures in names of other Sinhalese kings as well, and associates them with the Pandavas of the Mahabharata (thus also Lassen 1852: II, 102f.), whose father Pandu is called Pandu (Cullavagga 64,43) or Panduraja (Jataka V, 426) in Pali texts. Pandu-Vasudeva’s father-in-law, who ruled in a kingdom on the Ganges River, was likewise called Pandu. He belonged to the Sakya clan, being a relative of the Buddha. Sakya is derived from Saka, one of the principal names of Iranian steppe nomads. Its association with the name Pandu is an additional hint of the Iranian origin of the Pandavas.

    The Pandya capital is called “southern Madhura” to distinguish it from “northern Madhura,” i.e., Mathura, the famed domicile of Krsna Vasudeva, after which the Pandya Madhura obviously was named (cf. Dessigane et al. 1960, I: xiv; Sircar 1971: 27 n. I; Hardy 1983: 156). This is suggested also by the name of the second Simhala king coming from Gujarat, Pandu-Vasudeva. It seems to me that it was this second wave of Pandu princes coming by sea to Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu who brought with them the Vaisnava religion to the south. This is suggested also by the legend of the God Uppalavanna (= Sanskrit Utpalavarna ‘having the colour of blue lotus’) being appointed by the Buddha as the guardian deity of the island and taking the immigrants under his protection, even if the Mahavamsa (ch.7) associates this with Vijaya (cf. Lassen 1852: II, 98ff.). According to Champakalakshmi (1981: 34), the earliest form of Vaisnava religion in south India is the Pancavira cult, i.e .. the worship of the five Vrsni or Yadava heroes, in particular Krsna Vasudeva and his elder brother Bala-Rama, worshipped both independently and together in Tamil Nadu in the early centuries of the Christian era (p. 35).

    Such a migration of the Yadavas is known from the northern Sanskrit sources too: Krsna Vasudeva moved from Mathura to Gujarat, where he founded the coastal city of Dvaraka or Dvaravati. Sanskrit dvara ‘door’ corresponds to Tamil kavatam/kapatam ‘fold of a door’, found in the names Pandya-kavata, one of the pearl sources in the Arthasastra (2, 11, 2), as well as Kapatapuram, legendary seat of one of the ancient Tamil literary academics (Maloney 1970: 612f.; Parpola 1984: 453). According to the Old Tamil tradition, Sage Agastya brought the eighteen velir chiefs and the rulers of the Aruvala country from Dvaraka. The Ay rulers of the eighth-ninth century south Travancore likewise traced their descent from the Yadavas (Champakalakshmi 1981: 34).

    This Heracles is chiefly honoured by the Surasenians, an Indian tribe, with two great cities, Methora and Clisobora [Kleisobora]; the navigable river lomanes flows through their territory. Megasthenes says that the garb this Heracles wore was like that of the Theban Heracles by the account of the Indians themselves: he also had a great many sons in this country, for this Heracles too wedded many wives, but he had only one daughter. Her name was Pandaea…. (Arrian, Indica 8, 5-7, trans. Brunt 1983: 327-29)

    Practically all scholars have identified the Indian Heracles with Krsna worshipped by Surasenas in Mathura on the Yamuna River. A singular exception is James Tod, who in 1835 identified Heracles with Bala-Deva, the god of strength (bala). Strength is a distinctive characteristic of Greek Heracles, and there are other reasons as well that make me think Tod was right. Textual and iconographic evidence from c. 400 B.C. onwards show that Bala-Rama was in early Visnuism a very important deity, especially in the Mathura area (see Sircar 1971: 16ff.; Jaiswal 1981: 52ff.; cf. Brockington 1998: 261f., 266f.). Andreas Bigger (1998) has criticized this “received”view, but his own deconstruction of Bala-Rama, based on a text-level analysis of the Mahabharata, is not always convincing and rather contradicted by the Old Tamil poems of the first centuries A.D. (not considered by Bigger): In Pur. 56, Krishna is invoked for his fame, Balarama for his strength. Krishna is described as having a body like blue sapphire, having a bird (presumably the garuda) on his flag, and being accompanied by Balarama, who has a body the colour of a conch. A plow for his weapon, and a palmyra for his banner. (Hart 1975: 57)

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  5. Bren S

    Where does the Padu Caste in Sri Lanka fit in?

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  10. Clarence Maloney’s chronology is so off the accepted and linguistically and anthropologically possible dates, not to mention politically and militarily also. Pandyans were probably descendants of Pandavas, but Maloney has totally misunderstood linguistic and anthropological sciences and the landscape, topography and geography of Srilanka. For the Pandavas to become so thoroughly Tamilized as the Pandyans, it would have taken a much longer time, than just a few decades. It seems as though he is not even considering that Sri Lanka is surrounded by the ocean and that the distance from Madurai to Anuradhapura would be over 300 kms, where one would have to first go all the way to the coast from Madurai then embark a ship or a boat and depending on where the boat lands in the northern area, that person would have to take the land route to get to Anuradhapura – so exerting any influence from Madurai to here, or here to Madurai, would be very difficult if not totally impossible – that is the case even today. How much influence can a person in Madurai exert on Jaffna, let alone Anuradhapura, even today, with all the modern ways of travelling? If the kind of influence Maloney is talking about is possible across the ocean and natural barriers, then the whole world would be speaking one language. Interestingly he seems to think that there was a powerful Tamil settlement in the north of Srilanka, where there is no natural barriers between the rest of the island. His whole theory of Pandavas coming here, but keeping their language and becoming Sinhalese, while they went to Tamilnadu and adopted Tamil falls apart, when he tries to place Tamils also here, at such an early date.

    Maloney is making several false claims using the Mahavamsa – example he has made Sena and Gutika into sons of an horse importer, while the Mahavamsa does not say anything about importers. The Pujavaliya says:
    “Lak-diva-ta asun gena asvacari-de-bae-kenek; the Rajavaliya says:
    “Lak-diva-ta asun gena asuru-de-bie-kenek”. So, the understanding of this passage in Mahavamsa has been clear for over 2000 years from the time the event presumably happened upto the 20th century, when every Tom Dick and Harry is trying to take a go at the Mahavamsa and the Sinhalese history, to make a Tamil state here. Besides can a horse importer just walk in and attack Anuradhapura and take over the Sinhalese throne, given the descriptions of the Sinhalese kingdom and the island in the Mahavamsa itself? If there was a Tamil horse importer with such military capabilities, surely not only the Mahavamsa, but the Tamils in Tamilakam would also known about it. Really the misuse of Mahavamsa by totally crazy people writing all sorts of spurious theories has got to be stopped legally in the future. One of the greatest mistakes the Sinhalese did was to allow foreigners, especially the British access to the Sinhalese chronicles and literature in the 19th century.

    Megalithic burials could have been brought by the so-called Aryans or Dravidians or East Asians to India – the point of interest for us is, since we find it in Sri Lanka too how did it get here, and who were the people practising these burial methods? Adopting a burial practice from neighbouring countries or traders or religious persons does not mean that there had been a wholesale immigration of those people practising these burial methods. So, trying to place Srilanka in Tamilnadu or Tamilnadu in SriLanka and most controversially trying to place Tamils here, using these burials does not make sense at all. A study done by Diane Hawkey using skeletal and dental remains from Pompirippu has shown that those remains are closest to the Sinhalese and not the Tamils. Besides, as we see from the inscriptions, the language of the people here was most certainly not Tamil and as seen by the social and political organisation from these inscriptions, its totally different than in Tamilnadu. As already mentioned, crossing the Palk straits which is a natural barrier, will undoubtedly hinder the same culture spreading or evolving in the two places parallely.

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