|Population: 56 million|
Tamil Nadu extends from the southernmost tip of the country, Kanyakumari (where the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bangal meet), north to the Palani, Annamalai and Nilgiri Hills, which straddle this state's borders with Kerala and Karnataka. Amongst these forested hills can be found tea and coffee plantations as well as the well-known hill stations of Ooty (Udagamandalam) and Kodaikanal. The Mudamalai Wildlife Sanctuary occupies an area of heavy teak forest in the lower reaches of these hills. In the eastern area of Tamil Nadu the alluvial plains of the Cauvery River support a productive rice growing area.
This southern state was affected only minimally by the presence of the British and the Moguls on the subcontinent, leaving it today as the heartland of South Indian temple architecture. In the market area of almost every town can be found large temple complexes, their entryways marked by huge ornate gopura.
Dravidian language and culture has developed separately from that of North India since the earliest recorded evidence which dates from the 4th century BC. Physically, also, the people of 'Dravidadasa' (what is now Tamil Nadu and Kerala) are distinct from their northern taller, lighter skinned countrymen. The early kingdoms, the Cheras in the west, the Pandyas in the south and the Cholas in the east, traded heavily with Europe in spices, precious stones and metals.
By the 4th century AD the wealth and power of these three dynasties had largely faded, and by the 6th century the Pallavas, based in Kanchipuram, ruled the region. Marked by territorial battles with the Chalukyas in the west (in what is now Karnataka) and with the Pandyas, this was also a period of social development which gave birth to traditional Tamil music and dance. During this era the temple became the predominant focal point of religious activity. It was in Tamil Nadu that a variation of Hinduism called 'bhakti' originated. This developed into a movement that spread to the rest of India to become the main form of Hinduism. Bhakti worship was a form that was open to all castes, focussed primarily on the gods Vishnu and Shiva. It's main spokespeople were the poet-saints, whose poetry is still popular and whose collective writing are South India's most important literary legacy.
Between the 14th and the 16th centuries the Vijayanagars established themselves in Hampi (in Karnataka) and spread to much of South India, while fighting off Muslim approaches from the north. It was the Vijayanagars who introduced the huge gopura, the temple gateway towers, as well as building many new temples and enlarging existing ones.
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in South India, followed about a century later by the British, the French and the Dutch. It was the British, based in Madras, and the French, based in Pondicherry, who engaged in the fiercest territorial disputes, while remaining on more or less friendly terms with the Indians. Finally the French were left with only Pondicherry and the British consolidated their position on the subcontinent. The 1950's saw a redrawing of state borders along linguistic lines. This resulted in a predominantly Tamil-speaking area retaining the name of Madras Presidency, which had been a somewhat larger area under the British. In 1965 Madras Presidency became Tamil Nadu and in 1967 the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) party took over from Congress. The DMK was an anti-Brahmin, pro-Tamil-identity movement which had begun in the 1920's and 30's. In the mid-70's, film-star-turned-politician M.G.Ramachandran broke away from the DMK, which was anti-central government and pro-industry, to form the AIADMK (All India Anna DMK). Promoting welfare schemes, he was swept to an easy win in 1977 by adoring fans. When he died in 1988, power returned briefly to the DMK but soon the AIADMK was again led to power, this time by former film star and dancer Jayalalitha Jayaram who had been very close to MGR. By the end of the 90's the DMK was back in power under the leadership of Karaninidhi, another contemporary of MGR, and Jayalalitha though still powerful within her party was defending herself against an extensive list of corruption charges.