Five distinct societies evolved in South India during the pre-historical period: hunter-gatherers; pastoralists; agriculturalists; fishermen; and nomads of the semi-arid lands.

The pastoralists (whose wealth was cattle) of the mullai regions and agriculturalists (excess grain stores) of the marudam evolved the first recognised social structures.

Wealthy shepherds and farmers hired workers and fighting men. With spare time on their hands, these shepherds and farmers honed their martial skills. Within a generation the ruling classes became warriors in their own right. Their power grew. Several villages came together and clans took root. Tribal warrior chiefs emerged. They defended their clans and also acted as judges.

The first chieftains in South Indian polity drew their titles from their vocation. For example, “kov” is the staff carried by a herdsman. And over time, kovalan, he who carries a staff, came to mean king. The staff evolved into the sceptre.

But a man became a leader because he had followers. From the onset, though one strong man—or woman, as early Tamilakam societies made no distinction—rose to the top, he needed a group of staunch followers to shore his position against pretenders. This led to a gang of rulers that evolved into a refined institution called the Council. Over the aeons the council acquired many names: Royal Council, Governing Council, and Royal Advisors, and so forth. States came into being, and kingship established.

The early kings of ancient South India never enjoyed absolutism. But they were first among equals.

Next week: Aryan Influence

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019


  1. I’m enjoying this and thank you for the world human societies time-line link which you sent. I like to see history in context. This is an education for me especially as the history that I was taught in the UK ignored the east until the British made their way to India.

    1. Thank you, Jane, and I’m glad you found that link useful.

      As I grew up in colonial Singapore, most of my history and literature (even after the first 6 years of independence), was British/European centric. We also read only British literature – Shakespeare, Keats and so forth. I enjoyed them.

      When the school introduced music appreciation in 1969, they taught Beethoven, Bach, etc. My question to the teacher was: why are we not reading Asian music and for that matter Asian literature. The woman, an Asian Singaporean glared and told me to “Sit down”. I wasn’t challenging her but posed the question out of curiosity.

      I picked up non-European history – Asian, American and African – only after I left school. Recently, I started delving into South American history.

      Trust the weekend is going well,

  2. There is always this money making institutions called the council or adviser or consultant, brought down from history. Do they work for your interest? That is sometime questionable.

    By the way, isn’t Kovalan, the name of the ‘king’ in your book – Song of the Ankle Rings?

    I love the simplified version of history you posted weekly, they are a pleasure to read and easy to absorb. Thank you, Eric.

    1. Hello Windy,

      Modern day consultants – I’ve not much to say. But in the ancient world, especially during the era this history is set – the council was an important body that helped the king govern the nation. More of this in a latter post.

      Yes, Kovalan’s name comes from the “kov” – he who carries the staff. You remembered 🙂

      Re: these “history” posts – you’re very welcome.

      All good wishes,

  3. Eric, I recently read a book that talked about the power of story, and its ability to craft a narrative, a vision that could mold multiple small clans into a nation.

    1. Hello Bill,

      Your comment is topical. Next week’s post actually touches on storytelling – of early kings narrating stories to inculcate morals and unity among their people.

      Thank you for your comment,

I like to hear your thoughts

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