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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