Some of the earliest writings that survived into modern times were from about the 4th century BCE, but historians believe the events referred to much earlier ages. The writings speak of Aryan influence from the north, and for the first time—the mention of caste, which was an import and not something that evolved in southern societies.

There appeared four broad southern classifications: arasar (Kshatriyan); antanar (Brahmin); vanikar (merchant); and velaalar (agriculturalist). Over the centuries, several sub-divisions evolved.

Arasar is another name for a king, who belonged to the Kshatriyan class. His two original duties were to protect his people and dispense justice. During the formative ages of kingship, a king’s primary responsibilities expanded to include three more:

  • He also taught his people. Imagine a chieftain telling stories and transferring lessons and the clan’s values around an evening fire over roasted meat. Firesides evolved into community halls. And subsequently, the royal audience hall. When he was busy, others—teachers—took over. The oracle came into being.
  • The king performed prayers and sacrifices on behalf of his clan. At one time this involved offering rice and slaughtered sheep. (Yes, I know. Even in ancient India, the sheep got it.)
  • He donated to the poor among his people.

Over time, his duties continued to grow.

As the velaalars were the original chieftains of the south, they intermarried with the emerging southern kshatriyan classes which traced their roots to agriculturalists and pastoralists.

There is evidence that the early kings abdicated their thrones when they reached the evening of their lives. In pre-Aryan days, it is unclear whether kingship was hereditary or elective. But with Aryan influence, hereditary succession became the norm.

After ruling the kingdom according to established tradition and custom, the king retired and led a life of prayer and penance.

As the clan expanded and governance became unwieldy, the king established several institutions. This was the start of devolving the king’s power but also of strengthening the institution of kingship.

Next week: The State

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019


  1. Another interesting post about a part of the world I love. I read an article on the internet some time ago written by a Tamil. He was proposing that the Dravidian languages are related to proto-Celtic. That was a bit of a stretch for me to believe. In your research have you come across that theory Eric?

    1. Hello Ian,

      Thank you for your question regarding Dravidian languages (in essence Tamil) and proto-Celtic. There are all sorts of claims floating around; probably driven by a desire to trump up interest and awe in one’s heritage.

      With economic wealth comes a rediscovery and eagerness to rewrite one’s history, I suppose. But I’ve not come across anything that would stand the scrutiny to upgrade opinions to historical fact.

      There are some who believe that Tamil (not Sanskrit) is the oldest living language in India. No consensus on that.

      But with history one never knows. With every passing year history is rewritten. After all, we all grew up convinced that Columbus discovered America 🙂


  2. I’ve been watching some Indian movies lately on Netflix (they make some very good movies, and some very bad ones) 😉 and have noticed this theme of the distinction between north and south which I wasn’t aware of. Also your comment above about Singapore rings true. I lived there ’72 to ’74 and experienced as an outsider Lee Kuan Yew’s (or Ikan Yu as my Eurasian girlfriend called him) guided democracy. I remember a prominent political opponent getting out of jail after having served his time and then being “guided” back in after saying some things that he shouldn’t have.

    1. Hello Dennis,

      Yes, Indian movies have come a long way. Some are rubbish – they call them masala movies. Others, right up there among the best from Hollywood.

      “Guided democracy” – a term bandied about several decades ago. Now it is rule by law, not rule of law. A subtle difference that misses most, even the so-called experts.

      Your girlfriend was right – people called him Ikan Kayu (even mentioned it in my book Mechanic Leigh). Literal meaning – wooden fish.

      Even the mighty shall fall. That is a given.


  3. This is what a true benevolent leader or king should be. Living by example, imparting skills and knowledge and putting the interest of people they governed first. Where has all these essential attributes gone to? The people got it right in the beginning but what it has come to these days is sad.

    Eric, this is such an enjoyable history journey you’ve extracted. Just keep them coming.

    1. Hello Windy,

      I agree with your thoughts. Political leaders in Singapore are self-serving. They have a strangle hold in parliament, pass laws to pay themselves multi-million dollar salaries. A regular cabinet minister is paid more than the American president. They promote their cronies to key positions. Their spouses hold high office in government and govern-linked businesses. And as the ex-wife (from what I know she has left Singapore) of one sitting cabinet minister said, these guys resort to “rule by law” – not “rule of law”. A lawyer herself, she even wrote a book about it. Here is the link.

      Of course foreigners and many locals living in their wells see our glitzy skyline and no more. And ignorant people keep talking of “old glories” ignoring that many of the fundamental flaws in Singapore society today is attributable to Lee Kuan Yew’s policies that failed the test of time.

      If Singapore is to stop this spiral into dictatorship, we must vote for alternate voices.

      You’ve a great weekend,

    2. I absolutely agree and support this.We are living in a glass wall, sparkling and deceiving, waiting for the day that all will fall apart unless we start changing to stronger scaffold now.

  4. I love the concept of a king who eventually retires! I assume that succession, when adopted was male. Did they intermarry and mess up their genes as the European dynasties did?

    1. Hello Jane,

      Yes, when kingship started in ancient South India, it was a collaborative venture. The king retired and other better men – and women – took over.

      Based on early matriarchal norms I believe women were also leaders. But I also suspect latter day patriarchal societies downplayed and eventually buried all mention of queens. This is highly possible when one sees how victors demonised their enemies and rewrote history to suit their personal agendas.

      FYI, I’m researching some queens of South Indian antiquity. If I gather enough material – a book perhaps 🙂

      Yes, they did freely intermarry – before the advent and entrenchment of caste from the north. But lovers continued to break boundaries and Indian history is filled with tales of lovers’ tragedies and the occasional success.


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