The early kings of ancient South India were not autocrats. They faced a system of checks and balances from the Council and lesser organs of state that represented the people. (We discuss these checks and balances in later blog posts). The kings were subject to the laws of custom and tradition, had to champion custom and tradition, and had to be benevolent.

[Notice their attire. No upper garment for the king. A thin shawl over his left shoulder flows over his right arm. In actual life the queen uses a bra wrap but in the screenshot she wears a translucent blouse over the wrap]

Most eastern potentates maintained harems, but not so in ancient South India. The kings were monogamous. It was a mark of self-discipline, morality and high regard for women. Taking a concubine provoked scandal. The Council denied succession to any prince who succumbed to harlotry.

The ordinary classes consorted with harlots, and “dance halls” were a fixture in most towns. But the subjects held the royals to higher standards in morals, courage, justice, gentle speech, and so forth.

Anyone can challenge the king in open court on any matter such as his decisions, the state of the nation, and his morals. The king will reply or court officials may reply on his behalf.

A typical day in the life of a king:

  • Sunrise to mid-morning: religious duties and studies.
  • Mid-morning to early afternoon: held court, including alms-giving.
  • Early afternoon to early evening: caucus with his ministers.
  • Early evening onwards: rest, amusement, and family time.

When the king spent private time with his wife, the queen, they entertained one another with song, music and dance. At the least the king told stories to please his queen.

The king prevented war, but executed it when required. He adhered to rules of custom before going to war.

In the first instance, the king endured the errors of omission and commission from another monarch. If that monarch persisted, then the king curbed the provocateur’s exuberance. His options included going to war. Tamilakam’s customs and traditions considered such a war as justified. War booty was his for the taking and distributing among his allies and nobles. A righteous war allowed the king to conquer and gain the enemy’s territories.

A king who invaded a neighbouring country without provocation invited shame on himself and his lineage. He suffered the question: Are you incapable of feeding your people without coveting the resources of another? If so, step down and let a better prince wield the sceptre.

This idealistic code of chivalry crumpled under the onslaught of foreign invaders.

 Next week: The Council

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2019


    1. Thank you, Indira

      But I don’t deserve your compliment.

      I’m researching South Indian history for another historical novel I’m writing and came upon a treasure trove of information which I’m sharing here. Like most people, much of what I discovered surprised me too. But I’m learning and it is fascinating.


  1. Eric in some of the villages of South India I’ve passed through men continued to only bother with the lungi and a throw over scarf that I guessed was for wiping away sweat. Women went topless still though in some villages nearer big cities it was a mixed bag either going without or wearing a choli. It was interesting to see how a cultural change was in the making. Just before the monsoons the heat is unbearable but places like Chennai (Madras) people tended toward wearing more which made no sense to me. The lungi is a sensible garment. When travelling long distance by train I always changed into one. 🙂

    1. Hello Ian,

      Yes, weather determines one’s clothing. The lungi (similar to a sarong) is sensible dressing in hot humid climate, I suppose.

      In Singapore, as recently as the 1960s one continued to spot old Indian women who went about with a sari that wrapped their upper body – they did not wear a choli (blouse).


  2. Your writens are ever engaging..had been reading you already as part of my earlier blog ( still existing)..this artie sheds tremendous light with your literary prowess ..on our Tamilakam’s rich cultural heritage n reign …esp. loved the legend, Chevalier Sivaji’s pic from film you have included here..write on more xx

    1. Welcome aboard 🙂

      From your gmail, I guess your name is Cavin. But forgive me if I’m mistaken.

      Thank you for reading and posting this, the first comment on my blog. Thank you also, for your kind words.

      Yes, Tamilakam has a rich history and cultural heritage. India and Indians have every reason to be proud.

      Nadigar Thilagam is one of my favourite stars.

      All good wishes,

  3. Isn’t it romantic for couples to entertain each other with their personal touch. Plus it’s free. Entertainment these days are what the media fed us. When it comes to creating romantic setup, everything is commercialised and we sometimes pay through our nose.

    1. Hello Windy,

      Kings do not spend their evenings in feasting and staged performances. Like all of us, the royal couple too look forward to privacy and family time.

      The women (queens) are usually versed in music – singing and playing stringed instruments such as the veena – and dance. Some create stunning works of portraiture.

      The men (kings) play wind and percussion instruments. One famous king, Ravana of Lanka, was an accomplished veena maestro and had the veena on his state flag. And many kings excel in story telling, often regaling the queen of their exploits and accomplishments of their forebears.

      Now, with the advent of the hand-held device, people are losing the art of conversation, let alone the art of storytelling.

      Trust your weekend is coming along well,

  4. Considering how leaders(monarchs) get away with this days, the ancient Indians managed to put them in check by demanding so much of them. I think this would be a good thing to emulate

    1. Hello there, my Nairobi friend,

      Amazing isn’t it what our current lot in most countries do and get away with. Even in “squeaky clean” Singapore, the rot is in the top.

      Things will only get worse before the upswing which will smash the despots and bring us into better cheer, I reckon.

      Peace, Bro,

  5. I’ve always felt that a benign king is the best ruler. The transition of power is where it gets sticky. Seems like the sons of the best kings become the worst…

  6. Good insight into the life and responsibilities of the King. I found it interesting that the King had to adhere to higher moral standards than those imposed on his subjects. You describe Kingship as an onerous responsibility – tis a pity that outsiders should have been able to destroy the balance of power..

    1. Hello Jane,

      Thank you for your visit and comment.

      People expected their kings to possess special traits and uphold ideals that they themselves aspired to. Kingship was not gained at the point of the sword but by the sheer character of the person. Hollywood types tend to caricature kings and their version of “history” has gained unwanted legitimacy in the public domain.

      I always suspected the Tamilakam kings to be monogamous but I too was surprised to learn that it was indeed the case.


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