A corrective to northern-focused histories of India

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Shiva down south

Coromandel: A Personal History of South India. By Charles Allen.Little, Brown; 432 pages; £25.

WITH all of the gods in the Himalayas celebrating Shiva’s wedding, goes the Tamil myth, the Earth started to tilt perilously towards the north. The sage Agathya journeyed south to restore balance, bringing with him water for the land, and the Tamil language for the people.

“Coromandel”, too, seeks to redress imbalance. British colonial officers saw the south as a “sloth belt”, offering scant career advancement. Popular history has tended to ignore it, preferring the goings-on of the Mughals or the British Raj up north. In his book, Charles Allen, an Indian-born British historian, tilts his gaze to the south. He begins with the earliest waves of migrants from the north. They brought early Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Few Jains and Buddhists remain today. But both groups…Continue reading

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