All posts by Zoe Headley

Early print literature on the history of Tamil Nadu

The Roja Muthiah Research Library (RMRL) proposes to preserve early print literature on the history of Tamilnadu by microfilming the publications and later by digitizing the microfilm reels. A wealth of 19th & 20th century material lies scattered in different libraries and private collections in Tamilnadu. These libraries are under-funded and struggle to preserve their collections. RMRL has as its highest priority the preservation of important Tamil publications before they deteriorate beyond the point of use. Some of the items that have been located are related to Dravidian movement, political movements, history of Vaishnavism, Saivism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.


Taking History Beyond the Classroom

The Hindu – 2 March 2017

French Institute of Pondicherry ties up with PondyART Foundation to exhibit digital archive of Tamil agrarian history

S. Senthalir

Interested in discovering the social history of a village life in the remote parts of the Tamil region while ambling along the sea side? Stop by the compound wall of the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP) to combine learning and leisure.

In an attempt to bring the research from within the walls of academics to the general public, IFP has collaborated with PondyART Foundation to exhibit the Digital Archive of Tamil Agrarian History (1650-1950).

From individual households to institutions, the researchers of IFP have dug out private documents that shed light on the historical treasures of Tamil Nadu.


Workshop Exploring DATAH – 22-24 February 2017/ IFP

This 3 day seminar will expose, explore, read and question a digital archive of Tamil agrarian history (DATAH) which was constituted during a five year project (2010-2016) by a team of the Social Sciences Department of the IFP. This project was funded by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Program (Arcadia).

Alongside the presentation of the project (day 1) and the seminar (day 2) during which historians and anthropologist will present their personal readings of the archive,  an exhibition will be held on the back wall of the IFP both for this seminar as well as for the Pondicherry Heritage Festival. Further a roundtable (day 3) will be devoted to exploring the feasibility of pursuing the collection of documents and to assessing strategies and constraints of digital archives in Tamil Nadu.

Please find the DATAH announcement and programme.


Archival records of pre-1947 Telugu printed materials

The objective of this project is to microfilm/digitise 2,000 pre-1920s printed materials, in Telugu located in old libraries, which are fast disintegrating.


The collections that will be selected for copying under this project are the books and periodicals published during the 19th and first half of 20th centuries in Telugu language in South India. Some of them are typical local/small town publications that were preserved in village and town libraries. The Telugu language is considered the Italian of the East. The first stirrings of cultural and religious renaissance were felt in the Telugu speaking districts of Madras Presidency under the British rule. The most powerful expression of social and cultural interaction between the East and the West could be seen in Telugu print culture. From the revival of medical knowledge to various forms of literary genre – classical Prabandha, Ithihasa and Puranic tradition and Panchangas [from 1860s] and Satakas, western forms like novel, short story, poem, drama and literary criticism – could be seen in Telugu printed materials. The print materials are the only living source for the reconstruction of South Indian history. This region is attracting a lot of attention by global community of scholars working on South Asia. Making this valuable material available to the wider audience is therefore imperative.

Most of the print materials are now housed in old village and small town libraries, mostly started during 1890s and 1930s.

Tasveer Ghar: Digital Archive of South Asian Popular Visual Culture

Tasveer Ghar is a trans-national virtual “home” for collecting, digitizing, and documenting various materials produced by South Asia’s exciting popular visual sphere including posters, calendar art, pilgrimage maps and paraphernalia, cinema hoardings, advertisements, and other forms of street and bazaar art. Some of the key fields of exploration within the network are: (a) the social and performative life of images; (b) the histories and everyday lives and voices of producers, disseminators and ‘consumers’; (c) various techniques of visuality/media of visualisation (for instance, ritual or theatrical per­formance, or political spectacle).


“Caste in Tamil Nadu” 3 essays by MSS Pandian (EPW)

(I) Caste in Tamil Nadu – A History of Nadar Censorship

Published in EPW, vol. XLVIII, n°3,  on January 19th 2013

Representations have been made by some of the political parties of Tamil Nadu to have a particular chapter in an NCERT Class IX textbook removed; the chapter is being attacked for discussing the past of the infl uential Nadars as “untouchables” and for highlighting the role played by 19th century Christian missionaries in the community’s subsequent upward mobility. The present clamour for a censored caste history has a right-wing Hindu character to it. If memories of degradation are an enabling resource in producing alliances against continuing forms of oppression, in this instance erasure of such memories is what is being sought by an upwardly mobile caste.

Continue reading here.

(II) Caste in Tamil Nadu – Slipping Hegemony of Intermediate Castes

Published in EPW, vol. XLVIII, n°4, January 26th 2013

The case of violence against the dalits by the Vanniyars in Dharmapuri recently is not a sign of resurgent casteism as the media and others are claiming. The state has definitely benefited from the anti-caste movements in the past and the dalits are experiencing upward mobility. The violence is a desperate acknowledgement of the dalit reality and the inability of the intermediate castes to exercise caste power over them as in the past.

Continue reading here.

(III) Caste in Tamil Nadu – Denying Difference

Published in EPW, vol. XLVIII, n°8, on February 23rd  2013

Tamil Nadu has a long tradition of implementing reservations on a preferential basis for different groups. The Arunthathiyar Special Reservation Act (2009) allots the Arunthathiyars 3 percentage points out of the 18% reservation for the scheduled castes. While having benefited the Arunthathiyars, the Act continues to be contested by other scheduled castes.

Continue reading here.



Digital Himalaya

A project to develop digital collection, storage and distribution strategies for multimedia anthropological information from the Himalayan region.


The Digital Himalaya project was designed by Alan Macfarlane and Mark Turin as a strategy for archiving and making available ethnographic materials from the Himalayan region. Based at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, the project was established in December 2000. From 2002 to 2005, the project moved to the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University and began its collaboration with the University of Virginia. From July 2014, the project has relocated to the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, and is engaged in a long term collaboration with Sichuan University.

Noboru Karashima’s keynote address-Tamil Studies Conference

Professor Noboru Karashima delivered the keynote address during the tamil Studies Conference, which took place in Toronto on the 11th and 12th of May, entitled: “The past as known from tamil inscriptions”, which was fascinating.


Inscriptions on stones or copper-plates, which occur in substantial numbers, are the basic source-material for the ancient and medieval history of India, as much of India lacks history books compiled in these periods. It is particularly so in the case of Tamil Nadu, as there remain in Tamil Nadu the largest number of inscriptions from the past. First I will explain this situation by showing the language-wise and chronological distributions of inscriptions. What sort of information can we obtain from those inscriptions and how can it be obtained? In order to elucidate these points, I will take up, as examples, my study of the two issues, namely, (1) the notion of the village community and (2) the challenge to the caste system in the past, made through the examination of Tamil inscriptions of the Chola period (10th to 13th centuries). First, the view expressed by Metcalfe, The Indian Village Communities are little Republics, having nearly everything that they want within themselves, produced later the theory of the Stagnant Orient or Oriental Despotism. There is a volume of inscriptional data on the nature of villages in the Chola period to question this understanding. Second, many people believe that the caste system has been well maintained in South India without much challenge since it was introduced from the North during the Pallava period until the beginning of the last century. An analysis of the imprecations in Chola and Pandyan inscriptions throws anew light on this issue. For such studies, the importance of statistical analysis of inscriptional data, the method of which I introduced into this field of study, need to be emphasized.

The website TamilNet, has covered the talk and uploaded the presentation, which can be found here: Karashima_paper_toronto_2012

Related posts in Clac:

Interview of N. Karashima by P.Menon, here.

“Epigraphical Study of Tamil Villages” by N. Karashima, here.

Tamil Studies Conference 2012: “Traces of the past”, here.


South India under the Cholas

South India Under the Cholas by Y. Subbarayalu

This book explores different aspects of state-society interactions in medieval south India under the reign of the Cholas. Divided into two parts-Epigraphy and History, and State and Society-the first provides an in-depth analysis of Tamil epigraphy and inscriptions. While interpreting inscriptional terminology, it discusses the socio-economic milieu, merchant guilds, and other sociological aspects. The next section traces the evolution of the medieval state, economy, and society. It discusses land surveys, Chola revenue system and sale deeds, and property rights. The author examines, in detail, the emergence of new organizations like Urar, Nattar, and Periyanattar, and maritime trade guilds, and social classes like landholders, cultivators, slaves, and the left and right hand divisions. The introduction contextualizes these essays in current research scenario and historiography and also provides a brief overview of the evolution of the Chola state and society.

OUP India c. 272 pages | 13 tables, 5 maps | 215x140mm

978-0-19-807735-0 | Hardback | 22 December 2011

For a review by of Subbarayalu’s book by the historian R. Champakalakshmi in The Hindu (24/04/2012), read here.

For a review by of Subbarayalu’s book by the historian Kesavan Veluthat in Frontline (11-24/02/2012), read here.

Table of content:

Part I: Epigraphy and History
1: Tamil Epigraphy: Past and Present
2: The Social and Economic Milieu of the Pulangurichi Inscriptions
3: The Merchant Guild Inscription at Barus in Sumatra
4: Sociological Aspects of the Personal Names and Titles
5: Interpreting Inscriptional Terminology

Part II: State and Society
6: Measurement and Classification of Land
7: An Overview of the Chola Revenue System
8: Quantifying Land Revenue of the Chola State
9: Sale Deeds and Property Rights
10: Urar, Nattar, and Periyanattar
11: Alunganam and Mulaparudai: Two Early Village Bodies
12: Landholders, Cultivators, and Slaves
13: Social Change and the Right and Left Hand Divisions
14: Anjuvannam: A Maritime Trade Guild of Medieval Times
15: Erivirapattinam: Warriors and the State
16: The Chola State
17: Characterizing the Chola State


How do you destroy Indian history?

“Our past is being moth-eaten” article by Dinyar Patel

Dinyar Patel, a Ph.D. candidate from the Department of History of Harvard University, published an article in The Hindu (19/04/2012) on the alarming situation in Indian archives.

“India’s archives and libraries are in a state of ruin. We would lose our history and heritage if the government does not act to save them. […] India is a country that is justifiably proud of its illustrious past. But this pride does not always translate into proper custodianship and preservation. Most Indians would cringe at how sources of Indian history are treated in government institutions. In spite of the plethora of capable administrators and skilled archivists in this country, many institutions do not follow clear, up-to-date, and verifiable standards for document preservation.”

Read more here.

The Hindu – Discovery of 2,200-year-old Tamil-Brahmi inscription

Muthukumar (DATAH) participates in the discovery of  a 2 200 year-old Jain inscription

A short Tamil-Brahmi inscription carved out over 2200 years ago on a boulder in Samanamalai (Madurai district) was discovered recently by V. Vedachalam (Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department) and V. Muthukumar, one of our team members. To read more about the inscription and its signification, please read here

V. Muthukumar is pursuing his PhD in Epigraphy and Archaeology at Tamil University (Thanjavur). He has gained good experience in the field of archeology (Adhichanallur, Porunthal, Thandikudi) as well as epigraphy while working with the Saraswati Mahal library for the National Mission for Manuscripts.

Another Tamil-Brahmi inscription was found by other researchers in the Edakal cave (Kerala’s Wayanad district) at the beginning of the month of February. For now, opinions differ as to the possible date of the inscription. To read more, click here.

The IFP, which is hosting the CLAC project, also has an ongoing research project on Jaina Temples in Tamil Nadu:

Even though important on a historical point of view and still alive today, the Jain presence in Tamil Nadu, consisting on the one hand of ancient Digambara communities of the South, and on the other hand of immigrant merchant communities from Western India, is badly assessed. Temples of this region make up for a rich heritage still unrecognised. We wish to make a CD-ROM that presents the temples in their artistic and religious dimension, as an architectural heritage and living place, and that sheds light on the uniqueness of Jainism in Tamil Nadu. Read more…

Fragile Prospects of Epigraphy

‘Epigraphy staring at an uncertain future’


article by R.Krishna Kumar published in The Hindu (Mysore edition) 12/02/2012


Reckoned to be the bedrock of ancient Indian historical studies, epigraphy is at the crossroads and stares into an uncertain future given societal preference for remunerative career choices rather than academic and scholarly pursuits […]

Speaking to The Hindu , Director (Epigraphy) T.S. Ravishankar said it was time to review the present scenario related to epigraphic studies and called for intensive and extensive surveys to record, document and copy the epigraphic material […]

Read more here.



History speaks many languages

An interview with Sanjay Subramanyam

by Thomas Grillot & Anne-Julie Etter

published in La vie des Idees (27-01-2012).


History cannot be written as if nations had always been around, and as if men had not found countless ways to ignore their frontiers. Historian Sanjay Subrahmanyam invites his peers to make use of the riches that lie in the multilingual archives of humanity to reveal connections that were once relevant to huge areas of the world.

A polyglot and an historian, Sanjay Subrahmanyam has placed at the center of his research connections between sources and historiographies in different languages (Persian, Urdu, Telugu, Tamil, Portuguese, English, Spanish, German, French, Italian and Dutch). He gracefully submitted to a French and English interview, the Gallic part of which can be accessed on La Vie des Idées. Answers to the same questions turned out to be largely complementary. We invite our readers to read both interviews as a whole.


For the interview in English, please click here.

For the interview in French, please click here.




Interview of N. Karashima by P.Menon

In an interview, Japanese scholar Noboru Karashima speaks on his recent work, the state of historical research in universities and government institutes in India, and his deep concern over the uncertain future of the discipline of epigraphy in India.

By Parvathi Menon

Published in The Hindu 02/12/2010

It is now over 50 years since Noboru Karashima, now Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo, published his first study on the medieval economic history of South India – a small essay on land control in Allur and Isanamangalam villages in the Cauvery delta, based on a study of Chola inscriptions. With that he pioneered a methodological framework for studying inscriptions, and for interpreting the mass of information that this historical source contains. He is today a pre-eminent scholar on the medieval history of south India. He has also contributed significantly to a rich tradition of Japanese social science research on India, with his hallmark of careful empirical research. In this interview given to Parvathi Menon in Bangalore, the Japanese scholar speaks on his recent work, the state of historical research in universities and government institutes in India, and his deep concern over the uncertain future of the discipline of epigraphy in India.

To read the article from The Hindu click here.

Epigraphical Study of Tamil Villages

Recent publication by Noboru Karashima

A new article by Noboru Karashima  “Epigraphical Study of Ancient and Medieval Villages in the Tamil Country” was recently published in Review of Agrarian Studies, Volume 1, Number 2 (July-December, 2011).

Abstract: In­scrip­tions on stones or cop­per-plates, which occur in sub­stan­tial num­bers, are the basic source-ma­te­r­ial for the an­cient and me­dieval his­tory of India, as much of India lacks his­tory books com­piled in these pe­ri­ods. For pre-mod­ern vil­lage stud­ies as well, there­fore, we have to de­pend on in­scrip­tions.

In this paper I ex­plain how the re­mains of in­scrip­tions can be used for vil­lage stud­ies by re­fer­ring to my ex­am­i­na­tion of Tamil in­scrip­tions of the Chola pe­riod (10th to 13th cen­turies). Through their ex­am­i­na­tion I have at­tempted to clar­ify the changes that oc­curred in the land­hold­ing sys­tem in the mid­dle Chola pe­riod, and the great so­cial change and up­heaval that these rep­re­sented.

I also demon­strate the im­por­tance of sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis of in­scrip­tional data, of tech­niques that I in­tro­duced into this field of study. Many in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant fea­tures of an­cient and me­dieval vil­lages can be known from in­scrip­tions, in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion on vil­lage types, cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices, taxes on vil­lages, and the peo­ple who lived in the vil­lages.


The online version of the Review of Agrarian Studies is available for free at or