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Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu is the home of the Tamils and their Dravidian culture. Their history presents an exciting pageant of a powerful civilization whose origin dates back to ancient times. It is clear that the Tamils, who belong to the Dravidian race, were the first major occupants of the country and settled in the North Western part of India long before the coming of the Aryans. Excavations have revealed that the features of the people of the Indus Valley Civilization bore a strong resemblance to this race. However, with the advent of the Aryans, the Dravidians were pushed back into the deep south where they ultimately settled.

By the last centuries BC the region was controlled by three major dynasties - the Cholas in the east, Pandyas in the central area and Cheras in the west. This was also the classical period of Tamil literature - the Sangam Age - that continued for some three centuries after the birth of Christ. The Tamil Sangam is the one major source of knowledge about the administration, art, architecture and economic conditions that existed then. The domains of these dynasties changed many times over the centuries. At times other sovereignties became powerful. The Pallava dynasty was influential particularly in the 7th and 8th centuries when it constructed many monuments at Mamallapuram. Although all these dynasties engaged in continual skirmishes, their steady patronage of the arts served to consolidate and expand Dravidian civilization.

In the 13th century, with threats of Muslim invasions from the north, the southern Hindu dynasties combined and the empire of Vijayanagar, which incorporated all of South India became firmly established. However, in the 16th century, the Vijayanagar empire began to weaken and by the 17th century, Southern India was ruled by various provincial leaders, most notably the Nayaks, who continued the development of monumental architecture. In 1640, the British negotiated the use of Chennaipatnam (now Chennai) as a trading post. Subsequent interest on the part of the French, Dutch and Danes led to continual conflict and finally almost total domination by the British. Small-pocketed areas including Pondicherry and Karaikal remained under French control. Under British colonial rule most of South India was integrated into the region called Chennai Presidency. Many Tamils played a significant part in the struggle for Independence. In 1956, the Chennai Presidency was disbanded and Tamil Nadu was established- an autonomous state based on linguistic lines.

Temples with towering spires called gopurams are a common feature of this state, seldom seen anywhere else in the country. Temples in Tamil Nadu were the fulcrums of society and even today art forms that have their origin in religious worship continue to colour daily life. Notable among these are splendid bronzes of deities, painting on glass and Bharatnatyam, an evocative dance form. Madurai, Kanchipuram and Thanjavur are good examples of temple towns where within the temple fortifications grew a multi-layered society that preached faith and grew from social harmony. Quite a contrast to the temple heritage is provided at Pondicherry, for long a French colony. French is still widely spoken and seaside villas and cobbled streets are more reminiscent of the south of France than the south of India! Yet another facet of this surprisingly diverse state is two hill stations Ooty and Kodaikanal. Both are little patches of England, being much loved by the expatriate population of the Raj.

In a State where scenery and terrain is perhaps more varied than in any other part of the country, where the forested slopes of the majestic hills of the Western Ghats vie with the magnificent beaches of the Coromandel Coast, it is indeed difficult to decide which is the best feature of multi-faceted Tamil Nadu.

Fact File

CapitalChennai
ZoneSouth India