Dravidian people

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Dravidians are native speakers of any of the Dravidian languages. There are around 200 million native speakers of Dravidian languages.[2] They form the majority of the population of South India. Dravidian-speaking people are natively found in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan,[3] Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.[4]

South Asia and South East Asia, mainly South India and Sri Lanka
Linguistic classification One of the world’s primary language families
Proto-language Proto-Dravidian
  • Northern
  • Central
  • Southern
ISO 639-2 / 5 dra
Linguasphere 49= (phylozone)
Glottolog drav1251[1]

Distribution of subgroups of Dravidian languages:

Dravidian people
Total population
approx. 217 million   
Dravidian languages
predominantly Hinduism, and other Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism

The third century BCE onwards saw the development of large Dravidian political states: Chola dynasty, Pandyan dynasty, Rashtrakuta dynasty, Vijayanagara Empire, Chera Dynasty, Chalukya dynasty and a number of smaller states. The Ganga dynasty, Kadamba dynasty, Hoysala Empire, Pallava dynasty, Hoysala Empire Satavahana dynasty, Andhra Ikshvaku, Vishnukundina, Western Chalukya Empire, Eastern Chalukyas, Kakatiya dynasty, Hoysala Empire and the Mysore kingdom were established by the Dravidian people.

Medieval Tamil guilds and trading organizations like the “Ayyavole and Manigramam” played an important role in the Southeast Asia trade.[5] Traders and religious leaders travelled to Southeast Asia and played an important role in the cultural Indianisation of the region. Locally developed scripts such as Grantha and Pallava script induced the development of many native scripts such as Khmer, Javanese Kawi script, Baybayin, and Thai.

Dravidian visual art is dominated by stylised Temple architecture in major centres, and the production of images of stone and bronze sculptures. The Nataraja sculpture from the Chola period has become notable as a symbol of Hinduism.



The Sanskrit word drāviḍa is used to denote the geographical region of South India.[6] Southern Brahmins are known as Pancha Dravida while northern Brahmins are known as Pancha Gauda, denoting geographical region.

In Prakrit, words such as “Damela”, “Dameda”, “Dhamila” and “Damila,” which later evolved from “Tamila,” could have been used to denote an ethnic identity.[7] Epigraphic evidence of an ethnic group termed as such is found in ancient India where a number of inscriptions have come to light datable from the 6th to the 5th century BCE mentioning Damela or Dameda persons. The Hathigumpha inscription of the Kalinga ruler Kharavela refers to a T(ra)mira samghata (Confederacy of Tamil rulers) dated to 150 BCE. It also mentions that the league of Tamil kingdoms had been in existence for 113 years by that time.[8] In Amaravati in present-day Andhra Pradesh there is an inscription referring to a Dhamila-vaniya (Tamil trader) datable to the 3rd century CE.[8] Another inscription of about the same time in Nagarjunakonda seems to refer to a Damila. A third inscription in Kanheri Caves refers to a Dhamila-gharini (Tamil house-holder). In the Buddhist Jataka story known as Akiti Jataka there is a mention to Damila-rattha (Tamil dynasty).

Thamizhar is etymologically related to Tamil, the language spoken by Tamil people. Southworth suggests that the name comes from tam-miz > tam-iz ‘self-speak’, or ‘one’s own speech’.[9] Zvelebil suggests an etymology of tam-iz, with tam meaning “self” or “one’s self”, and “-iz” having the connotation of “unfolding sound”. Alternatively, he suggests a derivation of tamiz < tam-iz < *tav-iz < *tak-iz, meaning in origin “the proper process (of speaking).”[10] The term Thamizhar was likely derived from the name of the ancient people Dravida > Dramila > Damila > Tamila > Tamilar.[11]

While the English word Dravidian was first employed by Robert Caldwell in his book of comparative Dravidian grammar based on the usage of the Sanskrit word drāviḍa in the work Tantravārttika by Kumārila Bhaṭṭa,[6] the word drāviḍa in Sansrkit has been historically used to denote geographical regions of Southern India as whole. Some theories concern the direction of derivation between tamiẓ and drāviḍa; such linguists as Zvelebil assert that the direction is from tamiẓ to drāviḍa.[12] The modern word Dravidian is devoid of any ethnic significance, and is only used to classify a linguistic family of the referred group.[7]


The origins of the Dravidians are a “very complex subject of research and debate.” [13] They may have been indigenous to the Indian subcontinent,[14][15][16] but origins in, or influence from, West-Asia have also been proposed.[17][18][19][20][21]

Although in modern times speakers of the various Dravidian languages have mainly occupied the southern portion of India, Dravidian speakers must have been widespread throughout the Indian subcontinent before the Indo-Aryan migration into the subcontinent.[22] According to Carole Davies, “many academic researchers have attempted to connect the Dravidians with the remnants of the great Indus Valley Civilisation, located in Northwestern India,”[13] most noteworthy Asko Parpola,[21] who did extensive research on the IVC-scripts.[21][23] The Brahui population of Balochistan in Pakistan has been taken by some as the linguistic equivalent of a relict population, perhaps indicating that Dravidian languages were formerly much more widespread and were supplanted by the incoming Indo-Aryan languages.[24] The Dravidian influence is also noted to have been found in ancient civilizations of India. The Ancient Dravidians are considered to be the direct ancestors of the Tamils, Malayalees, Telugus, Canarese.[25]

Ancestral componentsEdit

Reich et al. (2009) discerned two major ancestral components in India,[26][27][28] namely the Ancestral North Indians (ANI) who are “genetically close to Middle Easterners, Central Asians, and Europeans,” and the Ancestral South Indians (ASI) which are clearly distinct from ANI[26] and “not closely related to groups outside the subcontinent.”[29] Basu et al. (2016), discerned two additional components, Ancestral Tibeto-Burmese (ATB) and Ancestral Austro-Asiatic (AAA), noting that the ASI and the AAA were early settlers of India who differentiated after their arrival in India.[30][note 1] The ANI and ASI mixed in India between 4,200 and 1,900 years ago (2200 BCE-100 CE), whereafter a shift to endogamy took place,[28] possibly by the enforcement of “social values and norms” by the “Hindu Gupta rulers.”[32] Northern Indians and higher castes are more related to West Eurasians, while southern Indians and lower castes are less related to West Eurasians.[33]

Moorjani et al. (2013) describe three scenarios regarding the bringing together of the two groups:

  1. migrations before the development of agriculture (8,000–9,000 years before present (BP);
  2. migration of western Asian people together with the spread of agriculture, maybe up to 4,600 years BP;
  3. migrations of western Eurasians from 3,000 to 4,000 years BP.[34]

According to Metspalu, the ANI diverged from the present populations of West Eurasia 12,500 years ago,[35] while according to Moorjani et al. (2013) these groups were plausibly present “unmixed” in India before 2,200 BCE.[28]

Lazaridi et al. (2016) “While the Early/Middle Bronze Age ‘Yamnaya’-related group (Steppe_EMBA) is a good genetic match (together with Neolithic Iran) for ANI, the later Middle/Late Bronze Age steppe population Sintashta-Andronovo (Steppe_MLBA) is not.” [36] “ANI ancestry related to both the steppe and Neolithic Iran is found across South Asia making it difficult to associate it strongly with any particular language family (Indo-European or otherwise).”[36] “Nonetheless, the fact that we can reject West Eurasian population sources from Anatolia, mainland Europe, and the Levant diminishes the likelihood that these areas were sources of Indo-European (or other) languages in South Asia.”[36][37]

Proposed agricultural originsEdit

According to Burjor Avari, the Dravidian languages are believed to be indigenous to India,[38] According to Masica, the Dravidian languages are more likely than the Indo-Aryan languages to be indigenous to the Indian subcontinent.[15]

According to David McAlpin, the Dravidian languages were brought to India by immigration into India from Elam, located in present-day southwestern Iran.[18][39] In the 1990s, Renfrew and Cavalli-Sforza have also argued that Proto-Dravidian was brought to India by farmers from the Iranian part of the Fertile Crescent,[17][40][41][note 2] but more recently Heggerty and Renfrew noted that “McAlpin’s analysis of the language data, and thus his claims, remain far from orthodoxy”, adding that Fuller finds no relation of Dravidian language with other languages, and thus assumes it to be native to India.[42] Renfrew and Bahn conclude that several scenarios are compatible with the data, and that “the linguistic jury is still very much out.”[42]

Kivisild et al. (1999) note that “a small fraction of the West Eurasian mtDNA lineages found in Indian populations can be ascribed to a relatively recent admixture.”[43] at ca. 9,300 ± 3,000 years before present,[19] which coincides with “the arrival to India of cereals domesticated in the Fertile Crescent” and “lends credence to the suggested linguistic connection between the Elamite and Dravidic populations.”[19]

According to Gallego Romero et al. (2011), their research on lactose tolerance in India suggests that “the west Eurasian genetic contribution identified by Reich et al. (2009) principally reflects gene flow from Iran and the Middle East.”[44] Gallego Romero notes that Indians who are lactose-tolerant show a genetic pattern regarding this tolerance which is “characteristic of the common European mutation.”[45] According to Romero, this suggests that “the most common lactose tolerance mutation made a two-way migration out of the Middle East less than 10,000 years ago. While the mutation spread across Europe, another explorer must have brought the mutation eastward to India – likely traveling along the coast of the Persian Gulf where other pockets of the same mutation have been found.”[45]

According to Palanichamy et al. (2015), “The presence of mtDNA haplogroups (HV14 and U1a) and Y-chromosome haplogroup (L1) in Dravidian populations indicates the spread of the Dravidian language into India from west Asia.”[46]

Asko Parpola, who regards the Harappans to have been Dravidian, notes that Mehrgarh (7000 BCE to c. 2500 BCE), to the west of the Indus River valley,[47] is a precursor of the Indus Valley Civilisation, whose inhabitants migrated into the Indus Valley and became the Indus Valley Civilisation.[20] It is one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming and herding in South Asia.[48][49] According to Lukacs and Hemphill, while there is a strong continuity between the neolithic and chalcolithic (Copper Age) cultures of Mehrgarh, dental evidence shows that the chalcolithic population did not descend from the neolithic population of Mehrgarh,[50] which “suggests moderate levels of gene flow.”[50] They further noted that “the direct lineal descendants of the Neolithic inhabitants of Mehrgarh are to be found to the south and the east of Mehrgarh, in northwestern India and the western edge of the Deccan plateau,” with neolithic Mehrgarh showing greater affinity with chalocolithic Inamgaon, south of Mehrgarh, than with chalcolithic Mehrgarh.[50]


Indus Valley CivilizationEdit

The Pashupati seal from the Indus Valley Civilization

Dravidian identificationEdit

The Indus Valley civilisation (2,600-1,900 BCE) located in Northwestern Indian subcontinent is often identified as having been Dravidian.[51] Cultural and linguistic similarities have been cited by researchers Henry Heras, Kamil Zvelebil, Asko Parpola and Iravatham Mahadevan as being strong evidence for a proto-Dravidian origin of the ancient Indus Valley civilisation.[52][53] The discovery in Tamil Nadu of a late Neolithic (early 2nd millennium BCE, i.e. post-dating Harappan decline) stone celt allegedly marked with Indus signs has been considered by some to be significant for the Dravidian identification.[54][55]

Yuri Knorozov surmised that the symbols represent a logosyllabic script and suggested, based on computer analysis, an underlying agglutinative Dravidian language as the most likely candidate for the underlying language.[56] Knorozov’s suggestion was preceded by the work of Henry Heras, who suggested several readings of signs based on a proto-Dravidian assumption.[57]

Linguist Asko Parpola writes that the Indus script and Harappan language are “most likely to have belonged to the Dravidian family”.[58] Parpola led a Finnish team in investigating the inscriptions using computer analysis. Based on a proto-Dravidian assumption, they proposed readings of many signs, some agreeing with the suggested readings of Heras and Knorozov (such as equating the “fish” sign with the Dravidian word for fish, “min”) but disagreeing on several other readings. A comprehensive description of Parpola’s work until 1994 is given in his book Deciphering the Indus Script.[59]

Decline and migrationEdit

Paleoclimatologists believe the fall of the Indus Valley Civilization and eastward migration during the late Harappan period was due to climate change in the region, with a 200-year old drought being the major factor.[60][61][62] The Indus Valley Civilization seemed to slowly lose their urban cohesion, and their cities were gradually abandoned during the late Harappan period, followed by eastward migrations before the Indo-Aryan migration into the Indian subcontinent.[61

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