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Shore Temple of Mahabalipuram in  south India

Tamil Nadu is situated on the south eastern side of the Indian peninsula. It is bounded on the east by Bay of Bengal, in the south by the Indian ocean, in the west by the states of Kerala and Karnataka and in the North by the Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The land mass of the state can be divided into two natural divisions,

(1) The Eastern coastal plain

(2) The hilly region along the North and the West

Along the whole length of the western part, the sea varying at a distance from, 80 to 160 km runs the range of the western Ghats, a steep and rugged mass averaging 1220 metres above the sea level and rising to 2440 metres at the highest point. The Palghat Gap about 25 km in width is the only marked break in the great mountain wall. To the south of this gap, the range is known as Anamalai (Elephant Hills)

On the east are the Palani Hills on which the famous hill station Kodaikanal is situated. The slopes of the western Ghats are covered with heavy ever green forests. The Nilgiris and the Anamalai are the hill groups with the maximum height. In the famous Ootacamund area of the Nilgiris district, is the highest peak Dodabetta, 2640 metres above the sea level. Ootacamund is known as the 'Queen of hill stations' in India. Almost every district has a hill-station or a sea-side resort.


The rivers of the state flow eastward from the western ghats and are entirely rain-fed. The perennial river fed by both the monsoons is the Cauvery which flows across Tamil Nadu cutting the state in to two halves. The perennial rivers are :- Palar, Cheyyar, Ponnaiyar Kaveri, Meyar, Bhavan, Amaravati, Vaigai, Chittar and Tamaraparni. The non-perennial rivers are the Vellur, Noyal, Suruli, Gundar, Vaipar, Valparai and Varshali. The 760 km long Cauveri is the largest river of the state.

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Tamil Nadu which holds in itself a land, a language and a culture existed since the prehistoric times. Human settlement here is said to have existed contemporary to the civilizations in other parts of world. They existed not as isolated regions of human settlements but were connected through trade. Tamil Nadu was earlier known as Tamilham. The existence of ports such as Arikamedu, Karipattinam, Korkai ware proof of the Tamilian advancement in establishing relations with other regions of the world. The Tamilians were said to be of Dravidian origin and they originally resided in the north west. With the advancement of the Indo-Aryans the Dravidians were e pushed south. The Sangam literature is the basis of Tamil History, culture and organisations from the 3rd century AD. The Cholas , the Pallavas, the Pandyas and the Cheras had their influence on Tamil Nadu and established their kingdoms. The Pallavas established their reign at Kanchipuram in about the 4th century Ad. They held power over the land of the Tamils from 6th and 9th centuries. At the end of the 9th century the Cholas established themselves they extended their empire and established contacts throughoutSouth East Asia.

In the 13 the century the Pandyas dominated. The establishment of the Vijayanagar empire brought the downfall of the Pandyas. This empire ruled till the 16th century preserving and promoting Hindu culture. The Muslim powers influenced this region politically. The Marathas also influenced Madurai and Thanjavur till the advent of the English who wrested power from the French. During the 17th and the 18th centuries, conflicts between the trading companies of Europe for control of the major parts in the east. The British managed to control this region in the 19th century. This region was under the domain of the East India Company and continued till independence after which the three states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa were formed. The region under the jurisdiction of the Madras Presidency formed into a single unit and named Tamil Nadu in 1969


Tamil Nadu is one of the most urbanised states of India, but it is still primarily rural. Most of the people live in more than 64,000 nucleated villages. There is an established caste system, and the traditional differentiations here are a lot more pronounced than in many other parts of the country. The largest distribution of population is mostly confined to the Chennai metropolis covering industrial areas, townships and villages surrounding Chennai city, and those around Madurai, Coimbatore, and Tiruchchirappalli. More than 80% of the state's population follows Hinduism. Christianity and Islam are also followed here.

The Brahmins who form the highest caste are normally distinguished by the white religious mark on their forehead. Earlier their work used to be confined to religious activities and to the astrological profession. They were almost wholly dependent on villages gifted to them by successive kings. Simple living and high thinking was their way of life.

Communities such as Vellalas (known as Gounders in Coimbatore, Mudaliars in Chingleput and other areas, Pillais in Thirunelveli district) took to a large scale agriculture, they supervised agriculture operations and they had their income through sale of the produce. The Village -traders belonged to a few Vaishya communities such as Komutti Chettiars.

Shaanaars, who were toddy - tappers since independence emerged as a prosperous mercantile community by their enterprise. The untouchables have been the main agricultural labourers. These communities did the job assigned to them and eked out their livelihood. In each village, there were dhobis and barbers.

Tribes have had a special place in Tamil history. There was a classification of tribes according to landscapes. The chieftain of each tribal group and his wife were given an honoured place. In the mountains, hills and hilly tracts such as Palani hills, the Nilgiris and the Western Ghats, the distinguished chieftain was known as Poruppan, Verppan and Cilampan, his spouse was known as Koticci or Kuratti. The mountain tribe, of which the poruppan was the chieftain was divided into two main Phratries. The members of the two Phratries were known as Kanavar and Kurava and spouses Kurattiyar. The Badagas, Kotas, and Todas are other tribes found in the Nilgiri hills.

In the Thanjavur deltaic area, the leader of the settlement is known as Makilnam or Uran and his wife is called Manaive or Kilatti. The members of this rich agricultural settlement were Ulavar with their Ulattiyar and Kataiyar with their Kataicciyar. In the coastal region, the tribal chief was known as Cerppan or Pulampan and his wife as Paratti or Nulaicci.

The pattern and lay out of streets, houses, and community centres were the same every where in Tamil Nadu. Each village was built around, or near a temple, and the priests who were invariably Brahmins lived in the areas called 'Agraharam'. Adjoining them lived Pillais and Mudaliars. Trading communities had their habitation in the area next to these central streets. The untouchables lived on the outskirts of the village.

Orthodoxy and conservatism are now giving place to rationalism. The village and town plans are rapidly changing. Some of the Agraharams are occupied in part of people of other caste. Followers of religions other than Hinduism used to live in groups either out side the village or in clusters on a portion. The festivals bring all the castes together. Each caste has a role to play in the conduct of the festival.

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