Posted in History-Culture

Kudavolai (Kuda Olai) : the oldest Democratic Process of Chola’s Tamil Nadu

celebrating New Year the same day APRIL 14 every year: the Chola and Dharma imprint in South East Asia
celebrating New Year the same day APRIL 14 every year: the Chola and Dharma imprint in South East Asia

The Unabashed Pride Of A Thamizh Hindu…

Something kindled up my memory about our long lost ‘Kudavolai’ (Kuda Olai) system of voting process, precursor to today’s Constitutional Democracy, dating back to Chola period (900 CE) in ancient Tamil Nadu. Democracy was put into practice in certain Hindu kingdoms with King as the chief ruler and his elected senate exercising powers of governance. Most importantly neither Christianity nor Islam had touched Tamil Nadu at this point of time.

Tamil text books introduced Kudavolai to me but without taking ample pride in it. Otherwise there seems to have been no mention of it in any national text book prescribed for school children.

Tamils never went on to perfect the system for two reasons: (northern) India came under Islamic reign before the British took over (there is a void in Tamil Nad history after the Chera-Chola-Pandya-Pallava era that lasted for over a millennium up until the 13th century CE.) As for Tamil Nadu, the Chola (Chozha) dynasty, the most renowned and resourceful one with lineage extending for over a thousand years, finally floundered followed by the Pallavas.

But not before Rajendra Chola became the only sea-faring king in Indian/Tamil history to conquer Kedah of today’s Malaysia (hence known as Kadaram Kondan).

This is proof to how developed and sophisticated the maritime trade-activities and armed forces and naval fleets were in ancient Tamil Nadu. Hinduism spread to Cambodia (Angkorwat) and Indonesia (Bali the reminder to this date) in this period. 

Not surprising that Rajendra’s distant ancestor Karikal Chola had erected probably the world’s first stone dam on river Cauvery, the Grand Anicut (Kallanai) in 1st century CE which continues to irrigate the Cauvery delta in this 21st century.

The engineering, architectural and literary prowess of the great Tamil empires hardly find a mention in Indian history that celebrates and promotes Afghan (Taliban?) invaders like Babur who went on to demolish native Hindu temple, the birth place of our Lord Ram, whose barbaric action is defended today by converted Hindus (to Islam) sadly. Successful Congress governments managed to paint a rosy picture of Akbar to Shahjahan and Aurangzeb to Tipu Sultan who converted by the sword and by bloody wars, at the cost of underplaying Krishna Deva Raya of Hampi, Vijayanagar empire and Shivaji, the brave Maratha lion for instance. Not even the Gupta-Mauryas merit as much coverage in Indian history textbooks as these psychotic Moghul emperors who were none but Afghan descendants.

Unlike the north, the fag end of the Indian peninsula flourished with fertility and peace in every fold from lifestyle to culture and art and trade making south India a thriving and competitive center in the entire subcontinent, winning us a  cherished place of honour in history. Cotton and silk weaving and paddy cultivation were customary occupations apart from stone masonry and even ship building. There was never a serious war in millennia. Only trivial battles between mostly peacefully co-existing neighbours. Quite like Bharat, considered one enigmatic entity of a mass of petty Hindu kingdoms,  what comprises of today’s Thamizh Nad-Kerala was home to the famed Chera-Chola-Pandya dynasties and later to the Pallavas (coastal Tamil Nad) (Kerala was the Chera Nadu). (The Cholas ruled the Cauvery basin and the Pandya’s throne was Madurai, synonymous with the Meenakshi temple, a contestant for World Wonder).

Dating back to the 5th century BCE , the structured Tamil Grammar ‘Tolkappiyam’ surviving in tact for over 2000 years from Sangam Era of Tamil literary history could be more ancient than any other developed language of the west. Tamil language is the oldest world language on record and enjoys the Classical status.

Tamil Nadu has suffered the worst and partial treatment at the hands of NCERT text book drafters for decades. Hindu Tamil kings who held a powerful reign over the southern most region of India for over 1200 years never found an honourable mention in our national curriculum.

The Brihadeeshwara Temple (Big Temple) which is over 1000 years old that stands tall until today is one of the hundreds of thousands of architectural marvels that dot the south Indian terrain that never got its deserving due as against mausoleums like the Taj Mahal (originally Tejo Mahalaya, a Shiva temple as some contend).  (Qutb Minar retained the pillars of the demolished Hindu temple so not even the ‘sickularist’ Indian media can deny that it is raised on the ruins of a razed Hindu temple.)

As someone from Tamil Nadu who can never identify with the Taj Mahal as our national symbol, it is painful for me to see that Tamil history has been purposely brushed under the carpet denying my fellow Indians a chance to know about our glorious past.

Tamil Nadu was fortunate to escape the tyranny of the Islamists even if conversions by bribe and threat and brainwashing, to both Islam and Christianity have become rampant in the years since independence. Whatever I may criticize our Prime Minister Modi for, I have to give it to him for cracking down on unregulated NGOs flush with funds pumping millions of dollars into the nation for the purpose of conversion. Conversions might have gone down ever since the Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP) took over at the center, even if incidences like Kasargod surface now and then.

Why Tamil Hindu culture is important: for the preserving of ancient traditions of the classical dance, music and art and literary forms such as Bharatnatyam, Carnatic music, classical instruments like Veena and Mridangam and finally Dravidian temple and other architecture (such as Chettinad houses, etc.,) over anything.

There is no Tamil language or literature without Kamba Ramayanam and Siva Puranam. You cannot call yourself a Tamil scholar without singing the Thirupughazh and Thevaram and Thirumurugattrupadai and Naalaayira Divya Prabandham or celebrating the 64 Nayanmars and the 12 Alwars who find a pride of place in ancient Tamil Hindu temples.

Conversions extinguish everything native and original. What you may find or seek in lieu of pedigree heritage and cultural inheritance could be substandard import of foreign ideology that goes against the very grain of our motherland. No nation that eschews its native civilization can prosper as we are seeing from the fates of Afghanistan to African countries that strayed from their original cultures to embrace alien values on their own volition or by coercion.

Upholding of Thamizh Hindu culture is the way forward. Conversions are a bane for this reason.

The stone edicts of Tamil Nadu temples throw light on a parallel culture that prevailed in the south, far advanced and civilized than anything anytime comparable to Moghul India of the north.

The inscriptions unearthed at Uthiramerur in Tamil Nad reveal how superior ancient Tamil civilization was as far back as in 900 AD. The Kudavolai system where one had to inscribe in a parched leaf  (dried leaf is ‘olai’ in Tamil) to be deposited in a pot (‘kudam’ in Tamil), the name of the committee/ward/council member to be elected for governance reflects how literate the Tamil society was.

I leave the rest to the reader’s inference. So the next time someone says, Democracy is a western concept handed over by the British to the rest of the world or is an invention of the Greek-Romans, throw the facts flying in his/her face.

I wish I had paid more attention to Kudavolai in my school days. Neither my teachers nor those around me inspired to learn more about it or take pride in Kudavolai.

I peeved for long that India lacked one qualifying factor even through its bloody history given our ancient heritage and cultured civilization spanning 4000 years – which was Democracy. The Kudavolai completely escaped my mind. Someone/something, contesting that India thought long and hard after independence to decide on adopting whether the American or British style of democracy reminded me of Kudavolai. I retrieved the word with a great difficulty from the back burners of my mind finally. Its long forgotten. It is like it never existed. Not even the so-called chest-thumping Dravidian dynastic parties have taken pride in the one truly Thamizh democratic process that predated the modern parliamentary system of governance both in the east and west. I understand, a few Hindu kingdoms in the north practised an equivalent version of voting process for election of senate/governing council/committee members.

With this post, I have managed to touch only the tip of the iceberg. Tamil Nadu is a virtual mine for researchers who may evince any interest in the multi-dimensional historic culture of the state. One visit to Kanchipuram temples and silk centers will suffice to convince anyone why native Thamizh culture is relevant and significant more than ever in today’s socio-political-economic context.


PS: Not ‘Tamil’ but ‘Thamizh’

Similarly, not ‘Chola’ but ‘Chozha’ … 🙂


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