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The 'South' of India

Vijaya Ramaswamy

How does a scholar-reviewer handle a book which clearly states at the outset that its target audience would consist of ‘Indian students from south India who go abroad for college education’? The editors (presumably) state: ‘It is meant to give them an idea of our heritage—kindle their interest in the subject…:’ This purpose, I am sure, this book fulfils admirably. As a beginner’s guide to exploring Indian culture or explaining south Indian culture to foreigners, this book would be useful.   However, one’s admiration for this work can go thus far and no further. Problems arise when one looks at the book in terms of the qualities claimed for it by the blurb. I quote, ‘A product of paintstaking research, the book reflects an earnest attempt to shed light on a complex, amorphous, multi-faceted subject, and give it form, shape and substance.’ It is the somewhat difficult, even unpleasant, task of this reviewer to evaluate this book against this claim and find it inadequate in measuring up to the standards the world of academia sets in defining ‘painstaking research’ and scholarly veracity.   Let me first commend what I feel are sections which show some effort at research. S. Suresh who is known in academic circles for his book on Roman coins has done a creditable job with the sections allotted to him. There is an effort to weave the oral traditions of the region with empirical facts relating to a particular theme. Both the entry on the Vindhya mountains and on the river Kaveri use the legend of Agastya rishi. His entry on river Godavari similarly briefly narrates the mythology surrounding ‘Dakshina Ganga’ and the story of the penance performed by the sage Gautama. His ‘Graeco-Roman Contacts with Ancient South India’ is once again an excellent entry. Many of Chitra Madhavan’s entries are both informative and interesting, for example, the general entries on irrigation and temple tanks. It is noteworthy that she directs the readers to M.T. Srinivasan’s pioneering work Irrigation and Water Supply in South India and not to the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan series on Indian history and culture, which, while regarded as a milestone in South Indian historiography, has nevertheless become ‘dated’ in many areas. Unfortunately, the same Chitra Madhavan has a weak entry on ‘The Vijyanagara Empire’ which surely deserved better treatment at her hands. With some of the finest works by ...

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