Responsable: Dominic Goodall

École française d'Extrême-Orient
16-19 rue Dumas
605 001 Pondicherry, India

Tel: +91 413 233 45 39
Fax: +91 413 233 08 86 goodalldominic@gmail.com

Detail of stone inscription at Sentalai.
Detail of stone inscription at Sentalai.
Workshop: The “Dark Period” (3rd to 6th centuries): a transition between “Ancient” to “Medieval” epochs in South India?
Defined as "a long historical night" or "the dark period" by Nilakantha Sastri in his History of South India, the period which extends from the 3rd century A.D. to the 6th century A.D. in South India offers indeed little epigrahical or archaeological evidence. And there is little in the way of literature that is firmly and unanimously dated to that period. The reasons for this scarcity of data may be multiple. Nilakantha Sastri, followed by numerous historians, impute this absence of data to the Kaḷabhras interregnum. The Kaḷabhras are referred to in Pāṇḍya, Pallava and Cāḷukya copper-plate inscriptions, which allude to their subjugation. But of these "evil rulers", who are considered to have occupied the southern peninsula for three centuries, surprisingly, nothing remains: no inscriptions and no sanctuaries are ascribed to the Kaḷabhras. Other than the later copper-plate records, only an undated Buddhist text and a Jaina one from the 10th century (quoted by Nilakantha Sastri) mention them. This inevitably leads some to doubt their very existence, and one may wonder if the way they are presented in the epigraphical records of the three major southern dynasties of the 7th century might not be a fabrication for the purposes of self-legitimation, as the historian K. Veluthat has suggested ("Into the ‘Medieval' - and out of it", pp. 37-38). The latter questions the existence of these Kaḷabhras, and justifies the absence of data which lead many historians to call this period "mysterious" by the fact that it is a transitional process between a "period of chiefdom-level organisations" and a "state society". Although scarce, data from this period are available. Historians, epigraphists, archaeologists and philologists were invited to the Pondicherry Centre of the EFEO to present evidence about South India that would help reconstructing and understanding the transitional processes of this so-called "dark period" and that would test commonly believed and accepted notions about it, as, for example, the "Kaḷabhra interregnum" or the absence of prolific activity during this period.

The following communications were presented: "The Dark Period: Myth or Reality?" (Valérie Gillet, EFEO); "What can the Raghuvaṃśa tell us about South India" (Dominic Goodall, EFEO); "Is the Kalabhras' Epoch A Dark Age" (Dr. D. Dayalan, Superintendant Archaeologist of the Temple Survey Project, ASI Chennai); "Deconstructing the Dark Age of Tamil Nadu" (Dr. V. Selvakumar, Department of Epigraphy and Archaeology, Tamil University, Thanjavur); "Locating Literature in Historical Contexts: Setting a date for Maṇikkavācakar" (Leah Comeau, Doctoral Student, Pennsylvania); "Towards a history of Tamil historiography: looking for the ‘Kalabhras'" (Jean-Luc Chevillard, CNRS/EFEO). Dr. O.P. Mishra (Department of Archaeology, Museums and Archives in Bhopal, MP) also presented the current state of archaeological research in Madhya Pradesh. The day was concluded with a round-table discussion chaired by Dr. G. Vijayavenugopal (EFEO).