For most Indian Tamil Nadu represents more than just the state within its borders. For decades it has been emblematic of all that lies south of the Vindhyas. South India is almost invariably illustrated in the mind’s eye by the landscape and faces of this state.
They weave an unworldly view of life into a worldly wise approach to work. They cross seas and continents but hold fast to the thread that binds them to the motherland. They would rather trade than conquer and have assimilated would be invaders into their own tradition but when it comes to changing society they are radicals. The landscape bristles with temples churches and mosques but it has the most active band of atheists in all of India. There are strong regional sentiments and allegiances here but Tamils have been in the forefront of India’s nationalist movements and global migrations.
People live off the ancient arts and live for them but also innovate and revolutionize. They lay claim to technology as firmly as they do to tradition. They master gentlemen’s games such as chess and cricket and then get down in the mud for a bull run.
It is a culture of flamboyance and austerity and its icon is the woman clad in kanchipuram silk and brocade and her consort in white cotton.
Still let’s not call it a land of contrasts. That is the shimmer on the surface of Tamil Nadu the tiered gopuram overlooking an electronic components factory the Kolam drawn next to the gleaming ford in the driveway the vegetable seller checking prices on her call phone. What lies beneath these images is the continuity of a millennia old culture a rich medium is which the thrusting growing exploding players of today weave smoothly through the traditions institutions and arts of all time.
Much of the fluidity with which contradictions are reconciled comes from the changeful land itself and the sea that connects it to the world and also holds it aloof.
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