Dravidian peoples

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Dravidische Sprachen.png
Total population
approx. 250 million (2006)
Regions with significant populations
Flag of India India
 Andra Pradesh
 Tamil Nadu
Flag of Pakistan Pakistan
Flag of Sri Lanka Sri Lanka
Dravidian languages
Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Brahui people · Gondi people · Kannadigas · Kodava · Malayalis · Tamils · Telugus · Tuluvas

Dravidian peoples refers to the peoples that natively speak languages belonging to the Dravidian language family. The language group appears unrelated to Indo-European language families, most significantly the Indo-Aryan language. Populations of Dravidian speakers live mainly in southern India, most notably Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu, and Tulu. Dravidian has been identified as one of the major language groups in the world, with Dravidian peoples dwelling in parts of central India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Southwestern Iran, Southern Afghanistan, and Nepal.

The origins of the Dravidian people and language has been difficult to ascertain. Anthropologists are largely at odds. A number of earlier anthropologists held the view that the Dravidian peoples constituted a distinct race. Some argue the origin of Dravidian before the Indo-Aryan invasion, making the Indus Valley civilization Dravidian. Still others argue that Dravidian held sway in a much larger region, replacing Indo-Aryan languages. Genetic studies have concluded that the Dravidian people are not a distinct race but, rather, a common genetic pool between the Dravidian and non-Dravidian people in South India. Some suggest that the British Raj attempted to create a distinction between the races as a way of dividing and controlling the people of India.

Whether India is one race or several, the people are united today by a constitution within the framework of a parliamentary government. India stands today as a diverse people, representing most the world's religions with many ethnic groups, united in one nation. The future of India as a unified people has become increasingly stronger with the establishment of the Republic of India in 1947.

Dravidian language

The term Dravidian derives from the Sanskrit term Dravida. Francis Whyte Ellis of the East India Company was the first scholar to recognize the Dravidian languages as a separate language family, proposing in 1816 his "Dravidian proof" that the languages of South India are related to one another but are not derived from Sanskrit.[1] Following the 1856 publication of Robert Caldwell's Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages, the Dravidian language grouping was established as one of the major language groups of the world.[2] Caldwell coined the term "Dravidian" for this family of languages, based on the usage he observed of the Sanskrit word dravida:

The word I have chosen is 'Dravidian', from Drāviḍa, the adjectival form of Draviḍa. This term, it is true, has sometimes been used, and is still sometimes used, in almost as restricted a sense as that of Tamil itself, so that though on the whole it is the best term I can find, I admit it is not perfectly free from ambiguity. It is a term which has already been used more or less distinctively by Sanskrit philologists, as a generic appellation for the South Indian people and their languages, and it is the only single term they ever seem to have used in this manner. I have, therefore, no doubt of the propriety of adopting it.[2]

Eighty-six languages have been classified as Dravidian.[3] Further, the languages spread out and cover parts of India, South Western Iran, South Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

More than 200 million people speak Dravidian languages. They appear unrelated to languages of other known families like Indo-European, specifically Indo-Aryan, the other common language family on the Asian subcontinent. Some linguistic scholars incorporate the Dravidian languages into a larger Elamo-Dravidian language family, which includes the ancient Elamite language (Haltami) of southwestern Iran. Dravidian constitutes one of the primary linguistic groups in the proposed Nostratic language system, linking almost all languages in North Africa, Europe, and Western Asia into a common family with its origins in the Fertile Crescent sometime between the last Ice Age and the emergence of proto-Indo-European four to six thousand years B.C.E.

The best-known Dravidian languages include Tamil (தமிழ்),Kannada (ಕನ್ನಡ), Malayalam (മലയാളം), Telugu (తెలుగు), and Tulu (ತುಳು). Three subgroups exist within the Dravidian linguistic family: North Dravidian, Central Dravidian, and South Dravidian, matching for the most part the corresponding regions in the Indian subcontinent.

Dravidian peoples

  • Brahui people: People belonging to the north-Dravidian subgroup, mostly found in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. They now culturally and ethnically largely resemble the Balochi people around them, with whom they have mixed with substantially.
  • Kurukh: People belonging to the north-Dravidian subgroup. Found in India and Bangladesh, the only Dravidian language indigenous in Bangladesh.
  • Khonds: Tribal people who speak the Dravidian Kui language. Mostly found in the eastern Indian states of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.
  • Gond people: A prominent group of Dravidian-speaking tribal people inhabiting the central region of India.
  • Kannadiga: People belonging to the south-Dravidian subgroup. Mostly found in Karnataka and parts of northern Kerala.
  • Kodava: People belonging to the south-Dravidian subgroup. Mostly found in the Kodagu (Coorg) region of Karnataka.
  • Malayali: People belonging to the south-Dravidian subgroup found primarily in Kerala.
  • Tamil: These people belong to south-Dravidian linguistic subgroup. Mostly found in Tamil Nadu, parts of Kerala, parts of Sri Lanka, South Africa, Singapore and Malaysia.
  • Telugu: These people belong to south-Dravidian subgroup (formerly classified with the Central Dravidian but now more specifically in the South Dravidian II or South Central Dravidian inner branch of the South Dravidian.[4] Mostly found in Andhra Pradesh also in Orissa and Tamil Nadu.
  • Tuluva: People belonging to the south Dravidian subgroup, found in southern Karnataka and northern Kerala, alternatively named Tulu Nadu.


Did you know?
The origin of the Dravidian languages, spoken by over 200 million people located primarily in Southern India, has remained unclear and controversial

The circumstances of the advent of Dravidian speakers in India have been an enigma. Vague linguistic and cultural ties exist with the Urals, with the Mediterranean area, and with Iran. Possibly a Dravidian-speaking people described as dolichocephalic (long-headed from front to back) Mediterraneans mixed with brachycephalic (short-headed from front to back) Armenoids and established themselves in northwestern India during the fourth millennium B.C.E. Along their route, those immigrants may have come into an intimate, prolonged contact with the Ural-Altaic speakers, thus explaining the striking affinities between the Dravidian and Ural-Altaic language groups.

Origins of Dravidian people are informed by various theories proposed by linguists, anthropologists, geneticist and historians. According to geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza in the book The History and Geography of Human Genes, the Dravidians were preceded in the subcontinent by an Austro-Asiatic people, and were followed by Indo-European-speaking migrants sometime later.

Most linguists believe that Dravidian-speaking people were spread throughout the Indian subcontinent before a series of Indo-Aryan migrations. In this view, the early Indus Valley civilization (Harappa and Mohenjo Daro) is often identified as having been Dravidian.[5] Cultural and linguistic similarities have been cited by researchers such as Finnish Indologist Asko Parpola as being strong evidence for a proto-Dravidian origin of the ancient Indus Valley civilization.

Some scholars believe the Indo-Aryans moved into an already Dravidian speaking area after the oldest parts of the Rig Veda had been composed.[6] The Brahui population of Balochistan has been taken by some as the linguistic equivalent of a relict population, perhaps indicating that Dravidian languages had been formerly much more widespread and supplanted by the incoming Indo-Aryan languages.

The Brahui population of Balochistan (Pakistan) has been taken by some as the linguistic equivalent of a relict population, perhaps indicating that Dravidian languages were formerly much more widespread and were supplanted by the incoming Indo-Aryan languages.[7]

Thomason and Kaufman claimed that there is strong evidence that Dravidian influenced Indic through "shift," that is, native Dravidian speakers learning and adopting Indic languages.[8] Erdosy has stated that the most plausible explanation for the presence of Dravidian structural features in Old Indo-Aryan is that the majority of early Old Indo-Aryan speakers had a Dravidian mother tongue which they gradually abandoned.[9]

Even though the innovative traits in Indic could be explained by multiple internal explanations, early Dravidian influence is the only explanation that can account for all of the innovations at once; moreover, early Dravidian influence accounts for several of the innovative traits in Indic better than any internal explanation that has been proposed.

Genetic anthropology

Genetic views on race differ in their classification of Dravidians. Classical anthropologists, such as Carleton S. Coon in his 1939 work The Races of Europe, argued that Ethiopia in Northeast Africa and India in South Asia represented the outermost peripheries of the Caucasoid race. In the 1960s, genetic anthropologist Stanley Marion Garn considered the entirety of the Indian subcontinent to be a "race" genetically distinct from other populations.[10] Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, based on work done in the 1980s, classified Indians as being genetically Caucasian, finding Indians to be about three times closer to West Europeans than to East Asians.[11] Others, such as Lynn B. Jorde and Stephen P. Wooding, claim South Indians are genetic intermediaries between Europeans and East Asians.[12]

While a number of earlier anthropologists held the view that the Dravidian peoples together were a distinct race, a small number of genetic studies based on uniparental markers have challenged this view. Some researchers have indicated that both Dravidian and Indo-Aryan speakers are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent; however, this point of view is rejected by most researchers in favor of Indo-Aryan migration, with racial stratification among Indian populations being distributed along caste lines.[13]

Nevertheless, Indians are classified by modern anthropologists as belonging to one of four different morphological or ethno-racial subtypes, although these generally overlap because of admixture: Caucasoid and Mongoloid (concentrated in the north), Australoid (concentrated in the south), and Negrito (located in the Andaman Islands).[14] Dravidians are generally classified as members of the Proto-Australoid or Australoid race. [15] In one study, southern Indian Dravidians clustered genetically with Tamils, a socially endogamous, predominantly Dravidian-speaking Australoid group.[16] Because of admixture between Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Australoid racial groups, one cannot speak of a biologically separate "Dravidian race" distinct from non-Dravidians on the Indian subcontinent.[17]

Studies of the distribution of alleles on the Y chromosome,[18] microsatellite DNA,[19] and mitochondrial DNA[20] in India have cast overwhelming doubt for a biological Dravidian "race" distinct from non-Dravidians in the Indian subcontinent. This doubtfulness applies to both paternal and maternal descent; however, it does not preclude the possibility of distinctive South Indian ancestries associated with Dravidian languages. In a 2009 study of 132 individuals, 560,000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms in 25 different Indian groups were analyzed, providing strong evidence in support of the notion that modern Indians (both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian groups) are a hybrid population descending from two post-Neolithic, genetically divergent populations referred to as the 'Ancestral North Indians' and the 'Ancestral South Indians'. According to the study, Andamanese are an ASI-related group without ANI ancestry, showing that the peopling of the islands must have occurred before ANI-ASI gene flow on the mainland.[21]

Political ramification


Some Indians believe that the British Raj exaggerated differences between northern and southern Indians beyond linguistic differences to help sustain their control of India. The British Raj ended in 1947, yet all discussion of Aryan or Dravidian "races" remains highly controversial in India. That the British used that only as their "Divide and rule" blueprint for taking over the region has become widely believed. According to that view, the British also used that "theory" of perceived differences between so-called "Aryans" and "Dravidians" to propagate racist beliefs concerning the inherent "inferiority" of the Dravidians when compared to the "Aryans," thus justifying their colonization of South Asia (since the British identified themselves as "Aryans"). Studies putting forth recent genetic studies as proof that distinct races exist on the Indian subcontinent have been published, as have those challenging this distinction.[22]

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, the view that the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils belong to two different ethnic and linguistic families have further complicated the current ethnic conflict and the civil war. Sinhalese (like Dhivehi) constitutes an Indo-Aryan language that exists in the southern part of South Asia.

See also


  1. Thomas R. Trautman, Languages and Nations (Motilal UK Books of India, 2006, ISBN 978-8190363402).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Robert Caldwell, A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages (London: Harrison, 1856).
  3. Ethnologue study, Dravidian
  4. Bhadriraju Krishnamurti, The Dravidian Languages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0521771110), 19.
  5. Iravatham Mahadevan, A Note on the Muruku Sign of the Indus Script in light of the Mayiladuthurai Stone Axe Discovery Harappa.com (May 6, 2006). Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  6. Edwin Bryant and Laurie L. Patton, The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History (London: Routledge, 2005), 191.
  7. J. P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989, ISBN 978-0500050521).
  8. Sarah Grey Thomason and Terrence Kaufman, Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988, ISBN 978-0520057890).
  9. George Erdosy, The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1995, ISBN 978-3110144475), 18.
  10. Stanley M. Garn, Readings on Race (Charles C Thomas, 1970).
  11. Robert Jurmain, Lynn Kilgore, Wenda Trevathan, and Russell L. Ciochon, Introduction to Physical Anthropology (Wadsworth Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-0495187790).
  12. Michael J. Bamshad, Stephen Wooding, W. Scott Watkins, Christopher T. Ostler, Mark A. Batzer, and Lynn B. Jorde, Human Population Genetic Structure and Inference of Group Membership American Journal of Human Genetics 72(3) (2003): 578–589. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  13. W.S. Watkins, R. Thara, B.J. Mowry, Y. Zhang, D.J. Witherspoon, W. Tolpinrud, M.J. Bamshad, S. Tirupati, R. Padmavati, H. Smith, D. Nancarrow, C. Filippich, and L.B. Jorde, Genetic variation in South Indian castes: evidence from Y-chromosome, mitochondrial, and autosomal polymorphisms BMC Genetics 9 (2008): 86. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  14. V.K. Kashyap, Saurav Guha, T. Sitalaximi, G, Hima Bindu, Seyed E. Hasnain, and R. Trivedi, Genetic structure of Indian populations based on fifteen autosomal microsatellite loci BMC Genetics 7(28) (2006). Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  15. R. Chakraborty, H. Walter, B.N. Mukherjee, K.C. Malhotra, P. Sauber, S. Banerjee, and M. Roy, Gene differentiation among ten endogamous groups of West Bengal, India American Journal of Physical Anthropology 71(3) (1986): 295–309. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  16. T. Sitalaximi, R. Trivedi, and V.K. Kashyap, Microsatellite diversity among three endogamous Tamil populations suggests their origin from a separate Dravidian genetic pool Human Biology 75(5) (2003):673-85. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  17. A. Basu, N. Mukherjee, S. Roy, S. Sengupta, S. Banerjee, M. Chakraborty, B. Dey, M. Roy, B. Roy, N.P. Bhattacharyya, S. Roychoudhury, and P.P. Majumder, Ethnic India: a genomic view, with special reference to peopling and structure Genome Research 13(10) (2003):2277-2290. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  18. United States National Institute of Health, Entrex PubMed: A prehistory of Indian Y chromosomes: Evaluating demic diffusion scenarios. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  19. United States National Institute of Health, Entrez PubMed: Polarity and temporality of high-resolution y-chromosome distributions in India identify both indigenous and exogenous expansions and reveal minor genetic influence of Central Asian pastoralists. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  20. United States National Institute of Health, Entrez PubMed: Human mtDNA hypervariable regions, HVR I and II, hint at deep common maternal founder and subsequent maternal gene flow in Indian population groups. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  21. D. Reich, K. Thangaraj, N. Patterson, A.L. Price, and L. Singh, Reconstructing Indian population history Nature 461(7263) (2009):489-94. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  22. Kumar Chellappan, New research debunks Aryan invasion theory Daily News & Analysis (December 10, 2011). Retrieved November 17, 2016.

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