Who are the Dravidians? Are they different from the Nagas? Or are they two different names for a people of the same race? The popular view is that the Dravidians and Nagas are names of two different races. This statement is bound to shock many people. Nonetheless, it is a fact that the term Dravidians and Nagas are merely two different names for the same people.
It is not to be denied that very few will be prepared to admit the proposition that the Dravidians and Nagas are merely two different names for the same people and fewer that the Dravidians as Nagas occupied not merely South India but that they occupied the whole of India – South as well as North. Nonetheless, these are historical truths.
Let us see what the authorities have to say on the subject. This is what Mr. Dikshitiar, a well-known South Indian scholar, has to say on the subject in his paper on South India in the Ramayana:
“The Nagas, another tribe-semi-divine in character, with their totems as serpent, spread throughout India, from Taksasila in the North-West to Assam to the North-East and to Ceylon and South India in the South. At one time they must have been powerful. Contemporaneous with the Yakwas or perhaps subsequent to their fall as a political entity, the Nagas rose to prominence in South India. Not only parts of Ceylon but ancient Malabar were the territories occupied by the ancient Nagas …….. In the Tamil classics of the early centuries after Christ, we hear frequent references to Naganadu ………. Remnants of Naga worship are still lingering in Malabar, and the temple in Nagercoil in South Travancore is dedicated to Naga worship even today. All that can be said about them is that they were a sea-faring tribe. Their womenfolk were renowned for their beauty. Apparently the Nagas had become merged with the Cheras who rose to power and prominence at the commencement of the Christian Era.”
Further light is thrown on the subject by C.F. Oldham who has made a deep study of it. According to Mr. Oldham:
“The Dravidian people have been divided, from ancient times, into Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas, Chera, or Sera (in old Tamil Sarai) is the Dravidian equivalent for Naga: Cheramandala, Nagadwipa, or the Naga country. This seems to point distinctly to the Asura origin of the Dravidians of the South. But in addition to this there still exists, widely spread over the Ganges Valley, a people who call themselves Cherus or Scoris, and who claim descent from the serpent gods. The Cherus are of very ancient race; they are believed to have once held a great portion of the valley of the Ganges, which, as we have already seen, was occupied in very early times by Naga tribes. The Cherus appear to have been gradually ousted from their lands, during the troublous times of the Mohammedan invasions, and they are now poor and almost landless. There can be little doubt that these people are kinsmen of the Dravidian Cheras.
The Cherus have several peculiar customs and amongst them one which seems to connect them with the Lichhavis, as well as with the Newars of Nepal. This is the election of a raja for every five or six houses, and his investiture, in due form, with the tilak or royal frontal mark. Both Lichavis and Newars had many customs in common with the Dravidians of the South. Each venerated the serpent, Karkotaka Naga being to Nepal what Nila Naga was to Kashmir. A Naga, too, was the tutelary deity of Vaisali, the Lichavi capital. The marital relations of Newars and Lichavis closely resembled those of the Tamil people, and go far to show a common origin.
Property amongst the Newars descended in the female line, as it once did amongst the Arattas, Bahikas or Takhas of the Punjab, whose sisters’ sons, and not their own, were their heirs. This is still a Dravidian custom. In short, a recent Dravidian writer, Mr. Balakrishna Nair, says that his people ‘appear to be, in nearly every particular, the kinsfolk of the Newars.’
Besides all this, however, there are other links connecting the Naga people of the South with those of the north of India. In an inscription discovered by Colonel Tod at Kanswah near the river Chambal, a Raja, called Salindra, ‘of the race of Sarya, a tribe renowned amongst the tribes of the mighty’ is said to be ruler of Takhya.
This was evidently the Takhya or Takha kingdom of the Punjab, which was visited by Hiou-en-Tsiang, and which has been already referred to. It seems, therefore, that the Naga people of Takhya were known also by the name of Sarya.
Again, in the outer Himalaya, between the Sutlej and Beas Valleys, is a tract of country called Sara, or Scoraj. In this district the Naga demigods are the chief deities worshipped.
There is another Seoraj in the Upper Chinab Valley, and this too is occupied by a Naga worshiping people.
The name Saraj, or Seoraj, appears to be the same as the Sarya of Colonel Tod’s inscription and as Seori, which is the alternative name of the Cherus of the Ganges Valley. It also seems to be identical with Sarai, which we have already seen, is the old Tamil name for the Chera or Naga. Apparently, therefore, the Saryas or Takhya, the Saraj people of the Sutlej Valley, the Seoris or Cherus of the valley of the Ganges, and the Cheras, Seras, or Keralas of Southern India, are but different branches of the same Naga-worshipping people.
It may be noted, too, that in some of the Himalayan dialects, Kira or Kiri means a serpent. This name, from which was perhaps derived the term Kirate so often applied to the people of the Himalayas, is found in the Rajastarangini, where it is applied to a people in or near Kashmir. The Kiras are mentioned by Varaha Mihira, and in a copper plate published by Prof. Kielhorn.
An inscription at the Baijnath temple in the Kangra valley gives Kirangrama as the then name of the place. This, in the local dialect, would mean the village of serpents. The Naga is still a popular deity at Baijnath, and throughout the neighbouring country. The term Kira is thus an equivalent for Naga, and it can scarcely be doubted that the serpent-worshipping Kiras of the Himalayas were closely related to the Dravidian Keras, Cheras or Keralas of the South.
Similarity of name is not always to be trusted, but here we have something more. These people, whose designation is thus apparently the same, are all of Solar race; they all venerate the hooded serpent; and they all worship, as ancestors, the Naga demi-gods.
From the foregoing it would seem tolerably certain that the Dravidians of Southern India were of the same stock as the Nagas or Asuras of the North.”
It is thus clear that the Nagas and Dravidians are one and the same people. Even with this much of proof, people may not be found ready to accept the thesis. The chief difficulty in the way of accepting it lies in the designation of the people of South India by the name Dravidian. It is natural for them to ask why the term Dravidian has come to be restricted to the people of South India if they are really Nagas. Critics are bound to ask: If the Dravidians and the Nagas are the same people, why is the name Nagas not used to designate people of South India also. This is no doubt a puzzle. But it is a puzzle which is not beyond solution. It can be solved if certain facts are borne in mind.
The second thing to be borne in mind is that the word ‘Dravida’ is not an original word. It is the Sanskritised from of the word, ‘Tamil’
The original word ‘Tamil’ when imported into Sanskrit became Damita and later on Damilla became Dravida. The word Dravida is the name of the language of the people and does not denote the race of the people. The third thing to remember is that Tamil or Dravida was not merely the language of South India but before the Aryans came it was the language of the whole of India, and was spoken from Kashmere to Cape Camorin. In fact, it was the language of the Nagas throughout India. The next thing to note is the contact between the Aryan and the Nagas and the effect it produced on the Nagas and their language. Strange as it may appear the effect of this contact on the Nagas of North India was quite different from the effect it produced on the Nagas of South India. The Nagas in North India gave up Tamil which was their mother tongue and adopted Sanskrit in its place. The Nagas in South India retained Tamil as their mother tongue and did not adopt Sanskrit the language of the Aryans. If this difference is borne in mind it will help to explain why the name Dravida came to be applied only for the people of South India. The necessity for the application of the name Dravida to the Nagas of Northern India had ceased because they had ceased to speak the Dravida language. But so far as the Nagas of South India are concerned not only the propriety of calling them Dravida had remained in view of their adherence to the Dravida language but the necessity of calling them Dravida had become very urgent in view of their being the only people speaking the Dravida language after the Nagas of the North had ceased to use it. This is the real reason why the people of South India have come to be called Dravidians.
The special application of the use of the word Dravida for the people of South India must not, therefore, obscure the fact that the Nagas and Dravidas are the one and the same people. They are only two different names for the same people. Nagas was a racial or cultural name and Dravida was their linguistic name.
Thus the Dasas are the same as the Nagas and the Nagas are the same as the Dravidians. In other words what we can say about the races of India is that there have been at the most only two races in the field, the Aryans and the Nagas. Obviously the theory of Mr. Rice must fall to the ground. For it postulates three races in action when as a matter of fact we see that there are only two.
Claiming the ‘Dravidian’ identity in West Bengal
The Dravidian identity is claimed in the south more so in Tamil Nadu. Both the ruling party and the opposition party do have their Dravidian identity in their names. The Dravidian ideology staked its claim among the people by the continuous propaganda made by the social revolutionary Thanthai Periyar E.V.R. Dravidian Movement is strong in Tamil Nadu. Owing to Dravidian politics which showed its distinct character from the rest of the States in the country through the results of recently held Lok Sabha elections. ‘Long Live Periyar’ was the salutation invariably pronounced by the elected representatives from Tamil Nadu while taking oath of office at the Parliament.
Now, the Dravidian identity is claimed from other States, particularly the Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha), Mr. Sukhendu Sekhar Roy of Trinamool Congress Party (TMC). While addressing at the floor of the Parliament he said that the West Bengal people are the descendants of Dravidian race viz. Banga. To sustain the identity as a pride he has sought for the change in the name of the State from ‘West Bengal’ to ‘Bangla’. It is very apt to name the State where the people of Banga have been living. Mr. Sukhendu Sekhar Roy quoted that ‘Nagas’ were inhabiting throughout India and the language spoken by them was Tamil. The name of the race ‘Nagas’ are nothing but ‘Dravidians’, reminding the analytical writing of Babasaheb Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
Dravidian identity is becoming the symbol of pride with historical evidences which the saffron outfits are trying to erase!
Source: Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume – 7, published by The Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1990