Kumari Kandam refers to a mythical lost continent with an ancient Tamil civilization, located south of present-day India in the Indian Ocean.
In the 19th century, a section of the European and American scholars speculated the existence of a submerged continent called Lemuria, to explain geological and other similarities between Africa, Australia, India, and Madagascar.
A section of Tamil revivalists adapted this theory, connecting it to the Pandyan legends of lands lost to the ocean, as described in ancient Tamil and Sanskrit literature.
According to these writers, an ancient Tamil civilization existed on Lemuria, before it was lost to the sea in a catastrophe. In the 20th century, the Tamil writers started using the name “Kumari Kandam” to describe this submerged continent.
Although the Lemuria theory was later rendered obsolete by the continental drift (plate tectonics) theory, the concept remained popular among the Tamil revivalists of the 20th century.
According to them, Kumari Kandam was the place where the first two Tamil literary academies (sangams) were organized during the Pandyan reign. They claimed Kumari Kandam as the cradle of civilization to prove the antiquity of Tamil language and culture.
The words “Kumari Kandam” first appear in Kanda Puranam, a 15th-century Tamil version of the Skanda Purana, written by Kachiappa Sivacharyara (1350-1420).
Although the Tamil revivalists insist that it is a pure Tamil name, it is actually a derivative of the Sanskrit word “Kumārika Khaṇḍa“.
The Andakosappadalam section of Kanda Puranam describes the following cosmological model of the universe: There are many worlds, each having several continents, which in turn, have several kingdoms. Paratan, the ruler of one such kingdom, had eight sons and one daughter. He further divided his kingdom into nine parts, and the part ruled by his daughter Kumari came to be known as Kumari Kandam after her. Kumari Kandam is described as the kingdom of the Earth.
Although the Kumari Kandam theory became popular among anti-Brahmin anti-Sanskrit Tamil nationalists, the Kanda Puranam actually describes Kumari Kandam as the land where the Brahmins reside, where Shiva is worshipped and where the Vedas are recited. The rest of the kingdoms are described as the territory of the mlecchas.
The 20th-century Tamil writers came up with various theories to explain the etymology of “Kumari Kandam” or “Kumari Nadu“. One set of claims was centered on the purported gender egalitarianism in the prelapsarian Tamil homeland.
For example, M. Arunachalam (1944) claimed that the land was ruled by female rulers (Kumaris). D. Savariroyan Pillai stated that the women of the land had the right to choose their husbands and owned all the property, because of which the land came to be known as “Kumari Nadu” (“the land of the maiden”).
Yet another set of claims was centered on the Hindu goddess Kanya Kumari. Kandiah Pillai, in a book for children, fashioned a new history for the goddess, stating that the land was named after her. He claimed that the temple at Kanyakumari was established by those who survived the flood that submerged Kumari Kandam.
According to cultural historian Sumathi Ramaswamy, the emphasis of the Tamil writers on the word “Kumari” (meaning virgin or maiden) symbolizes the purity of Tamil language and culture, before their contacts with the other ethnic groups such as the Indo-Aryans.
The Tamil writers also came up with several other names for the lost continent. In 1912, Somasundara Bharati first used the word “Tamilakam” (a name for the ancient Tamil country) to cover the concept of Lemuria, presenting it as the cradle of civilization, in his Tamil Classics and Tamilakam.
Another name used was “Pandiya Nadu“, after the Pandyas, regarded as the oldest of the Tamil dynasties. Some writers used “Navalan Tivu” (or Navalam Island), the Tamil name of Jambudvipa, to describe the submerged land.
Lemuria hypothesis in India
In 1864, the English zoologist Philip Sclater hypothesized the existence of a submerged land connection between India, Madagascar and continental Africa.
He named this submerged land Lemuria, as the concept had its origins in his attempts to explain the presence of lemur-like primates on these three disconnected lands.
Before the Lemuria hypothesis was rendered obsolete by the continental drift theory, a number of scholars supported and expanded it. The concept was introduced to the Indian readers in an 1873 physical geography textbook by Henry Francis Blanford.
According to Blanford, the landmass had submerged due to volcanic activity during the Cretaceous period. In the late 1870s, the Lemuria theory found its first proponents in the present-day Tamil Nadu, when the leaders of the Adyar-headquartered Theosophical Society wrote about it.
Most European and American geologists dated Lemuria’s disappearance to a period before the emergence of modern humans.
Thus, according to them, Lemuria could not have hosted an ancient civilization. However, in 1885, the Indian Civil Service officer Charles D. Maclean published The Manual of the Administration of the Madras Presidency, in which he theorized Lemuria as the proto-Dravidian Urheimat.
In a footnote in this work, he mentioned Ernst Haeckel’s Asia hypothesis, which theorized that the humans originated in a land now submerged in the Indian Ocean. Maclean added that this submerged land was the homeland of the proto-Dravidians.
He also suggested that the progenitors of the other races must have migrated from Lemuria to other places via South India. This theory was also cursorily discussed by other colonial officials like Edgar Thurston and Herbert Hope Risley, including in the census reports of 1891 and 1901.
Later, Maclean’s manual came to be cited as an authoritative work by the Tamil writers, who often wrongly referred to him as a “scientist” and a “Doctor“.
The native Tamil intellectuals first started discussing the concept of a submerged Tamil homeland in the late 1890s. In 1898, J. Nallasami Pillai published an article in the philosophical-literary journal Siddhanta Deepika (aka The Truth of Light).
He wrote about the theory of a lost continent in the Indian Ocean (i.e. Lemuria), mentioning that the Tamil legends speak of floods which destroyed the literary works produced during the ancient sangams. However, he also added that this theory had “no serious historical or scientific footing“.
Kumari Kandam is theorized as an isolated (both temporally and geographically) landmass. Geographically, it was located in the Indian Ocean. Temporally, it was a very ancient civilization.
Many Tamil writers do not assign any date to the submergence of Kumari Kandam, resorting to phrases like “once upon a time” or “several thousands of years ago“.
Those who do, vary greatly, ranging from 30,000 BCE to the 3rd century BCE. Several other writers state that the land was progressively lost to the over a period of thousands of years.
In 1991, R. Mathivanan, then Chief Editor of the Tamil Etymological Dictionary Project of the Government of Tamil Nadu, claimed that the Kumari Kandam civilization flourished around 50,000 BCE, and the continent submerged around 16,000 BCE. This theory was based on the methodology recommended by his teacher Devaneya Pavanar.
The isolation resulted in the possibility of describing Kumari Kandam as a utopian society insulated from external influences and foreign corruption. Unlike its description in the Kanda Puranam, the Tamil revivalists depicted Kumari Kandam as a place free of the upper-caste Brahmins, who had come to be identified as descendants of Indo-Aryans during the Dravidian movement.
The non-utopian practices of the 20th century Tamil Hindu society, such as superstitions and caste-based discrimination, were all described as corruption resulting from Indo-Aryan influence.
A land lost to the ocean also helped the Tamil revivalists provide an explanation for the lack of historically verifiable or scientifically acceptable material evidence about this ancient civilization.
The earliest extant Tamil writings, which are attributed to the third Sangam, contain Sanskrit vocabulary, and thus could not have been the creation of purely Tamil civilization. Connecting the concept of Lemuria to an ancient Tamil civilization allowed the Tamil revivalists to portray a society completely free of Indo-Aryan influence.
They could claim that the various signs of the ancient Tamil civilization had been lost in the deep ocean. The later dominance of Sanskrit was offered as another explanation for the deliberate destruction of ancient Tamil works.
In the 1950s, R. Nedunceliyan, who later became Tamil Nadu’s education minister, published a pamphlet called Marainta Tiravitam (“Lost Dravidian land”).
He insisted that the Brahmin historians, being biased towards Sanskrit, had deliberately kept the knowledge of the Tamil’s greatness hidden from the public.
Connected with South India
The Kumari Kandam proponents laid great emphasis on stating that the Kanyakumari city was a part of the original Kumari Kandam.
Some of them also argued that entire Tamil Nadu, entire Indian peninsula (south of Vindhyas) or even entire India were a part of Kumari Kandam.
This helped ensure that the modern Tamils could be described as both indigenous people of South India and the direct descendants of the people of Kumari Kandam. This, in turn, allowed them to describe the Tamil language and culture as the world’s oldest.
During British Raj, Kanyakumari was a part of the Travancore state, most of which was merged to the newly-formed Kerala state after the 1956 reorganization.
The Tamil politicians made a concerted effort to ensure that Kanyakumari was incorporated into the Tamil-majority Madras State (now Tamil Nadu). Kanyakumari’s purported connection with Kumari Kandam was one of the reasons for this effort.
Cradle of civilization
According to the Kumari Kandam proponents, the continent was submerged when the last ice age ended and the sea levels rose.
The Tamil people then migrated to other lands and mixed with the other groups, leading to the formation of new races, languages, and civilizations. Some also theorize that the entire humanity is descended from the inhabitants of Kumari Kandam.
Both narratives agree on the point that Tamil culture is the source of all civilized culture in the world, and Tamil is the mother language of all other languages in the world. According to the most versions, the original culture of Kumari Kandam survived in Tamil Nadu.
As early as 1903, Suryanarayana Sastri, in his Tamilmoliyin Varalaru, insisted that all the humans were descendants of the ancient Tamils from Kumari Kandam. Such claims were repeated by several others, including M. S. Purnalingam Pillai and Maraimalai Adigal.
In 1917, Abraham Pandithar wrote that Lemuria was the cradle of the human race, and Tamil was the first language spoken by humans. These claims were repeated in the school and college textbooks of Tamil Nadu throughout the 20th century.
M. S. Purnalingam Pillai, writing in 1927, stated that Indus Valley Civilization was established by the Tamil survivors from the flood-hit Kumari Nadu. In the 1940s, N. S. Kandiah Pillai published maps showing migration of the Kumari Kandam residents to other parts of the world.
In 1953, R. Nedunceliyan, who later became the education minister of Tamil Nadu, insisted that the civilization spread from South India to the Indus Valley and Sumer, and subsequently, to “Arabia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Spain and other places“. They presented modern Tamil as a pale remnant of the glorious ancient Tamil language spoken in Kumari Kandam.
Some Tamil writers also claimed that the Indo-Aryans were also descendants of proto-Dravidians of Kumari Kandam. According to this theory, these Indo-Aryans belonged to a branch which migrated to Central Asia and then returned to India.
Similar explanations were used to reconcile the popular theory that proto-Dravidians migrated to India from the Mediterranean region.
A 1975 Government of Tamil Nadu college textbook stated that the Dravidians of Kumari Kandam had migrated to the Mediterranean region after the submergence of their continent; later, they migrated back to India via the Himalayan passes.
Primordial but not primitive
The Tamil revivalists did not consider Kumari Kandam as a primitive society or a rural civilization. Instead, they described it as a utopia which had reached the zenith of human achievement, and where people lived a life devoted to learning, education, travel, and commerce.
Sumanthi Ramaswamy notes that this “placemaking” of Kumari Kandam was frequently intended as a teaching tool, meant to inspire the modern Tamils to pursue excellence.
But this preoccupation with “civilization” was also a response to the British rulers’ projection of the Europeans as more civilized than the Tamils.
Suryanarayan Sastri, in 1903, described the antediluvian Tamils as expert cultivators, fine poets and far-traveling merchants, who lived in an egalitarian and democratic society.
Savariroyan Pillai, writing a few years later, described Kumari Kandam as a seat of learning and culture. Sivagnana Yogi (1840-1924) stated that this ancient society was free of any caste system.
Kandiah Pillai, in a 1945 work for children, wrote that Kumarikandam was ruled by a strong and just emperor called Sengon, who organized the sangams. In 1981, the Government of Tamil Nadu funded a documentary film on Kumari Kandam.
The film, personally backed by the Chief Minister M. G. Ramachandran and directed by P. Neelakantan, was screened at the Fifth International Conference of Tamil Studies in Madurai.
It combined the continental drift theory with the submerged continent theory to present Lemuria as a scientifically valid concept. It depicted Kumari Kandam cities resplendent with mansions, gardens, arts, crafts, music, and dance.
*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.