The southernmost state in mainland India, Tamil Nadu is the heartland of Dravidian culture and is a bastion of conservation Hinduism. Some of the finest temple architectures in India can be found here; Gopurams (gateway towers) can be seen towering over huge temple-city complexes with streets spiralling around an active central shrine. Tamil Nadu is also home to the sounds of Carnatic music and to Bharat Natyam, India’s most popular classical dance form. Since at least the first century, the state has nurtured South India’s oldest literary tradition, in its mother tongue, Tamil.
The Mauryan Empire, which controlled virtually all of India during the 3rd century BC, never made it this far south. During the last few centuries BC, Tamil Nadu was ruled by three rival dynasties, the Cholas, Pandyas, and Cheras. By the 4th century AD the Pallava kingdom had ascended, only to be stopped in the 9th century by the long-standing Cholas, who grew to rule all of South India. Not until the 14th century AD growth of the Vijayanagar Empire was the present-day area of Tamil Nadu ruled by a kingdom based outside its borders. Under the British, Tamil Nadu was part of the Madras Presidency, which included parts of present-day Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka; this entity was divided according to language groups in the 1950s. Most people in Tamil Nadu speak at least a smattering English, since fierce cultural pride has caused them to resent the introduction of Hindi. Since Independence, Tamil Nadu has also claimed a special place as one of few Indian states apparently immune to outbreaks of Hindu-Muslim violence.