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Coromandel: A Personal History of South India

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  205 ratings  ·  34 reviews

COROMANDEL. A name which has been long applied by Europeans to the Northern Tamil Country, or (more comprehensively) to the eastern coast of the Peninsula of India.

This is the India highly acclaimed historian Charles Allen visits in this fascinating book. Coromandel journeys south, exploring the less well known, often neglected and very different history and identity of

Kindle Edition, 432 pages
Published November 2nd 2017 by Little, Brown Book Group
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Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-south
Like the subtitle says, this is a personal history of South India, which means the history Allen covers is that which interests him the most. So one must be prepared to not be shocked at the lack of mention (or utmost a line or two) about the Kadambas, Pandyas, Pallavas, the Vijayanagar Empire, the Nayaks, the brief Madurai Sultanate and so on.
What Charles does very well is to cover the pre-Pallavan, pre-Chalukyan South. This is the Buddhist and Jain heritage of South India explored through its
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: india
In coromandel Charles Allen takes through a journey of chronicling history of south india (i.e south of narmada river). This book being a personal history , charles allen is selective , talking about some portions while overlooking certain parts. There is a feeling of colonial apologist bias which is felt throughout the background of the book. Other than that , topics like Agasthya , Buddhism and Jainism in south india , cholamandalam, malabar region , are well represented. Topics like ...more
Arun Divakar
Mar 04, 2018 rated it liked it
The narratives of Indian history as told by most non-fiction books begin and end north of the Narmada river. This is not very surprising since northern India has seen a lot happen over the centuries in terms of power, politics, administration and the human condition. But this makes you wonder as to what was really going on beyond the Deccan plateau all this while and this is the question that Charles Allen tries to tackle in his book on the history of South India from the pre-Vedic times to just ...more
Sairam Krishnan
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So so good! Coromandel is brilliant, and i don't mean just the essays and the scholarship in them. This is a lovingly constructed and put together book, right down to the every last detail. There is just so much here, and it's so well told, that I was sorry when I put it down. If Charles Allen had given me 15 more chapters, I'd have read them all.

I suppose each reader of this book will take it how they want to, but to me this book is a great starting point to delve deeper into all the history
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
In his introduction chapter in this book, author Charles Allen quotes Romila Thapar from a 1999 speech in which she is said to have told her fellow academics, "All historians when they put out theories have an axe to grind, and have a political message. So always ask yourself, what is the political message of this historian you might be reading". This is a fair indication of what follows in the remainder of the book - page after page of subjective interpretations of historical facts, with a ...more
Ravi Jain
Sep 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The book contains a wealth of good research but I found it to be pretty one sided.

Charles Allen claims to be an Indian and an expert on Indian history. There is a subtle hint of anti-brahminism in that Brahmins have been portrayed to be the cause of all evils plaguing South India whereas the British colonisers and their actions have been heavily defended.

I bought and read this book thinking it would be a comprehensive reading on the history of South India - the various dynasties, their kings,
Coromandel confused me a bit. I assumed it to be a travelogue cum narration of the history of the Coromandel. But what Allen does is to explore primarily the pre-Hindu identity of the land. What we get is a riveting account of the Buddhists, Jains and the eventual dominance of the Vedic Brahminical Hinduism. One of the best chapters was his exploration of the Buddhist links of the Jagannath Temple of Puri. His study of the Thiruvalluvar’s impact on Tamil Nadu was also praiseworthy. Highly ...more
Ràmasubramanian Iyer
Jul 14, 2019 rated it did not like it
It is author' personal view but the entire book reeks off anti-Brahminism. Whenever he talks of Hinduism, he mentions it as different from so called Vedic Brahminism. Throughout the book, he keeps on mentioning that Brahminical Hinduism appropriated customs from local religions but when the same was done by Buddhism he mentions that Buddhism and Jainism was flexible enough. Strong word play there. In the story of Manuneedi Cholan the act of giving up his son is termed as religious fanaticism ...more
Maumita Sinhamahapatra
The book is well researched in terms of historical dates etc and in many instances readers will appreciate the author actually having visited the places he describes. But added to this are subtle but consistent attempts to justify British imperialism in India with arguments such as 'Indian nationalists' blaming British rule for its divide and rule policy despite other foreign powers having practiced the same in India. A criminal act is a criminal act no matter whether it has historical ...more
Samuel Premkumar
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I started reading the book based on the title of the book and an intriguing health warning in the beginning of the book. Needless to say, the book was fascinating and a fast, gripping read. Easy to read and well narrated.
One thing I realised after reading the book is that how less we know of our land's past. Starting from river valley civilisations to the current, India has gone through all sorts of religions and cultures.
South of Narmada is a new definition of Deccan as it formed the natural
Dianne Lange
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Thorough and fascinating history of South India chock full of interesting anecdotes. A must if you're planning on visiting that part of the world. The cast of characters throughout history is confusing, but even though I'll probably remember only half of them (or less), this book will enhance my journey.
Suman Srivastava
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Indians have traditionally been great students of science, mathematics, philosophy, art, culture, music and so on, but not of history. Thus we have a lot of reading to do to catch up on history. Particularly of South Indian history, of which our school history books do a really bad job. Learning about our history is particularly important in this age of "alternative facts" where everyone seems to feel free to have their own version of history and twist the facts into a narrative that they want ...more
Susheil Kumar
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
1. There have been a number of books written on history of India. However most of the books including the textbooks in school and prescribed books in college include primarily the history of Delhi with only small service to history of other parts of the country. However as Delhi for most of the period of history did not control South India, Eastern India as well as hill states like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, there has been lack of knowledge about history of these parts ...more
Mohamed Suhail
Aug 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Interesting read ! Learnt so many things , like the glorious age of Jainism , Buddhism , royal patronage to religions , conversion of Buddhist stupas to Hindu temples and how Brahmanism reinvented itself into modern Hinduism by assimilating popular folktales and tribal gods. Would have been nice if it had been written in a chronological way . The author takes a balanced view , criticing British for their colonialism as well as pointing to some benefits passed on to India . Regarding Islam in ...more
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Coromandel: A Personal History of South India, is James Allen’s new book. It has two of his trademarks: (1) A concern not so much with the actual historical event as with how the historians discovered the event and (2) a conversational style of writing. But anyone approaching this book hoping to find a chronological outline of the main events and characters of south Indian history beware. This book is in the form of essays on some selected themes in South Indian history such as Aryan Incursions ...more
Nov 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
The 'Personal' in the title is important. Chales Allen was born in India and loves a lot of things about the country. This book is not really about 'History' as it is normally understood, but more of story-telling with base in history. It is interesting to read, and does give many interesting insights into a much neglected part of India. Most books on Indian history tend to be north centric, which is pity because the South is culturally richer than the north. This is an ideal book for people who ...more
Raghu Parthasarathy
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It’s rare to find books on the history of South India, despite its amazing cultural richness, so I was eager to read this one. Allen’s book is excellent, touching on topics as diverse as the enormous but transient influence of Buddhism and Jainism, the early history of Muslims in Kerala, the still underexplored (and sadly mistreated) ancient architecture of Tamil kingdoms, and more. I enjoyed this book a lot, enough to give it five stars, but I’ll note that I’m biased in favor of the topic and I ...more
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For the first time, I have read a book about South India and I enjoyed it. Indian history books are usually Delhi centric and neglect almost everything south of the Vindhays. The Indian culture we see in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Bali etc. would not have been possible without South Indian influence.
Also, this is about time, the history we learn in school is re-written. What we learned was a simplistic view and too many things, which the Muslim Sultans/Emperors did like killing Hindus, forced
Sesh Hamm
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Definitely worth reading for its coverage of South Indian history, but left me feeling quite conflicted by 1. the author's apparent soft spot as far as the East India Company and Britain are concerned in terms of their role in the events in the Deccan from 1700 to Independence; and 2. as the author states, it's a selective look (non-chronological) at the history of South India, which begs the question of what's been left out.

In many ways, the author seems to be refuting the claims of authors
Srinivas Ramanujam
Dec 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: loved-it
I found the book to have a quick racy style and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
But, maybe because Mr. Allen has taken on a lot and over a significant period of time, I felt the narrative jerky in the latter part of the book.

There are definitely interesting theories about the extent of Jainism & Buddhism and the development of Hinduism.
This book makes me want to study further.

In my opinion, this can be treated as a primer and an easy reading (for a newcomer to Indian history) about South India
Praneesh K
Mar 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Not a comprehensive one but nevertheless, a refreshing read away from the North Indian centric history that I have been fed at school. A bit of an apologist for the empire, Charles makes it up by providing me with lots of Buddhist and Jain trivia of South India. In the future, these books could be the antidote to the heavily saffronized history school texts of today.
Abhishek Kona
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
I am South Indian. I wanted to know more about my ancestors. After reading this book I do not believe in a lot of the myths I was told as a Child -Cholas were imperial and tried to expand into south east asia sort of like how the British did in India, Tipu Sultan was not secular or nationalist - the list keeps going.

It was information dense, I enjoyed it.
Suraj Briga
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
coromandel. the european word for south india, which was derived from cholamandalam. meaning the land of the cholas, whom after the 12th century disappeared, leaving the temple ruins as their only remnants. so many other stuff which i never knw came thru this book. recommended to all history lovers.
Jazz Singh
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Charles Allen brings the past alive and strings together events into a cohesive and riveting read. A wonderful history of the southern part of India that takes a look at the sweeping grandeur, myth, mythology and fac of this multi-faceted country.
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Absolutely enlightening and true to the title. The author does a great job of illuminating not just the history of south India, but the state of Indian history. A must read for any intellects even remotely interested in India and story.
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Primarily the book deals with the religious history of South India. The author skips about quiet quickly from one narrative to next. So it's a bit of tough to follow, but still a relevant read. Given that our history is being falsified a lot these days to meet political ends.
Jul 29, 2019 rated it liked it
It wasn't quite was I was hoping for or expecting (the "A Personal History" part of the title is a bit misleading), but I did learn quite a few things I never knew. If you are interested in the subject, it is worth a read.
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Outstanding reminder of the hidden greatness of the South.
Feb 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, read2018
begins well, chugs along, does a few confused rounds, sputters out with a closing pop
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
A look at the way South India was shaped from centuries before. It breakes down every myths from Hindutva to kumari Kandam.
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Charles Allen (born 1940) is a British writer and historian. He was born in India, where several generations of his family served under the British Raj. His work focuses on India and South Asia in general. Allen's most notable work is Kipling Sahib, a biography of Rudyard Kipling. His most recent work, Ashoka: the Search for India's Lost Emperor, was published in February 2012.

Selected works
“It is under Ashoka’s aegis that Indian civilisation, in the sense of a shared culture embracing everything from administration to art and architecture, makes a great leap forward, with tolerance as its watchword. One of his edicts is entirely devoted to this subject, with the great emperor under his regnal name of Piyadasi calling on his subjects to respect all religions. It ends with these words: Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought ‘Let me glorify my own religion’, only harms his own religion.” 2 likes
“This travelling was never about gaining merit or the absolution of sins. It was always the journey that mattered, and what these travels could tell me about the country and its history – a history so alluring, so epic as to keep drawing me back. There is so damn much of it, and so much still unexamined, still disputed, still buried and waiting to be brought back into the light.” 2 likes
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