Was Southern(Dravidian Speaking) India ever mentioned in the Pali Canon

Hi Everyone,

As mentioned in the title, I’d like to know if the Pali Canon ever mentioned any place/tribe/Kingdom/Religion/Religious figure from the South of India, that is what is now, Dravidian Speaking India. If yes, what exactly was/were mentioned in the Canon ?

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Hi Pannaiya.

The easy answer is no, there’s no mention of the South past modern Paithan, and no mention of Dravidian languages.

That is, at least for the early canon. In the late canonical text Thera-Apadāna, which was composed perhaps 300 years or more after the Buddha, there is a mention of Tamils, along with a large range of other people from “Malaya”, “Alexandria”, “Greece”, and so on.


Pali has absorbed a number of loan words from Dravidian and other sources such as Munda, but while there is an acknowledgment of different regions and languages, nowhere in early texts are they identified as Dravidian. In later Pali texts from Sri Lanka, of course, we find damiḷa mentioned commonly.

In the Vinaya we find a contrast between ariyaka (“aryan”, “noble”) languages and mleccha (“savage”, “uncivilized”).

These roughly correspond to “Indo-European” and “non-Indo-European”, although only in reference to then-current Indian languages. They didn’t recognize say “Greek” or “Persian” as a fellow ariyaka, so far as I know.


I’m surprised that there are no references to anything Dravidian in the Pali Canon. Despite the fact that Dravidian Speaking Indian states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu were once a Bastion of Theravadan Buddhism. Even 2 of the 5 texts of Tamil Nadu’s ancient Epics were Buddhist while the other 3 were Jain.

I agree on the Dravidian influences on Pali. Even Sanskrit has Dravidian influences but when a Dravidian language Speaker like myself first heard Pali, I couldn’t help but think that it sounded like some archaic form of Tamil !

That was long afterwards. Generally speaking, the Pali canon was closed by then. It doesn’t even mention, say Ashoka.

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This doesn’t seem so surprising in light of the Buddha confining his wanderings to the plains of S Nepal and NE India. It was several centuries before King Ashoka sent out missionaries across the subcontinent.


“The Rose-apple continent is an ancient name for the Indian sub-continent. Classical Buddhist cosmology regarded the world as arranged in four continents around Mt. Suneru. On the south was the Rose-apple continent; on the west, the Deathless Ox-cart continent; on the north, the Northern Kuru continent; and on the east, the Eastern Videha continent.”

—Note to Anguttara Nikaya 10.29, Thanissaro