Tourism to South India from a historical perspective

Tourism was a highly developed economic and cultural activity in South India during the medieval period with even people from even the far north of India venturing deep into the region to support temples and cultural activities, an expert historian in the field says.Tourism can be defined as the "movement of people from one place to another, a considerable distance away, for a stay longer than a day, with or without a purpose.”

From the Tamil epigraphs available of the medieval period, it is clear that there was a lot of north-south movement. Even now, tourists from the north of India show the same level of interest to explore the south.In modern times, entertainment could be the main focus of tourism for a majority, but in ancient India, the purpose was religious, cultural or simply business. People toured the south for political, economic and philanthropic reasons.

The great epics of India, Ramayana and the Mahabharata, give a vivid picture of common people and saints continuously moving to different parts of the country for a variety of reasons.Rulers from outside India also showed great interest in constructing religious buildings and mutts for pilgrims from their countries. There is clear proof from artifacts that tourism was a major activity in medieval South India among all in the society. To sustain tourism, facilities for transport, stay and food had to be created. Most travelled by road and so the kings took special care to provide shady trees along the roads. Inscriptions in different parts of South India refer to many big and small roads which connected places.

Horses, bullock carts and donkeys were largely used by all sections of the people as modes of commuting. A larger section of the population trusted their own legs. The inland waterways were also utilised and specially-built boats plied.After transport and stay, the next priority was food. It appears that eateries were available on roadsides, which provided livelihood to destitute women. An elaborate free food distribution system ensured that tourists would not need to pay at the popular pilgrim centres. At many centres, there was provision perhaps for exchange of currency of different kingdoms and rulers that facilitated the tourists. Moreover, almost all the houses had single or double raised platforms at the entry point that helped travellers to avail of rest and night stay. Generally, the common public were also kind and large-hearted to take care and spare food and water for travellers from far and near.