Rajasthan: An exotic state, resembling something out of a storybook. The landscape is characterised by endless desert, interspersed with caravans, camels, fortress cities and large luxury palaces where the Rajput princes lived. Many of these palaces are architectural masterpieces, although they are expensive to maintain and for this reason many have been turned into museums to raise extra revenue. Rajastan has an area of 132,150 square miles (one and a half times the size of Great Britain) and is the second-largest federal state in India after Madhya Pradesh. Two-thirds of the area of the state is taken up by the Thar Desert, which extends into Pakistan and is bordered on its east side by the Aravalli mountain range. This is the oldest mountain range in India and it splits Rajasthan diagonally from northeast to southwest. To the east of the Aravalli, the terrain is greener and more fertile, whereas the Thar Desert is barren and dry.
Tamil Nadu: The Tamils view their land as holy, chosen by the gods. There are temples everywhere and the presence of Shiva, Vishnu, Murugan, Ganesha and numerous other goddesses bless the land. Here and there, in the course of history these temples have developed into enormous complexes. ‘Where there isn’t a temple, one should not live’, according to a well-known Tamil saying. The Tamil language flows as ‘sweet honey’, in the opinion of the population it is about one of the oldest of the Dravidian languages. Old poets composed songs which resound still daily within the walls of these houses of the gods.
Tamil Nadu is the most ‘anti-Aryan’ and ‘anti-Northern-India’ of the southerly states. Several times in the past, this has led to regionalism, sometimes even in militant form. Nowhere in India is the resistance against Hindi as a national language as fierce as in Tamil Nadu.
Together with Orissa, Tamil Nadu is one of the most Hindu regions in India. Islam has reached the area quite late and hence Hinduism was able to develop relatively undisturbed. Most Hindus in Tamil Nadu profess a type of Hinduism which may be called bhakti, loving dedication to a deity or participation in a deity. Such dedication sometimes originates in fear but it is mostly characterized by affection and emotion. The deity grants his blessings as a way of supporting his earthly beings. Tamil Nadu has given the world some highly special art forms. In the first place this includes the Bharata Natyam dancing tradition. This tradition now has come out of the temples and courts of principals and now reaches a large audience even extending outside India’s borders. A second example is the South-Indian art of bronze casting, which reached its high point in the dynamic posture of the dancing Shiva, a figure which made a deep impression on the French sculptor Rodin.
Kerala: This small state lies on the west coast of the Nilgiri, South India’s coastal mountain range. The combination of two wet monsoons and the rain clouds colliding with the mountains causes Kerala to be the greenest part of South India. The high precipitation and fertility of the soil enables intensive agriculture. Three rice harvests annually is not uncommon, with coconut, in a wide diversity of applications, makes up a quarter of the population’s diet. The high agricultural output could well explain the high population density of the state. In the coastal areas, large cities have been built with small bungalows in large gardens, alternating with rice fields and coconut plantations. Each plot is cultivated. An oddity are the ‘backwaters’, a system of channels, rivers and islands right behind the coast, where the people live right next to and on the water. The hills and mountains offer a different perspective. Here some dense jungle alternates with rubber and spice plantations and, higher in the mountains, tea and coffee plantations. Large areas have been deforested through logging. The government works to counter the destructive erosion by encouraging eucalyptus and agave plantations.
Kerala is the land of opposites. It is a well-developed area and the state can be proud of the fact that in Kerala illiteracy is the lowest in the country. Birth control is at a Western European level and there is not the distressing poverty one witnesses in other regions of India. This situation is largely the credit of a powerful communist movement which has made up the largest political party here since India’s independence. However, at the same time, Kerala houses the most conservative institutes of Hindu society.
Kerala is of importance for the traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Nowhere in India has this science been preserved as authentically as here and nowhere do people stick to tradition so strongly. Despite the communist sympathies of the people, it is here that we encounter the ‘invisibles’, a casteless group ranking lower than the untouchables, whose aspect is so defiling that the members of this caste may appear on the street only at night.