During the time of Mahabharata Dravida was mentioned as one among the kingdoms ruled by non-Vedic tribes, in the southern India. Its territories include the southern part of modern day Andhra Pradesh and the northern part of Tamil Nadu. Sometimes the name Dravida is used to denote all the southern kingdoms (like Chola, Pandya and Kerala) collectively and sometimes as a separate kingdom.
References in Mahabharata
Dravida listed in the Ancient Indian (Bharata Varsha) Kingdoms
In the south, are the Dravidas, the Keralas, the Prachyas, the Mushikas, and the Vanavashikas; the Karanatakas, the Mahishakas, the Vikalpas, and also the Mushakas; the Jhillikas, the Kuntalas…(6,9)
The origin of Dravida tribe
Mahabharata links the origin of Dravidas with sage Vasistha. Viswamitra, a king in the Ikshwaku clan, attacked the cow of Vasistha. Then many armies emerged for the protection of that cow and they attacked the armies of Viswamitra. Cow symbolizes land, in ancient Indian scriptures. Thus thus this war was fought with the tribes allied with Vasista for their own land. Other tribes that were mentioned along with the Dravidas in this incident were Sakas, Yavanas, Savaras, Kanchis, Savaras, Paundras and Kiratas, Yavanas and Sinhalas, and the barbarous tribes of Khasas, Chivukas, Pulindas, Chinas and Hunas with Keralas, and numerous other Mlechchhas. (1,177)
From the list it seems that it is a compiled list of tribes formerly unknown to the Vedic Kingdoms
Pandava Sahadeva reached the Dravida country during his southern military campaign.
Sahadeva brought under his subjection and exacted tributes from the Paundrayas, the Dravidas along with the Udrakeralas and the Andhras and the Talavanas. He also vanquished the Karanatakas, Pashandas, the town of Sanjayanti, the Kalinga, the Ustrakarnikas, the city of Atavi and the city of Yavanas. (2,30)
Dravidas are mentioned along with other tribes who attended Pandava king Yudhisthira's Rajasuya sacrifice.
The kings of Andhrakas; and the Dravidas and the Singhalas were present in the sacrifice (2,33). In another occasion the Cholas and Dravidas and Andhakas were mentioned to took part in the event (3,51)
Pandavas visited Dravida land during their pilgrimage
Pandavas reached the sea in the Dravida land, and visited the holy spot passing under Agastya’s name, which was exceedingly sacred and exceptionally pure. And the valiant king visited the feminine sacred spots. They visited one by one those holy places on the coast of the sea and many other sacred spots and came to the holiest of all known by the name of Suparaka. (3,118)
Arjuna in his military campaign after the Kurukshetra War, visited Dravida country
Arjuna proceeded towards the southern ocean. In those regions battle took place between him and the Dravidas and Andhras and the fierce Mahishakas and the hillmen of Kolwa. (14,83)
Dravidas in Kurukshetra War
On the side of Pandavas
- Arjuna converted the people of the Dravida land to be a portion of his own army (5,22)
- The Dravidas, the Kuntalas, the Andhras, and the Talacharas, and the Shuchupas, and the Venupas were described as allis of Pandavas (5,140)
- The Dravida forces, the Pandyas, the Cholas, the Keralas and the Andhras supported Dhristadyumna, Sikhandi and Satyaki. (8,12)
- The Dravida, the Andhaka, and the Nishada foot-soldiers, urged on by Satyaki, once more rushed towards Karna in that battle (8,49)
On the side of Kauravas
- The Kamvojas, the Sakas, the Khasas, the Salwas, the Matsyas, the Mlechchhas, the Pulindas, the Dravidas, the Andhras, and the Kanchis were described as allied to the Kauravas (5-161,162)
- The Kaikeyas, the Malavas, the Madrakas the Dravidas of fierce prowess, the Yaudheyas, the Lalittyas, the Kshudrakas, the Usinaras, the Tundikeras, the Savitriputras who supported Karna were slain by Arjuna (8,5)
The degraded status of Dravidas in later periods
Vedic kingdoms attributed a degraded status to Dravidas and other tribes in later periods
of ancient Indian history. This is certainly a post-Kurukshetra phenomenon when the cast and Varna systems got corrupted. Hence these statements shall not be taken as anything more than some propaganda.
- The Dravidas, the Kalingas, the Pulandas, the Usinaras, the Kolisarpas, the Mahishakas and other Kshatriyas, have, in consequence of the absence of Brahmanas from among their midst, become degraded into Sudras. (13,33)
- The Mekalas, the Dravidas, the Lathas, the Paundras, the Konwasiras, the Saundikas, the Daradas, the Darvas, the Chauras, the Savaras, the Varvaras, the Kiratas, the Yavanas, and numerous other tribes of Kshatriyas, have become degraded into the status of Sudras through the wrath of Brahmanas. (13,35)
- The Dravidas and Abhiras and Pundras, together with the Savaras, became degraded though Kshatriya duties were assigned to them due to Bhargava Rama.(14,29)
Kingdoms of Ancient India