Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Land is classified into wet land growing mostly irrigated rice and dry land growing rain-fed or well-watered crops. Large irrigation Systems were built from at least the second century B . C ., especially on the Kaveri River, and there was an elaborate political economy supporting agricultural productivity especially developed by the medieval Cōlas. The kings also built catchment reservoirs for growing rice and gave them to the villages to maintain, as recorded in temple inscriptions; there are 40,000 such reservoirs in Tamil Nadu. The main field crops are rice, pearl millet and several other millets, sorghum, Several types of pulses and oilseeds, coconuts, bananas, Indian vegetables, and condiments. Mango and tamarind trees abound. The oxen plow and harrow, pull ox carts, draw buckets of irrigation water, and turn oilseed presses, while cows yield milk that is given to children and made into curds and buttermilk. A village may have chickens, buffalo, goats, sheep, and donkeys that carry the washers' clothes. Fishing castes occupy the long coast. Money was issued by ancient kings so there is a long tradition of moneylending, capitalism, and overseas trade; rural economic transactions became monetized in the nineteenth century. Since the 1960s farmers have installed many thousands of electric irrigation pumps and have taken up commercial crops such as sugarcane, cotton, and peanuts. But now agricultural growth is beginning to lag compared with industries and urbanization.
Industrial Arts. Artisan castes still make fine products of clay, leather, reeds, cotton, wood, iron, brass, silver, and gold. Ox carts are sturdy and still numerous. Tamils are known for their fine weaving, which even the ancient Romans imported, and today they have the most successful handweavers' cooperatives in India, though power looms are taking over. Great brass water vessels are given at weddings, though plastics are becoming popular. Bricks, roofing tiles, cement artifacts, and wooden furniture are now in demand everywhere.
Trade. The streets of large villages and towns are lined with shops, and there are still many weekly markets. Complex networks of wholesalers, agents, and financiers deal with all types of products. Now auctions are common for moving produce, and the trucking industry is intensively developed. Muslim traders are prominent in trade.
Division of Labor. Men plow, harrow, and handle the rice harvest, but women do transplanting and weeding for which their daily wage is less than that of men, and they may also milk cows. Tools of trade such as an ox cart, potter's wheel, fishing net, or nowadays a taxi are not handled by women. Women do kitchen work, cleaning, washing, and child care, but men may also do all these tasks, and professional cooks and washers are men. Women now may be teachers, nurses, and office employees.
Land Tenure. Landownership is well established with a system of official recording. Agricultural land is increasingly held by dominant farmer castes, while every village has its cadre of landless low-caste laborers available for fieldwork. There are few estates of great landowners, though temples and mosques still own some land for income. Sharecropping and tenancy are moderate, simply part of the socioeconomic dynamics. Because of population pressure and speculation, in many areas the market value of land now exceeds its productive economic value.