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Chola Rule in Tamil Nadu

Prominent Rulers:

The first great Chola king is Chola Karikala. Karikala’s grandfather would appear to be Verpaharadakkai Perunarikilli. He was a contemporary of Kudakko Nedumseraladan, the Chera king, and they both fought and fell in battle on the same field.

Rajaraja Chola:

Rajaraja’s accession to the Chola throne is unique in the annals of Indian history. Rajaraja was nominated successor when Madhurantaka Uttama Chola ascended the throne in 969-70 CE; and became sovereign in his own right in 985 CE. When his father, Sundara Chola died, he was the rightful heir to the throne and also the popular choice as well. At the same time, he was unable not ascend the throne because his uncle, Uttama desired to rule the Chola kingdom. Uttama was probably an infant at the time of his father Gandaraditya’s (949-957 CE) death. The Chola country was still recovering from the devasting invasion of the Rashtrakutas under Krishna III. Therefore, the Chola throne passed on to Arinjaya (956 – 957 CE), the able brother of Gandaraditya, and then on to his son, Sundara Chola (956-973 CE). Uttama seems to have laid claims to the throne when Sundara Chola died. Rajaraja, Sundara Chola’s surviving son, could have authoritatively and legitimately refused the throne to his uncle, because the line of succession had changed for two generations. There was a pressing need for an able ruler, because the Cholas were regaining their hold over Tondaimandalam, which had been lost to the Rashtrakutas. Rajaraja’s elder brother Aditya Karikala, who played an important role in efforts to regain the lost areas and consolidate Chola power, was assassinated, possibly with Uttama’s connivance. All these happenings, could have strengthened Rajaraja in asserting his right. According to the Tiruvalangadu plates, subjects of the kingdom were rooting for the able Arulmolivarman (later Rajaraja) to be crowned as king. Rajaraja was young and could have reacted emotionally. Yet, he showed extraordinary wisdom and restraint in choosing to wait by allowing his uncle Uttama (973-985 CE) to rule his death. Thus, he avoided bitterness amongst relatives and political confusion within the kingdom.

Except for the Pandyas in the southern corner and the Keralas beyond the ghats, he was master of the Tamil country south of the Pennar. In the course of two years, he took control of Gangappadi, Nulambappadi, Tadigaivali, and Vengainadu. By the 16th year Rajaraja had added to his conquests Kollam (Quilon in Ravanacore) and Kalingam (Odisha). By the 20th year he had asserted his authority over Ilam (or Ceylon). The conquest of Ganga and Nolamba territories were not acquiesced in by the Chalukyas. It was between the years twenty and twenty-four of Rajaraja that he is said to have expanded to Rattappadi seven and a half lac country; and he claims having defeated the Chalukya Satyasraya. The twenty-sixth year is the year in which Rajaraja got the bulk of his inscriptions incised in the Thanjore temple, a record of gifts and offerings made by himself, his queens, his sister the Pallava lady Kundavvaiyar, and others. His list of conquests comes to an end with the mention of his acquisition of ‘the twelve thousand ancient islands of the sea’ in his 29th year.

Rajaraja was also known as Sivapadasekhara – One (who has) the feet of Shiva as (his) crest.

If Rajaraja’s military exploits were immense, his pursuit of bhakti-marga was even more outstanding. Devotion to Siva was deeply embedded in the Chola dynasty as many of Rajaraja’s ancestors, right from the Sangam age, were ardent devotees of Siva and active builders of temples for Shiva. Rajaraja carried forward the staunch and unflinching devotion to Shiva, which he displayed in abundance, literally and figuratively. In all probability, he was greatly influenced by his ancestors. Like all his predecessors, he built many temples and made generous endowments to them. However, the outstanding example of his devotion is the construction of the Rajarajesvaram. Rajaraja’s staunch faith is further attested by his donations of an array of metal images cast in soild gold, dilver and the usual bronze/copper. He donated metal images of Nataraja known as Adavallan and Dakshinameruvitankar, Tanjaivitankar, Maha Meruvitankar, Subrahmanya, Dakshinamurti, Mahavishnu, and Ganesha (seven numbers). Kundavai, his sister, presented images of the consorts for the Dakshinameruvitankar and Tanjaivitankar. Ina ddition, a huge quantity of jewellery was also presented to these images by them. This munificence was a direct result of the collective and deep devotion for the Lord by the king and his elder sister. Rajaraja, his sister Jundavai, principal queens, officials, and others donated huge quantities of gold ornaments, vessels, besides cash and other forms of endowments from their personal wealth to the Lord of Rajarajesvaram and other images. Rajaraja took extraordinary care to register in minute detail all the endowments and gifts offered to the temple. He categorically states that the donations by all, including his own should be engraved on the walls of the Sri Vimana.

Rajendra Chola I:

Rajaraja I was succeeded by his only son Rajendra I, born of his queen Vanavan Mahadevi. Rajendra had many titles like Madhurantaka, Uttamachola, Virachola, Mudikondachola, Panditachola, Gangaikondachola, Gangaiyum Purvadesmum Kadaramum Konda Ayyan. The Tiruvalangadu Plates of the 6th year of Rajendra I mentions his early conquests. For two years, Rajendra had been associated, as Yuvaraja, with his father’s administration (1012-1014 CE)and in turn, in 1018 CE, he associated his eldest son Rajadhiraja I, as co-regent and their joint rule lated 26 years (1018-44 CE). He had played a vital role in the wars fought by his father; the earliest of them were against the Cheras and the Pandyas, followed by the campaign in Sri Lanka, after conquering which he took possession of the crown of Sundara Pandya and ‘the necklace of Indra’ deposited in the Sri Lanka by Rajasimha, the last of the Pandyan rulers of the First Empire, after his defeat at the hands of Parantaka I and his flight to the Chera country.

In his father’s days, soon after the conquest of Madurai, Rajendra I was made the Viceroy of the Pandyan region, and given the designation of ‘Chola-Pandya’. This institution of appointing the heir-apparent as the viceroy of the newly-conquered territory was responsible for the stability of the empire which Rajaraja had so sedulously built up. A standing army was also stationed at strategic points of the empire, like Kottaru, Brahmadesam, etc. to strengthen the government and enable it to maintain effective control over the far flung empire. A great palace was also built at Madurai for the residence of the Chola Pandya viceroy. This system, introduced by Rajaraja I with such great advantage, was continued till the accession of Kulottunga I, and its discontinuance thereafter led to the loosening of central control over the outlying provinces of the empire.

After his accession to the throne, Rajendra in his own right planned a digvijaya as far as the Ganga; his prasati gives a full account of this expedition including details of the rulers and kingdoms subjugated by him; this account is corroborated by the contemporary records from the conquered lands, estabilishing the trustworthiness of the prasati. After this great digvijaya,

Rajendra I, who had deputed the Chola general on this expedition, received the victorious army on the banks of the Godavariand brought it to his new capital called Gangaikonda-Cholapuram.

After the Ganga expedition, Rajendra I conceived of an even greater one, this time beyond the seas. The Chola Navy built up by Rajaraja I had already proved its mettle during his days at Kandalur Salai and in the conquest of the 12,000 islands off the west coast of India. It was further strengthened in Rajendra’s days and a naval expedition was undertaken against the powerful Sailendras of Sri Vijaya in the Indonesian archipelago; from prasati portion of an inscription of the 14th regnal year. The details of naval expeditions have been detailed out further.

In 1015-1033 CE, two Chola embassies were sent to China to establish friendly, diplomatic and commercial ties with that country. The king of Kamboja (Cambodia), Suryavaraman I, sent a war-chariot as a gesture of goodwill to Rajendra I.

At the zenith of his power, Rajendra I’s empire extended, as graphically described in an inscription at Tirumalavadi, from Gangai in the north to Ilangai (Sri Lanka) in the south, and from Mahodi (nodern Cranganore) in the west to Kadaram (Kedah) in the Malay peninsula in the east.


Rajaraja I organized a highly bureaucratic system of administration which aimed at central stability and local autonomy.

The whole empire had been divided into nine provinces called mandalams. Each province was headed by a viceroy who received orders from the king. Each mandalam was divided into number of Kottams or Valanadus which was further sub-divided into nadu. Each nadu was further divided into villages called Urs. The ‘Ur’ was the gatherings of the local residents to discuss matters without any formal rule or procedure.

One of the most important administrative units of the Cholas was Nadu. Each nadu was headed by a Nattar while the council of nadu was named nattavai. The responsibility of the village administration was entrusted to the village assembly called Grama Sabha, the lowest unit of the Chola administration.

According to the regulation of 921 A.D. each of the thirty wards of the village was to nominate for selection of persons possessing the following qualifications:

o Ownership of more than 1/4th ‘Veli’ (about an acre and a half) of land,

o residence in a house built on One’s own site,

o age between 35 and 70,

o the knowledge of the ‘Vedic mantra-Brahmanas’; in the alternative 1/8th Veli of land and knowledge of one Veda and a Bhasya.

The following among others were excluded:

o those who had been on any of the committee but had failed to submit the accounts, together with all their specific relations,

o those who had committed incest or other great sins as well as their relations;

o those who had stolen the property of others etc.

During the Chola period, there was a democratic government at the village level as the Uttaramerur inscriptions depict. The inscriptions provide astonishing details about:

o The constitution of wards

o The qualification of candidates standing for elections

o The disqualification norms

o The mode of election

o The constitution of committees with elected members

o The power to remove wrongdoer, etc.

On the walls of the mandapa are inscribed a variety of secular transactions of the village, dealing with administrative, judicial, commercial, agricultural, transportation and irrigation regulations as administered by the then village assembly, giving a vivid picture of the efficient administration of the village in the bygone ages.

There were committees for the maintenance of irrigation tanks, roads, to provide relief during drought, to test golds, and so forth. Several works like maintenance of temples, agriculture, irrigation, collection of taxes, road construction, etc was looked after the local assembly through committees. The Chola Emperors respected the decisions of these assemblies.

Each assembly functioned autonomously in accordance with its own constitution based on custom and usage, and took care of the problem at the local level. Local government gave a chance to population to air its grievances and to the problems. This strengthened the democratic characteristics of the village assemblies. The central government (the Chola monarchy) through its officers exercised general supervision and had right to intervene in the matters of village under emergency situations. The village assemblies had to take into account the policies of central government.

The Chola village assembly was the absolute proprietor of the village lands. When fresh dealings were made the assembly became proprietor of those newly acquired lands. The assembly was to see that the cultivators were not harassed. The assembly could transfer its jurisdiction to other corporations or organisations.

Besides local administration was greatly facilitated by the existence of guilds or ‘Srenis’, ‘Pugas’ and such other autonomous corporate organisations in which persons followed the same craft or calling binding themselves together.

The Chola’s revenue administration in particular was noteworthy. By his 17th regnal year, Rajaraja I had completed a land survey of his empire; land as small in extent as 1/52,428,800,000 of a veli was measured and assessed to revenue; there was an elaborate cadre of revenue officers such as accountants, ledger keepers, issuers of royal orders and execution of royal decrees, at all levels – village, district and central.


The Chola monarchs had the fullest control of all the resources of the state including finance. The king had to devise ways and means of collecting sufficient finance through the department of revenue (Variayam committee) to levy taxes and dues for public services, maintain himself and his palace and other establishment. The taxes thus collected must be levied accordance with Sashtra or Hindu law of Manu. Tax therefore should be levied after consideration of the income and expenditure of the people. Every tax should be contributed from the people as little as possible over and what it brings into the public treasury of the state. The treasury was counted as one of the chief demand of the state which controls of the all the resources of the state. The stability of the government was also determined by finance and military. The kings were required to keep them under their control. So the taxation was the most important and legitimate source to acquire revenue for the state.


The Chola emerged as imperial power in the Tamil country during the 9th century AD. They issued large number of coins such as gold, copper and silver in their domain. They had issued some gold coins. However, credit goes to them for issuing silver coins in the south. The south Indian silver coins are extremely rare. Uttamachola was the first Chola ruler who issued gold and silver coins with his name Uttama Chola in Nagari script. Uttamachola’s gold coins bears on the obverse a seated tiger with a fish. His successor Rajaraja I (985-1014 AD) stamped his gold and silver coins.

The gold coins were referred as gadyana, kasu, kalanju, madai, pagoda, pon, varaha in Chola inscriptions. The weight of the coinage was based on an indigenous seed, the kalanju. This kalanju which often occurs in Chola inscriptions is too interpreted sometimes as gold weight and sometimes as coins. Its original name as pon in Tamil, which simply means gold.

This kind of coins spread with the Chola power and was later copied by the kings of Sri Lanka (Ceylon). With the growth of the Chola power as the result of the vast conquests of Rajaraja I and Rajendra I the currency system of the Chola was extended over the whole empire including its subordinate territory as well as even beyond the Chola power.


Temples of south India especially temples of the Chola country played a vital role as a bank in storing and distributing the state revenues for the welfare of the people. Considering its people service, the eminent scholars like K.A.Nilakanta Sastri, A.Appadorai T.V. Mahalingam, C.Minakshi and others have regarded the temple as people’s bank in those days. But strictly speaking, the temple did not discharge all the function of the modern bank. The fixed deposits invested in the temple were mostly donatives in nature and were made for certain purposes. Giving loans by the temple was one of the important social services.

The temple played a prominent role in mobilizing developmental funds within a particular region. They provide loans to the village assemblies for developmental purposes. Most of the loans were

given for productive activities such as cultivation, cattle breeding and trade. The customers of the temple-bank included village assemblies, Brahmins, temple employees, farmers and others.

Each Chola temple had a treasury; it served the purpose of a bank. The large endowments in the form of land, gold and money bestowed on temple by the various donors of the Chola society made the temple a richest institution. Particularly many donors, from the royal family to the individuals, donated in gold and money to the temples. It is due to the availability of enormous amount of money. The Chola temples delivered an economic function as a banker, which had really helped the agrarian society and business class at the time.

Temples lent money to private bodies and village assemblies with or without security. Agriculturist especially cultivators borrowed money from the temple treasury, whenever they needed money for carrying on their cultivation. Money was also lent to private persons for important purposes. Borrowers from the temple treasury, when unable to repay the loan

An inscription at the Rajarajesvaram Temple brings out how Rajaraja Chola made provisions for liquid money. Rajaraja placed three hundred and sixty kasus in the treasury of the temple with specific instructions that it must be utilized towards the cost of the plantains required for daily pujas. This amount was not randomly deposited by the king, but arrived at after due calculations. The temple required fifty four thousand plantains in a year at the rate of one hundred and fifty per day, calculated for 360 days only. The record further specifies that the cost of plantains was 1000 per kasu. Therefore, they required 45 kau to meet the expenses for procuring the plantains. At the prevailing rate of interest, which was 12.5%, it required an investment of 360 kasu, which the king deposited. The amount was lend to the merchants, but to a guild of merchants from 3 principal markets from the suburbs of Thanjavur. This small record not makes public the investments and terms of investments by the temple, but also a classic example of micro-financial management of the temple. The terms were binding on the traders. The rates for the plantains was fixed and made public, therefore it was not subject to the fluctuations in the market. Other commodities like cardamom seeds, champaka buds, kahskahs roots, dhal, pepper, mustard, cumin, sugar, tamarind, curd, gram, salt, tender plantain leaves, arecanuts, betel-leaves, camphor and pulses required for the temple, were simply procured at fixed rates.


The king, by virtue of supreme authority vested in him collected the income by various means. The most important legitimate means to acquire revenue for the state was by taxation. According to Dharmasashtras the king was authorized to levy taxes. In ancient Tamil literature, it is said that taxes were the prime source of income to the state. Taxation was considered as the royal prerogative.

Inscriptions of the Chola period frequently referred to the various terms of taxes. There are references to the term kadamai or irai, kudimai, antarayam, vetti, muttaval, and tattar pattam. The irai and kadamai are primary land tax which levied on landowners or landlords. In the beginning the kadamai was denoted sometimes by the ancient term puravu and more frequently by the term irai. The term kudimai is labour or service tax levied from the cultivators of the land that is actual producers. An inscription of 1325 AD tells us that the kadamai was to be paid in

paddy at the rate of 3 kalam per ma of land yielding 40 kalam, i.e. 3/40. The pattam and ayam are taxes imposed on nonagricultural professions like artisans and merchants.

During the Chola period water tax also collected from land holders. It was levied on land when a common water source was used for irrigation. The water tax variously referred in Chola inscriptions as nirvilai, nirvilai-kuli, nirkkirai, which were originally levied on a unit of land as a rate for using water for irrigation. Another tax demanded on a unit of land in Chola country was vetti.

Judicial and other fines were another source of income to the Chola state. These judicial fines are referred as tantam in Tamil inscriptions. These fines were levied on the defaulter at various levels.

Temples under the Cholas

The Cholas wanted to maintain the temples as immortal institutions than just architectural marvels. For the said purpose, they realized that the temples would require a massive asset base. Therefore, several endowments and were created and their details were engraved very accurately on the walls of the temple, thereby making the assets of the temple known to future generations and making them accountable as well. For example, the extent of the lands in several villages assigned by Rajaraja to the Rajarajevaram temple, and the amounts of revenue received in kind (paddy) and cash from the assigned lands are accurately recorded.

Several staff were appointed for administering and maintaining the temples. This includes officials like treasurers (pandari), brahmacharins (mani) and accountants (kanakkar) and sub-accountants. It recorded that Rajaraja also appointed guards for the temples. Some of the staff were permanent, while others took charge on a rotation basis. This was a healthy management practice, as the management of finances did not always rest with the same set of people. In all probability, the village assembly that sent the person for work stood guarantee for the honesty of the person, and was held responsible for any misconduct or direction of duties. Other staff such as astrologers and their assistants, holders of the sacred parasol, water sprinklers, a person to maintain lamps, potters to supply ceramics, washermen to wash clothes, barbers, tailors, including those stitch precious stones, carpenters besides other menial staff were also required for maintenance.

The Cholas made many administrative and religious arrangements for the temple. Singing and dancing were two inseparable ways of worship during the Chola period. Accordingly, to recite the Tirupatiyam, the collection of hymns of the servitors, pidarars and musicians were appointed to accompany them. The longevity of the arrangement and the strength of the group were guaranteed by the clause that provides for deputing a suitable person from either their family, or anyone as a substitute, if those initially appointed could not continue due to any reason including migration. In the worshipping the Lord, the performance of dance cannot lag behind singing of hymns in praise of the God. More so, because his personal deity was Nataraja, the Lord of the dances, from whom all dances have originated. Therefore, a large endowment for the maintenance of dancing girls and their accompanying staff. To assist them during their

performances and practice, dance acharyas, singers including those who could sing Sanskrit songs (ariyam), musicians who could play several instruments like vangiyam (pipe), drummers (uvacchar) who could beat the small drum (udukkai, damaru) and large ones (kotti-maddhalam) were appointed, and their dues paid regularly.

Temples also acted as centres of education. The subjects taught were Rigveda, Yajurveda, Chandoga-Sama, Talavakara-Sama, Vajasaneya, Baudhayaniya, Atharvaveda, Mahabharata, Ramayana and Vedanta. Several epigraphs mention about the remuneration paid to the teachers and allowance given to the students. Hostel facilities were also provided in some temples with provisions of food, mats, oil for lamps and bathing. All these facilities were intended to help those in pursuit of higher studies to concentrate fully on their work without any disturbance.

Naval Expeditions

The Cholas maintained a strong amazing navy led by the either king or princes. The navy chiefly played a vital aggression across the Coromandel and Malabar coasts. Cholas naval ships completely dominated the trade routes from the Indian sub-continent to Malacca Straits. Rajaraja-I and Rajendra-I inflicted defeat on the Cheras, Ceylon, islands of southern seas and Srivijaya. Due to their intense activities, the Bay of Bengal became a “Chola Lake” and Ceylon, Sumatra and the countries of “Greater India” trembled at the name of the Chola navy.

For maritime journey generally kalam, mitavai, kappal,odam, padahu, kattumaram, Sangara and Colandia are used. Kattu Maran, meaning small vessels, were most suitable for transporting goods from ships anchored in harbouwwrs. Sangara class of ships, built with single logs of wood bound together, were coastal vessels and could carry large amounts of cargo. The Colandia were larger ocean-going vessels that were capable of distant voyages.

As per epigraphical and archaeological evidence and Travellers’ records also prove that during medieval period from ‘9th to 14th Century A.D., the place like Kayalpattinam, Periapattinam, Devipattinam and Nagapattinam were important port town of cost. These ports had maritime relation with the Arabian, southeast Asia and China countries. It is interesting to note that during this period there was an active horse trade in this coast with the Arabian countries by the merchants of west coast of India.

Rajendra Chola in one of his inscriptions (1026 CE) mentions that he conquered “the whole of Ilam (Ceylon) in the raging ocean girt by the crystal waves of the sea…[and] countless old islands (about 12000 in number) in the midst of the ocean in which conches resound (likely to be Lakshadweep and Maldives) (Mukherjee, 1912, p. 176). The same inscription records his naval conquest of King of Kadaram (the ancient kingdom of Prome or Pegu, whom he caught by dispatching many ships across the stormy sea (Bay of Bengal). Along with Kadaram was also captured flourishing ports of Takkolam, Mataba, Martoban, Sri Vijaya (Indonesia) and Nakkavaram (Andaman and Nicobar).

Expedition to the Kingdom of Srivijaya:

Srivijaya was a powerful Malayan city-state, which ruled most of the Malay Archipelago out of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. With a powerful navy, Srivijaya extended control over the Strait of Malacca and the Sunda Strait – allowing them to exert almost unchallenged influence over any naval trade which happened through the region.

The Srivijaya kingdom was at its peak in 12th century, when its rule extended over Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, Western Java and modern day Philippines. A famous ‘war gate’ made of large jewels, the Vidhyadara Torana, was said to greet visitors at the entrance of their capital city at Palembang.

During the times of Rajaraja and Rajendra Chola, Srivijaya was ruled by the Shailendra dynasty. The relationship between the Cholas and the Shailendra kings were not always fraught – in 1006 (during the reign of Rajaraja Chola), King Maravijayattungavarman of Srivijaya had constructed the Chudamani Vihara at Nagapattinam.

There are varying accounts of what caused Rajendra Chola to embark on his South-East Asian campaign.

Some suggest that it was his desire to use his naval strength to expand his empire over the trade rich regions of South-East Asia. Other sources suggest that the causes lie in the relationship between the Chola Empire and the Khmer kingdom.

The Khmer king Suryavarman I is said to have requested help from Rajendra Chola in his conflict with the Tambralinga kingdom. This in return resulted in the Tambralingas approaching Srivijayan king Sangrama Vijayatungavarman for his support – triggering of a conflict between the Cholas and Srivijaya.

Famous Tamil historian K A Nilakanta Sastri also opined that Srivijaya’s attempts to limit the Cholan trade with China could also have been a reason for the conflict.

The war began on 1025 CE, with the Chola Navy setting sails towards the east armed with a strategy that would take the Srivijayan forces completely by surprise.

At the time, ships sailing from India to Srivijaya would look to dock at the ports of Lamuri or Keday in the Malay Peninsula and then proceed onto the Strait of Malacca. Srivijayan defenses were organised with this line of attack in mind.

The swift Chola armada took a totally different route – moving quickly to the west coast of Sumatra and docking at Barus – a port on the west coast of Sumatra which, at that time, was controlled by Tamil traders. In friendly territory, the Chola Navy replenished their reserves and then set sail southwards along Sumatra’s west coast, towards the Sunda Strait.

This move by Rajendra Chola to attack from the south, caught the Srivijayan forces – deployed at the Strait of Malacca and expecting an attack from the north-west – completely by surprise.

The Chola forces laid siege first on Palembang – the resplendent capital city of the Srivijaya Empire. The Cholas captured the city and plundered the Kadatuan royal palace. In the attack, Rajendra Chola is said to have captured and imprisoned King Sangrama Vijayatungavarman and also taken over a large bounty of wealth – including the bejeweled war-gate Vidhyadara Torana – as a prize for his victory.

The expedition did not end there. Either by design or by fortune, the Chola fleet used the Southeast Asian monsoon to their benefit – launching expeditious attacks on an array of Srivijayan ports, moving from one to another swiftly and hence, never really allowing the Srivijayan Navy to launch an effective counter.

Soon after the conquest of Palembang, the Chola forces defeated the Srivijayan forces in Pannai (modern Pane), Malaiyuy (modern day Malaya), Mapappalam (lower Burma), Talaittakkolam (Takuapa in modern day Thailand), Nakkavaram (Nicobar Islands) and finally, Kedah.

At the end of the war, Rajendra Chola had scored a decisive victory over Srivijaya and extended his supremacy over modern day Malaysia, the Andaman and Nicobar isles and southern Thailand. His dominance over the seas also allowed him to extract tributes from the rest of Thailand and the Khmer kingdom (modern day Cambodia).


Pandya Kingdom in the Sangam Period is popular for their dedication to patronise Tamil and Tamil Sangam. The Pandya Kingdom was on the South Tamil Nadu covering Madurai, Ramanathapuram, and Tirunelveli.

A verse in the Kishkindhakanda of the Ramayana has been taken to refer to the Kapatapuram of the Pandyas famed in the Tamil legends of the ‘Three Sangams’.

The form Pandya has been employed by Kautilya in his Arthshastra and his references are clearly to the Pandyas of southern India and to their capital Madura.

The earliest historical kings of the Pandya country are those mentioned in the early Tamil works that have come-down to us in the form of the collection of Sangam works.

The normal extent of the Pandyan kingdom in the Sangam age corresponded to the modern districts of Tinnevelly, Ramnad and Madura, with the southern Vellar for its northern boundary.

Puranas also refer to the Pandyas (Markandeya, Ch. 57, V. 45 ; Vayuk 45, 124 ; Matsya, 112, 46). Asoka’s Rock Edicts II and XIII mention the Pandyas whose territory lay outside his empire.

The early Pandyan dynasty of the Sangam literature went into obscurity during the invasion of the Kalabhras. The dynasty revived under Kadungon in the early 6th century, pushed the Kalabhras out of the Tamil country and ruled from Madurai. They again went into decline with the rise of the Cholas in the 9th century and were in constant conflict with them. Pandyas allied themselves with the Sinhalese and the Cheras in harassing the Chola empire until they found an opportunity for reviving their fortunes during the late 13th century.

Pandyas entered their golden age under Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (c. 1251) who expanded their empire into Telugu country and invaded Sri Lanka to conquer the northern half of the island. They also had extensive trade links with the Southeast Asian maritime empires of Srivijaya and their successors. During their history Pandyas were repeatedly in conflict with the Pallavas, Cholas, Hoysalas and finally the Muslim invaders.

The Pandyas excelled in both trade and literature. They controlled the pearl fisheries along the south Indian coast, between Sri Lanka and India, which produced one of the finest pearls known in the ancient world. Tradition holds that the legendary Sangam were held in Madurai under their patronage. Some of the Pandya kings were Sangam poets.

First Empire

After the close of the Sangam age, the first Pandyan empire was established by Kadungon in the 6th century defeating the Kalabhras. Pandya kingdom grew steadily in power and territory. With the Cholas in obscurity, the Tamil country was divided between the Pallavas and the Pandyas, the river Kaveri being the frontier between them.

After Vijayalaya Chola conquered Thanjavur defeating the Muttarayar chieftains around 850, the Pandyas went into a period of decline. They were constantly harassing their Chola overlords occupying their territories. Parantaka Chola I invaded the Pandya territories and defeated Rajasinha III. However Pandyas reversed this defeat to gain back most of their lost territories.

Under the Cholas

The Chola domination of the Tamil country began in earnest during the reign of Parantaka Chola II. Chola armies led by Aditya Karikala, son of Parantaka Chola II defeated Vira Pandya in battle. The Pandyas were assisted by the Sinhalese forces of Mahinda IV. Pandyas were driven out of their territories and had to seek refuge in the island of Sri Lanka. This was the start of the long exile of the Pandyas. They were replaced by a series of Chola viceroys with the title Chola Pandyas who ruled from Madurai from c. 1020.

Pandya Revival

The 13th century is the greatest period in the history of the Pandyan Empire. Their power reached its zenith under Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan in the middle of the 13th century. The

foundation for such a great empire was laid by Maravarman Sundara Pandya early in the 13th century.

Prominent Kings

Nature of Kingship

Pandyas ascribe Chandravamsa origin to themselves. The Dalavaypuram plates of Parantaka Viarayana describe the Pandyas as having their genesis fiom the Lotus in Vishnu’s navel and fiom Brahma, Atri and the Moon. The Sivakasi plates of Vir Pandya suggest that the Pandya ruler who laid the foundation of Pandya rule originated from the moon. The Pandya Prasastis (on copper plates) connect them with the Mahabharata, with the establishment of Tamil Sangam and depict them as co-occupants of Indra’s throne. Thus, the Pandyas tried to justify their position as rulers by tracing their lineage to local and Sankritic traditions.

The copper plate records of the Pandyas contain inscriptions in Tamil and Sanskrit. Genealogy is found in both Tamil and Sanskrit inscriptions. However, the Tamil inscriptions of the Pandyas contain comprehensive genealogies which suggest that the Pandyas had local moorings. These Tamil inscriptions draw upon the Sanskrit counterparts in relation to concept and pattern. The Sivakasi plates of Vir Pandya point out that the grantee wrote aprasasti eulogizing the grantor. The Pandya Prasastis describe the king as the husband of the earth and prosperity. Arikesari Maravarman (670-71 0) (one who defeated enemy kings and Rajasimha (740-765) had conducted the hiranyagarbha and tulabhara ceremonies. The Pandya kings were regarded as possessing divine characteristics. The Velvikudi plates refer to Jatilavarman as the son of Siva. They a140

mention Manavarman and the dilemma whether he was a human, a demon, Siva, the Supreme Being (Para-Purusa-Visnu) or Indra.


The records of the Pandyas do not refer to a council of ministers or a court but they refer to mantrirts and uttaramantrins. The Sivakasi plates mention the IJttararnantrin as those who performed the task of Sandhivigraha. The Uttaramantrin is referred to as Tamilpperaraiyan in Tamil who was in charge of Mandira-olai-nayagam office which verified the written order regarding the grant. The Tennavan apattudavigal according to Mahalingam and Sastri were the king’s barons who had great authority in the kingdom and are regarded as the companions of honour or the king’s bodyguards. In an inscription Samantan Ganapti is referred to as Mahasamanta of the king. The reference to Ranakirtti as Ulvittusevaka ;n an inscription has been interpreted as companion of honor.

During the period of Jatila Parantaka there is mention of tlttaramantrins and M1zhasamanta.s. Matangajadhyaksha or the officer who supervised the elephants was an important officer of the army organisation. Tirumalai Virar and ParartakaVi, mentioned in the inscription of the 42nd year of Maranjdayan, were probably associated with military oganisation. It seems that there was no clear-cut division between civil and military functions. The army comprised of soldiers who served under a commander but sometimes the king himself provided the leadership to the contingents of soldiers. The Kalugumalai record refers to an Enadi (army commander) who established a memorial for the soldiers in his service who were killed in action. King Maranjadayan erected commemorative stone for soldiers in his service who were killed during battle. Historians regard these soldiers as the king’s ‘companions of honor’.

The royal grants (inscriptional evidence) are mentioned in the copper plates which also contain Prasastis. In these inscriptions there is evidence of local administrative divisions; Nadzr, Kurram and Rastra (mentioned in the Sinnamanur grant). The basic constituent of local administration was the gramam. Their names have the suffix Mangalam, Kudi, Ur or Vayal. Nadu was the larger unit of local administration. The land grants bestowed by the kings are regarded as Danam which were of religious nature. Madras Museum grant and the Sinnamanur grant indicate the area bestowed as land grant. The information regarding endowment was inscribed on the copper plates in written form and the royal directive (anatti) was prepared by the scribe (Perum banaikkarans). Land grants were given to temples and Brahmans (Brahmadeyas). The grants bestowed comprised of various rights such as Karanmai (cultivation) and Miyatci (administrative rights). The Pulan-Kurichi inscription (5th century A.D.) refers to creation of Brahmadeya. This is one of the earliest record of Brahmadeya. The endowments meant the surrender of rights by the grantor i.e. Sarvapariharamaka. Temples were also endowed with gold kasus by the kings for conducting prayers and other services in the temple.


The cultivated lands were subjected to taxation. Some of the taxes on the basis of the evidence of inscriptions were: Kadamai (on temples lands), Antarayan, Viniyogam (land tax), Ponvari, Accu-

vari, Kariyavaracci, etc. It appears that these were mostly exacted in kind though some might have been cash payments. Taxes were also imposed on loom (of Kaikkolar and Saliyar) and shopkeepers. The testimony of the inscriptions also indicates that at times villagers had to suffer due to harassment by the officials or the incursions of the petty chiefs.


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  1. Ananya

    This looks comprehensive and detailed. Thank you very much for this awesome post.