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Tamil powers of the Sangam Age

Tamil powers of the Sangam Age


Chera Kingdom is said to have spread over the West Coast starting from Konkan on the Northern side to Kollam on the Southern side. Musiri and Thondi were the port towns of Cheran Kingdom. Self-Instructional Material 35 Sangam Age and Classical Literature Cheran Kings were known for their territory expansions and sea borne warfares.

• Udayan Cheralathan: The First Chera King was ruling from Vanji as his capital. In Purananooru, there are references of his victories in many Sea Borne wars . Some historians treat this King as an imaginary reference.

• Imayavaramban Neduncheralathan: He invaded Himalayas and defeated the Ariyans. He hoisted the Bow and Arrow flag of the Cheras on the Himalayas. He is titled as Imayavaramban due to this victory over the Aryans on the Himalayas. He defeated Romans and captured them. In the war between Chola King Verppakaradakkiya Peruverarkilli and Imayavaramban Neduncheralathan, both the kings were killed.

• Palyanai Selkeluguttuvan: Imayavaramban’s brother Palyanai Selkeluguttuvan succeeded as the King.He captured Kongu Country. His territory expanded from West coast to East Coast.He divided his Empire into various sub divisions and gave it to his elders to rule provincially.

• Kalangai kanni Naarmudicheral: He won Pooli Country. He defeated his rival Nannan at Kadambil Peruvayil. Further he defeated Athiyamaan Nedumaan Anji, who was ruling


• Kadarpiragottiya Cheran Chenguttuvan: The most popular Cheran King. His brother Ilango Adigal is the author of Silappathigaram.

1. He defeated the Arya Kings of North India when he went to the banks of Ganges

2. Sengutuvan defeated the Kongu Kings and brought them under his powers

3. Kadambas, who were having Sea Supremacy indulged in Sea Piracy of the Foreign Ships. Senguttuvan brought them under control by defeating them and establishing Sea Supremacy over the Kadambas. He got the title ‘kadarpiragottiya’ (one who sent back the Sea Pirates back to the seas)

4. War with Pazayan: Provincial Chieftain Pazayan was defeated at Mogur by Senguttuvan.

5. War with 9 Chola Kings: In order to Coronate Perungilli as Chola King, Senguttuvan waged a war with 9 rebel Chola Kings and defeated them at Nerivayil. Perungilli was coronated at Uraiyur.

6. Senguttuvan invaded Himalayas and defeated Aryan Kings. Hearing the story of Kannagi, he decided to install a statue for Kannagi –the Goddess of Chastity. He defeated Kanaga Vijaya, Chieftains and made them carry the stones for Kannagi Statue at Kodunganur. This function was attended by King Kayavahu of Ceylon.

Cheran Senguttuvan ruled for fifty-five years and is considered the most popular King. After his rule there were notable Kings who ruled the Chera country.

• Adu Kotpattu cheralaathan

• Selvakadungo Vaziyaathan

• Peruncheral Irumborai

• Ilancheral Irumborai


The Pallavas were said to being dtrangers to the Tamil land, unrelated to any of the three ancient lines of the Chera, Pandya and Chola. Many have treated the name Pallava as a variant of Pahlava, and held that like the Satraps of Ujjain.

Pallava is a Sanskrit word meaning tender shoots and leaves of a plant. The official history of the Pallavas, as recorded in a relatively late Sanskrit inscription from Amaravati, traces the line to an eponymous ancestor Pallava, child of a union between the apsara Madani and the Brahmana warrior Asvathaman, fifth in descent from dage Bharadvaja, the son of Brahma.

Pallava’s Rule was spread over from Krishna River bed in the Northern side and extended upto Palar bed in South. The area was called as Thondai Mandalam.

Rule of the Great Pallavas of the later years started with King Simha Vishnu. Pallava History and its Rulers’ names are concisely tracked after Simha Vishnu, who conquered the Kalabhras and captured Kanchi. He was considered the pillar of Pallava dynasty with his establishing of the Pallava Empire after defeating the Chera, Chola and Pandya Kings. His rule spread over from Kanchi to Kumbakonam. Simha Vishnu is also said to be staunch Vaishnavite.

• The Pallava Rule was centric with all round development in Art and Culture and building of

temples especially of Cave Temples and One Stone Temples and also sculptures of unique beauty and perfection.

• The Rule gave a lot of focus on the literature, Drama, Music and also the Paintings.

• Languages such as Tamil, Sanskrit, Prakrit were side by side developed and synergized approach was found in the development of grammar. Dandi’s sanskrit grammar was the basis for Dandi Alangaram in Tamil.

• Religions such as Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism, were all thriving, while the Jainism was eliminated or discouraged.

• The Pallavas’ Prime Time of the most of the Pallavan Regimes was occupied with the Revengful wars with the Chalukyas and on a few occasions with the Gangas, Pandyas and Cholas too.

• Not all the Pallava Kings made a sizeable and memorable contributions and the imprint of their rule. However, the details of those Kings who have a larger contribution to the Pallavan Legacy and Pride, are discussed elaborately and the rest of the Kings are mentioned with their smaller achievements whatsoever.

Prominent Rulers

Simhavishnu (575-590 CE):

Simhavishnu was the first ruler of this line. Simhavishnu defeated the Kalabhras and laid foundation for the establishment of the “Age of the Imperial Pallavas”. He also defeated the rulers of Chola, Pandya and Chera kingdoms. He was the master of the entire region between the Krishna and the Kaveri. He was a worshiper of Vishnu and had the title Avanishimha (lion of the earth). According to a literary tradition, great poet Bharavi visited his court.

Mahendravarman I : (600-630 CE)

Simha Vishnu’s son Mahendravarman I succeeded him as the Pallava King. Apart from the titles that he decorated himself with, the achievements and also the allround expertise of Mahendravarman I is noteworthy.

Mahendravarman was known by many titles including Vichitra-chitta, Mattavilasa, Gunabhara, Satrumalla, Lalitankura, Avanibhajana and Sankimajati.

Mahendravarman I, aptly styled vicitra-citta – ‘wonderful mind’ – was author, architect, musician, painter, reformer and poet. He studied music under Rudracharya and composed exercises for the practice of students on a variety of Vina known as Parivadini. He has authored the Sanskrit work „Mastavilasa Prahasanam‟. He was a great builder of cave temples. The rock cut caves at Mandagapattu, Dalavanur and Tiruchirapalli were excavated during his time. The Jain paintings found in the rock cut caves at Sittannavasal located in the present Pudukkottai region are attributed to him. His title Chitrakarapuli reveals his talents in music.

In his time there arose a strong reaction against the growing influence of Jainism and Buddhism, which found expression in a widespread bhakti movement among the worshippers of Shiva and

Vishnu; the leaders of this movement were known as Nayanars and Alvars, and their exburent devotional songs, gathered later in the collections known as the Devaram and the Divyaprabandham, celebrate orthodox shrine they visited many times over in the course of their propagandist peregrinations, and constitute the most priceless treasure in all Tamil literature.

Pallava Chalukya War during Mahendravarman I: It is learnt through the Aikol inscriptions that Chalukya King Pulikhesin II, ruled from Vaatapi, defeated Mahendravarman I and as a result, Mahendravarman I went into an exile inside a fortress. On the other hand, Kasakkudi Copper inscriptions have recorded that the Chalukya Army was eliminated by Mahendravarman’s forces at Pullalur when the Victorious Chalukya Army was on their way back from Cauvery.

Mahendravarman I was a follower of Jainism but converted to Saivism under the influence of Tirunavukkarasu or Appar. He deprecated extreme and corrupt religious practices, and turned the laugh against the Kapalikas and Buddhist bhikshus in his eollicking farce (prahasana) entitled Mattavilasa, which impresses the reader by its remarkable freedom from the sectarian intolerance that was growng in the period.

Narasimhavaraman I (630-668 CE)

Narasimhavarman I was the greatest of the Pallavas who raised the power and prestige of the dynasty to an amazing height. He had the title Mahamalla or Mamalla which means „great wrestler‟. The Pallava-Chalukya conflict that was started by his father was successfully continued by him. He wanted to take avenge the defeat of his father at the hands of Chalukyan ruler Pulakesin II. He defeated Pulakesin II, in three battles including that at Manimangalam near Kanchi in 642 CE. Pulakesin II lost his life and hence Narasimhavarman assumed the title Vatapikonda (the conqueror of Vatapi).

Another notable achievement of Narasimhanvarman I was his navel expedition to Sri Lanka, to reinstate the Sinhalese princes Manavarman. Mahavamsa of Sri Lanka, says that Manavarman, the Prince of Sri Lanka, was driven away by his foe Attathathan and Manavarman took refuge under Narashimhavarman and helped him in the war of Badami. It adds that Narasimhavarman sent his forces to Sri Lanka and conquered Attathathan for the second time and coroneted Manavarman. The copper plate of Kasakudi compared the Sri Lanka victory of narasimhan to that of Rama in Sri Lanka.

During his reign Hiuen Tsang visited the Pallava capital Kanchi and noted that Buddhism and Jainism flourished in the city besides Hindusim. He also noted that it was the birth place of the celebrated Dharmapala, who became the abbot of the great Vihara of Nalanda. According to his account the people of Kanchi esteemed great learning and Ghatika of Kanchi served as a prominent centre of learning. Besides he was a great builder having constructed Mamallappuram and created the Monolithic Rathas (Rock-cut Rathas) during his reign.

Nandivarman II ( 731-796 CE):

Post the death of Paramesvara-varman II, anarchy plagued the Pallava kingdom owing to failure of succession in the royal line. The matras, ghatika and the mulaprakriti of the capital approached Hiranya-varman maharaja of Kadavesakula seeking his aid for filling the throne in a suitable manner. Hiranya was fifth in descent from Bhima-varman, younger brother of Simhavishnu, who began the line of imperial Pallavas. Hiranya-varman consulted the kulamallar, but none of them was inclined to take up charge; then he consulted his own sons Srimalla, Ranamalla, Sangrammamalla and Pallavamalla; the first three declined the offer, but the last, also called Paramesvara, agreed to go as king. He was formally installed in the capital under the title of Nandivarman just at the age of 12.

The young Nandivarman II enjoyed a long reign of 65 years. With the aid of faithful and able generals at first, and then by his own diplomatic skills and powers of organization, he succeeded in upholding the unity and extent of the Pallava kingdom in the face of many difficulties from different quarters

The great general Udayachandra served Nandivarman with consummate ability and unstinted devotion. He is said to have belonged to the Puchan-kula, a family that had served the Pallvas for many generations. He is also described as the lord of the Vegavati river and of the city of Vilavala. He restored the kingdom in its entirety to Pallavamalla.

Nandivarman II witnessed an invasion from the rising Rastrakuta king Dantidurga. However, post invasion of Kanchi, Dantidurga struck up an alliance with Nandivarman Pallavamalla to whom he married his daughter Reva. She became the chief queen of the Pallava monarch and her son Dantivarman succeeded his father on the throne.

In 783CE, Nandivarman II led an expedition against the Ganga kingdom, captured the Ganga strongholds, defeated Sripurusha in battle, and forced him to surrender much wealth and restore the necklace which contained the precious gem ‘ugrodaya’. The Ganga inscriptions claim victory in this battle for Sripurusha, and state that he killed the Kaduvetti in the battle and captured his state umbrella. As a matter of fact it would seem further that as a result of the war Sripurusha lost some territory which the Pallava monarch handed over to his Bana feudatory Jayanandi-varman.

The real foe of the Pallavamalla were the Pandyas. The defeat of Pallava forces by the Pandya Jatila Parantaka at pennagadam showed that the new ruler of the southern country was likely to be at least as troublesome as his father had been soon after his accession to throne. Hence he sought to restrain the growth of Pandyan aggression by organizing a confederacy against Jatila, and entered into an alliance with the rulers of Kongu and Kerala as well as the Adigaimans of Tagadur.


The Pallavas had a well-organized administrative system. Monarchy was the order of the day. The title “Dharma-Maharaja” assumed by the kings show that they exercised their rule righteously.

The king was the head of the state, the fountain of honour, judge, and leader of the armed forces.

The Pallava state was divided into Kottams. The Kottam was administered by officers appointed by the king. These administrative divisions may be compared with the modern administrative units , namely Province , District , Taluk and Village

The biggest unit of the Pallava Empire was Mandalam or Rashtra , remained almost an autonomous unit .The Pallava king had appointed a prince or Yuvaraja as the governor of a Mandalam , direct control over the Mandalam . Each Mandalam was divided into several Kottams. The number of Kottems varied according to the size of the Mandalam . The Thondai Mandalam was divided into twenty – four Kottams. Officials were appointed by the king to administer each Kottams

The village is the basic unit of administration. Different types of villages like villages with inter caste population, Brahmadeya and Devadana existed during this period. The village administration was run by various local autonomous assemblies. Sabha, Urar etc., were the most popular assembles of this period. Every village had got a court of justice, viz. Dharamasasana.

Every village was provided with professional servants like potters, weavers, carpenters, smiths etc. It appears that the village acted like self-sufficient miniature republics in the Pallava period. Entrusting the administration of a smaller territorial to an assembly or a local autonomous institution appears to be a very important feature of thePallava polity. Land revenue was the major source of income. The Pallavas also levied taxes on professions, marriages, manufacture of salt, sugar and textiles, draught cattle etc., It is evident from the testimony of Hiuen Tsang that the people were very hard working and the soil was very fertile, the labourers who did agricultural work were paid in kind.

There were three types of Courts in the Pallava kingdom , the King acted as its head . The Highest judicial organization was called Dharmasena . The Courts in the towns were known as Adikarnas

The Village courts were called as Karnas, it looked after the civil disputes in the Villages.

Education and Literature

The Pallavas were great patrons of learning. The University of Kanchi became the nucleus of learning and intellectualism. It attracted students from different parts of India and abroad. The founder of the Kadamaba dynasty, Mayurasarman, studied Vedas at Kanchi. Dharmapala, who later became the Rector of Nalanda University, belonged to Kanchi. The Ghatikas and Mathas were the other Brahmanical educational institutions attached to the Temples. Sanskrit, the language of privileged, became the recognized medium in the Brahamanical institutions of the period.

Several works in Sanskrit were produced during this period. The Kiratarjuniyam of Bharavi, Dasakumaracharita of Dandi and the Mattavilasaprahasana of Mahendravarman I were the best Sanskrit works of the period.

The Tamil literature had also developed under the patronage of the Pallavas. Tiruvelluvar, the author of „kural‟ lived during this period. Perundevanar was patronized by Nandivarman II and he translated Mahabharata into Tamil. The „Thevaram‟ composed by the Nayanars and „Nalayaradivyaprabhandam‟ composed by the Alvars represent the religious literature of the period. The Tamil devotional saints exploited music and dance to realize the „concept of compassionate God‟. The religious hymns were sung with the accompaniment of music and dance. This became a regular feature in the temple festivals.

The Pandya-Pallava period was marked by striking developments in religion, literature, and art. Sanskrit held an honored place as the language of higher literature and culture.

Imprint in Southeast Asia

The site of the discovery of the Tamil inscription at Khau Brab Narayarya close to Takuapa ( tahua =lead and formerly also tin; pa=jungle, forest), Thailand, has yielded three damaged stone sculptures: a standing four-armed Hindu deity, which could possibly represent Siva, and a male and female deity. The style of the figures being clearly South Indian, more specifically Pallava, these could well elate from the same period as the Tamil inscription found nearby.6 In fact, we may even speak of a Tamil influence in the Pallava style of these three almost life-size stone sculpture~ now partially covered by a tree.

Tung Tuk was a great emporium or mart where traders met, and it is probable that the gold dust having been found in the sand amongst the ruins was either an article of trade or the currency used. The gold dust or Takuapa brings to mind the considerable number or gold ornaments which have been excavated from the Funan site at Oc-Eo in the region of the delta of the Mekong; more particularly in that the beads associated with the Funan civilisation have also been found at Tung Tuk.

During the Pallava times, through the port at Mahabalipuram, maritime traders exported Hinduism and many other aspects of Indian culture across the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to Southeast Asia. For a couple of examples, Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat shows influence from Pallava architectural art; and if you notice, like the Pallava kings, rulers of ancient Khmer also ended their names with the suffix varman, which means “protector”.

Evidences of Tamil influence in Thailand during the Pallava Era are found as early as 3rd century CE. The touch stone of a goldsmith was discovered from Kuan Luk Pat in Krabi Province in Southern Thailand, on the shores of Andaman Sea. The Tamil words -‘Perum Pathan Kal’ was inscribed in the touch stone, which Professor Karashima assigns to 3rd or 4th century CE.

Pallava Grantha Script was an invention of the Tamils of ancient Thamizhagam/Thamilagam, in the first centuries of the Common Era to write Sanskrit. The ancient Language of Thamizhagam

– Tamil was written in Southern Brahmi Script and the Pallavas developed the Grantha Script by improvising the prevalent Brahmi script to add more consonants, in order to write texts in Sanskrit. This Pallava Grantha, has travelled to several South-east Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand and has played a pivotal role in the development of native scripts in these countries. According to the Database of Thai inscriptions, so far, there are 104 Pallava Grantha inscriptions found across the country. Pallava Characters as they are mentioned in Thailand and Cambodia, were used to write Sanskrit, Pali and Mon Khmer Languages. They include stone inscriptions, Dvaravati silver coins and baked clay seals.

The Database of Thai inscriptions, provides the list of inscriptions found at several temples in Thailand. Among the inscriptions discovered in the province of Buriram, three inscriptions from Tham Pet Thong cave in the district of Pakham, southwest of Buriram are written in Pallava Grantha script. The language of the inscriptions is Sanskrit and belong to 12th Buddhist century, equivalent to 7th century CE. The three inscriptions highly dilapidated, mention the name of King Mahendravarman of the Chenla Kingdom.

The corpus of inscriptions written in Pallava Grantha script in Thailand and Cambodia are indeed evidences of the spread of the influence of the Pallava Kings and the Maritime Trade Links of the Tamils through their Trader Guilds in particular.

The earliest Tamil inscription in Thailand found at Kuan Luk Pat (in the 3rd century CE) and the Takuapa Tamil inscription (in the 9th century CE), are both from Krabi and Phang Nga provinces respectively, near Andaman Sea – South Thailand.

The earliest representation of Karaikkal Ammai in Tamil temples was in the 10th century by Chembian Madevi, and the earliest representation of Ammai in Khmer temples according to available evidences was in the 11th century by Suryavarman I (discussed in several previous posts). The 11th century inscriptions of Phanom Rung and Inscription of Suryavarman I found at Prasat Hin Phimai (which also hosts the sculpture of Ammai with Adavallan/Dancing Shiva), both temples in Isan – northeast Thailand, certainly provide a hint that the same King might have included the sculpture of our interest in the temple of Phanom Rung.

The brother of the Pallava King Simhavishnu (575-600 CE), Bhimavarman, migrated to a far away Land and founded a collateral line of Kingship. From that faraway Land, considered to be today’s Cambodia or southern Vietnam, Nandivarman II , at a tender age of 12, was brought back to his ancestral soil, Kanchipuram- the capital of the Pallavas, and was crowned the King.


The name Chola is given to a people, as well as to a dynasty of rulers, not only in ordinary parlance but also in literature, and reaches to the highest antiquity that literature or usage can take us. The Cholas, as rulers, find mention in the epic of Mahabharata and the Puranic literature in general.

Asoka’s stone inscriptions mention about the Chola Kings of Sangam period. Chola Kingdom was spread from Venkata Hills on the Northern side to Vellaru on the Southern side; Kotta banks on the west to Bay of Bengal on the East. Chola Country was also called as Cauvry Country. Their flag was decorated with Tiger insignia.

• Kings of the First Order: Chola Kings Sibi, Kanthan and Sembian are considered as the Kings of the First Order, who are portrayed as Courageous, Judicious and with unimaginable super human powers. King Sibi is said to be an example for justice where he sacrificed flesh from his body as food to the Vulture to release the dove which fell as prey to the vulture. King Kanthan is claimed to have created the township of Kaveripoompattinam. King Sembian is mentioned in Silappadigaram for his courage and Military Supremacy. He was a pioneer to the later Cholas in Military Efficiency.

• Manu Neethi Cholan: He was ruling from Thiruvarur. His policy for justice is exemplary. When his son ran over a calf under his chariot, the mother cow pulled the string and rang the palace bell for justice. Manu immediately decided that his son has erred and he should do justice. He punished his son with death under the chariot wheel.

• Ilanchetchenni: He is called as Cherupazhi Erinda Ilanchetchenni. He is considered as the most humble Chola King. When Maurias tried to enter Tamil Nadu through Paazhi, by sending Sathiya Puthiran (Kosar), Chenni defeated him and captured the fortress of Paazhi.

• Karikala Cholan: Karikala Chola is considered as an Emperor of Chola dynasty. He is praised in the Sangam Literature including Pattinapalai, Porunrartruppadai. During his rule, he won Chera and Pandya Kings. He conquered Ceylon also, with the strength of his Navy. He constructed a dam across Cauvery River at Tiruchi which is claimed as the Engineering Wonder. It is called Kallanai (stone dam).

Apart from Wars, the Social and Economic status of Chola Kingdom developed well and Art and Culture grew well. Karikalan himself was an expert in 7 music systems.

• Sangam Period Chola history had a turning point with Karikala Cholan’s Rule. He had to face Chera, Pandya and 11 Velir chieftains. In the war at Venni, Karikala Cholan defeated all his rivals and the Chera King Peruncheralathan who got injured on his back, killed himself by the practice of voluntary death by starvation facing the north.

• He defeated 9 Velir Chieftains again in a war at Vagaip perunthalai.

• He captured Nagapattinam by defeating Nagas. He also defeated Kurumbas. He annexed the entire Chera territories. Entire Tamil Nadu came under his rule.

The last of Chola kings in the Sangam Period was King Kochenganaan.


The later Cholas rose to power from the middle of the ninth century CE. As they emerged from their obscurity, they soon displaced the remants of Pallava power to the north of their capital Tanjore, and subdued the the Pandya and Chera countries in the south and expanded to Ceylon.

The hostility of the Rashtrakutas, particularly of Krishna III, threatened to wreck the Chola empire at its birth, but the Karnataka power was operating too far from its base to achieve permanent results; and Krishna;s wars, while putting a temporary check on the rising emperialism of the Cholas, spelled disaster to his own empire which was easily overthrown under his successors by the Chalukya Taila II.

The Chola power recovered soon after the withdrawal of Krishna’s arms, and swept on to its meridian in the first part of the 11th century under Rajaraja I and his even greater son Rajendra I. At a time when northern India was raging under repeated staggers of Islamic invasion, two of these great monarchs gave political stability to the whole of southern India and established it as a respected sea-power controlling the highways of the Indian Ocean and effectively regulating the affairs of the empire of Sri Vijaya by expansion and diplomacy. They perfected a highly organized system of central contro; and fostered the autonomy of village assemblies as none had done before; the father constructed the Great of Thanjore, one of the most magnificent gems of southern Indian architecture; and the son created its replica in the wilds of the Tiruchirappalli district and called up a new city to surround it. The name of the city, Gangaikondasolapuram – ‘the town of the Chola who took the Ganges’ – was an advertisement of the of the new southern power to the rest of the country.

This was the silver age of spiritual and cultural revival which had begun under the Pallavs; a fresh commentary on the Rig-Veda was composed by Venkata Madhava who lived in a village on the banks of the Kaveri in the reign of Parantaka I; the Tamil hymns, Saiva and Vaid=shnava, of the last epoch, were gathered together and grouped into canonical books, a form which they have retained to this day; the glorious conception of the form of the Dancing Lord Nataraja found

embodiment in many monumental bronze images which, alike for the technical skill they imply and the artistic perfection they exhibit, have few rivals in the history of the world art.


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