Forgotten Civilisation 5: Pandya Dynasty

Vettuvan koil, Kalugumalai, Tuticorin. Pandya kingdom

This is the part 5 of the forgotten civilisation series. Part 4 covered Shishunaga Dynasty and Nanda Dynasty whereas part 3 focussed on Haryanka Dynasty ! Part 1 was where we started exploring The Indus Valley Civilisation and Part 2 covering the Mahajanpadas.

Let’s explore the Pandya Dynasty today.

The Origin

The word Pandya is derived from the ancient word “pandu” meaning “old”.

According to the Indian ancient history archives, the three brothers Cheran, Cholan, and Pandyan ruled in common in the southern city of Korkai. While Pandya settled at home, his two brothers Cheran and Cholan after a parting founded their own kingdoms in north and west. Poem Silappatikaram mentions that the emblem of the Pandyas was that of a fish. 

History credits Alli Rani (literally “the queen Alli”) as one of the early historic rulers of the Pandyas. She is credited as a queen whose assistants were men and administrative officials and army were women.

She ruled the whole western and northern coast of Sri Lanka from her capital Kudiramalai, where remains of her fort are found. She is seen as an embodiment of the Pandya gods, Meenakshi and Kannagi.

The credit to the real women empowerment can be given to Pandyas.

Archaeological sources of Pandya’s History

Pandyas are also mentioned in the inscriptions of Maurya emperor Asoka (3rd century BCE). In his engravings, Asoka refers to the peoples of south India – the Chodas, Keralaputras, Pandyas, and Satiyaputras. These dynasties, although not part of the Maurya empire, were on friendly terms with Asoka. This proves that the Akhand Bharat, which historians have neglected, was truly a real map over 2000 years ago.

The earliest Pandya to be found in an epigraph is Nedunjeliyan, figuring in the Tamil-Brahmi Mangulam inscription (near Madurai) assigned to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. 

Silver punch-marked coins with the fish symbol of the Pandyas dating from around the same time have also been found.

Pandyas from Recorded History

The Pandyas are said to be established over 5000 years ago but the history is not documented properly. There have been some mentions of the Pandyas in 1600BCE.

From the recorded history.

The three chiefly lines of the early historic South India – the Cheras, Pandyas, and Cholas – were known as the mu-vendar (“the three vendars”). They traditionally based at their original headquarters in the interior Tamil Nadu (Karur, Madurai, and Uraiyur respectively). The powerful chiefdoms of the three ventar dominated the political and economic life of early historic south India. The numerous conflicts between the Chera, the Chola and the Pandya are well documented in ancient (the Sangam) Tamil poetry. The Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas also established the ports of Muziris (Muchiri), Korkai, and Kaveri respectively. The gradual shift from chiefdoms to kingdoms seems to have occurred in the following period.

Pandyas in the 7th–10th centuries CE

The Pandya kingdom was restored by king Kadungon towards the end of the 6th century CE. With the Cholas in uncertainty in Uraiyur, South India was divided between the Pallavas of Kanchi and the Pandyas of Madurai. From the 6th century to the 9th century CE, the Chalukyas of Badami, the Pallavas of Kanchi, and Pandyas of Madurai controlled the politics of South India. The Badami Chalukyas were eventually replaced by the Rashtrakutas in the Deccan. The Pandyas took on the developing Pallava ambitions in south India, and from time to time they also joined in alliances with the kingdoms of the Deccan Plateau (such as with the Gangas of Talakad in late 8th century CE). In the heart of the 9th century, the Pandyas had managed to advance as far as Kumbakonam (north-east of Tanjore on the Kollidam river).

Sendan, the third king of the Pandyas of Madurai, is known for extending his kingdom to the Cheras (western Tamil Nadu and central Kerala). Arikesari Maravarman (r. 670–700 CE), the fourth Pandya ruler, is known for his battles against the Pallavas of Kanchi. Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, the famous victor of Badami declared to have defeated the Pandyas. Chalukya king Paramesvaravarman I “Vikramaditya” is known to have fought campaigns with the Pallavas, the Gangas, and apparently with the Pandyas too, on the Kaveri basin.

Under Chola influence

While the Pandyas and the Rashtrakutas were busy engaging the Pallavas, with the Gangas and the Simhalas (Sri Lanka) also in the mix, the Cholas emerged from the Kaveri delta and took on the chieftains of Thanjavur (the Mutharaiyar chieftain had transferred their loyalty from the Pallava to the Pandya. The Chola king Vijayalaya conquered Thanjavur by defeating the Mutharaiyar chieftain around c. 850 CE. The Pandya control north of the Kaveri river was severely weakened by this move (and straightened the position of the Pallava ruler Nripatunga). Pandya ruler Varaguna-Varman II (r. c. 862–880 CE) responded by marching into the Cholas and facing a formidable alliance of Pallava prince Aparajita, the Chola king Aditya I and the Ganga king Prithvipati I. The Pandya king suffered a crushing defeat (c. 880 CE) in a battle fought near Kumbakonam. 

By 800 CE, Chola king Aditya I was the leader of the old Pallava, Ganga, and Kongus. It is a possibility that Aditya I conquered the Kongus from the Pandya king Parantaka Viranarayana (r. 880–900 CE). Parantaka I, the successor to Aditya, invaded the Pandya territories in 910 CE and captured Madurai from king Maravarman Rajasimha II (hence the title “Madurai Konda”). Rajasimha II received help from the Sri Lankan king Kassapa V, still got defeated by Parantaka I in the battle of Vellur, and fled to Sri Lanka. Rajasimha then found refuge in the Cheras, leaving even his royal emblem in Sri Lanka, the home of his mother.

The Cholas were defeated by a Rashtrakuta-lead confederacy in the battle of Takkolam in 949 CE. By the mid-950s, the Chola kingdom had shrunk to the size of a small principality (its vassals in the extreme south had proclaimed their independence). It is a possibility that Pandya ruler Vira Pandya defeated Chola king Gandaraditya and claimed independence. Chola ruler Sundara Parantaka II (r. 957–73) reacted by destroying Vira Pandya in two battles (and Chola prince Aditya II killed Vira Pandya on the second occasion). The Pandyas were supported by Sri Lanka forces of king Mahinda IV.

Chola emperor Rajaraja I (r. 985–1014 CE) is known to have attacked the Pandyas. He fought facing an alliance of the Pandya, Chera, and Sri Lankan kings, and defeated the Cheras and “deprived” the Pandyas of their ancient capital Madurai. Emperor Rajendra-I proceeded to occupy the Pandya kingdom and even elected a series of Chola representatives with the title “Chola Pandya” to rule from Madurai.

The second half of the 12th century observed a major internal crisis in the Pandyas (between princes Parakrama Pandya and Kulasekhara Pandya). The neighboring kingdoms of Sri Lanka, under Parakramabahu I, Venadu Chera/Kerala, under the Kulasekharas, and the Cholas, under Rajadhiraja II and Kulottunga III, joined in and took sides with any of the two princes or their kins.

Pandya empire (13th–14th centuries)

The Pandya empire included extensive territories, at times including large portions of South India and Sri Lanka. The Pandya king at Madurai controlled these vast regions through the collateral family branches subject to Madurai. 

The 13th century saw the rise of seven prime Pandya “Lord Emperors” (Ellarkku Nayanar – Lord of All), who ruled the kingdom alongside other Pandya royals. Their power reached its zenith under Jatavarman Sundara-I in the middle of the 13th century.

Decline of Pandya empire

After the death of Maravarman Kulasekhara I (1310), his sons Vira Pandya IV and Sundara Pandya IV fought a war of succession for control of the empire. It seems that Maravarman Kulasekhara wanted Vira Pandya to succeed him. Unfortunately, the Pandya civil war coincided with the Khalji invasion in South India. Taking advantage of the political situation, the neighboring Hoysala king Ballala III invaded the Pandya territory. However, Ballala had to retreat to his capital, when Khalji general Malik Kafur invaded his kingdom at the same time. After subjugating Ballala III, the Khalji forces marched to the Pandya territory in March 1311. The Pandya brothers fled their headquarters, and the Khaljis pursued them unsuccessfully. By late April 1311, the Khaljis gave up their plans to pursue the Pandya princes and returned to Delhi with the plunder. By 1312 the Pandya control over south Kerala was also lost.

Source: Environment and Urbanisation in Early Tamilakam, Studies in the History of the Sangam Age, Wikipedia, Cross-Cultural Trade in World History. Cambridge University Press.

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