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Tamizhagam or Ancient Tamizh country (Tamil தமிழகம் "the Tamil homeland or country") refers to the Sangam period (3rd century BCE - 4th century CE)[note 1] territory of old South Indian royalties covering modern Tamil Nadu, Kerala and southern parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka. Historians use the term synonymous with South India to refer to the Tamil speaking regions of India, including Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Although traditional accounts once referred to these territories as a single cultural area, where Tamil was the natural language [note 2] and culture of all people,[note 3] archaeological data from protohistoric Kerala and Tamil Nadu "appears to challenge this notion of a separate culture region."
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Sources
- 3 Territory and geographical boundaries
- 4 Culture
- 5 Tamilakam and Sri lanka
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Sources
"Tamiḻakam" is a portmanteau of two words from the Tamil language, namely Tamil and akam. It can be roughly translated as the 'homeland of Tamil'. According to Kamil Zvelebil, the term seems to be the most ancient term used to designate the Tamil territory in the Indian subcontinent.
Until recently, the interpretation and understanding of India's past has largely been based on textual sources. According to Abraham,
In the southern portion of the peninsula--the region that corresponds roughly to the present-day states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu--the existence of a large documentary corpus, both indigenous and foreign, and the occurrence of inscribed coins and cave inscriptions, have given rise to the idea of a separate ethnic and linguistic region known as "Tamilakam".
The role of archaeology has often been secondary, as "a source of correlates for information gleaned from the texts", but challenges existing notions of Tamilakam which are primarily based on textual sources.
Territory and geographical boundaries
Classical era territory
The 2nd or 1st century BCE [note 4] Tamil chronicle Tolkappiyam, a work on the grammar of the Tamil language and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature, contains several references to centamiḷ nilam, "land of refined Tamil"). According to the Tolkappiyam, the limits of Tamilakam were between the hills of Venkatam in the north, and Cape Comorin in the south.[note 5] Tolkappiar, the writer of the Tolkappiyam, does not mention a Tamil part of Sri Lanka.[note 6]
According to the Tolkappiyam, at the time of Tamilakam Malayalam had not formed into a separate dialect at this period, and only one language, Tamil, was spoken from the Eastern to the Western Sea.
The Pandya Dynasty was the longest-ruling dynasty in the history of India. The earliest datable references to this Tamil dynasty are in inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE left by Asoka, of the Maurya Empire. The heartland of the Pandyas was the fertile valley of the River Vaigai. The Pandyan Dynasty ruled parts of South India until the early 17th century CE. They initially ruled their country Pandya Nadu from Korkai, a seaport on the southernmost tip of the Indian Peninsula, and in later times moved to Madurai. Pandyan was well known since ancient times, with contacts, even diplomatic, reaching the Roman Empire.
The Chola Dynasty ruled from before the Sangam Age (3rd century BCE – 3rd century CE) until the 13th century CE in current Tanjore and Trichy. The heartland of the chola was the fertile valley of the River Cauvery.
The Chera Dynasty ruled from before the Sangam Age (3rd century BCE – 3rd century CE) until the 12th century CE over an area corresponding to modern-day Kerala. During the time of Mauryas in northern India (c. 4th century BCE — 3rd century BCE) the Cheras (along with the Pandyas and the Cholas) were in a late megalithic phase on the western coast of Tamilakam.
Nadus of Tamilakam
Tamizhagam was divided into various provinces named nadu, meaning 'country'. These provinces changed throughout history, so the following list is not exhaustive:
Thapar mentions the existence of a common language of the Dravidian group:
Ashoka in his inscription refers to the peoples of South India as the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas and Satiyaputras - the crucible of the culture of Tamilakam - called thus from the predominant language of the Dravidian group at the time, Tamil.
Yet, also according to Abraham,
... the archaeological data from protohistoric Kerala and Tamil Nadu is not so clear-cut and, in fact, appears to challenge the very notion of a separate culture region.
With the advent of the early historical period in South India, and the ascent of the three Tamil kingdoms in Southern India in the 3rd century BCE, Tamil culture began to spread outside Tamilakam. In the 3rd century BCE the first Tamil settlers arrived at Sri Lanka. The Jaffna-seal, dated to the 3rd century BCE, contains a bilingual inscription.[note 7] Excavations in the area of Tissamaharama in southern Sri Lanka have unearthed locally issued coins, produced between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE, some of which carry local Tamil personal names written in early Tamil characters, which suggest that local Tamil merchants were present and actively involved in trade along the southern coast of Sri Lanka by the late classical period. Around 237 BCE, "two adventurers from southern India" established the first Tamil rule at Sri Lanka. In 145 BCE Elara, a Chola general or prince, took over the throne at Anuradaphura and ruled for forty-four years. Dutthagamani, a Sinhalese, started a war against him, defated him, and took over the throne.
Tamilakam and Sri lanka
Various sources mention the Nagas, Tamil-speaking people who lived at Sri Lanka, and the existence of Naga Nadu. This may suggest the existence of early Tamil settlements at Sri Lanka, and the extension of Tamilakam to early Sri Lanka.
The Nagas may have been early Tamil-speaking people at Sri Lanka:
... some scholars [...] suggest [...] that the Yakshas and the Nagas were Tamil-speaking people who worshipped the cobra (Naga) [...] in the prehistorical period dating back to 1000 BCE".
The Yakshas and the Nagas are depicted in the Sinhala epic Mahavamsa as the original inhabitants of the island when the Sinhalese arrived in the island in 500 B.C.[note 8] According to Manogaran, some scholars also "have postulated that the Yakshas and Nagas [...] are the aboriginal tribes of Sri Lanka". Holt concludes that they were not Tamils, but a distinct group.[note 9]
The 6th century CE Tamil epic Manimekalai speaks of the prosperous Naga Nadu, and of "the great Naga king Valai Vanan and his queen Vdcamayilai, who ruled the prosperous Naga Nadu with great splendor."[web 1] According to the Manimekalai this kingdom had a rich Tamil Buddhist tradition.[note 11] The aim of the author, Sīthalai Sāttanār (or Cīttalai Cāttanār) was to compare Buddhism favourably with the other prevailing religions in South India in order to propagate Buddhism. According to Schalk
... it is quite possible that Nakanatu as a fief under the leadership of a Tamil feudal lord under a King enjoyed royal patronage to fortify Buddhism.[web 2]
... makes clear that there was a perception in Tamilakam in the 5th century that Nakanatu was a separate administrative entity, distinguished from Ilankatipam[note 12][...] Nakanatu was a natu [...] Natu is a technical administrative term that could refer to a kingdom, at least to an autonomous administrative region.[web 2]
According to Schalk, Cīttalai Cāttanār, the author of the Manimekalai
... reflects probably in the 5th century what was a political reality then - Nakanatu was conceptualised as being separate from Ilankatipam, the island of Lanka.[web 2]
- "Sangam period" (Tamil: சங்ககால பருவம், Cankakāla paruvam ?) is the period in the history of ancient southern India (known as the Tamilakam) spanning from c. 3rd century BCE to c. 4th century CE. It is named after the famous Sangam academies of poets and scholars centered in the city of Madurai.
- Thapar mentions the existence of a common language of the Dravidian group: "Ashoka in his inscription refers to the peoples of South India as the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas and Satiyaputras - the crucible of the culture of Tamilakam - called thus from the predominant language of the Dravidian group at the time, Tamil."
- See, for example, Kanakasabhai.
- Zvelebil dates the Ur-Tolkappiyam to the 1st or 2nd century BCE
- Various contemporary sources also refer to the Tolkappiyam, and mention the hills of Venkatam and Cape Comorin in the south as the historical limits of Tamilakam. Other sources mention somewhat different limits, or use a different wording.                             
- According to A. Rajayyan, it is possible that the Tolkappiar and Sikiandiyar were "not aware of the Tamil part of the island of Lanka."
- An archaeological team led by K.Indrapala of the University of Jaffna excavated a megalithic burial complex at Anaikoddai in Jaffna District, SriLanka. In one of the burials, a metal seal was found assigned by the excavators to c. the 3rd century BCE.
- Manogaran notes: "... there is general consensus among historians that Sinhalese settlements preceded Tamil settlements on the island by a few centuries." Manogaran also notes: "... we can only speculate that the ancestors of the present-day Tamils were already in Sri Lanka when the Sinhalese began colonizing the island."
- John Holt writes that "in the early Sri Lankan chronicles as well as in the early Tamil literary works the nagas appear as a distinct group". Holt also writes that "the adoption of the Tamil language was helping the Nagas in the Tamil chiefdoms to be assimilated into the major ethnic group there".
- In Manimekalai Ch.14, 24[web 1]
- According to the Manimekalai, their daughter, the princess Pilli Valai, had a liaison at Nainativu islet with the early Chola king Killivalavan.The Manimekalai is the only source for this information; no other sources mention Killivalavan. Out of this union was born Prince Tondai Eelam Thiraiyar, a supposedly early progenitor of the Pallava Dynasty who were the rulers of the Thondai Nadu till 9th Century CE.[web 1][note 10]
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