|c. 300 BCE–c. 12th century|
|Capital||Vizhinjam, Mavelikkara, Periyaoor, Keezhperoor|
The Ay dynasty (later known as Venad and subsequently Travancore) ruled parts of southern India from the early Sangam age, which spanned from c. 3rd century BCE to c. 1200 CE. At their zenith, the dynasty ruled an area extending from Tiruvalla in the north to Nagercoil in the south including the naturally rich Western Ghats in the east. One part of the Ay Kingdom was centered in Mavelikkara while another was centered at Periyaoor, later called Keezhperoor.
Ays (Ayar) were one of the Velir family and also known as the Yadava lineage, and a prominent political power in the region, from the time the Cheras established themselves as a major power. Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemy (2nd century CE) described the Ay kingdom as extending from the River Baris (Pamba) to Kanyakumari. The former south Travancore (Nanjanad) was also included in the Ay kingdom. According to the epic Purananuru, the capital was at Aykudi, Podiyil Malai (near Shenkottai) and later an administrative capital was established at Vizhinjam. The elephant was the royal emblem of the Ay rulers. After the 10th century, the state of Venad overpowered the Ays in southern Kerala and south-western Tamil Nadu.
Among the Ay rulers of the Sangam Age, Ay Antiran, Titiyan and Atigan are the most outstanding. Ay Antiran is mentioned in the Purananuru as the lord of Podiyil Malaya in southern Western Ghats. He is said have defeated the Kongu rulers and pursued them to the Arabian sea. He was an elder contemporary of the Chera royal Antuvan Cheral. It is a possibility that during the time of Antiran the Ays were more powerful than the Cheras. He practiced polygamy and all his wives committed ritual suicide on his death.[need quotation to verify]
The next important Ay ruler was Titiyan. He was contemporary of Pandya ruler Bhutapandya, poet Kapilar and Parnar. An understanding seems have been reached between the Pandyas and Ays during this period. Atiyan was another important ruler of the Ays during the Sangam Age. Under Atiyan, the Ay state began to disintegrate. The Pandya ruler Pasumpun Azhakia Pandya invaded the Ay kingdom and subjugated Atiyan. The successors of Atiyan are known to have fought against the Pandya supremacy. An Ay ruler took part in the famous battle of Talai-yalankanam, in which the Pandya king Nedum Chezhiyan defeated several of his enemies. Later the Ays recovered from the Pandya yoke.[need quotation to verify]
As other royal families in South India, the immediate post Sangam Age was a dark period in the history of the Ays. Later Ays functioned as buffer state between the powerful Pandyas and the Cheras for long time. After the decline of the Chera power the Pandyas and Cholas led multiple attacks to the Ay territories. Pandyas made successive raids to the Nanjanad area in the Ay kingdom. The Pandya ruler Jayantavarman (7th century) defeated the Ay king, and his successor Arikesari Maravarman won a battle at Sennilam, attacked Kottar and captured the next Ay ruler alive. During the time of the Kocchadayan Ranadhira (8th century) the Ays accepted the Pandya supremacy. Kocchadayan Ranadhira is known to have defeated the Ay ruler in the Battle of Maruthur.
In the last half of the 8th century, the Ay state was ruled by Sadayan (till 788 CE) and his Karunandan (788-857 CE). During this time the Pandyas under Jatilavarman Parantaka invaded and defeated the Ays multiple times. According to the Kazhugumalai inscription, he led a successful expedition against Karunadan and destroyed Fort Ariviyur. He also annexed the then Ay capital Vizhinjam. But, the Ay ruler fought vigorously for more than ten years in the outskirts of Vizhinjam. The Cheras helped them against the Pandyas.
However, in the 9th century, the Ay Kingdom came to be ruled by two illustrious rulers Karunandadakkan and his son Vikramaditya Varaguna. Karunandadakkan (857-885 CE) ruled with his capital at Vizhinjam. He is perhaps the founder of the famous Kandalur Salai. He addressed himself to the arts of peace and took much interest in the promotion of education and learning. Vikramaditya Varaguna (885-925 CE) succeeded Karunandadakkan. He helped Pandyas in their fight against the newly arose political power in south India, the Cholas. After the death of Vikramaditya Varaguna the glory of the Ays departed and lost their territories to neighbouring powers such as the Cheras. By the 10th century, Kandalur and Vizhinjam became Chera strongholds. A branch of the Ay family, which had been controlling the temple of Sri Padmanabha, later merged with Keezhperoor illam, the ruling house of Venad (c. 1100 CE). Both the Thiruvithamkur and the Kolathiri Dynasties are descendants of the ancient Ay Dynasty.
Ay-velirs and Krishna
Another important line of chieftains of Tamil Nadu during the sangam period with whom Krishna was intimately associated was the Ay-Velirs. The cow-herds were known as Ayars in Tamil even as they were known as Ahirs and Abhiras in North India. Krishna is accepted as their chief by the Ayars just as the Ahirs of North India and the "Panchavira" cult of Bhagavata religion was known in south India during Sangam period.
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