|300 BCE–1650 CE|
Extent of the Pandya Territories c. 1250 CE
Madurai (3rd century BCE – 1345 CE)
Tenkasi (1345 – 1630 CE),
Tirunelveli (1345 – 1650 CE), Vizhinjam (Thiruvananthapuram) ( Earlier Ay kingdom)
|Common languages||Tamil, Sanskrit|
|Religion||Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism|
• 560–590 CE
• 1309–1345 CE
|Vira Pandyan IV|
• 1422–1463 CE
|Jatavarman Parakrama Pandyan|
|Today part of||
|Part of a series on|
|History of Tamil Nadu|
|Outline of South Asian history|
The Pandyan dynasty was an ancient Tamil dynasty, one of the three Tamil dynasties, the other two being the Chola and the Chera. The kings of the three dynasties were referred to as the Three Crowned Kings of Tamilakam.
The Early Pandyans ruled parts of Southern India from at least 4th century BCE. Pandyan rule ended in the first half of the 16th 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. Fish being their flag, Pandyas were experts in water management, agriculture(mostly near river banks) and fisheries and they were eminent sailors and sea traders too. Pandyan was well known since ancient times, with contacts, even diplomatic, reaching the Roman Empire. The Pandyan empire was home to temples including Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, and Nellaiappar Temple built on the bank of the river Thamirabarani in Tirunelveli.
The Pandya kings were called either Jatavarman or Maravarman. They were Jains in their early ages but later became Shaivaites. Strabo states that an Indian king called Pandion sent Augustus Caesar "presents and gifts of honour". The country of the Pandyans was described as Pandyas by Megasthenes, Pandi Mandala in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and described as Pandyan Mediterranea and Modura Regia Pandionis by Ptolemy.
Traditionally, the legendary Sangams were held in Madurai under their patronage, and some of the Pandya Kings were poets themselves. The early Pandyan Dynasty of the Sangam Literature faded into obscurity upon 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. The 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. The Later Pandyas (1216–1345) entered their golden age under Maravarman Sundara Pandyan and Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (c. 1251), who expanded the empire into Telugu country, conquered Kalinga (Orissa) and invaded and conquered Sri Lanka. They also had extensive trade links with the Southeast Asian maritime empires of Srivijaya and their successors. 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 some of the finest pearls in the known ancient world.
During their history, the Pandyas were repeatedly in conflict with the Pallavas, Cholas, Hoysalas and finally the Muslim invaders from the Delhi Sultanate. The Islamic invasion led to the end of Pandyan supremacy in South India and in 1323, the Jaffna Kingdom of Sri Lanka declared its independence from the crumbling Pandyan Empire. The Pandyans lost their capital city Madurai to Madurai Sultanate in 1335. However, they shifted their capital to Tenkasi and continued to rule the Tirulnelveli, Tuticorin, Ramanad, Sivagangai regions. Meanwhile, Madurai sultanate was replaced by Nayaka governors of Vijayanagara in 1378. In 1529 Nayaka governors declared independence and established Madurai Nayak dynasty.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Mythology
- 3 Sources
- 4 History
- 4.1 Literary sources
- 4.2 Early Pandyas (3rd century BCE – 3rd century CE)
- 4.3 First Pandyan Empire (6th – 10th centuries CE)
- 4.4 Under Chola Influence (10th – 13th centuries)
- 4.5 Second Pandyan Empire (13th and 14th centuries)
- 5 Architecture
- 6 Coinage
- 7 Government and Society
- 8 Religion
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
The word Pandya is derived from the Tamil word "Pandu" meaning very old. Another theory is that the word "Pandya" is derived from the Tamil word "Pandi" meaning bull. Ancient Tamils, considered the bull as a sign of masculinity and valor. Robert Caldwell derives the word Pandya from Pandu, the father of the Pandavas from Mahabharata, whose descendants Pandyans claim.
Another theory suggests that in Sangam Tamil lexicon the word Pandya means old country in contrast with Chola meaning new country, Chera meaning hill country and Pallava meaning branch in Sanskrit. The Chera, Chola and Pandya are the traditional Tamil siblings and together with the Pallavas are the major Kings that ruled ancient Tamilakam.
Historians have used several sources to identify the origins of the early Pandyan dynasty with the pre-Christian Era and also to piece together the names of the Pandyan kings. The Pandyans were one of the longest ruling dynasty of Indian history.
According to the Epic Mahabharatha the legendary Malayadwaja Pandya, who sided with the Pandavas and took part in the Kurukshetra War of the Mahabharata, is described as follows in Karna Parva (verse 20.25):
"Although knowing that the shafts (arrows) of the high souled son of Drona employed in shooting were really inexhaustible, yet Pandya, that bull among men, cut them all into pieces".
Malayadwaja Pandya and his queen Kanchanamala had one daughter Thataathagai alias Meenakshi who succeeded her father and reigned the kingdom successfully. The Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple was built after her. The city of Madurai was built around this temple. It is also notable that the etymology of the name Meenakshi or Meenatchi, is derived from either the Tamil Meen (fish) and Sanskrit akshi (eyes) which collectively means the one with "Fish-shaped eyes", or the Tamil words Meen (fish) and aatchi (rule), literally meaning "Rule of the Fish".
Pandya kings find mention in a number of poems in the Sangam Literature. Among them Nedunjeliyan, 'the victor of Talaiyalanganam', and Mudukudimi Peruvaludi 'of several sacrifices' deserve special mention. Beside several short poems found in the Akananuru and the Purananuru collections, there are two major works – Mathuraikkanci and the Netunalvatai (in the collection of Pattupattu) – which give a glimpse into the society and commercial activities in the Pandyan kingdom during the Sangam age.
It is difficult to estimate the exact dates of these Sangam age Pandyas. The period covered by the extant literature of the Sangam is unfortunately not easy to determine with any measure of certainty. Except the longer epics Silapathikaram and Manimekalai, which by common consent belong to an age later than the Sangam age, the poems have reached us in the forms of systematic anthologies. Each individual poem has generally attached to it a colophon on the authorship and subject matter of the poem. The name of the king or chieftain to whom the poem relates and the occasion which called forth the eulogy are also found.
It is from these colophons, and rarely from the texts of the poems themselves, that we gather the names of many kings and chieftains and the poets patronised by them. The task of reducing these names to an ordered scheme in which the different generations of contemporaries can be marked off one another has not been easy. To add to the confusions, some historians have even denounced these colophons as later additions and untrustworthy as historical documents.
Any attempt at extracting a systematic chronology from these poems should take into consideration the casual nature of these poems and the wide differences between the purposes of the anthologist who collected these poems and the historian's attempts to arrive at a continuous history.
Pandyas are also mentioned by Greek Megesthenes where he writes about southern kingdom being ruled by women.
The earliest Pandyan king to be found in epigraph is Nedunjeliyan, figuring in the Tamil-Brahmi Mangulam inscription assigned from the 2nd to the 1st centuries BCE.The record documents a gift of rock-cut beds, to a Jain ascetic. Silver Punch-marked coins with the fish symbol in the Pandya country dating from around the same time have also been found.
Pandyas are also mentioned in the Pillars of Ashoka (inscribed 273 – 232 BCE). In his inscriptions Ashoka refers to the peoples of south India – the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas and Satiyaputras – as recipients of his Buddhist proselytism. These kingdoms, although not part of the Mauryan Empire, were on friendly terms with Ashoka:
The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (5,400–9,600 km) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni river.
Kharavela, the Kalinga king who ruled during the 2nd century BCE, in his Hathigumpha inscription, claims to have destroyed a confederacy of Tamil states (Tamiradesasanghatam) which had lasted 132 years, and to have acquired a large quantity of pearls from the Pandyas.
Megasthenes knew of the Pandyan kingdom around 300 BCE. He described it in Indika as occupying the portion of India which lies southward and extends to the sea. According to his account, it had 365 villages, each of which was expected to meet the needs of the royal household for one day in the year. He described the Pandyan queen at the time, Pandaia as a daughter of Heracles.
The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (c. 60 – c. 100 CE) describes the riches of a 'Pandian Kingdom':
- ...Nelcynda is distant from Muziris by river and sea about five hundred stadia, and is of another Kingdom, the Pandian. This place also is situated on a river, about one hundred and twenty stadia from the sea.... 
The Chinese historian Yu Huan in his 3rd-century text, the Weilüe, mentions the Panyue kingdom: ...The kingdom of Panyue is also called Hanyuewang. It is several thousand li to the southeast of Tianzhu (Northern India)...The inhabitants are small; they are the same height as the Chinese.... John E. Hill identified Panyue as Pandya kingdom. However, others have identified it with an ancient state located in modern Burma or Assam.
Pandyas also had trade contacts with Ptolemaic Egypt and, through Egypt, with Rome by the 1st century, and with China by the 3rd century. The 1st-century Greek historian Nicolaus of Damascus met, at Antioch, the ambassador sent by a king from India "named Pandion or, according to others, Porus" to Caesar Augustus around 13 CE (Strabo XV.4 and 73).
- The darkest man is here the most highly esteemed and considered better than the others who are not so dark. Let me add that in very truth these people portray and depict their gods and their idols black and their devils white as snow. For they say that God and all the saints are black and the devils are all white. That is why they portray them as I have described.
Although there are many instances of the Pandyas being referred to in surviving ancient Hindu texts including the Mahabharata, we currently have no way of determining a cogent genealogy of these ancient kings. We have a connected history of the Pandyas from the fall of Kalabhras during the middle of the 6th century.
Tamil literary sources
Several Tamil literary works, such as Iraiyanar Agapporul, mention the legend of three separate Tamil Sangams lasting several centuries before the Christian Era and ascribe their patronage to the Pandyas.
The Sangam poem Maduraikkanci by Mankudi Maruthanaar contains a full-length description of Madurai and the Pandyan country under the rule of Neduncheliyan III. The Nedunalvadai by Nakkirar contains a description of the king's palace. The Purananuru and Agananuru collections of the 3rd century BCE contain poems sung in praise of various Pandyan kings and also poems that were composed by the kings themselves.
Sanskrit literary sources
The Ramayana makes a few references to the Pandyas. For instance, when Sugriva sends his monkey warriors to search Sita, he mentions Chera, Chola and Pandya of the Southern region. Kalidasa's Raghuvamsha, an epic poem about Rama's dynasty, states that Ravana signed a peace treaty with a Pandya king.
The Mahabharata mentions the Pandyas a number of times. It states that the Pandya country was located on the sea shore, and supplied troops to the Pandava king Yudhishthira during the war (5:19). The Pandya king Sarangadhwaja commanded 140,000 warriors (7.23). Pandya warrior Malayadhwaja had a one-to-one fight with Drona's son Ashwatthama (8:20). Mahabharata mentions that tirthas (sacred places) of Agastya, Varuna and Kumari were located in the Pandya country.
Early Pandyas (3rd century BCE – 3rd century CE)
- Koon Pandyan
- Nedunjeliyan I (Aariyap Padai Kadantha Nedunj Cheliyan)
- Mudukudumi Peruvaludhi
- Nedunjeliyan II
- Nan Maran
- Nedunj Cheliyan III (Talaiyaalanganathu Seruvendra Nedunj Cheliyan)
- Maran Valudi
- Kadalan valuthi
- Musiri Mutriya Cheliyan
- Ukkirap Peruvaludi
First Pandyan Empire (6th – 10th centuries CE)
After the close of the Sangam age, the first Pandyan empire was established by Kadungon in the 6th century by defeating the Kalabhras. The following chronological list of the Pandya emperors is based on an inscription found on the Vaigai riverbeds. Succeeding kings assumed the titles of "Maravarman" and "Sadayavarman" alternately, where Sadayavarman denotes themselves as followers of Lord Sadaiyan ("The one with Jata", referring to Siva).
After the defeat of the Kalabhras, the 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 by defeating the Muttarayar chieftains who were part of Pandya family tree around 850, the Pandyas went into a period of decline. They were constantly harassing their Chola overlords by occupying their territories. Parantaka I invaded the Pandya territories and defeated Rajasimha III. However, the Pandyas did not wholly submit to the Cholas despite loss of power, territory and prestige. They tried to forge various alliances with the Cheras and the Kings of Lanka and tried to engage the Cholas in war to free themselves from Chola supremacy. But right from the times of Parantaka I to the early 12th century up to the times of Kulottunga Chola I the Pandyas could not overpower the Cholas who right from 880–1215 remained the most powerful empire spread over South India, Deccan and the Eastern and Western Coast of India during this period.
- Kadungon (r. c. 590–620 CE)
- Maravarman Avani Sulamani (r. c. 620-645 CE)
- Jayantavarman alias Seliyan Sendan (r. c. 645-670 CE)
- Arikesari Maravarman (r. c. 670–700 CE)
- Kochadaiyan Ranadhiran (r. c. 700–730 CE)
- Maravarman Rajasimha I (r. c. 735–765 CE)
- Jatila Parantaka Nedunjadayan (r. c. 765–815 CE)
- Maravarman Rajasimha II (r. c. 815-817 CE)
- Varaguna I (r. c. 817–835 CE)
- Srimara Srivallabha (r. c. 815–862 CE)
- Varaguna II (r. c. 862–885 CE)
- Parantaka Viranarayanan (r. c. 880–905 CE)
- Maravarman Rajasimha II (r. c. 905–920 CE)
Under Chola Influence (10th – 13th centuries)
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 on 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. Rajadhiraja III aided the Kulesekhara III by defeating the Sinhalese army and crowning him as king of Madurai. The "Chola yoke" started from about 920 and lasted until the start of the 13th century. The following list gives the names of the Pandya kings who were active during the 10th century and the first half of 11th century.
- Sundara Pandya I
- Vira Pandya I
- Vira Pandya II
- Amarabhujanga Tivrakopa
- Jatavarman Sundara Chola Pandya
- Maravarman Vikrama Chola Pandya
- Maravarman Parakrama Chola Pandya
- Jatavarman Chola Pandya
- Seervallabha Manakulachala (1101–1124)
- Maaravarman Seervallaban (1132–1161)
- Parakrama Pandyan I (1161–1162)
- Kulasekara Pandyan III
- Vira Pandyan III
- Jatavarman Srivallaban (1175–1180)
- Jatavarman Kulasekaran I (1190–1216)
Second Pandyan Empire (13th and 14th centuries)
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The 13th century is the greatest period in the history of the Pandyan Empire. This period saw the rise of seven prime Lord Emperors (Ellarkku Nayanar – Lord of All) of Pandyan, who ruled the kingdom alongside Pandyan princes. 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 Pandyan early in the 13th century.
- Parakrama Pandyan II (king of Polonnaruwa) (1212–1215)
- Maravarman Sundara Pandyan(1216–1238)
- Sundaravarman Kulasekaran II (1238–1240)
- Maravarman Sundara Pandyan II (1238–1251)
- Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (1251–1268)
- Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I (1268–1310)
- Sundara Pandyan IV (1309–1327)
- Vira Pandyan IV (1309–1345)
The Pandyan kingdom was replaced by the Chola princes who assumed the title as Chola Pandyas in the 11th century. After being overshadowed by the Pallavas and Cholas for centuries, Pandyan glory was briefly revived by the much celebrated Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I in 1251 AD.
Pandyan power extended from the Telugu countries on banks of the Godavari river to Sri Lanka, which was invaded by Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I in 1258 and on his behalf by his younger brother Jatavarman Vira Pandyan II from 1262 to 1264. They ruled the whole peninsula and reduced the power of the Cholas and the Hoysala, also making Chera Nadu and Sri Lanka Pandyan provinces. Later Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan appointed his brother to rule Kongu country, Chola country and Hoysala country.
The marital alliance of Kulothunga Chola III and one of his successors, Rajaraja Chola III, with the Hoysalas did not yield any advantage in countering the Pandyan resurgence, who got defeated by Maravarman Sundara Pandyan I, who after the victory burnt down Uraiyur and Thanjavur. The Cholas renewed their control with the help of the Hoysalas under Hoysala king Vira Someshwara. The later successor of Maravarman Sundara Pandyan I, Maravarman Sundara Pandyan II got defeated by Rajendra Chola III around 1250.
Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I subdued Rajendra Chola III in around 1258–1260 and was an equal antagonist of the Hoysalas whose presence he absolutely disliked in the Tamil country. He first vanquished the Kadava Pallavas under Kopperunchinga II, who had challenged the Hoysala army stationed in and around Kanchipuram and killed a few of their commanders.
Around 1260 dragged Jatavarman I first the Hoysalas into war by routing Vira Someshwara's son Ramanatha out of Tiruchirappalli. Vira Someshwara Hoysala, who had given the control of the empire to his sons tried to challenge Jatavarman. Between Samayapuram and Tiruchy, the armies of Vira Someshwara were routed with Vira Someshwara losing his life in this battle to Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I in Kannanur.
Next concentrated Jatavarman I on completely wiping out the Chola empire. Rajendra Chola III had been counting on Hoysala assistance in case he was challenged by the Pandyans, keeping in mind the earlier marital alliance of the Cholas with the Hoysalas. Initially, Jatavarman consolidated the Pandyan hold on Tiruchirappalli and Thiruvarangam and marched towards Thanjavur and Kumbakonam. The Hoysala king Narasimha III joined hands with the Pandyans, opposing alliance with the Cholas. When challenged by Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan, Rajendra III marched against the Pandyans between Tanjore and Tiruchy, hoping for assistance and participation in war from the Hoysalas. However, the already vanquished Hoysalas were in a defensive position. They did not want to go to war and risk yet another defeat by the resurgent Pandyans. Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan who defeated the Kadava Pallavas, Hoysalas and also the Telugu Choda, forced Rajendra III to become his tributary vassal.
Jatavarman Sundara Pandiyan invaded Sri Lanka in 1258 and took control over Jaffna Kingdom by defeating the Javaka king Chandrabhanu, making the Javaka king paying tribute to him. Chandrabhanu and two Sinhalese princes revolted against the Pandyans in 1270, and got his final defeat in 1270 by the brother of Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I, Jatavarman Vira Pandyan II.
Pandyan Civil War (AD 1308 to 1311)
After the death of the king Maravarman Kulashekhara, his sons Vira and Sundara fought a war of succession for control of the kingdom. Taking advantage of this situation, the neighbouring Hoysala king Ballala III invaded the Pandya territory. However, Ballala had to retreat to his capital, when Malik Kafur, a general of the Muslim Delhi Sultanate, invaded his kingdom at the same time. After subjugating Ballala, Malik Kafur marched to the Pandya territory in March 1311. His army raided a number of places in the kingdom, massacring people and destroying temples. The Pandya brothers fled their headquarters, and Kafur pursued them unsuccessfully, hoping to make one of them a tributary to the Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khalji. Nevertheless, the invaders obtained a large number of treasures, elephants and horses.
According to the 14th century Sanskrit treatise Lilatilakam, a general named Vikrama Pandya defeated the Muslims. Some historians have identified Vikrama as an uncle of Vira and Sundara, and believe that he defeated Malik Kafur. However, this identification is not supported by historical evidence: Vikrama Pandya mentioned in Leelathilakam appears to have defeated a later Muslim army during 1365-70. By late April 1311, the rains had obstructed the operations of the Delhi forces, and the invading generals received the news that the defenders had assembled a large army against them. Kafur gave up his plans to pursue the Pandya brothers, and returned to Delhi with the plunder.
After Kafur's departure, Vira and Sundara resumed their conflict. Sundara Pandya was defeated, and sought help from the Delhi Sultanate. With their help, he regained control of the South Arcot region by 1314.
Decline and fall
Subsequently, this there were two other expeditions from the Khalji Sultanate in 1314 led by Khusro Khan (later Sultan Nasir-ud-din) and in 1323 by Ulugh Khan (Muhammad bin Tughluq) under Sultan Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq. These invasions shattered the Pandyan empire beyond revival. While the previous invasions were content with plunder, Ulugh Khan annexed the former Pandyan dominions to the Delhi Sultanate as the province of Ma'bar. Most of South India came under the Delhi's rule and was divided into five provinces – Devagiri, Tiling, Kampili, Dorasamudra and Ma'bar. Jalaluddin Ahsan Khan was appointed governor of the newly created southern-most Ma'bar province of the Delhi Sultanate by Muhammad bin Tughluq. In 1333, Sayyid Jalaluddin Ahsan Khan declared his independence and created Madurai Sultanate, a short lived independent Muslim kingdom based in the city of Madurai. Hoysala king Veera Ballala III, from his capital in Tiruvannamalai, challenged the Madurai Sultans at Kannanur Kuppam near Srirangam and died fighting them in 1343. Bukkaraya I of Vijayanagara Empire conquered the city of Madurai in 1371, imprisoned the Sultan, released and restored Arcot's Tamil prince Sambuva Raya to the throne. Bukka I appointed his son Veera Kumara Kampana as the viceroy of the Tamil region. Later, Nayaka governors were appointed.[unreliable source?] who would continue ruling till 1736.
Groups of small temples are seen at Tiruchirappalli district of Tamil Nadu. The Shiva temples have a Nandi bull sculpture in front of the maha mandapa. In the later stages of Pandyas rule, finely sculptured idols, gopurams on the vimanas were developed. Gopurams are the rectangular entrance and portals of the temples.
The early coins of Tamilakam bore the symbols of the Three Crowned Kings, the tiger, the fish and the bow, representing the symbols of the Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras. Coins of Pandyas bear the legend of different Pandya ruler in different times. The Pandyas had issued silver punch-marked and die struck copper coins in the early period. A few gold coins were attributed to the Pandya rulers of this period. These coins bore the image of fish, singly or in pairs, which where their emblem.
Some of the coins had the names Sundara, Sundara Pandya or merely the letter 'Su' were etched. Some of the coins bore a boar with the legend of 'Vira-Pandya. It had been said that those coins were issued by the Pandyas and the feudatories of the Cholas but could not be attributed to any particular king.
The coins of Pandyas were basically square. Those coins were etched with elephant on one side and the other side remained blank. The inscription on the silver and gold coins during the Pandyas, were in Tamil-Brahmi and the copper coins bore the Tamil legends.
The coins of the Pandyas, which bore the fish symbols, were termed as 'Kodandaraman' and 'Kanchi' Valangum Perumal'. Apart from these, 'Ellamthalaiyanam' was seen on coins which had the standing king on one side and the fish on the other. 'Samarakolahalam' and 'Bhuvanekaviram' were found on the coins having a Garuda, 'Konerirayan' on coins having a bull and 'Kaliyugaraman' on coins that depict a pair of feet.
Government and Society
Roman and Greek traders frequented the ancient Tamil country, present day Southern India and Sri Lanka, securing trade with the seafaring Tamil states of the Pandyan, Chola and Chera dynasties and establishing trading settlements which secured trade with South Asia by the Greco-Roman world since the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty a few decades before the start of the Common Era and remained long after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. As recorded by Strabo, Emperor Augustus of Rome received at Antioch an ambassador from a South Indian King called Pandyan. The country of the Pandyas, Pandi Mandala, was described as Pandyan Mediterranea in the Periplus and Modura Regia Pandyan by Ptolemy. They also outlasted Byzantium's loss of the ports of Egypt and the Red Sea (c. 639-645) under the pressure of the Muslim conquests. Sometime after the sundering of communications between the Axum and Eastern Roman Empire in the 7th century, the Christian kingdom of Axum fell into a slow decline, fading into obscurity in western sources. It survived, despite pressure from Islamic forces, until the 11th century, when it was reconfigured in a dynastic squabble.
Pearl fishing was another industry that flourished during the Sangam age. The Pandyan port city of Korkai was the center of pearl trade. Written records from Greek and Egyptian voyagers give details about the pearl fisheries off the Pandyan coast. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea mentions that "Pearls inferior to the Indian sort are exported in great quantity from the marts of Apologas and Omana". The inferior variety of pearls that the Tamils did not require for their use was in very great demand in the foreign markets. Pearls were woven along with nice muslin cloth, before being exported. The most expensive animal product that was imported from India by the Roman Empire was the pearl from the Gulf of Mannar.
The pearls from the Pandyan Kingdom were also in demand in the kingdoms of north India. Several Vedic mantras refer to the wide use of the pearls. The royal chariots were decked with pearls, as were the horses that dragged them. The use of pearls was so high that the supply of pearls from the Ganges could not meet the demand. Literary references of the pearl fishing mention how the fishermen, who dive into the sea, avoid attacks from sharks, bring up the right-whorled chank and blow on the sounding shell. Convicts were according to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea used as pearl divers in Korkai.
Historical Madurai was a stronghold of Shaivism. Following the invasion of Kalabhras, Jainism gained a foothold in the Pandyan kingdom. With the advent of Bhakti movements, Shaivism and Vaishnavism resurfaced. The latter-day Pandyas after 600 CE were Saivites who claimed to descend from Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Pandyan Nedumchadayan was a staunch Vaishnavite.
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