The Pandyas

( Emblem  — Fish)

The Pandyas – An Introduction

The Pandyas
The Pandyas

The ancient kingdom of the Pandyas, with its capital at Madurai, comprised the modern districts of Madurai, Ramnad, Tirunelveli and southern parts of Travancore. The Pandyas were among three most prominent dynasties that ruled south India for centuries the other 2 being the Cholas and the Cheras. The glorious history of the Pandyas can be roughly divided into 3 phases namely:

  1. From 200 B.C. to 300 A.D.
  2. From 500 A.D to 800 A.D
  3. From 1200 A.D. to 1300 A.D.

The 1st Phase

Allthough the origins of the Pandyas is difficult to assess, but they certainly did not exist before the Mauryas. In the Tamil lexicon, the word Pandya means ‘old country’, in contrast to Chola which means ‘new country’. The Pandyas were first mentioned by Megasthenes. According to the Magasthenes, the kingdom was once ruled by a woman. According to Asoka edicts, the Pandyas were independent people living beyond the South than border of the Maurya Empire. The greatest Pandya king of the 1st phase was Nedunchezhian who defeated the Cheras and the Cholas. 

The Pandyas
  • The Pandyas were first mentioned by Megasthanese, who said that kingdom was famous for pearls.
  • The Pandyan territory included modern districts of Tirunelveli , Ramanad and Madurai in Tamil Nadu it had its capital at Madhurai ,situated on the banks of Vaigai river.
  • The Pandya king profited from trade with Roman Empire and sent emissaries to Roman empror Augustus and Trojan.
  • The pandyas find mention in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
  • The earliest known Pandyan ruler was Mudukudumi who ruled from Madurai. He accused Kovalan of theft. As a resut ,thr city of Madurai was laid under a curse by Kannagi ( Kovalan’s wife).
  • Their capital was Madurai.
  • Their insignia was the “carp”.
  • King Neduncheliyan also known as Aryappadai Kadantha Neduncheliyan. He ordered the execution of Kovalan. The curse of Kovalan’s wife-Kannagi burnt and destroyed Madurai.
  • Maduraikkanji was written by Mangudi Maruthanar which describes the socio-economic condition of the flourishing seaport of Korkai.
  • The 1st phase of the Pandyas ended with the rise of the Kalabhras who literally sent them into obscurity.
  • The Kalabhras were of tribal origin and had Buddhist leanings.

The 2nd Phase

The Pandyas
Pandya Sculpture
  • The Pandyas got resurrected in the 6th century A.D. and lasted till 9th century A.D. At that time their contemporaries were – Rashtrashtrakutas, Pallavas of Kanchi and Challukyas of Badami.
  • This time the Pandya power revived under Kudungon, who successfully defeated the anti-Brahminical Kalabhras.
  • In these centuries they ruled over the fertile tracts of the Kaveri delta, the Pallava country, the Chera country and even Sri Lanka.
  • The fortunes of the Pandyas once again came to an end with the rise of Cholas of Thenjavur and a constant conflict with them.
  • This period also witnessed the prominance of the Shaivite Nayanars and the Vaishnavite Alvars.

The 3rd Phase

Pandya Territory 13th Century
Pandya Territory 13th Century
  • After a gap of almost 300 years, the Pandya fortunes revived again. By the end of 12 century A.D., the Chola empire had weakened considerably.
  • By this time the Pandyas allied themselves with the Cheras and the Sinhalese to inflict a crushing defeat on the Cholas.
  • In the 13th century, the Pandya empire reached its golden period under the leadership of Maravarman and Jatavarman.
  • Initial efforts by Maravarman to expand his territories were thwarted by the Hoysalas. But Jatavarman successfully defeated them to carve out a huge empire for the Pandyas. Later Hoysalas remained confined to the Mysore area. He successfully conquered the Chera counthery, the Telugu Country and Northern Sri Lanka.
  • With this expansion Kanchi became there 2nd Capital.
  • The famous Meenakshi Temple at Madurai was built in this period.
  • After the death of Maravarman Kulashekhara in 1310, there ensued a war for succession resulting in the weakening of imperial power.
  • The power of the Pandyas declined later with the Khalji raids under the leadership of Malik Kafur, into South India and the establishment of the Madurai Sultanate.
Meenakshi Temple
Meenakshi Temple

Sources of Information About The Pandyas

  1. Indica of Megasthenes which says Pandya Kingdom was famous for its Pearls.
  2. Ashokan Inscriptions talk about Cholas, Pandyas, Kerelaputras and the Satyaputras.
  3. Hanthigumpha inscription of the 1st century Kalinga king Kharavela, which mentions Kharavela had expanded his kingdom in the deep south by defeating the Pandyas.
  4. Ptolemy described Pandyas as ‘Pandya Mediterranea’ and ‘Modura Pandionis’.
  5. Pliny the elder refers to Pandya kings in general terms.
  6. Strabo states that a Pandyan king sent gifts to the Roman king Augustus Ceaser.

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