Pandyan dynasty

"Pandya" redirects here. For the surname, see Pande.
Pandyan Empire
பாண்டியப் பேரரசு
6th century BCE[1][2]–16th century
Extent of the Pandya Territories c. 1250 CE
Capital Korkai
Madurai (3rd century BCE - 1345 CE)
Tenkasi (1345 - 1630 CE),
Tirunelveli (1345 - 1650 CE)
Languages Tamil
Religion Jainism, Buddhism Shaivism
Government Monarchy
   560–590 CE Kadungon
  1309–1345 CE Vira Pandyan IV
  1422-1463 CE Jatavarman Parakrama Pandyan
Historical era Iron Age
   Established 6th century BCE[1][2]
  Early Pandyan Kingdom
   Disestablished 16th century
Succeeded by
Madurai Sultanate
Madurai Nayak dynasty
Jaffna kingdom
Today part of  India
 Sri Lanka

The Pandyan or Pandiyan or Pandian dynasty was an ancient Tamil dynasty, one of the three Tamil dynasties, the other two being the Chola and the Chera. The Pandya King, along with Chera King and Chola King, were referred to as the Three Crowned Kings of Tamilakam.

The dynasty ruled parts of South India from around 600 BCE (Early Pandyan Kingdom)[3] to first half of 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. 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 Pandyan. From being Jains in their early ages, they became Shaivaites after some centuries of rule.[4] Strabo states that an Indian king called Pandion sent Augustus Caesar "presents and gifts of honour".[5] The country of the Pandyas, Pandi Mandala, was described as Pandyan Mediterranea in the Periplus and Modura Regia Pandyan by Ptolemy.[6]

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.[7] 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 Maravman 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. Traditionally, the legendary Sangams were held in Madurai under their patronage, and some of the Pandya Kings were poets themselves. 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. 1323, Jaffna Kingdom in Sri Lanka declared its independence from the crumbling Pandyan Empire.[8][9] 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.


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. The earliest Pandyans, probably used the bull as its emblem.[10][11]

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. Pandyas were the longest ruling dynasty of Indian history.[12] Unfortunately, the exact genealogy of these kings has not been authoritatively established yet.


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):[13][14]

"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.[15] It is also notable that the etymology of the name Meenakshi came from two Sanskrit words Meenu(Fish) and Akshi(Eye ) which collectively means 'One who has the eyes of a fish as like Kaamakshi (kaama+ akshi - one who has lustful eyes), Vishalakshi (Vishala+akshi - one who has broad eyes).


Main article: Early Pandyan Kingdom

Sangam literature

Four-armed Vishnu, Pandya Dynasty, 8th–9th century CE.

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.Hiuen Tsang also mentions about it citing his Buddhist friend at Kanchi and callas it Malakutta or Malakotta but the capital city is not mentioned.


The earliest Pandya to be found in epigraph is Nedunjeliyan, figuring in the Minakshipuram record assigned from the 2nd to the 1st centuries BCE. The record documents a gift of rock-cut beds, to a Jain ascetic. Punch marked coins 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.[16][17] 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.[18]

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.[17]

Foreign sources

Temple between hill symbols and elephant coin of the Pandyas Sri Lanka 1st century CE.
Muziris, as shown in the Tabula Peutingeriana, with a "Templum Augusti".

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.[19]

The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (c. 60 – 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.... [20]

The Chinese historian Yu Huan in his 3rd-century text, the Weilüe, mentions The Kingdom of Panyue:

...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...[21]

The Roman emperor Julian received an embassy from a Pandya about 361. A Roman trading centre was located on the Pandyan coast at the mouth of the Vaigai river, southeast of Madurai.

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).[22][23]

According to Xuanzang, the Pandya country was a depot for sea pearls, its people were harsh and of different religions. They were very good at trade.[7]

In the later part of the 13th century Venetian traveller Marco Polo visited the Pandyan kingdom and left a vivid description of the land and its people.[24][25] Polo exclaimed that:

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.[26]


Literary sources

Main article: Early Pandyan Kingdom

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.[27] The Sangam poem Maduraikkanci by Mankudi Maruthanaar contains a full-length description of Madurai and the Pandyan country under the rule of Nedunj Cheliyan III.[28] 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. Kalittokai mentions that many Tamil Naga tribes such as Maravar, Eyinar, Oliar, Oviar, Aruvalur and Parathavar migrated to the Pandyan kingdom and started living there in the Third Tamil Sangam period 2000 years ago.[29]

Sanskrit literary sources

Sculpture of Lord Rama

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.[30][31] Kalidasa's Raghuvamsha, an epic poem about Rama's dynasty, states that Ravana signed a peace treaty with a Pandya king.[32]

Mahabharata mentions the Pandyas more 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.[33]

See also: Pandya Kingdom

Early Pandyas (3rd century BCE – 3rd century CE)

Main article: Early Pandyan Kingdom

The following is a partial list of Pandyan emperors who ruled during the Sangam age:[34][35][36] The lists of the Pandya kings are based on the authoritative A History of South India from the Early Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar by K.A.N. Sastri, Oxford U Press, New Delhi (Reprinted 1998).

First Pandian Empire (6th – 10th centuries CE)

Manikkavacakar, Minister of Pandya king Varagunavarman II (c. 862 – 885 )
Jatavarman Veera Pandyan I's double fish carp black granite bas-relief of the Koneswaram temple Tincomalee, reminiscent of the dynasty's coinage symbols found on the island from the pre-modern era, installed after defeating the usurper Chandrabhanu of Tambralinga. Pandyan affairs in Northern Sri Lanka grew stronger following the intervention of Srimara Srivallabha in 815[37]

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 "Sadayavarman" and "Maaravarman" alternately, denoting themselves as followers of Lord Sadaiyan (Sankan(r)/Sivan) and Lord Thiru Maal respectively.

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.[38]

List of kings with dates as estimated by K. A. Nilakanta Sastri:[39]

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. The "Chola yoke" started from about 920 and lasted until the start of the 13th century.[40] The following list gives the names of the Pandya kings who were active during the 10th century and the first half of 11th century.

Second Pandian Empire (13th and 14th centuries)

A Pandya Style sculpture
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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.

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 Maravarman Sundara Pandyan and by (probably his younger brother or son) the much celebrated Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I in 1251. The Pandya power extended from the Telugu countries on banks of the Godavari river to the northern half of Sri Lanka, which was invaded by Sundara Pandyan I in 1258 and on his behalf by his younger brother Jatavarman Vira Pandyan I from 1262–1264. later Jatavarman Sundara Pandiyan appointed his brother to rule Kongu country, Chola nadu and Hoysala country. Jatavarman Vira Pandiyan's clan was later called as Kongu Pandiyar and he is the first Kongu Pandiya King.

The revival of the Pandyan dynasty was to coincide with the gradual but steady decline of the Chola empire. The last two or three Chola kings who followed Kulothunga III were either very weak or incompetent. The Cholas of course did not lack valour but had been unable to stop the revival of the Pandyan empire from the times of Maravarman Sundara Pandyan, the revival of the Kadava Pallavas at Kanchi under Kopperinchunga I and indeed the growing power and status of the Telugu Cholas, the Renanti and the Irungola Cholas of the Telugu country; for the last three-named had been very trusted allies of the Cholas up to Kulothunga III, having helped him in conquering Kalinga. The marital alliance of Kulothunga III and one of his successors, Raja Raja III, with the Hoysalas did not yield any advantage, though (initially, at least) Kulothunga III took the help of the Hoysalas in countering the Pandiyan resurgence. Kulothunga III had even conquered Karur, the Cheras in addition to Madurai, Ilam and Kalinga. However, his strength rested on support from Hoysalas, whose king Veera Ballala II was his son-in-law. However, Veera Ballala II himself had lost quite a bit of his territories between 1208–1212 to his local adversaries in Kannada country, like the Kalachuris of Kalyanis of Kalyani, Seunas etc.

The resurgent Pandiyans under Maravarman Sundara Pandyan went to war against Kulothunga and first at Kandai and then near Manaparai on the outskirts of modern Tiruchirappalli, the Pandiyans routed the Chola army and entered Tiruchy, Thiruvarangam and Thanjavur victorious in war. But it appears that in the Tiruchy and Thiruvarangam areas, there was renewed control of the Cholas, presumably with the help of the Hoysalas under Vira Someswara with the Hoysalas later shifting their allegiance to the Pandyans either during the last years of Maravarman Sundara Pandyan or the early years of his successor Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan.

Jatavarman Sundara Pandiyan was a very brave, ambitious warrior king, who wanted to completely subjugate the Cholas. He initially tolerated the presence of the Hoysalas under Vira Someshwara with his son Visvanatha or Ramanatha ruling from Kuppam near Samayapuram on the outskirts of Thiruvarangam. This was because other feudatories of the Hoysalas were also growing in power and threatening the Hoysala kingdom itself. Besides, the Delhi Sultanate invasion of the Deccan had started under Malik Kafur. The challenged Hoysalas did have a foothold in and around Tiruchy and Thiruvarangam for a few years and seemed to have indulged in some temple building activity at Thiruvarangam also. But Jatavarman Sundara Pandiyan, who subdued Rajendra Chola III in around 1258–1260 was an equal antagonist of the Hoysalas whose presence he absolutely disliked in the Tamil country. He first vanquished the Kadava Pallavas under Kopperinchungan-II, who had challenged the Hoysala army stationed in and around Kanchi and killed a few of their commanders.

Though Rajendra III suffered another defeat at the hands of Vira Someshwara, because of the growing power of Pandiyans being felt by both Cholas and Hoysalas, there was a political affinity between the two which was cemented also by marital relations. At the time the Pandiyans and the Kadava Pallavas,with an earlier Chola, Raja Raja III, having been held in captivity by Kopperinchunga II and his release being secured by the Hoysalas. Ultimately, the Kadava Pallavas, Hoysalas and also the Telugu Choda Timma who invaded Kanchi were all one by one vanquished by Jatavarman Sundara Pandiyan with the Cholas finally becoming extinct after defeat of Hoysala Ramanatha as well as his ally Rajendra III around 1279 by Maravarman Kulasekhara Pandiyan.

Pandya power in South India

Jatavarman Sundara Pandiyan seized the opportunity with the Hoysalas being in Tiruchy and not having any ally, the rapidly weakening Cholas seeking alliance with the Kadava Pallavas who were themselves being threatened by the Telugu Cholas. In 1254 (or 1260) Jatavarman first dragged the Hoysalas into war by routing his son Ramanatha out of Tiruchy. Vira Someshwara Hoysala, who had given the control of the empire to his sons, had to come out of his slumber and tried to challenge Jatavarman. Between Samayapuram and Tiruchy, the armies of Vira Someshwara were routed with Vira Someshwara losing his life in this battle. This ended the presence of the Hoysalas in Tamil country.

Next the Pandiyan prince Jatavarman concentrated on completely wiping out the Chola empire. Rajadhiraja III had interfered in an earlier Pandiyan war of succession and defeated a confederation of Pandiyan princes. The predecessors of Jatavarman Sundara Pandiyan had suffered at the time of the Chola invasion and he wanted to take revenge. This was his opportunity. Rajendra III had been counting on Hoysala assistance in case he was challenged by the Pandiyans, keeping in mind the earlier marital alliance of the Cholas with the Hoysalas. Initially, Jatavarman consolidated the Pandiyan hold on Tiruchy and Thiruvarangam and marched towards Tanjore and Kumbakonam. The Chola capital of Gangaikondacholapuram, too, was not far from reach. During the years 1270–1276 it appeared that Rajendra III ruled mainly in and around Gangaikondacholapuram and Tanjore. Tiruchy and Thiruvarangam had been lost by the Cholas to the Pandyas forever, at least from 1254. Though Rajendra III had been opposed to the Hoysalas due to their alliance with the Pandiyans, with new hostilities emerging between Hoysalas and the Pandiyans, Rajendra III had hoped for renewed friendship and military alliance with the Hoysalas.

When challenged by Jatavarman Sundara Pandiyan, the brave but tactically naive Rajendra III marched against the Pandiyans 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 Pandiyans. Rajendra III, hopelessly isolated, was thoroughly routed and humiliated in this war, which is variously dated as between 1268–1270. The known rule of Jatavarman Sundara Pandiyan is of course, up to 1268 only. Probably Rajendra III fled the battlefield and had continued in obscurity up to 1279 but without any of the erstwhile Chola territories. By 1280, the Chola empire was no more.

Pandian Civil War (AD 1308 to 1311)

On the death of Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I in 1308, a conflict stemming from succession disputes arose amongst his sons. Sundara Pandyan and Vira Pandyan fought each other for the throne. Sundara Pandyan however with the help of his loyal generals and Veera Ballala III was successful in suppressing Vira Pandyan.

Delhi sultanate expedition (AD 1311)

Scenarios changed during 1311, when Alauddin Khilji of Khilji dynasty sent his general Malik Kafur on an expedition to the kingdoms of the south, which led to the capture of Warangal and the defeat of the Hoysala Empire south of the Krishna River.[41] Malik Kafur was not seeking to expand the borders of the Delhi Sultanate; he was engaging in a military treasure-hunt on the Sultan's behalf. Malik's victory over Veera Ballala III and loot of Hindu temples at Halebidu sent alarming bells to the Pandyan Kingdom. Malik Kafur on the other hand, heard about the raised strength of the Pandyan army and its defensive position within the walls of Madurai was reluctant in carrying out his expedition further south. It was Alauddin Khilji himself ordered and sent reinforcements to Malik Kafur to attack Madurai after hearing the richness of it via Veera Virupaksha Ballala who was sent to Delhi as an act of peace by his defeated father Veera Ballala III.

Being a strong Saivite, Sundara Pandyan was enraged by the destruction of the Hindu temples by the Muslim armies. He assembled his army and planned to march them at once to face the invading armies of the Delhi Sultanate. This idea was however opposed by Vira Pandyan who felt that taking a defensive position might be more advantageous. Sundara Pandyan ignored his words and ordered his army to march leaving Vira Pandyan to safeguard Madurai with his men. The Pandyan army managed to march well intact till Melaithirukattupalli. But their reliance on the river Kaveri as the water source turned disastrous as the river ran dry during the hot summer of 1311. The already exhausted Pandyan army planned to march west in search of nearby water source. Their speed was drastically reduced due to the general's decision of marching on the dried beds of River Kaveri. Malik Kafur's forces on the other hand tactically planned on their ration and water supplies, met Sundara Pandyan much before Thiruchirapalli. The physically exhausted Pandyan infantry easily fell prey for the Sultanate's army. However, the Pandyan cavalry revived its attack on the Delhi Sultanate cavalry. But, the cavaliers were well armed with turcopoles and chain mail armours while Pandyan horsemen were inferiorly armoured and heavily relied on heavy swords. Tactical strikes by Malik Kafur's crossbow men over the Pandya cavalry, followed by the Delhi Sultanate infantry's attack blocked any possible retreat for the Sundara Pandyan's army. The generals of Kafur's army took Sundara Pandyan as captive and beheaded all the others captured. Few Pandyan cavaliers managed to escape to Madurai to report their defeat to Vira Pandya. The victorious Sultanate went on plundering the temples of Thiruchirapalli and Thiruvarangam.

The walled city of Madurai was now left only with the Vira Pandyan's men. Their sole aim was to safeguard Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. Understanding the fact that they were largely outnumbered, the defenders' only hope is to delay their enemies long enough for them to negotiate. Kafur's siege on Madurai continued for weeks, however, it turned futile as his army lacked any Ballistas or Trebuchets and relied on Battering Rams of inferior quality. On the other hand, continuous archery attack by Pandyan soldiers and surprise cavalry attacks on the Delhi Sultanate infantry during night times tremendously increased the casualties on Kafur's side. Malik Kafur lost about half of his army and had to leave without any indemnity.[42][43]

aerial image of a temple campus
An aerial view of Madurai city from atop the Meenakshi Amman temple

Decline and fall

Following this there were two other expeditions from the Khilji Sultanate in 1314 led by Khusro Khan (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.[44] 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.[45][46] 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.[42][47]


Pandyan architecture

The Gopuram of Nellaiappar Temple

Rock cut and structural temples are significant part of pandyan architecture. Vimana, mandapa and shikhara are some of the features of the early Pandyan temples. Groups of small temples are seen at Tiruchirapalli district of Tamil Nadu. The Shiva temples have a Nandi in front of the maha mandapa. In the later stages of Pandyas rule, finely sculptured idols, portals of temples or gopurams on "Vimanas" were developed. Gopurams are the rectangular entrance and portals of the temples. The portions above the entrance is pyramidal in shape. Gradually gopurams were given more importance than Shikharas.

Meenakshi Temple in Madurai and Nellaiappar Temple in Tirunelveli were built during the reign of the Pandyas.


Pandyan coins

Pandyan coin depicting a temple between hill symbols and elephant, Pandyas, Sri Lanka, 1st century CE.

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 a fish, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs along with symbols like a bow, a conch, a discus etc. The coins with the latter inscriptions had been found in the Kanara district. So some scholars were inclined to attribute them to the Alupa rulers. The copper coins of the pandyas also had the inscription of Chola standing figure or the Chalukyan devices associated with a fish. These coins had the blending of symbols from various dynasties which might be indicative of their conquests and defeats.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 doubtful legend 'Vira-Pandya' on one side and the figure of Venu-Gopala (Murlidhara Krishna) on the flip side of the coin. 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 Sanskrit 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'. The Chola standing and the seated king type coins had the titles 'Bhutala Ellamthalai', 'Parasurama', 'Kulasekhara'. 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


Silk Road map showing ancient trade routes.

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[48] a few decades before the start of the Common Era and remained long after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.[49] 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.[6] They also outlasted Byzantium's loss of the ports of Egypt and the Red Sea[50] (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

Pearl fishing was an important industry in ancient Tamilakam

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".[51] 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.[51] 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.[52] 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.[53] Convicts were used as pearl divers in Korkai.[54]

Megasthenes reported about the pearl fisheries of the Pandyas, indicating that the Pandyas derived great wealth from the pearl trade.[55][56]


Historical Madurai was a stronghold of Saivism. Following the invasion of Kalabhras, Jainism gained a foothold in the Pandyan kingdom. With the advent of Bhakti movements, Saivism 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.[57]

See also


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