The Pandyas ruled parts of South India, which now lies in the state of Tamil Nadu. It was one of the three major kingdoms of the ancient Tamil Nadu, along with the other two the Cholas and the Cheras. Pandyas were one of the Muvendars that ruled the southern part of India, though intermittently, until the pre-modern times.
The term Muvendar refers to a Tamil word meaning three chiefs, used for the heads of three ruling families, the Cholas, Cheras, and Pandyas.
Majority of information about the early Pandyas comes from available literary sources.
The capital of the early Pandyan kingdom was Korkai, a seaport on the southernmost tip of the Indian Peninsula, but the capital was later moved to Kudal (now Madurai).
The rule of the medieval Pandya kingdom is well stocked with archaeological evidence.
The early Pandyas lost their importance after their defeat to the Kalabhras, and fought back to power in the 6th Century AD. They were again overwhelmed by the Cholas in the 9th Century AD, but the Pandyas continued to struggle and climbed back to rule again in the twelfth century.
The Pandyas enjoyed diplomatic ties with the Roman Empire, the Greeks, the Chinese and the Egyptians.Marco Polo made mention of the Pandyan kingdom as one of the richest he had ever seen, as did Megasthenes in his work the Indica, and the Chinese traveller Yu Huan.
In the fourteenth century, the kingdom met its end after an invasion by the Islamic Delhi sultanate. The invasion shattered the Pandyan Kingdom beyond revival. The Pandyas subsequently became a part of the Vijayanagar Empire.
The word Pandya is derived from the Tamil word, ‘Pandi’ meaning the ‘bull’, and considered to be a symbol of masculinity, strength and valour by the early Tamils. The early Pandyas are also said to have participated in the Kurukshetra war, in which they ended on the side of the victorious Pandavas.
The history of the Pandya rule in the ancient times has not been clearly written. After the end of the Sangam period, the first Pandyan Empire was established by Kadungon in the 6th Century AD by defeating the Kalabhras. Slowly and gradually, the Pandya kingdom grew in stature after defeating the Kalabhras.
However, the successors of Kadungon were constantly battling against the neighbouring Cholas and Chera Kings. After the Cholas conquered Thanjavur by defeating the Muttarayar, who were part of the Pandya clan, the Pandyas went into a period of obscurity. Parantaka I, a Chola King destroyed the Pandya territories and defeated Rajasimha III.
However, the Pandyas did not give up and continued their struggle by forging various alliances with the Cheras and the Kings of Sri Lanka in an attempt to free themselves from the Chola dominance.
Under the army leadership of Aditya Karikala, son of Paratanka Chola II, the Cholas defeated Vira pandya in the battle. Despite being assisted by the Sinhalese forces of Mahinda IV, Pandyas were forced out of the territory and the Pandyas had to seek refuge on the island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). This was considered as the beginning of the long period of obscurity for the Pandyas who were replaced by a series of Chola Viceroys who ruled the Madurai from 1020 AD under the title ‘Chola Pandyas’. The ‘Chola Yoke’ continued till the beginning of the thirteenth Century.
The Pandyan rule was the strongest in the thirteenth century. The foundation for a great rule was laid by Maravarman Sundara Pandyan in the early thirteenth century. The period saw the expansion of Pandya Kingdom under seven major Pandyan emperors who took the title ‘Ellarkku Nayanar’ meaning ‘Lord of All’.
The power reached its apex under Jatavaraman Sundara Pandya when the Pandyan Empire expanded from the Telugu regions on the banks of Godavari River to the northern part of Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
Jatavarman Vira Pandiyan’s clan was later called as Kongu Pandiya and he was the first Kongu Pandya King. The strong comeback of the Pandya dynasty was a result of weakening Chola Empire. The successors of Kulothunga Chola II were either weak or incompetent.
However, in 1311 AD, scenario changed when Alauddin Khalji sent military reinforcements to Malik Kafur, after he captured Warangal and defeated Hoysala Empire. Consequently, Madurai came under attack by Malik Kafur for its richness. After looting Madurai, Malik Kafur marched up to Rameshwaram where he erected a mosque. The attack was followed by two more expeditions by Khalji sultanate under the governor generals Khusro Khan and Ulugh Khan in 1314 AD and 1323 AD respectively. These invasions destroyed the Pandya 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 Malabar.
The records of Pandyas do not refer to a council of ministers or a court but they do talk about mantrins and uttarmantrins. Uttarmantrins performed the tasks of sandhivigraha and was in-charge of Mandira-olai-nayagam office which verified the written orders regarding grants.
The Tennavan-apattudavigal were the King’s baron having great authority in the Kingdom. They were the companions of honour or the King’s bodyguards. The army comprised of soldiers who served under a commander. However, the King, being the supreme commander of the army, provided direct leadership to the contingents of soldiers on several occasions. Matangajadhyaksha was an important officer who supervised the elephants.
The territory of Pandyas is called Pandymandalam, Thenmandalam or Pandynadu, which lay in the rocky, hilly regions and mountain ranges except the areas fed by the rivers Vaigai and Tamiraparni
Pandya kings preferred Madurai as their capital.
The empire was classified into three administrative divisions; Nadu, Kurram and Gramam. While Nadu was the larger unit of local administration, the basic unit of local administration was Gramam.
Land grants were given to the temples and Brahmans. The grants consisted of various rights including that of cultivation and administrative rights. Inscriptions give us information about village assemblies and their ways of functioning.
As per the inscriptions, the administrative personnel of the Pandyas comprised of Evi Mudal (keeper of original orders), Vaykketri Pantarappottakam (keeper of royal register and adhikari).
It appears that the records regarding sanction of land grants and other orders were kept in the capital and officers in the localities were directed to implement the King’s order.
Royal palaces were called Tirumaligai and Manaparanan Tirumaligai during the Pandya reign and the royal couches they used were named after the local chiefs, which attested to the legitimacy of the overlordship of the kings
The political division of land was as follows:
The land assigned to Brahmins was Salabogam
The land assigned to Ironsmiths was called Tattarkani
The land assigned to Carpenters was known as Taccu-maniyam
The land donated to the Brahmin group for imparting education was called Bhattavriutti
Pandyas followed the Vedic religion of sacrifice and patronized Brahmin priests. Initially, the Pandyas were devout followers of the Shaivism. However, after the Kalabhras invasion, Jainism started gaining popularity.
Later, during the Bhakti movement, Shaivism and Vaishnavism resurfaced. The Pandyas claimed to have descended from Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. Some of the Pandya rulers also performed the ceremonies called Hiranyagarbha, Tulabhara and Gosahasra to legitimize their political authority.
Being located in the coastal region, the Pandyas wielded control over the fisheries and the related trade activities in the region. Also, the pearls from the Pandyan kingdom were of great demand in the kingdoms of north India.
Consequently, the Pandyas derived great wealth from the pearl trade. The pearl trade was centred in the Pandyan port city of Korkai.
Even the royal chariots and the horses that dragged them were decked with pearls. A scholar named Wassaff claims that the trade of horses was very common during this period.
The busiest port town under the Pandyas was Kayalpattinam (now in Thoothukudi district).
The empire earned huge revenue through taxation. In addition to the cultivated lands, even the temples were subjected to taxation. The looms and shopkeepers also paid taxes to the empire.
At times, the villagers were harassed by the tax officials and were made to pay high taxes. Due to high taxation, some of the peasants fled from the villages.
The copper plate records of the Pandyas contain inscriptions in Tamil and Sanskrit. However, the Tamil inscriptions of the Pandyas contain comprehensive genealogies which suggest that the Pandyas had local moorings.
The Sangam poem Maduraikkanci by Mankudi Maruthanaar described Madurai and the pandya Kingdom under the rule of Nedunj Cheliyan III. Nakkirar described the King’s palace in his work the ‘Nedunalvadai’. The poems in Purananuru and Agananuru collections of the third century BC praised various Pandyan emperors.
Early Tamilakam coins featured the Three Crowned Kings, a tiger, a fish, and a bow, which represented the Cholas, Pandyas, and Cheras.
Pandya coins bear the legend of various Pandya rulers at various times.
During the early period, the Pandyas issued silver punch-marked and die-stricken copper coins. The Pandya rulers of this period were credited with a few gold coins. These coins featured the image of a fish, either alone or in pairs, as their emblem.
Some of the coins bore the names Sundara, Sundara Pandya, or simply the letter ‘Su.’ Some of the coins featured a boar and the legend ‘Vira-Pandya.’
Pandya coins were essentially square. On one side of the coins, an elephant was etched, while the other side was left blank.
During the Pandyas, the inscriptions on silver and gold coins were in Tamil-Brahmi, while copper coins bore Tamil legends.
The Pandya coins with fish symbols were known as ‘Kodandaraman‘ and ‘Kanchi’ Valangum Perumal’.
Aside from these, the word ‘Ellam Thalaiyangam’ was seen on coins depicting a standing king on one side and a fish on the other.
The words ‘Samarakolahalam’ and ‘Bhuvanekaviram‘ were discovered on coins depicting a Garuda, ‘Konerirayan‘ on coins depicting a bull, and ‘Kaliyugaraman‘ on coins depicting a pair of feet.
Art and Architecture
The Pandyan architecture consisted of the rock-cut as well as structural temples. The temples were characterized by the presence of Vimana, Mandapa and Shikhara. The Shiva temples have a Nandi in front of the Maha Mandapa.
Gopurams, the rectangular entrance and portals of the temples, were developed on Vimanas. Gradually, the Gopurams were given more importance than the Shikharas. The Meenakshi temple located in Madurai andNellaiappar temple in Tirunelveli were built during the rule of the Pandyas.
A few fragmented layers of mural paintings can be seen at the Tirumalaipuram caves and Jaina caves at Sittanvassal. The paintings are visible on the ceilings of the shrines, in verandas and on the brackets.
Importance of Dynasty
One of the most ancient dynasties of South India, the Pandyas played a vital role in the development of civilization in South India. They promoted the Brahmanic traditions but remained tolerant towards other religions.
Also, the Pandyas made a significant contribution to Tamil literature, especially in Tamil and Sanskrit languages. Some of the great poems of ancient times were produced in the Pandya reign.