In the beginning of the 13th century A.D. the Pandyas under Maravarman Sundara Pandya defeated the Chola ruler completely and established the Pandyan rule and the Pandyas continued to rule till 1312 A.D. The reign of Pandyan rulers during the period is known as the Second Pandyan Empire.
Variety of sources literary and epigraphic and foreign accounts helps us to know the condition of the people. Marco Polo visited the Pandya country in 1293, during the reign of Maravarman Kulasekara I (1268-1308). Wassaf, the Muhammadan historian mentions about the Pandyan Empire.
Caste system was rooted in the society. There were castes and sub-castes in the society. There was religious strife in the country.
The Brahmins held high position in the society. They were given grants and donations. Certain villages were also given to them for their settlements by the Pandyan rulers.
Maravarman Kulasekaran I founded many Brahmin settlements. The villages were called Sundarapandya Chaturvedi mangalam. They were appointed in the higher positions in the government like ministers, commanders of army.
The Vellala community occupied an important place in the society. They were prominently traders. There were occasions that the Vellalas and the Brahmins clashed. There is a reference that the Vellalas who failed to do their duties to Brahmins were punished by other communities.
The Vellalas were called Bhoomi Puthirar and Nattu Makkal. They also held high position in the Government. Their organisatioon was called Chitirameli Perianattar.
The Nagarathar community settled in the Pandyan country and it is believed the Nagarathars would have migrated from the Chola country. They were also called Nattukkottai Chetties.
They were traders and deeply religious. They allotted a portion of their income for the purpose spending money to the religious cause.
Other than the Brahmins, the Vellalas, the Nagarathars there were many communities was lived in the Pandyan Empire.
The Parayas informed royal messages to the people. Untouchability was found in the society. It was a curse to the society.
Position of Women
The condition of women cannot be said to have improved. Their position was lagging behind. They were not given equal property right. Celibacy was expected only from women.
Women were permitted to receive higher education. Many women were learned scholars. They composed poems. Some have dedicated themselves to the temples and they were called Devaradiyars.
Marriage was considered to be a significant one in the society. During the time of marriage, the bride and bridegroom went round the fire and put their step on Ammi.
These were customary practice. Marriages were arranged by the parents. Polygamy was found in the society – among the rich. The kings married many women. Sati system was found in the society.
Beliefs and social attitudes of the Tamils as observed by Marco Polo
Marco Polo, the prince of medieval travelers, spent several months in South India. He says that the king to whom the city (Kayal) belongs possesses vast treasures and wears upon his person a great store of rich jewels.
He maintains great state and administers his kingdom with great equity and extends great favour to merchants and foreigners so that they are very glad to visit his city’. ‘It is at this city that all the ships touch , that come from the west as from Hormos and from Kis and from Aden, and all Arabia, Laden with horses and with other things for sale. And this brings a great concourse of people from the country round about, and so there is great business done in this city of Cail’.
He also mentions the fame of the Pandya country for producing pearls even from early times. He gives a substantially correct account of the fisheries, adding that the King derived great revenue from them.
He mentions the practice of Sati and refers to the practice of allowing a condemned criminal who was sentenced to death to sacrifice himself to some god or other of his choice. The rubbing of their houses all over with cow dung has also been mentioned by him.
He also says about the people that every single thing they do is done with reference to astrology and by the advice of diviners, skilled in sorcery and magic and geomancy and such like diabolical art and some of them are also acquainted with astrology. He notices the widespread use of betel leaves with camphor and other aromatic spices mixed with quicklime (called Tambulam).
Education and Literature
The educational institutions were called as Ghatiga, Vidhyasthana and Salai. The donations and grants given by the Pandyas showed the patronage of education. Mutts imparted education.
The Saiva Mutts worked for the growth of education in Madurai, Tirunelveli, Sakkottai and Aruviyur. The Vaishnava Mutts did educational service at Alagar koil and Thirukurungudi.
There were libraries in some temples. There seems to be military education. Thus the Pandyas contributed for the growth of education by means of the patronage.
A good number of works came during the reign of the Pandyas. Nambi wrote ‘Thiruvillayadal puranam’. Adi Devan the poet composed ‘Kangeyan Pillai Tamil’.
Sivagnana Siddhiyar has written by Arunandi Sivachariar. Senavarayar wrote a commentary on Tolkappiam. It was during this period that Parimel Alagar wrote commentary on Tirukkural. Thanjai vanan kovai was written by Poyyamoli. Tamil literature reached its excellence due to the work of religious saints of this period.
The Unmai-vilakkam (Explanation of the Truth) of Manavasa gangadanadar of Tiruvadi is the simplest of manuals on the doctrine, true to the essence of the Agamas. Umapathi Sivacharya was the author of the remaining eight works of the fourteen Saiva Siddhantha sastras. It is a critique of other creeds dealing with the minute differences within the fold of Saivism.
Some of the great authors were Manavala Perumal, Vedanta Deshikar, Manavala Mamunigal. Tamil language flourished. Sanskrit was also patronized by the rulers.
Economic condition was improved during the reign of the Pandyas. The brisk trade during the time was described in the accounts of Marco Polo and Wassaf referring Kayalpatinam where goods were imported and exported.
Agriculture was given due importance by the Pandyas. The rivers namely Vaigai and the Tamiraparani fertiled the Pandyan country.
Many dry lands were brought into cultivation. Through land tenure the peasantswho had no land of their own cultivated crops. Devadana lands were belonged to temples. The land tax was major revenue of the country. The government provided irrigation facilities. The tanks and channels were dug for the promotion of agricultural products. The important tanks were;
Vasudeva Grand Canal
Sri Vallabha canal and
Prakrama Pandyan ground canal
A variyam known as Eri Variyam looked after the maintenance of the tanks
Cotton cloths of fine qualities were produced in Madurai. Kaikolas engaged in weaving. Oil crushing remained hereditary industry.
The salt was produced in the coastal areas. Pearl fishing was prominent in Korkai and Tuticorin . Paradavas engaged in fishing.
Crops like cotton and Sugar were useful for the production of cloths and sugar. Sugar was made out of Palmerah. Other than these there were other industries like pottery, carpentry and black smith.
Internal trade was flourishing in the country. Vaishyas, the trading community were keen in trade. Traders engaged in selling cloth, groceries, salt, oil crushing, and Pearls. There were retail and whole sale merchants.
Cotton dress, silk dress, pepper and spices and pearls were commercial goods. There was a chamber of commerce which protected trade and promoted trade.
The maritime activities flourished under the Pandyas. There had been trade contact with Countries like China, Arabia, Turkey, Persia and Europe. Arabian horses were imported into the country. A large sum was paid to Arabian traders for the purchase of horses. Kayalpatinam remained an important port in the country.
The Pandya ruler Kulasekara Pandyan sent an envoy under Jamaludin in 1280 with presents to Chinese ruler. Second time was also the Pandyan envoy went to China in 1282. Those presents included the precious pearls, thin clothes and ornaments. The Chinese ruler was so pleased by this and he also sent his envoy to the Pandyan country. Thus the Pandyas had good relation with China having cultural contacts as well as maritime activity.
Gold was the medium of exchange. Kalanju, Kanam were gold coins.
Pandyan coins were discovered in many places. Korkai was the minting place of Pandyas.
The Pandyas contributed very much to the religion through the patronage extended to religion and temple building (art and architecture).
The Saivism spread in the country to considerable extent. The Nayanmars the saints of Saivism did a tremendous service which helped not only for the growth of religion but also the Tamil literature. Besides the role of the mutts in spreading religion and education were remarkable.
Ninra seer Nedumaran, Kulachiraiyar and Mangayarkarasi were some of the important Nayanmars to be remembered. The saints undertook the spread of Saivism through the Saiva mutts. The mutts also served as the centre of education.
The Vaishnavism was spreading in the country as the result of the works of the Vaishnava saints. Various Vaishnava mutts were started during this period.
The head of the mutt was called Jeeyar. The important mutts were:
Ahobila Mutt and
These mutts not only did spread the Vaishnavism but also the Bhakti cult. There were Valangai and Idangai castes. They had separate temples. It is to be mentioned that Mathurakavi, Nammalwar, Periyalwar and Andal were born in the Pandya country.
The Jainism and the Buddhism
The Jainism and the Buddhism had already spread in the Tamil country. During the period of the Second Pandyan Empire, both the Jainism and the Buddhism lost their influence.
The Bhakti movement and the rulers like Koon Pandyan and descendents took stern measures against the Jainism and the Buddhism.
Islam and the Christianity were spread in the country. The untouchability and rigidity of caste system which prevailed during that time also turned some people to embrace the Islam and the Christianity.
Sundarapandya II, though endowed the greatest Saiva temple – Chidambaram and the greatest Vaishnava temple – Srirangam very liberally, yet he is said to have endowed liberally some Jaina Pallis.