The Pandya Dynasty

  • The Pandyan dynasty, also referred to as the Pandyas of Madurai, was an ancient Tamil dynasty of South India, and among the four great kingdoms of Tamilakam, the other three being the Pallavas, 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.
  • Existing since at least the 4th to 3rd centuries BCE, the dynasty passed through two periods of imperial dominance, the 6th to 10th centuries CE, and under the ‘Later Pandyas’ (13th to 14th centuries CE).
  • Under Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan I and Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I, the Pandyas ruled extensive territories including regions of present-day South India and northern Sri Lanka through vassal states subject to Madurai.
  • From the 6th century to the 9th century CE, the Chalukyas of Badami or Rashtrakutas of the Deccan, the Pallavas of Kanchi, and Pandyas of Madurai dominated the politics of south India.
  • The Pandyas often ruled or invaded the fertile estuary of Kaveri (the Chola country), the ancient Chera country (Kongu and central Kerala) and Venadu (southern Kerala), the Pallava country and Sri Lanka.
  • The Pandyas fell into decline with the rise of the Cholas of Thanjavur in the 9th century and were in constant conflict with the latter. The Pandyas allied themselves with the Sinhalese and the Cheras in giving resistance to the invaders Chola Empire until it found an opportunity for reviving its frontiers during the late 13th century.
  • The Pandyas entered their golden age under Maravarman I and Jatavarman Sundara Pandya I (13th century).
    • Some early efforts by Maravarman I to expand into the Chola country were effectively checked by the hun invaders of Hoysalas.
    • Jatavarman I (c. 1251) successfully expanded the kingdom into the Telugu country (as far north as Nellore), south Kerala, and conquered northern Sri Lanka.
    • The city of Kanchi became a secondary capital of the Pandyas.
    • The Hoysalas, in general, were confined to Mysore Plateau and even king Somesvara was killed in a battle with Pandyas.
  • Maravarman Kulasekhara I (1268) defeated an alliance of the Hunic Hoysalas and the invader Cholas (1279) and allied Sri Lanka.
    • The venerable Tooth Relic of the Buddha was carried away by the Pandyas. During this period, the rule of the kingdom was shared among several royals, one of them enjoying primacy over the rest.
  • An internal crisis in the Pandya kingdom coincided with the Khalji invasion of south India in 1310–11. The ensuing political crisis saw more sultanate raids and plunder, the loss of south Kerala (1312), and north Sri Lanka (1323) and the establishment of the Madurai sultanate (1334). The Pandyas of Ucchangi (9th–13th century), in the Tungabhadra Valley were related to the Pandyas of Madurai.
  • According to tradition, the legendary Sangams (“the Academies”) were held in Madurai under the patronage of the Pandyas, and some of the Pandyan rulers claimed to be poets themselves.
  • Pandya Nadu was home to a number of renowned temples, including the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.
  • The revival of the Pandya power by Kadungon (7th century CE) coincided with the prominence of the Shaivite nayanars and the Vaishnavite alvars. It is known that the Pandya rulers followed Vedism Shravanism is part of Vedic principles.
The Pandya dynasty at its greatest extent in 1290 CE under Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I.
The Pandya dynasty at its greatest extent in 1290 CE under Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I.

Origin & Sources

  • The early Pandya chieftains ruled their country (Pandya Nadu) from the ancient period, which included the inland city of Madurai and the southern port of Korkai.
  • The Pandyas are celebrated in the earliest available Tamil poetry (Sangam literature”).
    • Epic poem Silappatikaram mentions that the emblem of the Pandyas was that of a fish.
  • Graeco-Roman accounts (as early as 4th century BCE), the edicts of Maurya emperor Ashoka, coins with legends in Tamil-Brahmi script, and Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions suggest the continuity of the Pandya dynasty from the 3rd century BCE to the early centuries CE.
  • The Greek ambassador to Chandragupta Maurya, Megasthenes mentions Queens of Pandyas as ‘Pandaia’ and locates them in the south of India extending into ocean.
    • It consisted of 365 villages which met the needs of the royal palace each day of the year.
    • He described the queen as daughter of Heracles (by some author as Shiva or Krishna).
  • Madurai, capital of Pandyas is mentioned in Kautilya’s Arthashastra (4th century BCE) as ‘Mathura of the south’.
  • Pandyas are also mentioned in the inscriptions of Maurya emperor Asoka (3rd century BCE). In his inscriptions (2nd and 13th Major Rock Edict) Asoka refers to the peoples of south India – the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas and Satiyaputras.
  • The renowned Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang tells usthat the Pandyan princes were Pallava feudatories and that he travelled toKanchi in the middle of the seventh century CE.
  • The early historic Pandyas are celebrated in the earliest available Tamil poetry. The poems refers to about twelve Pandya rulers.
    • According to tradition, the legendary Sangams (“the Academies”) were held in Madurai under the patronage of the Pandyas.
    • Several Tamil literary works, such as Iraiyanar Agapporul, mention the legend of three separate Sangams and ascribe their patronage to the Pandyas

Pandyas: Polity and Administration

The King

  • The head of the Government was the king, a hereditary monarch, who ruled with unaided discretion.
  • The ascension to the throne was normally hereditary, sometimes through usurpation and occasionally based on unusual methods of choosing a king such as sending out the royal elephant to select a person of its choice by garlanding them.
  • The king could be crowned at any age and reigned as long as he chose to or lived. He was highly revered by his subjects and was even equated to God.
  • The king, in turn, had onerous duties towards his subjects and was held responsible for any misfortune that befell them.
  • The dynastic emblem of the Pandyas was the double carp, which was used for all official purposes of royal authentication.
  • Coins issued by the kings, seals on letters as well as exported and imported cargo stocked in the ware houses at ports bore this emblem.


  • The king’s court consisted of royal officers like the ministers, generals, commanders and accountants. His power was restricted by the Aimberunguzhu or the Five Great Assemblies.
    • They consisted of the representatives of the people, priests, physicians, astrologers and the ministers.
      • The council of representatives (Maasanam) safeguarded the rights and privileges of the people;
      • the priests (Paarpar) directed all religious ceremonies;
      • the physicians (Maruthar) attended to all matters affecting the health of the king and his subjects;
      • the astrologers (Nimithar) fixed auspicious times for public ceremonies and predicted important events;
      • the ministers (Amaichar) attended to the collection of revenue and expenditure and also the administration of justice.
  • There was another assembly of officials that served the king called the Enberaayam or the Eight Groups of Attendants.
    • While some scholars believe it consisted of attendants on the king’s person like the perfumers, dressing valets, etc., others believe it consisted of more important persons like the people of the capital city, the leaders of the elephant corps and of the cavalry.
  • The principal officers of State were the high priest, the chief astrologer, the ministers and the commanders of the army.
  • Kings and local chiefs created Brahmin settlements called Mangalam or Chaturvedimangalam with irrigation facilities. These settlements were given royal names and names of the deities
  • Royal officials were called by different names:
    • The prime minister was called Uttaramantri
    • The royal secretariat was known as Eluttu Mandapam
    • The titles of military commanders were Palli Velan, Parantakan Pallivelan, Maran Adittan and Tennavan Tamizhavel


  • 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.
  • The king divided his territory into a number of administrative units, each called a Koorram.
    • It was further divided into provinces called Mandalam, which in turn was divided into many sub-provinces called Nadus, with each Nadu consisting of many villages.
    • A locality inside a town or village was called Ur and each neighborhood inside an Ur was called a Cheri.
  • While the king ruled over his entire territory from the capital ( Madurai), he often placed one or more principalities (Koorram) under the near-sovereign government of some senior member of the royal family or a feudatary.
    • The Cilappatikaram mentions that while Nedunj Cheliyan I ruled from Madurai, his younger brother was placed in charge of the Korkai principality.
    • The villages that come under a principality, were each governed by the elders in the respective villages, almost autonomously.
    • This arrangement can be roughly equated to a central government (the king), under which operated a set of feudal governments (the principalities), which in turn oversaw the local governments (the villages).
  • The village was the most fundamental unit of administration under the Pandyas. The affairs of a village were the responsibility of its elders, who were not elected but were recognized and appointed based on their age and status in society.
    • There were two institutions for managing the affairs of a village – Ambalam and Manram, the only difference between the two being the locations from which they operated.
    • The Manram or Podiyil was a simple structure around the foot of a tree in the centre of the village, while the Ambalam or Avai was a small building on a slightly raised platform.
    • The functions of these institutions were judicial, administrative and financial – they looked after the police duties, hearing and settling disputes, justice, sanitation, communicating royal orders, land surveys, revenue assessment and maintenance of roads and irrigation facilities.
    • Only the transmission of locally collected taxes to the royal coffers was left to the king’s revenue officers.

Judicial System

  • Justice was administered free of charge, by special officers appointed as judges and magistrates, but the king was supreme and the final arbiter in all civil and criminal cases.
    • The monarchs prided themselves on the justness of their government.
    • The Cilapatikaram mentions a Pandyan king who died of remorse on realizing his guilt of injustice. The officers appointed as judges were expected to be learned, straightforward, experienced and aged.
    • Mortgage, lease, trust property, loans, breach of contract were some common sources of civil litigation, which had no time bar. Theft, adultery, forgery and treason were some types of criminal offences.
  • In the capital city, dispensation of justice was organized by the king in his own court, while in the villages, it was the elders that meted out justice.
    • The committees of justice in the village assemblies were the Nyayattars and they met under ceremonial trees to conduct the trial and pronounce judgements.
    • Trials were mostly characterized by elaborate judicial procedure, setting down of evidence and judgement.
    • However, there have been instances where the trial-by-ordeal system was practiced, in which the defendant was put through some form of torture and if he escaped unscathed, he was deemed innocent.
  • The punishments were very severe and hence crimes were rare: one caught in the act of burglary, adultery or spying was given the death penalty and one giving false testimony would have his tongue cut off.
    • Prisons were used to hold not only the guilty but also captives taken in war. Prisoners were chained and were watched over by warders.
    • It was common practice to release prisoners on festive occasions and in some cases, they were asked to go into sea for pearl-fishing.

Military and warfare

  • The king was the chief commander of the army and usually led his army in the battlefield.
  • The military was said to be fourfold : the infantry, the cavalry, the elephantry and the chariotry.
    • A wide variety of war weapons filled the military arsenal including shields, swords, spears, tridents, maces, bows and arrows.
    • A successful war could lead to annexation of territories or the submission of the enemy, who would then recognize the hegemony of the victor and start paying tributes.

Revenue and expenditure

  • The main sources of royal revenue were taxes, tributes, customs duties and tolls.
  • Taxes were called Karai or Irai, tributes called Tirai and customs tolls and duties were called Sungam.
    • Levy of taxes as well as expenditure was at the discretion of the king who decided the rate and incidence of taxes, as well as any remissions.
    • Land tax, paid in money or in kind, and income tax, equal to one-sixth of an individual’s income, were the major types of taxes collected.
    • Other sources of revenue include tributes paid by feudal subordinates, war booty presents by loyal and visiting subjects, treasure troves besides land revenue, cess and forced gifts.
    • Tolls were collected on the trunk-roads used by caravans and at the frontier of each kingdom.
    • Customs were levied at seaports where the imported goods landed.
      • The export of locally manufactured goods such as textiles, pearls etc. earned a lot of foreign exchange for the royal treasury.
      • The king took one-tenth of the total earnings from pearl-diving and sale of pearls as his royalty.
  • The items incurring expenditure for the king include the military, gifts to poets and temples, maintenance of educational and health services, building infrastructure such as roads and irrigation and the palace household expenses.
    • Tax remission also deprived the king of some revenue.
    • Expenses incurred in connection with the recruitment and maintenance of the army and waging of war were a considerable drain on the treasury.
    • The palace consisted of not only the members of the royal family but a vast crowd of merchants, officials and entertainers all of whom had to be compensated for their services – this was also a major item of expenditure.

Social and Political Aspects

  • 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
  • A scholar named Wassaff claims that the trade of horses was very common during this period
  • Other goods that were traded included spices, pearls, precious stones, elephants and birds
  • The busiest port town under the Pandyas was Kayalpattinam (now in Thoothukudi district)
  • Literacy was also promoted during this period and the administrators used various methods to do so. Singers were appointed to recite Bhakti hymns in temples to promote literacy, theatre plays were done based on similar issues.

Religious Beliefs

  • It is believed that initially the Pandavas followed Jainism but had later adopted Saivism.
  • Medieval Pandyas and later Pandyas repaired many temples and endowed them with gold and land
  • Patronage was also extended to Vedic practices.
  • The impartiality of rulers towards both Saivism and Vaishnavism is also made known in the invocatory portions of the Pandya inscriptions.
  • The early Pandyas had created many temples. However, no new temples were created by the medieval and later Pandyas, but they ensured that the existing ones were well maintained.
pandya dynasty map

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