Pandyan Kingdom

Pandyan Kingdom

The Pandyan kingdom ( _ta. பாண்டியர்) was an ancient Tamil state in South India of unknown antiquity. The Pandyas were one of the three ancient Tamil kingdoms (Chola and Chera being the other two) who ruled the Tamil country until end of the 15th century. They initially ruled from Korkai, a sea port on the southern most tip of the Indian peninsula, and in later times moved to Madurai.

The early Pandyan dynasty of the Sangam literature went into obscurity during 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. 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 Pandyas entered their golden age under Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (c. 1251) who expanded the empire into Telugu country and invaded and conquered the northern half of Sri Lanka. They also had extensive trade links with the Southeast Asian maritime empires of Srivijaya and their successors. During their history, the Pandyas were repeatedly in conflict with the Pallavas, Cholas, Hoysalas and finally the Muslim invaders from the Delhi Sultanate. The Pandyan Kingdom finally became extinct after the establishment of the Madurai Sultanate in the 16th century.

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 one of the finest pearls known in the ancient world. Tradition holds that the legendary Sangams were held in Madurai under their patronage, and that some of the Pandya kings were poets themselves.


The origin of the word “Pandya” has been a subject of much speculation. Some scholars believe that it descended from the “Pandavas” of Mahabharata, while others argue that the name could be derived from the word “Pandi” the original name of the Tamil country.Nilakanta Sastri, pp12–13]

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. Unfortunately, the exact genealogy of these kings have not been authoritatively established yet.


angam Literature

Various 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. Besides 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") give a glimpse into the society and commercial activities in the Pandyan kingdom during the Sangam age.

It is difficult to estimate the exact date 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 the 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 and poetesses patronized 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.


The earliest Pandya to be found in epigraph, is Nedunjeliyan figuring in the "Minakshipuram" record assigned from the second to the first 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). Asoka in his inscriptions refers to the peoples of south India as the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas and Satiyaputras as recipients of his Buddhist proselytism. [Kulke and Rothermund, p104] [Keay, p119] These kingdoms, although not part of the Mauryan Empire, were in friendly terms with Asoka:

:"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 (Sri Lanka)." [S. Dhammika, " [ The Edicts of King Asoka: An English Rendering] " ]

Kharavela, the Kalinga king who ruled during the second 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. [Keay, p119]

Foreign Sources

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.... " ["Periplus" 54. Original Greek: "Ἡ δὲ Νέλκυνδα σταδίους μὲν ἀπὸ Μουζιρέως ἀπέχει σχεδὸν πεντακοσίους, ὁμοίως διά τε ποταμοῦ (καὶ πεζῇ) καὶ διὰ θαλάσσης, βασιλείας δέ ἐστιν ἑτέρας, τῆς Πανδίονος· κεῖται δὲ καὶ αὐτὴ παρὰ ποταμὸν, ὡσεὶ ἀπὸ σταδίων ἑκατὸν εἴκοσι τῆς θαλάσσης."] 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..."Hill, John]

The Pandyan kingdom is also mentioned in Megasthenes's "Indika" as "the portion of India which lies southwards and extends to the Sea". [Keay, John, p119. Quote:"Megasthenes in around 300 BC knew of the Pandya kingdom; then, as subsequently, it occupied the portion of India which lies southwards and extends to the Sea."]

The Roman emperor Julian received an embassy from a Pandya about 361. A Roman trading centre was located on the Pandyan coast (Alagankulam - 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 first century, and with China by the 3rd century. The 1st century Greek historian Nicolaus of Damascus met, at Damascus, the ambassador sent by an Indian King "named Pandion or, according to others, Porus" to Caesar Augustus around 13 CE (Strabo XV.1-4, and Strabo XV.1-73). [ [ Strabo XV.1] ] [Keay, p121]

In 1288 and again in 1293 the Venetian traveler Marco Polo visited the Pandyan kingdom and left a vivid description of the land and its people. 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."


Although there are many instances of the Pandya kingdom being referred in ancient literature and texts, we currently have no way of determining a cogent genealogy of these ancient kings. In order to maintain verifiability of this article, the names of these early Pandya Kings have been omitted. We have a connected history of the Pandyas from the fall of Kalabhras during the middle of the 6th century.Even then,some evidences state that the Paravas(also called as Bharathas,related to Pandavas),a prominent sea faring community was on the throne of Pandyan Empire with a title 'Adiarasen'.

The following 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, OUP, New Delhi (Reprinted 1998).

Early Pandyas

The following is a partial list of Pandyan emperors who ruled during the Sangam age:Husaini, AQ, p 8-17] Sastri, KAN, pp 22-25] Purushottam, Vi.Pi, pp 42]

* Nedunj Cheliyan I ( Aariyap Padai Kadantha Nedunj Cheliyan )
* Pudappandiyan
* Mudukudumi Paruvaludhi
* Nedunj Cheliyan II ( Pasumpun Pandiyan)
* Nan Maran
* Nedunj Cheliyan III ( Talaiyaalanganathu Seruvendra Nedunj Cheliyan )
* Maran Valudi
* Musiri Mutriya Cheliyan
* Ukkirap Peruvaludi

First Empire

After the close of the Sangam age, the first Pandyan empire was established by Kadungon in the 6th century defeating the Kalabhras. The following is a chronological list of the Pandya emperors is based on an inscription found on the Vaigai riverbeds.

* Kadungon 560 - 590
* Maravarman Avani Culamani 590 - 620
* Cezhiyan Cendan 620 - 640
* Arikesari Maravarman Nindraseer Nedumaaran 640 - 674
* Kochadaiyan Ranadhiran 675 - 730
* Arikesari Parankusa Maravarman Rajasinga 730 - 765
* Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan 765 - 790
* Rasasingan II 790 - 800
* Varagunan I 800 - 830
* Sirmara Srivallabha 830 - 862
* Varaguna II 862 - 880
* Parantaka Viranarayana 862 - 905
* Rajasimha III 905 - 920 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 defeating the Muttarayar chieftains around 850, the Pandyas went into a period of decline. They were constantly harassing their Chola overlords occupying their territories. Parantaka Chola I invaded the Pandya territories and defeated Rajasinha III. However Pandyas reversed this defeat to gain back most of their lost territories.

Under the Cholas

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 IVPandyas were driven out of their territories and had to seek refuge in 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 following list gives the names of the Pandya kings who were active during the 10th and the first half of 11th century. It is difficult to give their date of accession and duration of their rule. Nevertheless their presence in the southern country require recognition.

* Sundara Pandya I
* Vira Pandya I
* Vira Pandya II
* Amarabhujanga Tivrakopa
* Jatavarman Sundara Chola Pandya
* Maravarman Vikrama Chola Pandya
* Maravarman Parakrama Chola Pandya
* Jatavarman Chola Pandya
* Srivallabha Manakulachala (1101 - 1124)
* Maaravaramban Seervallaban (1132 - 1161)
* Parakrama Pandiyan (1161 - 1162)
* Kulasekara Pandyan III
* Vira Pandyan III
* Jatavarman Srivallaban (1175 - 1180)
* Jatavarman Kulasekara Devan (1180 - 1216)

Pandya Revival

The 13th century is the greatest period in the history of the Pandyan Empire. 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 Pandya early in the 13th century.

* Maravarman Sundara Pandya (1216 - 1238)
* Sundaravaramban Kulasekaran II (1238 - 1240)
* Maaravaramban Sundara Pandiyan II (1241 - 1251)
* Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan (1251 - 1268)
* Maaravaramban Kulasekara Pandyan I (1268 - 1308)
* Sundara Pandyan IV (1309 - 1327)
* Vira Pandyan IV (1309 - 1345)

Zenith followed by the end of Pandyas

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 Maravaramban Sundara Pandyan and (probably his younger brother or son) the much celebrated Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan in 1251 and the Pandya power extended from the Telugu countries on banks of the Godavari river to the northern half of Sri Lanka. The revival of the Pandyan dynasty was to coincide with the gradual but steady decline of the Chola empire, with 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 Pandiyan empire from the times of Maravaramban Sundara Pandyan, the revival of the Kadava Pallavas at Kanchi under Kopperinchunga I and indeed the growing in 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. In fact the marital alliance of Kulothunga III and one of his successors Raja Raja III with the Hoysalas did not prove to be of 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, Cheranadu in addition to Madurai, Ilam and Kalinga. However, it ultimately proved that his strength was because of the 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, Seunas etc. The resurgent Pandiyans under Maravarman Sundara Pandiyan 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, Srirangam and Thanjavur victorious in war. But it appears that in the Tiruchy and Srirangam 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 it appears wanted to completely subjugate the Cholas. It appears while 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 Srirangam. This was because other feudatories of the Hoysalas were also growing in power and threatening the Hoysala kingdom itself. Besides, the Muslim invasion of the Deccan had started under Malik Kafur. The challenged Hoysalas did have foothold in and around Tiruchy and Srirangam for a few years and seemed to have indulged in some temple building activity at Srirangam also. But Jatavarman Sundara Pandiyan, who challenged Rajendra III in 1276-79, seems to have first concentrated on strengthening himself with the help of the Hoysalas. 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. This alliance of the Hoysalas and the Pandiyans seems to have antagonized Rajendra Chola III who veered away from the Hoysalas. For a while the Kadava Pallavas and the Cholas came together, despite an earlier Chola, Raja Raja III having been held in captivity by Kopperinchunga II and his release being secured by the Hoysalas.

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 and 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. Jatavarman did not stop here, he went inside Kannada country after conquering Tiruchy and occupied parts of Hoysala territory up to the Konkana coast and established his son Vira Pandiyan as ruler of those territories. Temporarily at least the Hoysalas were in disarray in Kannada country itself.

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. Unfortunately for Rajendra III, the Hoysalas had lost all pretensions of trying to pose as a major regional power in Kannada and Tamil countries as they had been wiped out of Tamizhagam and indeed lost territories inside Kannada country itself to Jatavarman Sundara Pandiyan. Initially, Jatavarman consodlidated the Pandiyan hold on Tiruchy and Srirangam 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 Srirangam had been lost to the Cholas for ever at least from 1254 AD. 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 more keen on preserving their own skin and did not prefer going to war and in the process, risk another defeat by the resurgent Pandiyans. Rajendra III was hopelessly isolated and 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 AD, the Pandiya empire was no more. (to continue)

On the death of Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan I in 1308, a conflict stemming from succession disputes arose amongst his sons. Sundara Pandya and Vira Pandya fought each other for the throne. Soon Madurai fell into the hands of the invading armies of the Delhi Sultanate who were making the most of corruption and anarchy in the subcontinent. Pandyas and their descendants were confined to a small region around Thirunelvelli and settled at Poonjar in Kerala. The [ Poonjar Royal Family] still exists in Kerala.

After Madurai fell into the hands of the invading armies of the Delhi Sultanate, the Pandyas sought the help of Vijayanagar Empire. The Vijayanagar Empire replaced the Delhi Sultanate in Madurai and appointed Telugu kamma Nayak governors to rule from Madurai who were the great warriors and removed Muslim presence completely from Tamil land.

Government and Society


Megasthenes reported about the pearl fisheries of the Pandyas, indicating that the Pandyas derived great wealth from the pearl trade. [Kulke and Rothermund, p99] [Kulke and Rothermund, p107]


Historical Madurai was a stronghold of Saivism. Following the invasion of Kalabhras, Jainism gained foothold in Pandyan kingdom. Jainism was something not new to the land of Pandyas as references to a jainist past(and buddhist) are found in ancient Tamil literature(see Civaka Cintamani) With the advent of Bhakti movements, Saivism and Vaishnavism resurfaced. Persecutions of Jains(Samanas) were held under the patronage of Pandyan Kings. The later day Pandyas after 600 AD were Hindus who claimed to descend from Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Pandyan Nedumchadayan was a staunch Vaishnavite. [Lloyd V. J. Ridgeon, "Major World Religions: From Their Origins to the Present" ]




* Carswell, John. 1991. "The Port of Mantai, Sri Lanka." "RAI", pp. 197-203.
* Hill, John E. 2004. "The Peoples of the West from the Weilüe" 魏略 "by Yu Huan" 魚豢": A Third Century Chinese Account Composed between 239 and 265 CE." Draft annotated English translation. []
* Ray, Himanshu Prabha, ed. 1996. "Tradition and Archaeology: Early Maritime Contacts in the Indian Ocean". Proceedings of the International Seminar Techno-Archaeological Perspectives of Seafaring in the Indian Ocean 4th cent. B.C. – 15th cent. A.D. New Delhi, February 28 – March 4, 1994. New Delhi, and Jean-François SALLES, Lyon. First published 1996. Reprinted 1998. Manohar Publishers & Distributors, New Delhi.
* Reddy, P. Krishna Mohan. 2001. "Maritime Trade of Early South India: New Archaeological Evidences from Motupalli, Andhra Pradesh." "East and West" Vol. 51 – Nos. 1-2 (June 2001), pp. 143-156.

External links

* [ Inscriptions of India -- Complete listing of historical inscriptions from Indian temples and monuments]

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