June 13

The Pandyan Dynasty - Pandyas of Madurai

The Pandya dynasty was one of the longest-ruling dynasties in Indian history. Initially, they ruled from Korkai and later shifted their capital to Madurai. With the rise of the Chola dynasty, they declined in the 9th century CE. However, they revived again during the 12th century CE.


The word Pandya has its origin in the Tamil word "Pandi" which means bull that is considered a sign of masculinity and valour

The word Pandya has its origin in the Tamil word "Pandi" which means bull that is considered a sign of masculinity and valour. However, in Sangam literature, Pandya means old country.

The three prominent dynasties i.e. the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas were collectively known as the mu-vendars or the three vendars. According to the Greek and Latin sources and Tamil Brahmi inscriptions the Pandyas date back from the 3rd century BCE to early centuries CE. The early Pandyas were displaced by the Kalbharas. Later under Kadungon the first Pandya Empire was established in the 6th century CE. After that, the kingdom grew in strength and territory. Afterwards, Vijayalaya Chola conquered Tanjore thus re-establishing the Chola dynasty which resulted in the downfall of the Pandyas. Parantaka Chola I invaded the territories of the Pandyas and defeated Rajasimha III. Chola army led by Aditya Karikala, son of Parantaka Chola II defeated Vira Pandya in a battle. Pandyas were driven out and they stayed on the island of Sri Lanka. The Pandyas were replaced by the Chola viceroys and assumed the title Chola Pandyas and ruled from Madurai.

In the 12th century CE, the Pandya Empire re-established its power under the rule of Jatavarman Sundara Pandya. The foundation was laid by Maravarman Sundara Pandya and the Empire extended from the Telugu region on the banks of the Godavari River to the northern half of Sri Lanka. With their revival, the Chola Empire declined swiftly.

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Pandya Kingdom (maximum extent): 12th-14th century CE

Source: By Venu62, CC BY-SA 3.0


The Sangam period Pandya history from the third century BCE to the third century CE has been reconstructed using various sources such as megalithic burials, inscriptions in Tamil Brahmi and Tamil poems from the Sangam literature. Apart from these, the accounts of travellers like Marco- Polo, Wassaff and Ibn-Batuta are useful for learning about the period’s political and socio-cultural developments. 

Another important source of information about the Pandyas is the copper plates which contain the essence of royal orders, a genealogical list of the kings and their victory over enemies.

Poems like Madurai Thala Varalaru, Pandik Kovai and Madurai Tiruvannamalai provide information about the later Pandyas. Nedunjeliyan figure was the earliest Pandya epigraphy in the record of Meenakshipuram. Ashoka's pillar also described the Pandyas and also in his inscriptions mentioned the South Indian people as Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas as proselytism of Buddhism recipients.


Except for the areas fed by rivers, the territory of the Pandyas was known as Pandyamandalam, Thenmandalam or Pandinadu and it was located in rocky, hilly regions and mountain ranges. The capital of the Pandya kings was Madurai.

Pandymandalam or Pandynadu was divided into many valanadus, which were further subdivided into many nadus and kurrams meaning a group of villages. Kings and local chiefs established Brahmin settlements with irrigation facilities known as Mangalam or Chaturvedi Mangalam.

The royal officials were given different titles. The Prime Minister was known as Uttaramantri while the royal secretariat was Eluttu Mandapam. Palli Velan, Parantakan Pallivelan, Maran Adittan and Tennavan Tamizhavel were the titles of military commanders.

The royal palaces were called Tirumaligai and Manaparanan Tirumaligai. The land was politically divided in the following way-

Salabogam was the land allotted to Brahmins. Tattarkani was the name given to the land assigned to iron smiths. Taccu-maniyam was the name given to the carpenter’s land. Bhattavriutti was the name given to the land donated to the Brahmin group for educational purposes.


The Pandyan kingdom’s pearls were in high demand in the kingdoms of north India

The ancient Tamil country, present-day Southern India and Sri Lanka was frequented by Roman and Greek traders. According to Strabo, emperor Augustus of Rome received an ambassador from a south Indian king Pandyan at Antioch. According to Wassaff, horse trading was very common during this period. Spices, pearls, precious stones, elephants and birds were among the items traded. Pearl fishing was a thriving industry during this time and the pearl trade was centered in the Pandyan port city of Korkai. The Pandyan kingdom’s pearls were in high demand in the kingdoms of north India and several Vedic mantras mention the widespread use of pearls.

Kayalpattinam was the busiest port town of the Pandyas.


The early Tamil coins feature the three crowned kings- a tiger, a fish and a bow which represented the Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras. The Pandya coins bear the legend of various Pandya rulers at various times. During the early period, the Pandyas issued silver punch-marked coins and die-stricken copper coins. The coins were essentially square. On one side an elephant was engraved while the other side was left blank. The inscriptions on silver and gold coins were in Tamil- Brahmi while the copper coins contained Tamil legends. The Pandya coins with fish symbols were known as Kodandaraman and Kanchi Valangum Perumal. Apart from these the word Ellam Thalaiyangam was seen on coins depicting a standing king on one side and a fish on the other.


The Pandya dynasty initiated a religious era in Tamil Nadu. In Madurai, Shaivism was practised during the Pandya rule. Jainism and Buddhism also formed the basis of religion in the Pandya dynasty. Jainism flourished in the Pandyan kingdom following the invasion of Kalbharas. The references to the existence of both these religions are found in the ancient Tamil literature. During the rule of the later Pandyas, there was an increase in the number of Hindu worshippers who claimed themselves to be descendants of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.


Rock cut and structural temples are part of the art and architecture of the Pandya dynasty. The early rock-cut temples have monolithic vimanas. During the Pandya dynasty's rule, several structural stone temples were built which had all the features of bigger temples like vimana, mandapa and shikhara. In the latter period of the Pandya rule, the development of elegant vimanas with finely sculptured idols and the gopurams or portals of the temples originated. The Meenakshi temple in Madurai and Nellaippar temple in Tirunelveli were built during the reign of the Pandyas. The other significant temples of this period include the Jambukeshwar Temple at Tiruchirapalli and the Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram.


The well-known rulers of the Pandya dynasty were-


The foundation of the rule of later Pandyas was laid by Jatavarman Kulashekhara in 1190 CE. Later under Maravarman Sundara Pandya I, the Chola rulers were subjugated.


He ascended the throne in 1251 CE and was a powerful king of this dynasty. He defeated the Cholas and brought Kanchi under his control. Other kingdoms to be defeated by him were the Kakatiyas and the Pallavas.


He fought many wars and conquered Travancore and Ceylon. The terrible war of succession was fought between his two sons and he was killed in this war.


The death of Maravarman Kulasekhara I led to the war of succession between his sons- Vira Pandya II and Sundara Pandya III for the control of the empire. The Pandyan civil war coincided with the Khalji raids in South India. Taking advantage of the political turmoil, the neighbouring Hoysala king Ballala III invaded the Pandya territory. However, Malik Kafur invaded the Hoysala kingdom and later turned his attention towards the Pandyan kingdom. Several areas in the Pandyan kingdom were raided by his troops, civilians were massacred and temples were destroyed. Both the Pandya brothers fled their headquarters and Kafur pursued them but without any success. Later he marched back to Delhi and took with him a large amount of booty including several elephants, precious stones and treasure. This dealt a severe blow to the Pandya kingdom. Later the brothers resumed their conflict after his departure. Jatavarman Sundara Pandya was defeated and asked for help from Alauddin Khalji and with his help, he was able to regain control of the South Arcot region. The later Pandya kings ruled from Tenkasi which was their final capital. With the invasions of Sulatanates, Vijayanagaras and Nayakaras beginning in the 14th century lost their control over several important cities. The last Pandyan king known in history was Kolakonda.

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