Pandyan dynasty
Pāṇṭiya Pēraracu
400 B.C.E.–1618
Flag of Pandya Nadu
A close depiction of Tenkasi Pandiya flag as per archaeological findings and historians illustration.[1]
  Greatest extent of the Pandya Empire, 13th Century
Official languagesTamil
• Around 270 BCE
Nedunjeliyan I (first documented)
• 560–590 CE
Kadungon (Pandya revival)
• 1613–1618 CE
Historical eraMedieval era
• Established
400 B.C.E.
• Disestablished
Succeeded by
Tenkasi Pandyas
Madurai Nayak dynasty
Vijayanagara Empire
Delhi Sultanate
Jaffna kingdom
Today part ofIndia
Sri Lanka

The Pandyan dynasty, (Tamil: [paːɳɖijɐr]) 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.[8] 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.[9][10]

The rulers of the three Tamil dynasties were referred to as the "three crowned rulers (the mu-ventar) of the Tamil country".[8][11] The origin and the timeline of the Pandya dynasty are difficult to establish.[10] 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.[12][13] The Pandyas are celebrated in the earliest available Tamil poetry (Sangam literature").[10] Graeco-Roman accounts (as early as 4th century BCE[10]), 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.[14][15][12] The early historic Pandyas faded into obscurity upon the rise of the Kalabhra dynasty in south India.[16]

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.[17] 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 against the Chola Empire until it found an opportunity to revive its frontiers during the late 13th century.[18]

The Pandyas entered their golden age under Maravarman I and Jatavarman Sundara Pandya I (13th century).[9][10] Some early efforts by Maravarman I to expand into the Chola country were effectively checked by the Hoysalas.[19] Jatavarman I (c. 1251) successfully expanded the kingdom into the Telugu country (as far north as Nellore), south Kerala, and conquered northern Sri Lanka.[9][10] The city of Kanchi became a secondary capital of the Pandyas.The Hoysalas, in general, were confined to the Mysore Plateau and even king Somesvara was killed in a battle with Pandyas.[20] Maravarman Kulasekhara I (1268) defeated an alliance of the Hoysalas and the Cholas (1279) and invaded 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.[20] An internal crisis in the Pandya kingdom coincided with the Khalji invasion of south India in 1310–11.[10] 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[3]).[21][22] The Pandyas of Ucchangi (9th–13th century), in the Tungabhadra Valley were related to the Pandyas of Madurai.[10]

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 several renowned temples, including the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. The revival of the Pandya power by Kadungon (late 6th century CE) coincided with the prominence of the Shaivite nayanars and the Vaishnavite alvars.[23] It is known that the Pandya rulers followed Jainism for a short period of time in history.[10][24]

Etymology and origin legends

The etymology of Pandya is still a matter of considerable speculation among scholars. One theory is that the word pandya is derived from the ancient Tamil word "pandu" meaning "old".[25] The theory suggests that in early historic Tamil lexicon the word pandya means old country in contrast with Chola meaning new country, Chera meaning hill country and Pallava meaning branch in Sanskrit.[26] Another theory is that the word Pandya is derived from the Sanskrit word Pandu to mean white or pale, in reference to king Pandu and the Pandavas.[27] Apart from these derivations mentioned, several other theories do appear in historical studies.[28]

According to the ancient Tamil legends, the three brothers Cheran, Cholan and Pandyan ruled in common at the southern city of Korkai. While Pandya remained at home, his two brothers Cheran and Cholan after a separation founded their own kingdoms in north and west.[29] Epic poem Silappatikaram mentions that the emblem of the Pandyas was that of a fish.[30] Indian traditions such as the Great Epics and the Puranas often associate southern India with Sage Agastya (who had his ashrama in the south). Agastya appears prominently in medieval Tamil literature also.[31]

Folklores attributes Alli Rani (meaning "the queen Alli") as one of the early historic rulers of the Pandyas. She is attributed as an "amazonian queen" whose servants were men and administrative officials and army were women.[32] She is thought of ruling the whole western and northern coast of Sri Lanka from her capital Kudiramalai, where remains of what is thought of as her fort are found.[33] She is sometimes seen as an incarnation of the Pandya associated gods, Meenakshi and Kannagi.[34]


The medieval Pandya kings were claimed to have belonged to the Chandra-vamsa or the Lunar Race.[35] They claimed Pururavas and Nahusha as ancestors.[36] Pururavas is listed as one of the ancestors in the Velvikudi Inscription of Nedunjadaiyan Varaguna-varman I (Jatila Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan).[37]

Sources of Pandya history

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).[38] Madurai, capital of Pandyas is mentioned in Kautilya's Arthashastra (4th century BCE) as 'Mathura of the south'.[39]

Archaeological sources

Mangulam inscription (3rd and 2nd centuries BCE)

Pandyas are also mentioned in the inscriptions of Maurya emperor Asoka (3rd century BCE). In his inscriptions (2nd and 13th Major Rock Edict[40]) Asoka refers to the peoples of south India – the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas and Satiyaputras.[41][42] These polities, although not part of the Maurya empire, were on 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 river.[43]

The earliest Pandya to be found in epigraph is Nedunjeliyan, figuring in the Tamil-Brahmi Mangulam inscription (near Madurai) assigned to 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE.[44] The record documents a gift of rock-cut beds, to a Jain ascetic. It is assumed that the people found in the Mangulam inscription, Nedunjeliyan, Kadalan, and Izhanchadikan predates rulers such as Talaiyanganam Nedunjelyan and Palyaga-salai Mudukudimi Peruvaludi.[45][40]

Kharavela, the Kalinga king who ruled during c. 1st century BCE, in his Hathigumpha inscription, claims to have destroyed an old confederacy of Tamil countries ("the tamira–desa–sanghata") which had lasted 132 years, and to have acquired a large number of pearls from the Pandyas.[42]

Silver punch-marked coins with the fish symbol of the Pandyas dating from around the same time have also been found.[46]

Early Tamil literature

The early historic Pandyas are celebrated in the earliest available Tamil poetry.[10] The poems refers to about twelve Pandya rulers.[14] 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.[47]

Srivilliputhur Andal temple built by Pandyas Primarily, is the official Emblem of Tamil Nadu.[48]

Pandya rulers from early historic south India[49][14]

Pandya rulers – such as Nedunjeliyan, the Victor of Talaiyalanganam, and Mudukudimi Peruvaludi, the Patron of Several Sacrificial Halls ("the Palyaga-salai") – find mention in several poems (such as Mathuraikkanci).[45][50]

Besides several short poems found in the Akananuru and the Purananuru collections, there are two major works – Mathuraikkanci and Netunalvatai – which give a glimpse into the society and commercial activities in the Pandya country during the early historic period.[51][52] The Purananuru and Agananuru collections contain poems sung in praise of various Pandya rulers and also poems that were claimed to be composed by the rulers themselves.[53]

Besides the poems, king Peruvaludi is also mentioned in later copper-plate grant (8th–9th century CE).[50] In the work Mathuraikkanci, the author Mankudi Maruthanar, refers to his patron, Talaihalanganum Nedunjeliyan, as the Lord of Korkai and the Warlord of the Southern Parathavar People.[50] It contains a full-length description of Madurai and the Pandya country under the rule of Nedunjeliyan. In the famous battle of Talaiyalanganam (in east Tanjore), the Pandya is said to have defeated his enemies (which included the Chera and the Chola).[50] He is also praised for his victory of Mizhalai and Mutturu, two "vel" centres along the ocean (in Pudukkottai).[50] The Netunalvatai (in the collection of Pattupattu) by Nakkirar contains a description of king Nedunjeliyan's palace.[53]

Foreign sources

The Buddhist text Mahavamsa (composed in the 5th century CE) mentions a Pandya king in the context of Prince Vijaya's (543–505 BCE) arrival in Sri Lanka with his 700 followers.

Greek and Latin sources (early centuries CE) refer to the ancient Tamil country, same as the Tamilakam, as "Lymyrike" or "Damirice" (or Dymirice/Dimirixe or Damirice) and its ruling families.[14]

...Nelcynda is distant from Muziris by river and sea about five hundred stadia, and is of another kingdom, the Pandian. This place [Nelcynda] also is situated on a river, about one hundred and twenty stadia from the [Arabian] sea.... [59]

...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...

Scholar John E. Hill identified Panyue as the Pandya kingdom.[64] However, others have identified it with an ancient state located in modern Burma[65] or Assam.[66]

The darkest man is here the most highly esteemed and[70] 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.[71]


Early historic Pandyas

Main article: Early Pandyan Kingdom

Vaigai River in Madurai

Mauryan emperor Asoka (3rd century BCE) seems to have been on friendly terms with the people of south India and Sri Lanka (the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiya Putras, the Kerala Putras and the Tamraparnis). There are no indications that Asoka tried to conquer the extreme south India (the Tamilakam – the Abode of the Tamils).[72]

The three chiefly lines of early historic south India – the Cheras, Pandyas and Cholas – were known as the mu-vendar ("the three vendars"). They traditionally based at their original headquarters in the interior Tamil Nadu (Karur, Madurai and Uraiyur respectively).[13] The powerful chiefdoms of the three ventar dominated the political and economic life of early historic south India.[73] The frequent conflicts between the Chera, the Chola and the Pandya are well documented in ancient (the Sangam) Tamil poetry.[74] The Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas also controlled the ports of Muziris (Muchiri), Korkai and Kaveri respectively (for the trade with the Graeco-Roman world).[13] The gradual shift from chiefdoms to kingdoms seems to have occurred in the following period.[73]

Pandya coin with temple between hills and elephant (Sri Lanka ca. 1st century CE) (British Museum)

The famous inscription of king Kharavela at Hathigumpha (mid-first century BCE[13]) mentions the defeat of a confederacy of the "Tramira" countries which had been a threat to Kalinga. It also remembers the precious pearls brought to the capital as booty from the "Pandya" realm.[75] The Pandya chiefdom was famous for its pearl fisheries and silk industry.[13] Korkai and Alagankulam are believed to have been the exchange centres of the Pandyas. Korkai, a port at the mouth of the river Tambraparni, was linked to the famous pearl fisheries and Alagankulam was also developed as a port.[76]

Several coins attributed to early historic Pandyas are found were Severalin the region.[74] Inscriptions, datable to c. 2nd century BCE, recording royal grants – both from royals and wealthy commoners – were also discovered from the Pandya country.[77]

The Pandya seems to be the most prominent of the three "ventar" rulers. There are even references to a Pandya queen from 3rd century BCE representing a confederacy of the Tamil countries.[13] Madurai, in south Tamil Nadu, was the most important cultural centre in south India as the core of the Tamil speakers.[77] Megalithic relics such as menhirs, dolmens, urn burials, stone circles and rock-cut chambers/passages can be found in south India. Burial goods include iron objects, ivory ornaments, Black-and-Red Ware and even some Roman Imperial coins.[78] The so-called "velir" hill chieftains are assumed to be associated with these megalithic burials.[73]

Greek and Latin accounts (early centuries CE), coins with legends in Tamil-Brahmi script, and Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions suggest the continuity of the Pandya dynasty from the 3rd century BCE to early centuries CE.[14] The early Pandyas, along with the Cheras and the Cholas, were eventually displaced by the Kalabhra dynasty.[16]

Medieval Pandyas

Pandya revival (7th–10th centuries CE)

Vettuvan Koil, Kalugumalai, Tuticorin. Pandya kingdom, 8th century CE
Enthroned god Vishnu, Pandya dynasty, second half of the 8th–early 9th century CE (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City)
Manikkavachakar, Shaiva poet-saint and minister of Pandya king Varaguna II (dated to early 12th century) Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Pandya kingdom was revived by king Kadungon (r. 590–620 CE[17]) towards the end of the 6th-century CE.[10][79] In the Velvikudi inscription, a later copper-plate, Kadungon appears as the "destroyer" of the "anti-Brahmanical" Kalabhra kings.[17] With the decline of the Kalabhra dynasty, the Pandyas grew steadily in power and territory. With the Cholas in obscurity in Uraiyur, the Tamil country was divided between the Pallavas of Kanchi and the Pandyas of Madurai.

From the 6th century to the 9th century CE, the Chalukyas of Badami, the Pallavas of Kanchi, and the Pandyas of Madurai dominated the politics of south India. The Badami Chalukyas were eventually replaced by the Rashtrakutas in the Deccan.[80] The Pandyas took on the growing Pallava ambitions in south India, and from time to time they also joined in alliances with the kingdoms of the Deccan Plateau (such as with the Gangas of Talakad in late 8th century CE).[77] In the middle of the 9th century, the Pandyas had managed to advance as far as Kumbakonam (north-east of Tanjore on the Kollidam river).[77]

Sendan (r. 654–70 CE), the third king of the Pandyas of Madurai, is known for expanding his kingdom to the Chera country (western Tamil Nadu and central Kerala). Arikesari Maravarman (r. 670–700 CE), the fourth Pandya ruler, is known for his battles against the Pallavas of Kanchi. Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (r. 630–668 CE), the famous conqueror of Badami, claimed to have defeated the Pandyas. Chalukya King Paramesvaravarman I "Vikramaditya" (r. 670–700 CE) is known to have fought battles with the Pallavas, the Gangas, and probably with the Pandyas too, on the Kaveri basin.[17]

Kirtivarman II (r. 744/5–55 CE), the last Chalukya king, managed to lose to his southern countries as a result of his battles with the Pandyas. Pandya kings Maravarman Rajasimha I (r. 730–65 CE) and Nedunjadaiyan/Varagunavarman I (r. 765–815 CE) threatened Pallava king Nandivarman II Pallavamalla (r. 731–96 CE) who had managed to defeat the Gangas in c. 760 CE. Varagunavarman I invaded the Pallava country and conquered the Kongu country (western Tamil Nadu) and Venadu (south Kerala). King Srimara Srivallabha (r. 815–62 CE) sailed to Sri Lanka, subjugated and overpowered King Sena I, and sacked his capital Anuradhapura (the Panya invasion of Sri Lanka followed a period of vassalage).[17] However, Srimara Srivallabha was soon overpowered by Pallava king Nripatunga (r. 859–99 CE). Sena II, the king of Sri Lanka, invaded the Pandya country, sacked Madurai and chose Varagunavarman II (r. c. 862–880 CE[81]) as the new king soon after.[17] It is proposed that the start of the Kollam Era, the Kerala calendar, in 825 CE marked the liberation of Venadu from Pandya control.[82]

During the rule of Dantivarman (r. 796–847 CE), the Pallava territory was reduced by the encroachment from the Pandyas from the south (and Rashtrakutas and the Telugu-Cholas from nand orth). Pallava king Nandivarman III (r. 846–69 CE) was able to defeat the Pandyas and Telugu-Cholas (and even the Rashtrakutas) with the help of the Gangas and the emerging Cholas.[17]

Pandya kings (6th–10th century CE)
Pandya ruler Reign Ref.
Kadungon c. 590–620 CE [17][81]
Maravarman Avanisulamani c. 620–645 CE [81]
Cheliyan Sendan (Chendan) c. 654–670 CE [17][81]
Arikesari Maravarman (Parankusan) c. 670–700 CE [17][81]
Ko Chadaiyan Ranadhira c. 700–730 CE [81]
Maravarman Rajasimha I c. 730–765 CE [17][81]
Jatila Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan

(Varaguna-varman I)

c. 765–815 CE [17][81]
Maravarman Srimara Srivallabha c. 815–862 CE [17]
Varaguna-varman II c. 862–880 CE [81]
Parantaka Viranarayana c. 880–900/905 CE [81]
Maravarman Rajasimha II c. 900–920 CE [81]
Kalugumalai Jain beds, Pandya kingdom, king Jatila Parantaka Nedunjadaiyan (8th century CE)

Under Chola influence (10th–13th centuries)

See also: Pandyan Civil War (1169-1177)

Pandya country in the Chola Empire (12th century)

While the Pandyas and the Rashtrakutas were busy engaging the Pallavas, with the Gangas and the Simhalas (Sri Lanka) also in the mix, the Cholas emerged from the Kaveri delta and took on the chieftains of Thanjavur[83] (the Mutharaiyar chieftain had transferred their loyalty from the Pallava to the Pandya[84]). The Chola king Vijayalaya conquered Thanjavur by defeating the Mutharaiyar chieftain around c. 850 CE.[84] The Pandya control north of the Kaveri river was severely weakened by this move (and straightened the position of the Pallava ruler Nripatunga).[84] Pandya ruler Varaguna-varman II (r. c. 862–880 CE[81]) responded by marching into the Chola country and facing a formidable alliance of Pallava prince Aparajita, the Chola king Aditya I and the Ganga king Prithvipati I. The Pandya king suffered a crushing defeat (c. 880 CE) in a battle fought near Kumbakonam.[84]

By c. 897 CE, Chola king Aditya I was the master of the old Pallava, Ganga and Kongu countries. It is a possibility that Aditya I conquered the Kongu country from the Pandya king Parantaka Viranarayana (r. 880–900 CE).[84] Parantaka I, successor to Aditya, invaded the Pandya territories in 910 CE and captured Madurai from king Maravarman Rajasimha II (hence the title "Madurai Konda").[84] Rajasimha II received help from the Sri Lankan king Kassapa V, still got defeated by Parantaka I in the battle of Vellur, and fled to Sri Lanka. Rajasimha then found refuge in the Chera country, leaving even his royal insignia in Sri Lanka, the home of his mother.[84][85]

The Cholas were defeated by a Rashtrakuta-lead confederacy in the battle of Takkolam in 949 CE.[18] By mid-950s, the Chola kingdom had shrunk to the size of a small principality (its vassals in the extreme south had proclaimed their independence).[18] It is a possibility that Pandya ruler Vira Pandya defeated Chola king Gandaraditya and claimed independence.[18] Chola ruler Sundara Parantaka II (r. 957–73) responded by defeating Vira Pandya I in two battles (and Chola prince Aditya II killed Vira Pandya on the second occasion). The Pandyas were assisted by the Sri Lanka forces of King Mahinda IV.[18]

Chola emperor Rajaraja I (r. 985–1014 CE) is known to have attacked the Pandyas.[77] He fought against an alliance of the Pandya, Chera and Sri Lankan kings, and defeated the Cheras and "deprived" the Pandyas of their ancient capital Madurai.[86] Emperor Rajendra I continued to occupy the Pandya kingdom, and even appointed a series of Chola viceroys with the title "Chola Pandya" to rule from Madurai (over Pandya and Western Chera/Kerala countries). The very beginning of Chola emperor Kulottunga's rule (r. from 1070 CE) was marked by the loss of Sri Lanka and a rebellion in the Pandya country.[86]

The second half of the 12th century witnessed a major internal crisis in the Pandya country (between princes Parakrama Pandya and Kulasekhara Pandya). The neighbouring kingdoms of Sri Lanka, under Parakramabahu I, Venadu Chera/Kerala, under the Kulasekharas,[86] and the Cholas, under Rajadhiraja II and Kulottunga III, joined in and took sides with any of the two princes or their kins.[87][86]

Pandya kings (10th century–first half of 11th century CE):

Imperial Pandyas (13th–14th centuries)

The Pandya empire included extensive territories, at times including large portions of south India and Sri Lanka. The rule of the empire was shared among several royals, one of them enjoying primacy over the rest. The Pandya king at Madurai thus controlled these vast regions through the collateral family branches subject to Madurai.[10][89]

aerial image of a temple campus
An aerial view of Madurai city from Meenakshi Temple
Pandya kings (13th–14th centuries CE)
Pandya ruler Reign
Maravarman Sundara I 1216–1238 CE
Sundaravarman Kulasekara II 1238–1240 CE
Maravarman Sundara II 1238–1251 CE
Jatavarman Sundara I 1251–1268 CE
Maravarman Kulasekara I 1268–1310 CE
Sundara Pandya IV 1309–1327 CE
Vira Pandya IV 1309–1345 CE

Maravarman Sundara I

The foundation for the Pandya supremacy in south India was laid by Maravarman Sundara I early in the 13th century.[90] He succeeded his older brother Jatavarman Kulasekhara in 1216.[91] He invaded the Chola country, sacked Uraiyur and Thanjavur, and drove the Chola king Kulothunga III into exile.[91][92] The Chola king subsequently made a formal submission to Maravarman Sundara I and acknowledged his overlordship.[91] Attempts by the next Chola king Rajaraja III (1216 – 46 CE[9]) for self-rule (to stop the Pandya invasion into the Chola country[9]), with the help of the Hoysalas king Narasimha II (r. 1220 – 1238 CE), resulted in a battle between the Pandya and Hoysala forces at Mahendramangalam on the Kaveri Valley. Maravarman Sundara I was defeated and Rajaraja III was restored in the Chola country.[91] Sometime later Chola prince Rajendra III attacked the Pandyas and defeated two Pandya royals including Maravarman Sundara II.[91] Hoysala king Somesvara (r. 1233 – 1267 CE[9]) then came to the aid of the Pandyas, defeated Rajendra III and then made peace with the Cholas.[91][92]

Jatavarman Sundara I

Jatavarman Vira II's fish insignia at Koneswaram temple in Trincomalee (Eastern Province)[93]

Jatavarman Sundara I ascended the Pandya throne in 1251 CE.[9] He led his army to the Chola country (even as far as Nellore), to Sri Lanka and to south Kerala.[9] He was also successful in confining the Hoysala control to the Mysore Plateau (the ancient Chola country was now overrun by the Pandyas[9]).[91] Kanchi functioned as the second major city in the kingdom.[91] In his conquests, Jatavarman Sundara I assisted joined number of Pandya royals such as Jatavarman Vira Pandya.[91]

Jatavarman Sundara I subdued Rajendra II around 1258–1260 CE and made him pay tribute.[92] The rule of the Cholas ended c. 1279 with Rajendra III.[9] The Pandya attacked the Hoysalas in the Kaveri and captured the fort of Kannanur Koppam.[91] Hoysala king Somesvara was forced to fall back into the Mysore Plateau.[91] The Hoysala king, pressed by enemies from north and south, "assigned" the southern half of his kingdom to his younger son Ramanatha (r. 1254–1292[9]). Somesvara was eventually killed by the Pandya in 1262 CE.[91] Ramanatha managed to recover Kannanur and hold against the Pandya power.[89][94][95] Jatavarman Sundara I also came into conflict with the Kadava ruler Kopperunjinga II.[96][91] It seems that Bana (Magadai) and Kongu countries came under the Pandya rule during the wars against the Hoysalas and the Kadavas.[91] Jatavarman Sundara I also fought the Kakatiya ruler Ganapati (1199–1262[9]).[89] Sri Lanka was invaded by Jatavarman Sundara I in 1258[97] and on his behalf by his younger brother Jatavarman Vira II between 1262 and 1264 CE.[98] The island was again invaded and defeated by Jatavarman Vira II in 1270 CE.[99]

Maravarman Kulasekara I

Sundara Pandya I (died in 1268) was succeeded by Maravarman Kulasekara I.[89] Around 1279 the combined force of Hoysala king Ramanatha and Rajendra III was defeated by Maravarman Kulasekara I.[89] Maravarman Kulasekara I, now virtually unchallenged, ruled over the Chola country and southern Tamil speaking portions of Hoysala kingdom. He also invaded Sri Lanka, ruled by Bhuvanaikabahu I, who "carried away to the Pandya country the venerable Tooth Relic", and the wealth of the island.[89] Sri Lanka remained under Pandya control until c. 1308–1309 CE.[89]

Decline of Pandyas

After the death of Maravarman Kulasekhara I (1310), his sons Vira Pandya IV and Sundara Pandya IV fought a war of succession for control of the empire. It seems that Maravarman Kulasekhara wanted Vira Pandya to succeed him (who in turn was defeated by Sundara Pandya after a short period).[100] Unfortunately, the Pandya civil war coincided with the Khalji raids in south India.[101] Taking advantage of the political situation, the neighbouring Hoysala king Ballala III invaded the Pandya territory. However, Ballala had to retreat to his capital, when Alauddin Khalji's general Malik Kafur invaded his kingdom at the same time.[102] After subjugating Ballala III, the Khalji forces marched to the Pandya territory in March 1311.[103] The Pandya brothers fled their headquarters, and the Khaljis pursued them unsuccessfully.[104][105] By late April 1311, the Khaljis gave up their plans to pursue the Pandya princes, and returned to Delhi with the plunder.[106][107] By 1312 the Pandya control over south Kerala was also lost.[10][108]

After the departure of the Khaljis, Vira and Sundara Pandya resumed their conflict. Sundara Pandya was defeated and sought help from the Khaljis. With their help, he regained control of the South Arcot region by 1314.[107] Subsequently, there were two more expeditions from the sultanate in 1314 led by Khusro Khan and in 1323 by Jauna Khan under the Punjab-born sultan Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq.[107]

The family quarrels and the sultanate invasions shattered the Pandya empire beyond revival[10] and coinage discoveries made imply that the Pandyas were left with the old South Arcot region.[109] In 1323, the Jaffna kingdom declared its independence from the crumbling Pandya influence.[21][22]

Tenkasi Pandyas (14th–16th centuries)

The Pandya kings from Sadaavarman Parakrama Pandya to his successors who ruled with Tenkasi as their capital.[110] With the invasion of the Sultanates, Vijayanagaras, and Nayakars from the fourteenth century onwards, the Pandyas lost their traditional capital of Madurai and shifted to cities like Tenkasi and Tirunelveli.[3] Tenkasi was the last capital of the Pandyas.[111] All the Pandyas from Sadaavarman Parakrama Pandya and his next generations were crowned in the Adheenam Mutt[112] in Kasi Viswanathar temple.[113] During the same period, some Pandyas ruled with Tirunelveli as their capital. Kayatharu, Vadakkuvalliyur, and Ukkirankottai are some of their major cities. Inscriptions on them are found in Tenkasi's Kasi Viswanathar temple, Brahmadesam, Tirunelveli, Cheranmadevi, Ambasamudram, Kalakkad and Pudukkottai. The last Pandyan king to be known in the history of the Pandyas was Kolakonda, who was also among the Tenkasi Pandyas.

Although the Vijayanagara Empire and the Nayaks ruled Madurai after the 14th century, they were occasionally opposed by the Pandyas. Sometimes they have ruled Madurai. Prominent among them were Saadavarman Vikrama Pandya (1401–1422 AD) and his son, Arikesari Parakrama Pandya.[114] They had built 32 forts around Madurai. Later, when Vishwanatha Nayakkar became the Madurai Mandalasuvaran, he feared Pandya's resurgence in Madurai. He divided Madurai into 72 districts, including 16 districts of those closest to the Pandyas.[115] He gave them positions and made them separate from the Pandyas. This made Pandyas lose Madurai forever.[114]

King Period
Sadaavarman Parakrama Pandya 1422–1463 AD
Kulasekara Pandiyan III 1429–1473 AD
Aksharan Perumal Parakrama Pandya 1473–1506 AD
Kulasekara Pandya 1479–1499 AD
Sadaverman Sewallapa Pandya 1534–1543 AD
Parakrama Kulasekaran 1543–1552 AD
Nelveli Maran 1552–1564 AD
Sadaavarman Adeevirama Pandya 1564–1604 AD
Varathuranga Pandya 1588–1612 AD
Varagunarama Pandya 1613–1618 AD
Kollankondan (N.A.)


While the previous sultanate raids were content with plunder, the Tughluqs under Ulugh Khan (later Muhammad bin Tughluq[3]) annexed the former Pandya dominions to the sultanate as the province of Ma'bar. Most of south India came under the sultanate rule and was divided into five provinces – Devagiri, Tiling, Kampili, Dorasamudra and Ma'bar.[109] Jalal ud-Din Hasan Khan was appointed governor of the newly created southernmost Ma'bar province.[116][117] In c. 1334, Jalal ud-Din Hasan Khan declared his independence and created Madurai sultanate.[3] The Pandyas shifted their capital to Tenkasi and continued to rule a small area until the end of the 16th century as Tenkasi Pandyas.[3]

Bukka Raya I of Vijayanagara empire conquered the city of Madurai in c. 1370,[3] imprisoned the sultan, released and restored Arcot's prince Sambuva Raya to the throne. Bukka Raya I appointed his son Veera Kumara Kampana as the viceroy of the Tamil region. Meanwhile, the Madurai sultanate was replaced by the Nayak governors of Vijayanagara in 1378.[118] In 1529 the Nayak governors declared independence and established Madurai Nayak dynasty.[10]


Early history

Ancient Silk Road trade routes
The gopura of Nellaiappar Temple

The Pandya country, located at the extreme southwestern tip of South Asia, served as an important meeting point throughout the history of India. The location was economically and geopolitically significant as a key point connecting the shipping between Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Graeco-Roman merchants frequented the ancient Tamil country, present day south India and Sri Lanka, securing contacts with the Tamil chiefdoms of the Pandya, Chola and Chera families.[12] The western sailors also established several trading settlements on the harbours of the ancient Tamil region.[12] The trade with South Asia by the Greco-Roman world flourished since the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty[119] a few decades before the start of the Common Era and remained long after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.[120][121] The contacts between south India and the Middle East continued even after the Byzantium's loss of the ports of Egypt and the Red Sea[122] in the 7th century CE.

The early historic Pandya country was famous for its supply of pearls. The ancient port of Korkai, in present-day Thoothukudi, was the centre of the pearl trade. Written records from Graeco-Roman and Egyptian voyagers give details about the pearl fisheries off the Gulf of Mannar. Greek historian Megasthenes reported about the pearl fisheries, indicating that the Pandyas derived great wealth from the pearl trade.[123] Convicts were according to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea used as pearl divers in Korkai.[124] The Periplus even mentions that "pearls inferior to the Indian sort are exported in great quantity from the marts of Apologas and Omana".[125] The pearls from the Pandya country were also in demand in the kingdoms of north India.[126] Literary references of the pearl fishing mention how the fishermen, who dive into the sea, avoid attacks from sharks, bring up the right-whorled chank and blow on the sounding shell.[127]

Pandya coinage

See also: Pandya coinage

One of the early coins of the Pandyas showing their emblem of the Two Fishes

The early coins of Tamilakam bore the symbols of the Three Crowned Kings, the tiger, the fish and the bow, representing the symbols of the Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras.[128] Coins of Pandyas bear the legend of different Pandya ruler in different times. The Pandyas had issued silver punch-marked and die-struck copper coins in the early period.[129] A few gold coins were attributed to the Pandya rulers of this period. These coins bore the image of fish, singly or in pairs, which were their emblem.[130]

Some of the coins had the names Sundara, Sundara Pandya or merely the letter 'Su' were etched. Some of the coins bore a boar with the legend of 'Vira-Pandya.[131] It had been said that those coins were issued by the Pandyas and the feudatories of the Cholas but could not be attributed to any particular king. The coins of Pandyas were square. Those coins were etched with an elephant on one side and the other side remained blank. The inscription on the silver and gold coins during the Pandyas were in Tamil-Brahmi and the copper coins bore the Tamil legends.[132] The coins of the Pandyas, which bore the fish symbols, were termed as 'Kodandaraman' and 'Kanchi' Valangum Perumal'.[133] Apart from these, 'Ellamthalaiyanam' was seen on coins which had the standing king on one side and the fish on the other. 'Samarakolahalam' and 'Bhuvanekaviram' were found on the cois having a Garuda, 'Konerirayan' on coins having a bull and 'Kaliyugaraman' on coins that depict a pair of feet.[134]


Vishnu gives away his sister, the bride Parvati during her wedding to Shiva
God Vishnu, goddess Meenakshi and god Shiva (Meenakshi Temple, Madurai)

The Pandya period (c. 13th century CE) was characterised by several elite forms of Hinduism, a popular bhakti religion and an even more widespread local form of Hinduism. The distinctions between the three were not differentiated. The worship of the gods Vishnu and Shiva was generally supported by the elite and Shiva was generally later supported by the elite.[6] The bhakti movement emphasized the mutual intense emotional attachment between the god and the devotee.[135]

The Pandya country was home to several renowned temples including the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.[136] As some of the largest employers and landowners of the Pandya country, the temples played an important part in the Tamil economy and society.[137] They generally also served as banks, schools, dispensaries, and poorhouses (thus performing valuable social functions). The large walled temple complexes of the Pandya country also contained several administrative offices and bazaars.[137]

It is known that the early Pandya rulers followed Jainism while at some point they converted to Hinduism. They supported the Bhakti movement from both Vaishnavism and Shaivism of Hinduism.[138]


Further information: Pandyan art and architecture

Meenakshi Temple, Madurai

The early temple architecture phase in Tamil Nadu opens with the rock-cut cave temples.[139][140]

The Tamil country is home to the 'South Indian' or 'Dravidian' style of medieval temple architecture.[139]

The major Pandya contributions to Dravidian architecture come after the Pallava (7th–9th centuries) and the Chola periods (9th–12th centuries).[139]

Finest Pandyan architectures:

Jambukeswarar Temple, Tiruchirapalli[139]

In popular culture

The Pandyas are a secondary subject of the Tamil films Aayirathil Oruvan (2010), Ponniyin Selvan: I (2022), Ponniyin Selvan: II (2023), and Yaathisai (2023).

See also


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Further reading