Major dynasties of South India


The founder of the Chola Empire was Vijayalaya, who was first feudatory of the Pallavas of Kanchi. He captured Tanjore in 850 A.D. He established a temple of goddess Nishumbhasudini (Durga) there.

Aditya I succeeded Vijayalaya. Aditya helped his overlord the Pallava king Aparajita against the Pandyas but soon defeated him and annexed the whole of the Pallava kingdom.

By the end of the ninth century, the Cholas had defeated the Pallavas completely and weakened the Pandyas capturing the Tamil country (Tondamandala) and including it under their domination He then became a sovereign ruler. The Rashtrakuta king, Krishna II gave his daughter in marriage to Aditya.

He erected many Shiva temples. He was succeeded in 907 A.D. by Parantaka I, the first important ruler of the Cholas. Parantaka I was an ambitious ruler and engaged himself in wars of conquest from the beginning of his reign. He conquered Madurai from the Pandya ruler Rajasimha II. He assumed the title of Maduraikonda (captor of Madurai).

He, however, lost to the Rashtrakuta ruler Krishna III at the battle of Tokkolam in 949 A. D. The Cholas had to cede Tondamandalam to the adversary. At that point of time the Chola kingdom almost ceased to exist. It was a serious setback to the rising Chola power. The revival of Chola power began from the accession of Parantaka II who recovered Tondamandalam to re­establish dominance of the dynasty.

The climax in Chola power was achieved under the successor of Parantaka II, Arumolivarman, who crowned himself as Rajaraja I in 985 A D the next thirty years of his rule formed the formative periodof Chola imperialism.

The Chola kingdom grew under him into an extensive and well-knit empire, efficiently organized and administered and possessing a powerful standing army and navy. Rajaraja began his conquests by attacking the confederation between the rulers of the Pandya and Kerala kingdoms and of Ceylon. Polonnaruva became the capital of Chola province in North Ceylon after the defeat of Mahinda V, the Ceylonese king.

He also annexed the Maldives. Elsewhere, several parts of modern Mysore were conquered and annexed which intensified their rivalry with the Chalukyas. Rajaraja built the magnificent Shiva temple of Brihadeshwara or Rajaraja temple at Thanjavur which was com­pleted in 1010. It is considered a remarkable piece of architecture in South Indian style.

Rajaraja I also encouraged Sri Mara Vijayottungavarman, the Sailendra ruler of Sri Vijaya to build a Buddhist Vihara at Negapatam. This vihara was called ‘Chudamani Vihara’ after the father of Sri Mara. Rajaraja was succeeded by his son Rajendra I in 1014 A.D. He ruled jointly with his father for a few years. He also followed a policy of conquest and annexation adopted by his father and further raised the power and prestige of the Cholas. He followed the expansionist policy and made extensive con­quests in Ceylon.

The Pandya and Kerala country after being conquered was constituted as a viceroyalty under the Chola king with the title of Chola-Pandya. Madurai was its headquarters. Pro­ceeding through Kalinga, Rajendra I attacked Bengal and defeated the Pala ruler Mahipala in 1022 A.D. But he annexed no territory in north India.

To commemorate the occasion, Rajendra I assumed the title of Gangaikondachola (the Chola conqueror of Ganga). He built the new capital near the mouth of the Kaveri and called it Gangaikondacholapuram (the city of the Chola conqueror of the Ganga).

With his naval forces, he invaded Malaya Peninsula and Srivijaya Empire that extended over Sumatra, Java and the neighbouring islands and controlled the overseas trade route to China. He sent two diplomatic missions to China for political as well as commercial purposes.

Rajendra was succeeded by his son Rajadhiraja I in 1044 A.D. He was also an able ruler. He put down the hostile forces in Ceylon and suppressed the rebellious Pandyas and subjugated their terri­tory. He celebrated his victory by performing Virabhisheka (coronation of the victor) at Kalyani after sacking Kalyani and assumed the title of Vijayarajendra. He lost his life in the battle with the Chalukyan king Someswara I at Koppam. His brother Rajendra II succeeded him. He continued his struggle against Someswara.

He defeated Someswara in the battle of Kudal Sangamam. Next came Virarajendra I, he too defeated the Chalukyas and erected a pillar of victory on the banks of Tungabhadra. Virarajendra died in 1070 A.D. He was succeeded by Kulottunga I (1070-1122 A.D.) the great-grandson of Rajaraja I. He was the son of Rajendra Narendra of Vengi and Chola princess Ammangadevi (daughter of Rajendra Chola I). Thus Kulottunga I united the two kingdoms of the Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi and the Cholas of Thanjavur.

The most important reforms carried out by him in the internal administration was the re- surveyal of land for taxation and revenue purposes. He was also titled Sungam tavirtta (he who abol­ished tolls). The Chola authority in Ceylon was overthrown by Vijayababu, the monarch of Ceylon during Kulottunga’s reign. He sent a large embassy of 72 merchants to China and also maintained cordial relations with Sri Vijaya.

He defeated the rulers of the Pandya kingdom and that of Kerala. Thfe Chola Empire continued for more than a century after him. Weak rulers succeeded him. The Cholas and the later Chalukyas clashed for the overlordship of Vengi, the Tungabhadra doab and the Ganga country.

The Chola Empire continued in a flourishing condition during the twelfth century but declined by the end of the thirteenth century. The Pandyan king Sundara rendered the final blow by seizing Kanchi in 1297 A.D. The place of the Cholas was taken over by the Pandyas and the Hoysalas. This marked the end of the Chola power.

Architecture and Art
One of the largest empires in Indian history, that stretched till South East Asia, the Cholas used their immense wealth, in building magnificent temples and structures. It would be an understatement to call the architecture of the Chola period as grand, it was more like grandiose and towering. The sheer size of their temples, the towering vimanas, the sculpted walls, just every aspect of their monuments displayed grandeur. And of course nothing to beat the Brihadeswara Temple at Thanjavur, that is a benchmark by itself in architectural excellence.

Even if the Cholas, had not built anything else, just the Brihadeeswara Temple would have been enough. I mean just consider the facts, built fully of granite, finished within 5 years, that was quite fast for that period. And then you have the vimana that towers to around 216 ft, and this is just awe inspiring, on top of the tower, you have a kalasam, made out of a single block of stone, that weighs around 20 tonnes, and was lifted to the top using an inclined plane that covered 6.44 km from the ground to the top. The Cholas built big, their structures were meant to tower, to inspire awe, to take away the breath. It was not just the grand buildings, it was also the sculpture and art that adorned them, which was equally breath taking.

The other magnificient structures built by the Cholas, were the temple at Gangaikondacholapuram, which is next only to the Brihadeesvara temple at Tanjore, in size, grandeur and architectural excellence.

And also the Airavateswara temple at Darasuram, dedicated to Lord Shiva, and so called, because it is believed that the Shiva Linga here was worshipped by Indra’s elephant Airavat.

The Chola period also witnessed a glorious phase in bronze casting, and making of idols. The bronze idols of the Chola period, were more expressive in nature, and devoid of too many intricate ornaments or designs. The bronze idol of Nataraja, the dancing form of Shiva, represents the artistic excellence during that era.


It was not just the fact that they built magnificent temples or made exquisite idols, the Cholas also came up with an excellent system of governance and administration.  While it was a monarchy, like most other kingdoms of that era, there was a serious attempt to decentralize, and provide self government right at the local level. The empire was divided into provinces called Mandalams, and each of those Mandalams, further into Kottams, which again had districts, called Nadus, that had Tehsils usually a group of villages. While Tanjore and Gangaikonda Cholapuram were the main capitals, there also existed regional capitals at Kanchi and Madurai, where courts were occasionally held.

Their major achievement though was the local self government during their times, where villages had their own self governance. Depending on the area they covered, villages again could be Nadu, Kottram or Kurram, and a number of Kurrams made up a Valanadu. The village units had the power to administer justice at the local level, and for most crimes, fines were imposed, which went to the state treasury.  Death penalty was given only for crimes that amounted to treason.

Chola period had a robust and thriving economy, that was built on 3 tiers. At the local level, it was agricultural settlements, that formed the foundation, on top of this you had the Nagarams or the commercial towns, that primarily acted as centers of distribution for items produced externally and by local artisans for international trade. The top most layer was made of “samayams” or merchant guilds, who organized and looked after the thriving international maritime trade. With agriculture being the occupation of a large number of people, land revenue was a major source of income to the treasury. The Cholas also built a large number of tanks, wells, and a large number of channels to distribute water. They had also built stone masonry dams over the Kaveri, and there was a thriving internal trade going on too.

Naval and Maritime Trade.
The Chola period would be noted for it’s emphasis on maritime trade and conquest, they excelled in ship building. While they had a strong internal maritime system, the Imperial Chola Navy came into existence during the reign of Raja Raja Chola I, who strengthened it. Raja Raja Chola’s use of the Navy to subdue the Sinhalese king Mahinda, would be one of the greatest naval victories ever. Another major achievement was the conquest of the Sri Vijaya kingdom under Sailendra, now in Indonesia, by Raja Raja Chola’s successor Rajendra Chola. Having possesion of the East and West coasts of India, the Cholas had a thriving international trade with the Tang dynasty in China, the Srivijaya empire in Malayan archipelago and the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. The Cholas also combated sea piracy succesfully in the Malayan archipelago, and had a close trade with the Song dynasty in China, that led to advances in ship building.

While the King was the supreme commander of the Navy, it had a highly organized structure, that was divided into Ganams a Fleet squadron, usually commanded by a Ganapathy. And there was a hierarchical ranking structure, below the King, that consisted of Jalathipathi(Admiral), Nayagan( Fleet Commander), Ganathipathy(rear admiral), Mandalathipathy(vice admiral) and Kalapathy( the ship captain). You also had separate departments for customs excise(Thirvai), inspection and audits( Aaivu) and an intelligence corps( Ootru). The Cholas also had their own coast guard equivalent in Karaipiravu. And this would be one of their finest achievements, building a world class naval structure.

Often called as the Golden Age of Tamil culture, it was one of the greatest literary eras in history equivalent to the Elizabethean reign in England or the Guptas in Northern India. Nambi Andar collected the various works on Saivism and arranged them into eleven books called Tirumurais, and another great work of literature was the adaptation of the Ramayana into Tamil by Kamban, called as the Ramavatharam. The period also saw excellent works on Tamil grammar like Yapperungalam by Jain ascetic and Virasoliyam that attempts to find a balance between Tamil and Sanskrit grammar by Buddhamitra.


Civilization and Culture of the Pallavas

The Pallava rule formed a golden epoch in the cultural history of south India. The period under the Pallavas was marked by considerable literary activities and cultural revival. The Pallavas warmly patronized Sanskrit language and most of the literary records of the time were composed in that language. Due to the cultural renaissance and a great revival of the Sanskrit language a galaxy of scholars flourished during the Pallava era, which accentuated the literary and cultural development in Southern India. Tradition referred that Simhavishnu, the Pallava king invited the great poet Bharvi to adorn his court. Dandin, the master of Sanskrit prose probably lived in the court of Narasimhavarmana II. Under the royal patronage, Kanchi became the seat of Sanskrit language and literature. The core of learning and education, Kanchi became the point of attraction for the literary scholars. Dinanaga, Kalidasa, Bharvi, Varahamihir etc were the distinguished person with enormous talent in the Pallava country. Not only the Sanskrit literature, the Tamil literature also received a huge impetus during the Pallava period. “Maatavailasa Prahasana”, written by Mahendravarmana became very popular. The famous Tamil classic “Tamil Kural was composed during the period under the royal patronage. Madurai became a great center of the Tamil literature and culture. The Tamil grammar “Talakappiam” and Tamil versical compilation “Ettalogai” etc were composed during the period. These were of immense literary importance.

From the 6th century AD, due to the Sanskrit revival, long poetical composition replaced the earlier style of the short poetry. Poetry was written according to the taste of the sophisticated and aristocratic people of the society. The “Silappadigaram” is one of such work suited to the taste of the sophisticated, educated people of the Pallava era. One of the most important literary works of the time was “Ramayanam” by Kaban. This is known as the Tamil form and version of Ramayana, where the character of Ravana was painted with all the noble virtues in comparison to Rama. It is consistent with the Tamil tradition and Tamil ego against the Northern Ramayana by Valmiki. The Buddhist literary work “Manimekhala” and the Jaina poetical work “Shibaga sindamani” etc. also flourished during the period.

The devotional songs composed by Vaishnava Alavaras and the Saiva Nayanaras also shared a significant position in the cultural renaissance of the Pallava period. Appar, Sambandhar, Manikkabsagar, Sundar were some of the devotional Narayana poets who composed Tamil Stotras or hymns. Siva was the object of worship and love. Since the Pallava kings were great musicians themselves they were the great patrons of music. Several celebrated musical treatise were also composed under their patronage. During the time painting also received a great patronage from the Pallava kings. Specimen of the Pallava painting has been found in the Pudukottai State.

Civilization of the Pallava period was greatly influenced by the religious reform movement that swept over India during the eighth century. The wave of the reform movement was originated in the Pallava kingdom first. The Pallavas completed the Aryanisation of Southern India. The Jains who had entered south India earlier had set up educational centers at Madurai and Kanchi. They also made a massive use of Sanskrit, Prakrit and Tamil as the medium of their preaching. But in the competition with the growing popularity of the Brahmanical Hinduism, Jainism lost its prominence in the long run.

Mahendravarmana lost interest in Jainism and became a staunch follower and patron of Saivism. Consequently Jainism began to fade out and continued in diminishing glory in centers like Pudukottai and in the hilly and forest regions.

Buddhism, which had earlier penetrated in the south, fought against invading Brahmanism in the monasteries and public debates. The Buddhist scholars debated finer points of theology with Brahmanical scholars and mostly lost the ground.

The civilization of the Pallava period was marked by the tremendous ascendancy of the Hinduism, which has been branded by the modern historians as the victory of the northern Aryanism. It is said that the influx of the mlechcha Sakas, Huns and the Kushanas in Northern India had polluted the significance of the Vedic rites and religion. In order to protect the purity of Vedic religion many Brahmins migrated to Southern India and preached the Vedic Religion. Henceforth the civilization of Deccan or southern India was mostly influenced by the Brahmanical Hinduism. Pallavas became the patrons of the orthodox Vedic preachers. The performance of the horse sacrifices by the Pallava rulers testified the ascendancy of the Vedic civilization. The success of Hinduism was mostly caused by the royal patronage to this religion. Sanskrit was the vehicle of the Brahmanical thought. Hence both the Brahmanical religion and Sanskrit literature made a great progress during the Pallava period. Several centers for the Brahmanical study sprang up. These study centers were closely connected with the temple premises and were known as Ghetikas. The study of the Brahmanical scriptures and literatures was the order of the day. The Pallava kings in order to promote the Brahmanical civilization made land grants or agraharas to the maintenance of the educational institutions. In the 8th century AD, another significant Hindu institution called Mathas or monasteries were in vogue. They were a combination of temple, rest houses, educational centers, debating and discoursing centers and the feeding Houses. The university of Kanchi became the spearhead of Aryan-Brahmanical influences of the South. Kanchi was regarded as one of the sacred cities of the Hindus. The Pallava king though mainly were the worshippers of Vishnu and Siva, they were tolerant towards other religious creeds. Although the religions like Buddhism and Jainism lost its former significance during the Pallava era, yet the civilization of the Pallava period was marked by the multiethnicity promoted by the Pallava kings.

Pandyan contributions

Economic contribution

External trade was carried on between South India and Hellenistic kingdom of Egypt and Arabia as well as the Malay Archipelago. The author of the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (75 A.D.) gives the most valuable information about the trade between India and the Roman Empire. He mentions the port of Naura (Cannanore) Tyndis (Tondi), Muzuris (Musiri, Cranganore), and Nelcynda as the leading ones on the west coast.

Other ports of South India were Balita (Varkalai), Comari, Colchi, Puhar (Khaberis of Ptolemy), Saliyur, Poduca (Arikamedu) and Sopatma (Markanam). A landmark in the development of communications was the discovery of the monsoon winds by the Greek sailor Hippalus in around A.D. 46-47.

Connected with the phenomenon of trade was the growth of money economy in the early centu­ries. The imported coins were mostly used as bullions. The large quantities of gold and silver coins struck by all the Roman emperors beginning from the reign of Augustus (and that of Tiberius) down to Nero (54-58 A. D.) found in the interior of Tamil land, testify to the extent of the trade and the presence of Roman settlers in the Tamil country.

Political contribution

The Pandya territory occupied the southern-most and the south-eastern portion of the Indian peninsula, and it roughly included the modern districts of Tinnevelly, Ramnad and Madurai in Tamilnadu. It had its capital at Madurai. The Pandyas are rightly famous for patronising the poets and scholars of the Tamil Sangams.

The earliest known Pandyan ruler was Mudukudumi who is mentioned in the Sangam text as a great conqueror. The most reputed Pandyan ruler was Nedunjhelian, who ruled from Madurai and was a great poet.

According to Silappadikaram, Nedunjhelian, in a fit of passion, ordered without judicial enquiry the execution of Kovalan who was accused of theft of the queen’s anklet. When Kovalan’s wife proved her husband’s innocence, the king was struck with remorse and died of shock on the throne.

The Pandyan kings profited from trade with the Roman Empire and sent embassies to the Roman emperor Augustus. The Pandyan port Korkai was a great centres of trade and commerce, another port was Saliyur. The brahmanas enjoyed considerable influence, and the Pandya kings performed Vedic sacrifices in the early centuries of the Christian era.



Pandyan architecture

The Pandyas contributed more for the development of architecture. Gopuras, Prakaras, Vimanas, Garbagrahas are the special features of the Pandya temple architecture. Temples at Madurai, Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Thiruvannamalai, Srirangam are good examples for the development of Pandya architecture. The images of horses and other animals are carved on pillars.The zenith of Pandya architecture are Meenakshi temple at Madurai and Aranganathar temple at Srirangam.

The Pandya period is marked as renaissance period in the field of rock cut temple. The rock cut temples are known for their merit. More than 50 rock cut temples were excavated from the Pandya kingdom. More rock cut temples are found in Thirupparankundram, Anaimalai, Karaikudi, Kalugumalai, Malaiyadikurichi and Trichy. These temples were constructed for Lord Siva and Vishnu. Cave temples are also found in temples at Kalugumalai and Trichy. Rock cut caves were also there.

Structural temples were built on stones. They were simple in style. Each temple consists of Garbagraha, arthamandapa and mahamandapa. Such structural stone temples are found in Kovilpatty, Thiruppathur and Madurai. The Pandya kings constructed structural temples at Ambasamuthram, Thiruppathur. Mannarkudi, Madurai, Alagarkoil. Srivilliputhur and in Chinnmanur, Internal structures of these temples were constructed in a planned manner.

Pandyn sculptures are beautiful and ornamental. Some sculptures are engraved on single stone. They have got more messages and values. Pandya period witnessed renaissance in the art of sculpture. Sculptures of Somaskandar, Durgai, Ganapathy, Narasimha, Nataraja are very good specimens. Sculptures at Kalugumalai, Thirupparankundram, Thiurmalaipuram and Narthamalai are very famous. Vishnu sculpture at Kunnakudi and Nataraja sculpture at Thiurkolakkudi are on par excellence with the sculptures of pallava, chola period. Paintings: The beauty of the Pandya mural painting can be seen in the Chittannavasal cave temples constructed during the time of Srimaran and Srivallaba Pandyan. The ceilings and pillars at Chittannavasal bear the paintings of dancing girls, the kings, the queens, plants and animals. The picture of lotus, bathing elephants and playing fishes were good at Chittannavasal. Oil painting was also there. They are outstanding examples of pandiya paintings.

Sangam literature

Pandyas are mentioned in Sangam literature (c. 100 – 200 C.E.) as well as by Greek and Roman sources during this period. Various Pandyan kings are mentioned in a number of poems in the Sangam literature. Among them, Nedunjeliyan (“the victor of Talaiyalanganam”), Nedunjeliyan (“the conqueror of the Aryan army”), 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), that 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. With the exception of the longer epics Cilappatikaram 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 generally has 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 that called forth the eulogy.

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 has not been easy. To add to the confusion, some historians have even denounced these colophons as later additions and untrustworthy as historical documents.




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