The Pandya dynasty was one of the ancient Tamil dynasties that ruled parts of southern India, primarily in the Tamil Nadu region. They were one of the three major kingdoms of the Sangam age. Read here to learn more about them.
The Pandya dynasty left a significant cultural and historical legacy in southern India, particularly in the Tamil-speaking regions.
They are remembered for their contributions to literature, art, and architecture, as well as for their role in the early trade networks of the Indian subcontinent.
Today, the Pandya dynasty remains an important part of the cultural heritage of Tamil Nadu, and their influence can still be seen in the historical sites and temples in the region.
The history of the Pandya dynasty is marked by a rich cultural and political heritage, and it can be divided into three major phases: the Early Pandyas, the Medieval Pandyas, and the Later Pandyas.
The Cheras, Cholas, and Pandyas also controlled the ports of Muziris (Muchiri), Korkai, and Kaveri respectively (for the trade with the Graeco-Roman world)
Early Pandyas (4th century BCE – 3rd century CE)
The Early Pandyas are the earliest known rulers of the Pandya dynasty. Their history is somewhat obscured by the lack of extensive historical records.
They were believed to have established their rule in the southern part of Tamil Nadu and were primarily involved in trade with other kingdoms and regions, including the Roman Empire.
- The Early Pandyas had active maritime trade relationships with the West, a fact testified by Western classical writers such as Pliny the Elder (1st century CE), Strabo, Ptolemy, and the author of the Periplus.
The kings of the Pandyan Dynasty are frequently mentioned in Sangam literature of the third century BCE and onwards, in literary works such as the Mathuraikkanci and other early Tamil literary works such as Cilapatikaram.
- They are mentioned in ancient Sangam literature, such as the “Purananuru” and “Akananuru,” which provide insights into their early history and culture.
- The Early Pandyas were known for their patronage of Tamil literature, art, and culture. They were instrumental in the development of Tamil classical music, dance, and literature.
- They also played a significant role in the promotion of Shaivism, a sect of Hinduism.
The Pandya capital during this period was Madurai, which remains an important city in Tamil Nadu today.
The Early Pandya dynasty, like many ancient dynasties, faced periods of decline and resurgence.
- They faced challenges from other regional powers, including the Cholas and the Cheras.
- Over time, the dynasty weakened, and by the 6th century CE, the region saw the rise of other dynasties.
Medieval Pandyas (6th century CE – 14th century CE)
The Medieval Pandyas marked a more historically documented and significant period in the dynasty’s history.
During this era, the Pandya kingdom flourished, and they extended their influence over a significant portion of southern India, including the Tamil Nadu and Kerala regions.
The Pandya rulers were known for their patronage of Tamil literature, art, and architecture. The Sangam poetry, an important literary work, received their support during this period.
The Pandya dynasty became more historically verifiable around the 4th to 5th centuries CE. Some notable Pandya kings during this period include:
- Kadungon: He was a famous Pandya king known for his victories over the Kalabhras, who had briefly displaced the traditional Tamil dynasties.
- Maravarman Avani Culamani: He was a Pandya king who ruled during the 7th century CE and played a role in the revival of Tamil literature.
Pandyas of Korkai: In the early medieval period, the Pandya dynasty temporarily shifted its capital to Korkai. During this phase, some notable kings include:
- Varagunavarman I: He was a significant Pandya ruler known for his patronage of literature and for commissioning the “Mattavilasa Prahasana,” a famous Sanskrit play.
The Medieval Pandyas faced conflicts with other dynasties like the Cholas and Cheras over territorial control, leading to shifting power dynamics in the region.
Later Pandyas (14th century CE – 16th century CE)
The Later Pandyas marked a period of decline and instability for the dynasty.
During this phase, the Pandya kingdom faced external invasions, particularly from the Delhi Sultanate and the Vijayanagara Empire, which led to the weakening and fragmentation of their rule.
Some prominent Pandya rulers of this period include:
- Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan: He was a powerful Pandya king who ruled during the 13th century CE. His reign saw conflicts with the Chola and Hoysala dynasties.
- Maravarman Kulasekara Pandyan: He was another significant Pandya ruler during the 13th century CE. His reign marked a resurgence of the Pandya dynasty’s power.
- Jatavarman Veerapandiyan: He was known for his battles against the Delhi Sultanate’s forces, particularly the armies of Alauddin Khilji.
The last prominent Pandya ruler, Varaguna Pandya III, was defeated by the Vijayanagara Empire in the 16th century, effectively ending the Pandya dynasty’s rule in Madurai.
Administration of the Pandya dynasty
The kingdom was divided into several regions, each ruled by a local chieftain or noble. These local rulers were called “Palaiyakkarar” or “Poligars.”
- They were responsible for collecting taxes, maintaining law and order, and contributing to the kingdom’s defense.
The administration of the Pandya dynasty had various officials who helped the king govern the realm. Some of the key officials included:
- Yuvaraja: The crown prince and heir to the throne, often given administrative responsibilities to groom them for future rule.
- Manradiar: The chief minister who advised the king on various matters of governance.
- Amatya: The treasurer who managed the kingdom’s finances and revenue collection.
- Duta: The emissary or ambassador responsible for diplomatic relations with neighboring kingdoms.
- Maha Samanta: The commander-in-chief who led the army and defense efforts.
- Velir: Nobles and aristocrats who held positions of power and influence.
Revenue System: The kingdom’s revenue system was based on land revenue and taxes levied on agricultural produce.
- Land revenue was collected from landowners, and a portion of the produce was taken as tax. Taxes were also collected on trade and commerce.
Justice System: The Pandya administration had a judicial system to ensure justice and maintain law and order.
- Judges known as “Nyayakarar” presided over courts. Disputes were settled based on traditional Dharmashastras (legal codes).
The Pandya rulers were known for their patronage of art, literature, and temple construction. They sponsored the construction of magnificent temples, which served as centers of cultural and religious life in their domains.
Foreign Relations: The Pandya dynasty engaged in diplomatic relations with neighboring kingdoms, including the Cholas, Cheras, and Pallavas. They also had interactions with foreign traders, particularly those from the Roman Empire.
Their architectural style is characterized by intricately carved temples and rock-cut cave temples.
The Pandya dynasty, like other South Indian dynasties, predominantly followed the Dravidian style of temple architecture.
Dravidian temples are known for their towering gopurams (temple towers), large and pillared halls, and intricate sculptures.
- Gopurams: The entrance of Pandya temples often features impressive gopurams, which are monumental, multi-story gateways adorned with detailed sculptures of gods, goddesses, mythical creatures, and various motifs. The Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai is renowned for its massive and ornate gopurams.
- Vimana and Sanctum: The main shrine of a Pandya temple, called the vimana, typically has a pyramidal or stepped tower known as the shikhara. Inside the vimana, there is a sanctum sanctorum (garbhagriha) where the principal deity’s idol is enshrined. The sanctum is usually a dimly lit, sacred space.
- Mandapa: Pandya temples have large mandapas (hallways) with intricately carved pillars. These halls are used for various rituals, congregational gatherings, and sometimes cultural performances.
- Pillars and Sculptures: The pillars of Pandya temples are known for their exquisite carvings, depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, epic stories, and various deities. The sculptures are highly detailed and reflect the artistic finesse of the period.
Some famous temples of the Pandya period are- Kallalagar temple, Alagar Koyil; Meenakshi Temple, Madurai; Vaishnava Nambi and Thirukurungudivalli Nachiar temple.
Rock-Cut Cave Temples: The Pandya dynasty also contributed to the creation of rock-cut cave temples. These temples were carved out of solid rock, with chambers and shrines inside.
Water Tanks and Temple Tanks: Many Pandya temples have large water tanks or temple tanks (called “Ernakulam” in Tamil) associated with them. These tanks often have steps leading down to the water and are used for ritual bathing and festivals.
The architectural style of the Pandya dynasty evolved and exhibited regional variations. For example, the Nayak rulers, who succeeded the Pandyas, added elements of the Indo-Saracenic style to some temples.
Decline of the Pandya dynasty
The Pandya dynasty often clashed with its neighboring dynasties, particularly the Cholas and the Cheras. These frequent conflicts weakened the Pandya rulers and their territories, leading to territorial losses.
- The Chola dynasty, under rulers like Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola, expanded its territory and influence across South India and even into Southeast Asia.
- The Cholas defeated the Pandyas in several battles and established their dominance in the region.
Dynastic disputes, rival factions within the Pandya dynasty, and weak leadership contributed to internal instability. Infighting and succession disputes weakened the dynasty’s ability to resist external threats.
The Chalukya and Hoysala dynasties from the Deccan region invaded the Pandya territories, further destabilizing the dynasty. These invasions disrupted governance and administration.
- South India faced external invasions by foreign powers, including the Rashtrakutas, the Delhi Sultanate, and later, European colonial powers.
- These invasions and foreign rule had a profound impact on the political landscape of the region.
- The invasion of South India by Muslim dynasties, particularly the Delhi Sultanate, brought significant political changes. The Pandyas, like many other regional dynasties, had to contend with these new rulers.
Changes in cultural and religious dynamics also played a role in the decline of the Pandya dynasty. The spread of Islam and the influence of the Bhakti and Sufi movements in South India altered the social and cultural landscape.
The Pandya dynasty had historically been known for its maritime trade and naval power. However, changes in trade routes and the arrival of European maritime powers diminished their influence in this area.
-Article by Swathi Satish