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Home  > The Tamil Heritage - History & Geography > The Pandyans - J.R.Sinnatamby

The Pandyans
 J.R.Sinnatamby, Journal of Tamil Studies, 1973

In this article I am giving reference to various writers who have referred to the Pandyan Kingdom of India. This was an ancient Kingdom in the south, east of India and nearest, in fact a few miles, to Ceylon.

Walkers refers to this kingdom  'as an ancient non-Aryan Tamil Kingdom at the extreme southern tip of the Indian Peninsula ...... The traditions of their origin from the Epic Pandu is not regarded as acceptable to scholars.

Megasthenes notes a legend according to which Heracles placed South India under the rule of his daughter Pandaia. The Sanskrit epics speak of this region as foreign territory. In the Mauryan period the Pandya Kingdom was outside the limits of Asoka's empire, but is mentioned in one of his inscriptions. The flourishing Pandya port of Korkai (or Kolkai) not far from Tuticorin was known to Greeks and Romans. Strabo mentions an embassy sent to Augustus Caesar about 29 BC by a king named Pandian, was probably a Pandya ruler'. 1

It is possible that the people of this ancient kingdom were descended from the peoples of the Indus Valley civilization. Wolpert says,

'There is good reason to believe that the present Dravidians of Southern India are descended from the people whose monumental urban civilisation in the Indus Valley was conquered by Aryan invaders somewhere between 2300 and 1500 BC. We know quite a bit about the highly sophisticated, ' technologically advanced culture of these Indus Valley dwellers .... Unfortunately however we still can't read the pictographic script on Harappan seats .... The early Ariyans, on the other hand, have left records of their society .... These Ariyan 'books' (the Vedas) .... provide much illuminating historical information, including references to fierce battles against ` dark stained ' enemies, who were found in fortified cities and conquered. Though many of the pre-Ariyans of the Indus Valley were thus overwhelmed by Ariyan tribesmen, other peoples fled southward across the Vindhyas . . . . '2

That India was populated by Dravidians in the north of India also has been pointed out by Mendis,3 Nehru,4 and scholars of repute, as for example, Burrows, Boden professor for Sanskrit, Oxford. The eminent philologist, scholar, and statesman of North India, S. K. Chatterji, has in fact , pointed out in an article pertaining to the ethnology of India that entire north-west of India was of Dravidian speech when the Ariyans entered India in about 1500 BC.

This can also be inferred from what is pointed out in the Imperial Gazetteer of India,

 'The Dravidian race is widely spread over India, but all  the members of it do not speak Dravidian languages. In the north  many of them have been completely Aryanised and have adopted the  language of their conquerors while they have retained their ethnic characteristics.' 5

Wolpert, (India, p. 31), has mentioned the interesting fact pertaining to the Indus Valley people :

'Though no great " temple " has yet located, one may well have existed directly under the Buddhist still standing above Mohenjadaro, for immediately adjacent to sacred ground lies the great ` bath ', a huge hypocaustically heated of brick, much like the water tanks found to this day beside Hindu les all over India. Ritual ablution, a vital part of daily Hindu tip, may date from the pre-Aryan days of Harrappa.' 6

This observation has special significance for the Hindus of Ceylon ( would appear to receive confirmation from the fact that the Abhayagiri Dagoba stands on the site of a Hindu temple and Hindu institutions. This fact has been attested by Nalalasekera,7 and Harichandra.8  The twin pokunas (Tanks) in the vicinity of this dagoba would appear to have been a part of the Hindu temple that was destroyed.

Further confirmation of the providing of facilities at Anuradhapura the performance of ritual baths is provided by the Mahawamsa, where it is pointed out, ` In the reign of Senindagutta, the demilas to ensure cleanliness which attends bathing, considering the river to be too remote for that purpose, forming an embankment across it, brought its stream near the town '.9 Apparently this refers to the construction of  a channel for the diversion of a river towards a temple for the performance of ritual ablutions.

The Pandyan Kingdom has made a special contribution to Ceylon that it provided her with Ceylon's first queen. It is also significant that the last few queens were also from Madura, then under the Nayaks, according to Dolaphilla in his book on Sri Wickramarajasingha.

Reference to the first Pandyan queen of Ceylon has also been made by Geiger, where he refers to the Madura mentioned in the Mahawamsa as the Madura in the South of the Madras Presidency. 10

Paul Peiris has also referred to this subject. He says,

` Medura known to the Romans as Regrxum Pandionis, had lost its position as the centre of Dravidian culture which it enjoyed in the days of Agastiya when its Sangattar, University Board, was the ultimate tribunal in matters of scholarship. The Royal family which supplied Vijaya with his consort was destroyed by the Moslem invasion, but in 1420 a Hindu Dynasty that of the Nayakas, was again established, and acknowledging the over lordship of Vijayanagara reached its zenith under Tirumala Nayaka (1623-1662) whose architectural works remain his impressive memrial'.11

Madura is actually shown in Ptolemy's map of India (C. 100 AD), and described as ` Medura Regia Pandionis '.

The earliest capital of the Pandyans was at Kolkai at the mouth of the river Tambraparni.12

This solves the question of the reference in the Mahawamsa to the ambassadors that they went by ship to Madura. I have dealt with this in my article ` Kolkie ' where I have pointed out 'The Mahawamsa" clearly refers to Madura as the Madura in Southern India but says the ambassadors reached the place by ship. It is now clear that the capital of the Pandyans, (Madura when the Mahawamsa was written in the 5th century A.D.), was then actually Korkie which was on the coast before silting took place '.

The reference to ambassadors 'were quickly come by ship' to their destination, is also an indication of the proximity of this Pandyan port to Ceylon. 13

Further confirmation of the fact that the first capital of the Pandyans was on the coast of India is furnished by Ananda K. Coomarasanay (RASCB 1895, Vol. 14, No. 46, p. 18), in a paper pertaining to ` Ancient Tamil Literature', read by him, where he states,

` Amongst the members of the first Sangam were Agastya, . . . . during the reigns of eighty nine Pandya kings, beginning with Kaysinavaluti and ending in the reign of Kadunkon, when the city of Madura-not modern Madura, but another in the southernmost part of India was submerged in the sea . . . .'

The third and last Sangam was established by the Pandiya king Mudattirumaran at Madura (Modern Madura) which was called Uttara (northern) Madurai, to distinguish it from Southern Madura, which was destroyed by the sea '.14

This confirms that the Mahawamsa actually refers to the capital, when it was on the southern coast of India so as to distinguish it from the modern Madura that is northern Madura, at the time when the Mahawamsa was written,

This early contact between Anuradhapura and the Pandyans of South India from the time of Wijeya can also be inferred from what Fernando says,

` A close parallel to the early Brahmin records of Ceylon is offered by some interesting Brahmi records in South India .... Pandya country. So alike those at Mihintale, Vassagiriya and such other ancient sites. Also bedsteads like at Mihintale and Vassagiriya.

Inscriptions at Arikamedu in South India are same as Brahmi of early cave records and assigned to the lst and 2nd century A.D. Scribes are same in India and Ceylon and they differ from those who carved records of Asoka. They were in South India and Ceylon and practising their arts even before the time of Asoka'.15

There is a question whether the Pandyans were Aryans which has engaged the attention of scholars. Wolpert referred to above has pointed out that the tradition of their origin from the Epic Pandu is not regarded as acceptable to scholars. The historical and geographical background of the Pandyan Kingdom has been dealt with by B. C. Law.

In view of the well authenticated manner in which this subject has been dealt with by Law, I am quoting the entire reference to this subject in his work ` Historical Geography of Ancient India', pages 180-181, where he states,

` The Pandya country to which Panini refers in his Astadhyayi (4.1.171) comprised Madura and Tinnevelly districts (S.LL, I, pp. 51, 59, 63, etc.). According to Ptolemy it was known as Pandian with Madura as its royal city (McCrindle, Ancient India as described by Ptolemy, Majumdar Ed. p. 183). It was conquered by Rajendra Cola. The Pandyan Kingdom also comprised Travancore in the lst century of the Christian era. Originally it had its capital at Kolkai on the Tambaparni river in Tinnevelly, and its later capital was Madura (Daksina Mathura). In the Mahabharata and in many Jatakas the Pandus are spoken of as the ruling race of Indraprastha. Katyayana in his Varttika derives Pandya from Pandu. The country of the Pandyas is also mentioned in the Ramayana (Iv, ch. 41), where Sugriva is said to have sent his monkey-soldiers in quest of Sita. In the Mahabharata (Sabhaparva, Ch. 31, V, 17) it is stated that Shahdeva, the youngest of the Pandu princes, went to the Dakshinapatha after having conquered the king of the Pandyas.

Puranas also refer to the Pandyas (Markandeya, Ch. 57, V. 45 ; Vayuk 45, 124 ; Matsya, 112, 46). Asoka's Rock Edicts II and XIII mention the Pandyas whose territory lay outside his empire. Asoka was in friendly terms with the Pandyas who probably had two kingdoms, one including Tinnevelly on the south and extending as far north as the highlands in the neighbourhood of Coimbatore Gap, and the other including the Mysore State. Strabo (XV, 4, 73) mentions an embassy sent to Augustus Caesar by a king " Pandian ", possibly a Pandya of the Tamil Country '. 16

The Jaina legends connect the sons of Pandu with the Pandya country of the south with Mathura of Madhura (modern Modoura) as its capital. Dr. Barnett rightly observes the ` Pandiyans, however, were not Pandavas, and the Jaina. identification of the two dynasties in probably based on popular etymology. A like attempt to connect the two families occurs in the Tamil chronicle given in Taylor's Oriental Historical MSS. which states that Madura at the time of the Bharata war was ruled by Babhruvahana, the son of Arjuna by the daughter of the Pandiyan king of Madura. The Mahabharata on the other hand makes Babhruvahana, the son of Arjuna by Citrangada, the daughter of Citravahana, the king of Manipura '.17

The association of the Pandyas of the south with the Surasenas at Mathura and the Pandas of northern India is probably alluded to in the confused statement of Megasthenes.18 In the Pali Chronicles of Ceylon the Pandyas are invariably represented as Pandus or Pandu." 19

'The distinction between the Pandya and the Cola divisions of the Tamil country is well known. Damilla mentioned in the Nagarjunikondt Inscriptions of Virapurusadatta, is the Tamil country. According to the Mahawamsa, Vijaya married a daughter of the Pandu king whose capital was Madhura in South India. Madhura is Madura in the south of the Madras Presidency. Another capital was probably at Kolkai. The rivers Tamraparni and Kritamala or Vaigai flowed through it '.20

In this connection, it is of interest and relevance to note that Parakaramabahu, one of Ceylon's greatest kings is also of Pandyan descent. Geiger says, ' Vijayabahu I (1059-1114), wedded his younger sister Mitta to Panduraja. The name shows that the husband was an offspring of the royal family of the Pandu kingdom. Manabharana was the son of Panduraja and Mitta; and Manabharana's son was Parakkramabahu the Great, who therefore on his grandfather's side had Dravidian blood in his veins '.21

With reference to Vijaya's marriage he says, 'we also learn from the chronicle (Mhvs. 7.48 sq.) that messengers were sent by Vijaya to Madhura, the capital of the Dravidian Panda kingdom, South India, to woo a daughter of the king for himself and other girls as wives for his companions, and we are told that they came to the Island, and. together with them craftsmen and members of the various guilds. This is an interesting fact, and it is not improbable that there is some truth in it. For the new colony was no doubt in want of such help and it is easy to understand that they were fetched from South India which geographically was the nearest civilised country '.22

The word Tamraparni which has been mentioned above as referring to a river in Tinnevelly in India is of interest. It would appear to me that this river has not been known locally as Tambraparni. I have not seen this name given to this river in the maps except, as far as, I am aware in McGraw-Hill atlas. Even where a map shows this name, it would appear to have been given from information obtained otherwise an on the ground.

I am inclined to agree with the Manual of Madras Presidency, where a footnote, it is pointed out

` The Tamraparna division of the Navakhanda and the Taprobane of the Greeks are one and the same indicating Ceylon. The name meaning in the sanskrit (copper leaved) is again all probability a corruption by Sanskrit Travellers of Poruni which also means toddy. The river in Tinnevelly called by the Sanskrit authors ambrapurny, like the Ceylon island, is called to this day by the Tamuls Poruni or the toddy river ; which appears decisive of the point. Tambrapurny is not known to the real Tamuls of Tinnevelly. The Greeks called this river solen or chank river but not Taprobane. Later Sanskrit authors have erroneously derived the division of the Navakhanda from this small river instead of this island. The latter was its true derivation'.23

Apparently the confusion has been the creation of some Sanskrit writers who had no knowledge of the local geography.

The reference to the Greeks calling this river Solen is apparently to Ptlemy's Geography of India, which is a remarkably accurate document, a subject I have dealt with in my work ' Ceylon in Ptolemy's Geography'. This river has been described by Ptolemy as Solen, even though he has  given one of the ancient names of Ceylon as Taprobane, which is supposed to be derived from Tambraparni. I may mention that I however  do not think that the Taprobane of the Greeks for Ceylon is derived from Tamraparni.

However, the Manual of Madras Presidency, has stated that this river is actually called ` Chank' river. Investigations of this point has now revealed that Ptolemy is correct and has also solved the question ; raised about 80 years ago by McCrindle, 'The Tamraparni is the chief ' river of Tinneveli .... In Tamil poetry it is called Porunnei. Its Pali form is Tambapanni. How it came to be called Solen remains as ,' yet unexplained '.24

That Solen actually means ' Chank' as pointed out in the Manual  of Madras Presidency is confirmed by the fact that according to  the Oxford English Dictionary, Latin Solen means shell fish.25 It is also pointed out that it is cylindrically elongated. The fact that the mouth of this river has been famous for Chanks accounts for the fact that it is called Chank river, and the description of the river as Solen by Ptolemy, according to geographical information obtained locally.26
Further evidence to support this view that this river was not known as Tambraparni would appear to be provided by Asoka's Rock Edicts.

Law has pointed out, (Indological studies, Part I, Second Edition)  in reference to the word Tamraparni, ` Vincent Smith thinks that the term does not denote Ceylon but merely indicates the river Tamraps in Tinnevelly. He refers to the Girnar text  'a Tambaparni ' which according to him, indicates that the river is meant and not the island the same name.

Ray Chaudhuri contends that the phrase ` a Tambapanni' in Rock Edict II comes after ` Ketalaputto as far as the Tamraparni' is hardly appropriate because the Tambraparni is a Pandya river.

In R.E. XIII the people of Tamraparni are expressly mentioned as Tamraparnyans. In this edict Tambraparni or the country of the Tamraparnyas is placed below Pandya. In the great epic too the country of Tampraparni is placed below Pandya or Dravida and Mount Vaiduryaka is mentioned as its rockly landmark. The asramas of Agastya and his disciple and the Gokarna tirtha are located in it. These facts enable us to identify Tamraparni with Hiuen Tsang's Malayakutta also placed below Dravida with Mount Potalaka (Vaiduryaka) as landmark. By Tamraparni or Taprobane Ceylon is meant, the word dvipa or island is associated with it. In one of the Nagarjunikande inscriptions Tambaparna  is clearly distinguished from the island Tambaparni ' 27 If we accept that this river was never known Tamraparni except by some writers based on a misconception, the question raised by Vincent Smith would not have arisen at all.

Reverting to the subject of the Pandiyans, it is of interest and releance to note that Caldwell has pointed out that the Aryan immigration to the south appear to have been generally Brahmanical priests instructors, rather than Kshatriya soldiers, and that the kings of Pandyas, Cholas, Kalingas and other rulers have been Dravidian chieftains. 28


1. Walkers: Hindu World, p. 180.
2. Wolpert : India, p. 6.
3. Mendis : Early History of Ceylon, p. 12
4. Nehru,Jawarhalal : Glimpses Of World History, p. 48
5. Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. I ; p. 378.
6. WOLPERT, op. cit., p. 31.
7. NALALASEKERA : Pali literature, p. 120
8. Harischandra: Sacred City, Anuradhapura, p. 48.
9.Turnour (tr.) : Mahawamsa, 1837; p. 64.
10. GEIGER (tr.) : Mahawamsa, p. 59 ; F.N. 1.
11  Paul Peiris : Sinhala and Patriots, p. 7.
12. Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. 23 ; p. 216. Mendis : op. cit., p. 20 ; F.N. 2.
13. GEIGER (tr.) : op. cit., p. 59 (V. 51).
14.  Coomaraswamy, Ananda, K.: Ancient Tamil Literature in RASCB 1895 ; Vol. 14; No. 46 ; p.18.
15. Fernando in University of Ceylon Review, Vol. 7 ; No. 4 ; pp. 222, 283, 284, 295.
16. LAW, B,C. : Historical Geography of Ancient India, pp. 180-181. For further details lease refer ` Tribes in Ancient India', pp. 190 ff.
17. TAYLOR, R. : Oriental Historical Manuscripts, Vol. I ; pp. 195 ff.
18. Please refer B. C. Law's ` Tribes in Ancient India', p. 190 ; Raychaudhri's 'Political fistory of Ancient India', 4th edn., p. 272 and McCrindle's `Ancient India' (Megasthenes and Arrian), pp. 163-164.
19. Mahawamsa, Ch. 8 ; V. 50 ; Dipavamsa, Ch. 4, V. 41.
20.  LAW, B. C. : op. cit., p. 181.
21. GEIGER : Culture of Ceylon in Mediaeval Times, p. 20.
22. Ibid., p. 19 and also refer F.N. 15.
23. Manual of Madras Presidency, Vol. I ; p. 1.
24. McCrendle : Ancient India, Ptolemy, p. 59.
25. Oxford English Dictionary, Vol. 10 ; p. 395.
26. Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. 23 ; p. 216.
27.LAW, B. C. : Indological Studies, pt. 1 ; 2nd edn., p. 48.
28. Caldwell, R. : A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian Languages, p. 111.


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