EARLY HISTORY OF SOUTH INDIA | PART 2 |Ancient History of India For UPSC


Contemporary Chera Rulers

The heroes of the last three decades of the ‘Ten Tens’ and their ancestors must be taken to have ruled contemporaneously with the kings of the house of Udiyanjeral. The fi rst to be heard of among them are Anduvan and his son Selvakkadungo Vali Adan, both praised by the poets in general terms for their valour and liberality, the father is said to have been a well-read scholar and the son performed many Vedic sacrifi ces. Famous among the minor chieftains who were their contemporaries were Ay and Pari, both celebrated in several poems by a number of poets. Ay was the patron of a Brahmin poet from Uraiyur, and Pari befriended and patronized another Brahmin, Kapilar, who repaired to the Chera court only after Pari’s death. There he was welcomed by Anduvan’s son whom he praised in the seventh decade of the ‘Ten of Tens’.
Ay was one of the many Vel chieftains ruling in several parts of the Tamil country. The Vels claimed to have issued from the sacrifi cial fi re pit legends of their connection with Vishnu and Agastya, and of one of their ancestors having shot down a tiger which was about to attack a sage in the midst of his penance legends, very similar to those of the Hoysalas in later times.
The country he ruled lay round about the Podiya hill, the Southernmost section of the Western Ghats, and the Greek geographer Ptolemy says that one ‘Aioi’ was ruling in the country which included Cape Comorin and Mount Bettigo. Ay seems to have been a dynastic name borne by all the kings of the line as a prefi x to their personal names. The patron of the Brahmin poet of Uraiyur was also called Andiran, a Sanskrit word meaning hero. His country is described as fertile and teeming with elephants, which he presented liberally to his cloth of very fi ne texture given to him by a Naga chieftain Nila.
Andiran seems to have been a man of peace, while the excellence of his country and his liberality from the theme of a large number of poems, there is only one casual reference to his success in the battlefi eld when he is said to have once pursued the Kongar to the Western Sea. On his death, the poet says, Andiran was welcomed in the abode of the gods and the drum in Indira’s palace reverberated at his arrival. Pari, the life long friend and patron of Kapilar, was another Vel chieftain also noted for heroism and generosity. His principality lay in the Pandya country round the hillock known as Kodungunram or Piranmalai.
The fame of Pari’s liberality was echoed in a later age in the Shaiva saint Sundarmurti’s lament: ‘there is no one ready to give, even if an illiberal patron is exalted in song to the level of Pari’. Pari’s country is said to have comprised three hundred villages round the fortifi ed hill at the centre.
The fertility of the land, the strength of the hill, and the ruler’s liberality are praised in many charming poems, not only by Kapilar. Kapilar stood by Pari through thick and thin when his hillock was closely intercepted by the three crowned kings of the Tamil land. Kapilar’s intelligence went far to aid Pari’s heroism in prolonging the resistance, for instance, several other poets say that Kapilar trained a large number of birds (parrots according to one) to fl y out from Pari’s beleaguered fortress into the open country behind the enemy’s lines and bring in corn to feed the city and the army for several months! But the inevitable end came, and in a short poem Pari’s two daughters thus bewailed the occurrence: ‘in those days we enjoyed the moonlight happily with father, and our enemies could not take our hill. Now, this day, in this bright moonlight, kings with victorious war-drums have captured the hill, and we have lost our father.’ The reference to the victorious drum is ironical, as Pari was not killed in open fi ght but by treachery.
After Pari’s death, Kapilar took charge of his two unmarried daughters and tried without success to get them suitably married. Of what happened subsequently there are different accounts. A note at the end of one of the poems in the Purananuru records that Kapilar, after the death of Pari, left his daughters in the charge of Brahmins and committed suicide by starvation. The tradition recorded in a Chola inscription of the eleventh century, however, is very different, it mentions only one daughter who Kapilar had given in marriage to the Malaiyaman before the former entered the fi re to attain heaven. And there exist many songs by Kapilar on Malaiyaman Tirumudikkari of Mullur, the excellence and easy defensibility of his country, and his liberal patronage of poets and minstrels.
Whatever may be the truth about the marriage of Pari’s daughter or daughters, it is certain that Kapilar neither committed suicide by starvation nor by entering fi re soon after the death of his friend and patron. In fact, he repaired to the court of the Chera Prince Selvakkadungo Vali Adan, the son of Anduvan, because he was reputed to possess all the great qualities of Pari. Kapilar celebrated Adan in song and was sumptuously rewarded for his effort.
Adan’s son was Perunjeral Irumporai (c. 190) renowned for his overthrow of the stronghold of Tagadur (Dharmapuri in Salem District), the seat of the power of the Adigaiman chieftains. He is also said to have subjugated a rebellious shepherd leader named Kaluvul and captured his fortress. He was learned, performed many sacrifi ces and begot heroic sons worthy of succeeding him. His wise and righteous conduct was such as to induce his Purohit to renounce the things of the world and retire to a life of asceticism.
Adigaiman, also called Neduman Anji, the opponent of Irumporai and Lord of Tagadur, was one of the ‘seven patrons’ and the supporter of the celebrated poetess Auvaiyar who has left many songs about him and some about his son Pogutteline. Evidently patron and poetess did not get on well at fi rst start, for one poem gives expression to Auvaiyar’s vexation at having waited a long time for a present. Soon, however, a perfect understanding grew up between them, the poetess is all praise for the hero and his achievements in the field, and undertakes a diplomatic mission to the Tondaiman on his account. On his side, Anji showed his devotion by many valuable presents, including a rare myrobalan fruit believed to prevent the ailments of old age and to assure longevity. According to Auvaiyar, Adigaiman was born of a family, which honoured the gods by puja and by sacrifi ces, which introduced into the world the sweet sugarcane from heaven, and ruled the world with great ability for a very long time.
Adigaiman fought with success against seven opposing princes and destroyed amongst other rebellious strongholds that of Kovalur. The Chera invasion of Tagadur, however, is not mentioned by Auvaiyar in her poems, evidently because she did not like to advert to the misfortunes that befell her patron, the event formed the theme of a poem of later times, the Tagadur Yattirai, now known only from quotation in other works. Adigaiman was aided by the Pandya and Chola monarchs against the Chera, but their help made no difference to the result. The war led to Adiaman’s acknowledgement of the suzerainty of the Chera on whose behalf he subsequently led an expedition against Pali, the capital of Nannan, where, after infl icting great losses on Nannan, known as Nimili or Minili. Auvaiyar laments his death without mentioning its occasion, and bewails the desolation of the days that remained to her after Adigaiman had earned his title to a hero-stone, a clear statement that he fell on the battle field.
The last Chera prince mentioned in the extent portions of the ‘Ten Tens’ is Kudakko Ilanjeral Irumporai (c. A.D. 190), a cousin of the victor of Tagadur. He is said to have fought a battle against ‘the two big kings’ (Pandya and Chola) and Vicci, to have captured five stone fortresses, to have defeated the big Chola who ruled at Potti and the Young Palaiyan Maran, and to have brought to the ancient city of Vanji much booty from these campaigns. The mention of the Vani River fl owing near the Chera capital shows that Karuvur was in fact Vanji. The discovery of Chera inscriptions near Karur, and of thousands of Roman coins in Karur and its neighbourhood and Ptolemy’s statement that the inland city of Korura was the Chera capital also point to the same conclusion. The recent arch aeological excavations at this site, especially the fi nd of Roman amphorae pieces conclusively prove the identity of modern Karur with the Vanji of the Sangam Age. The attempts to locate it in at Tiruvanjaikkalam in Kerala may now be discarded. Another Chera prince deserving mention is ‘Sey of the elephant look’ who had also the title Mandaranjeral Irumporai (c. A.D. 210). After one battle, he was captured by his contemporary Pandya ruler Nedunjeliya, the victor of Talaiyalanganam, but regained his freedom in time to prevent his enemies at home from deposing him.

2. Chola Rulers

Among the Cholas, Karikala ( A.D. 190) stands out pre-eminent. He is described in a poem as the descendant of a king (not named) who compelled the wind to serve his purposes when he sailed his ships on the wide ocean-possibly a reference to the early maritime enterprise of the Cholas. Karikala’s father was Ilanjetceni ‘of many beautiful chariots’, a brave king and a hard fi ghter. Karikala means ‘the man with the charred leg’, a reference to an accident by fire, which befell the prince early in life. Other explanations for the name were invented in later times, however, and it has also been taken to be a compound word in Sanskrit meaning either ‘death to kali’ or ‘death to (enemy) elephant’. Early in life he was deposed and imprisoned.
The plucky war in which Karikala escaped and re-established himself on the throne is well portrayed by the author of Pattinappalai, a long poem on the Chola capital Kaveri-Pattinam, in the Pattuppattu (Ten Idylls). One of his early achievements was the victory in a great battle at Venni, modern Kovil Venni, 15 miles to the east of Tanjore. This battle is referred to in many poems by different authors. Eleven rulers, velir and kings, lost their drums in the fi eld, the Pandya and the Chera lost their glory. The Pandyan ruler was wounded severely on his back which was the greatest humiliation for a warrior, and from a sense of profound shame he sat facing the north, sword in hand, and starved himself to death. Venni, thus, marked a turning point in the career of Karikala. His victory meant the breaking up of a widespread confederacy that had been formed against him. Another important battle he fought was at Vahaip- parandalai, ‘the field of vahai trees’, where nine minor enemy chieftains lost their umbrellas and had to submit.
As a result of his victorious campaigns, says the poet of Pattinappalai ‘the numerous Oliyar submitted to him, the ancient Aruvalar carried out his behests, the Northerners lost splendour, and the Westerners were depressed conscious of the might of his large army ready to shatter the fortresses of enemy kings, Karikala turned his fl ushed look of anger against the Pandya, whose strength gave way the line of low herdsmen, was brought to an end, and the family of Irungovel was uprooted’.
The Aruvalar were the people of Aruvanad, the lower valley of the Pennar, to the North of the Kaveri delta. Karikala is said to have prevented the migration of people from his land to other regions evidently by offering them inducements to stay.
Karikala’s wars thus resulted in his establishing a sort of hegemony among the ‘crowned kings’ of the Tamil country and in some extension of the territory under his direct rule. The description of Kaveri-pattinam and its foreshore, which takes up so much of the Pattinappalai, gives a vivid idea of the state of industry and commerce at this time. Karikala also promoted the reclamation and settlement of forestland, and added to the prosperity of the country by multiplying its irrigation tanks. The poems also bear evidence that the king, who was a follower of the Vedic religion, performed sacrifi ces and lived well, enjoying life to the full.
In later times, Karikala became the centre of many legends found in the Silappadikaram and in inscriptions and literary works of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. They attribute to him the conquest of whole of India upto the Himalayas and the construction with the aid of his feudatories of the fl ood banks of the Kaveri. The famous scholar Naccinarkkiniyar, probably follows a correct tradition when he says that Karikala married a Velier girl from Nangur, a place celebrated in the hymns of Tirumnagai Alvar for the heroism of its warriors. More open to suspicion is the story in the Silappadikaram about a supposed daughter of Karikala’s, named Adi Mandi, and her husband, a Chera prince called Attan Atti. Earlier poems which mention their names and some of the incidents attest only the relation between Adi Mandi and Atti, but not that between her and Karikala, nor the Chera descent of Atti. Both husband and wife were, according to the early testimony, professional dancers.
Tondaiman Ilandiraiyan, who ruled at Kanchipuram was a contemporary of Karikala and is also celebrated by the poet of the Pattinappalai in another poem in the ‘Ten Idylls’. Ilandiraiyan is said to have been a descendant of Vishnu and belonged to the family of Tiraiyar given by the waves of the sea. There is no hint anywhere of his being related to Karikala or of his political subordination to the Chola power. Nor is it clear whether it was to him or to some other member of his line that Auviaiyar went as Adigaiman’s ambassador. Ilandiraiyan was himself a poet, and there are four extant songs by him, one of them on the importance of the personal character of the monarch in the promotion of good rule.
This understanding of the political conditions of the Sangam age may not be closed without the mention of two other Chola rulers, both opponents of the Cheras in war. One was Ilanjetceni of Neydalanganal who captured two fortresses from the Cheras known by the names of Seruppali and Pamalur.
Another was Senganan, the Chola monarch famed in legend for his devotion to Shiva, fi gures as the victor in the battle of Por against the Chera Kanaikkal Irumporai. The Chera was taken prisoner, asked for drinking water when he was in prison, got it rather late, and then, without drinking it, confessed the shame of his position in a song. Subsequently, Poyagaiyar, a friend of the Chera monarch, is said to have secured his release from the Chola prisons by celebrating the victory of Senganan in a poem of forty stanzas the Kalavali. According to this poem, the battle was fought at Kalumalam, near Karuvur, the Chera capital. Senganan became the subject of many pious legends in later times. It is possible that this monarch who, according to Tirumangai, built 70 fine temples of Shiva, lived somewhat later, say in the fourth or fi fth century A.D.

3. Pandyan Kings

The Pandya king Nedunjeliyan distinguished by the title ‘he who won the battle at Talaiyalanganam’ may be taken to have ruled about A.D. 210. This ruler was celebrated by two great poets Mangudi Marudan alias Mangudi Kilar and Nakkirar, each contributing a poem on the monarch to the ‘Ten Idylls’ (Pattuppattu) besides minor pieces in the Puram and Abham collections.
From the Maduraikkanji of Mangudi Marudan and elsewhere, we learn something of three of Nedunjeliyan’s predecessors on the Pandyan throne. The fi rst is an almost mythical fi gure called Nediyon (‘the tall one’), whose achievements fi nd a place in the ‘Sacred Sports’ of Shiva at Madura and among the traditions of the Pandyas enumerated in the Velvikudi and Sinnamanur plates. He is said to have brought the Pahruli River into existence and organized the worship of the sea.
The next is Palsalai Mudukuduni, doubtless the same as the earliest Pandya king named in the Velvikudi grant and about whom there are several poems. He is a more life like fi gure than Nediyon, and is said to have treated conquered territory harshly. He

also performed many sacrifi ces, whence he derived his title Palsalai meaning ‘of the many (sacrifi cial) halls’. It is not possible to say what distance in time separated these two kings from each other or from their successors.


The third ruler mentioned in the Madduraikkanji was another Nedunjeliyan, distinguished by the title ‘he who won a victory against an Aryan (i.e., North Indian) army’. The tragedy of Kovalan’s death at Madura occurred in his reign, which according to the Silappadi-karam caused the king to die of a broken heart. A short poem ascribed to this king puts learning above birth and caste.


Nedunjeliyan of Talaiyalangam came to the throne as a youth and soon after his accession, he proved himself more than equal to a hostile combination of his two neighbouring monarchs and fi ve minor chieftains. There exists a simple poem of great force and beauty in which the youthful monarch swears an oath of heroism and victory in the ensuing fi ght. Despising his tender years and hoping for an easy victory and large boot, his enemies invaded the kingdom and penetrated to the heart of it, but, nothing daunted, Nedunjeliyan readily took the fi eld, pursued the invading forces across his frontier into the Chola country and infl icted a crushing defeat on them at Talaiya-langanam, about eight miles North- West of Tiruvalur in theTanjore district. It was in this battle that the Chera king ‘Sey of the elephant eye’ was taken captive and thrown into a Pandyan prison. By his victory Nedunjeliyan not only made himself secure on his ancestral throne, but also gained a primacy over the entire state system of the Tamil country. He also conquered the two divisions (Kurram) of Milalai and Mutturu from Evvi and a Velier chieftain and annexed them to his kingdom.


The Madduraikkanji contains a full-length description of Madura and the Pandyan country under Nedunjeliyan’s rule. The poet gives expression to his wish that his patron should spread the benefi ts of his good rule all over India. He makes particular mention of the farmers and traders of a place called Muduvellilai (unidentifi ed) as among his most loyal subjects for many generations. He also refers to the battle of Alanganam, calls his patron Lord of Korkai and the warlord of the Southern Paradavar hinting that the people of the pearl- fi shery coast formed an important section of his army.


Passing over the many contemporaries of Nedunjeliyan- Pandya and Chola princes and the poets who mention them and their achievements, we must now notice a rather protracted civil war in the Chol kingdom mentioned by Kovur Kilar and other poets. This war was between Nalangilli (also called Sectcenni) and Nedungilli. The latter shut himself up at Avur, which was being besieged by Mavalattan, the younger brother of Nalangilli. In one poem, Kovur Kilar says that if he claimed to be virtuous, Nedungilli should open the gates of the fort or if he claimed to be brave, he should come into the open and fi ght. He did neither, but caused untold misery to the people of his beleagured city by shuting himself up in a coward manner. Another poem dealing with the siege of Uraiyur by Nalangilli himself, once more Nedungilli being the besieged, is more considerate and impartial, it is addressed to both princes and exhorts them to stop the destructive war, as whoever loses would be a Chola, and a war to the fi nish must necessarily end in the defeat of one party. A third poem relates to a somewhat piquant situation.


A poet, Ilandattan by name, who went into Uraiyur from Nalangilli, was suspected by Nedungilli of spying. As he was about to be killed, Kovur Kilar interceded with his song on the harmless and upright nature of poets and thus saved him. Another poem hints at internal dissensions in the royal family at Uraiyur, which induced Nalangilli’s soldiers to rush to war in utter disregard of women. Civil war seems, indeed, to have been the bane of the Chola kingdom in this age: Senguttuvan, as we have seen, was called upon to intervene in another war at an earlier time.


A thorough change in the political map of South India and the defi nite close of an epoch seem to be clearly implied in the Sirupan-arruppadai by Nattattanar, one of the Pattupattu (‘Ten Idylls’). The poem has Nalliyakkodan for its hero and he may be taken to stand right a territory, which included Gidangil, a village near Tindivanam. We may assign to him a date about A.D. 275, and in his day the poet says that charity had dried up in the capitals of the three Tamil kingdoms, and all ancient patrons of learning and the arts were no more! There may well be some exaggeration here, but clearly Vanji, Uraiyur and Madura must have passed the meridian of their prosperity and entered on a period of decline.