Ancient History Notes for UPSC [Part 11] Chola, Chera & Pandya

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Early South Indian kingdoms

Early South Indian kingdoms
  • Around the time of 2-3rd century BCE, these people had megalithic culture. By the beginning of Christian era, they migrated to the river deltas. Ashokan inscriptions mention 3 kingdoms in the South- Chera, Chola and Pandya. But the actual archaeological proofs and literary references start after the Christian era.
  • The south Indian kingdoms find mention in the Puranas and are called descendents of Turvasu who also find mention in the Rigveda.

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Sangam Literature

Sangam Literature upsc

The literature is said to have composed in three assemblies held at Madurai from 300 BCE to 300 CE. The texts are mainly divided into 2- Agam or love and Puram or praise of kings.

  • First Sangam- texts are lost
  • Second Sangam- Tolkappiyam, a grammar text Sangam texts are classified into following types-
  1. Pathinen-melkanakku or 18 major works- narrative.
  2. Pathinen-kilkanaku or 18 minor works which are didactic in nature.
  3. Tolkappiyam as a separate text of Tamil Grammar.
  4. 5 Tamil Epics- Manimekalai, Silappadikaram, Shivak Cintamani, Valaiyapati and Kundalakesi.

The Pathinen-melkanakku are further split into 2 parts- Ettutokai or 8 anthologies and Paththupattu or 8 poems.

Pathinen-kilkanakku contains the famous work of Thirukurral of Thiruvalluvar. The 18 major works are the earliest while 18 minor works date to 4-5th century CE because they exhibit characteristic Jain and Buddhist influence.

  • Tamil ecology- Sangam poems split Tamilakam into 5 zones-
Mullaipastoral zone
Marutamriver zone
Neytalcoastal zone
Palaiarid zone
Tamilakam into 5 Zones
  • Divisions– Tolkappiyam refers to 4 classes called Andalars, Arasars, Vaisiyars and Velelars. However, there is a possibility that Jati system was not prevalent and these divisions were based in clans or Kuti system.
  • Rajan Gurukkal suggests that the brahmana landholdings were responsible for breaking these clan systems and introduction of caste system
  • Polity- Puram as praises of king. The system was monarchial. The crowned kings were called Ventars while the Three Kings of Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas were called Muventars. They did Rajasuya sacrifice to establish their authority. The chieftain were called Velirs. Ashokan inscription also mention Cholas, Pandyas and Keralaputos. Pugalam Tamil inscription mentions Chera lineage of 1st century CE.
  • Priestly class– it was an important class although it did not dominate the society. They acted as advisors, ambassadors, purohits and astrologers of the king
  • Women– Vijaya Ramaswamy has concluded that women were relatively free than north India. She mentions poems where women take up agricultural activities like winnowing, threshing, planting seeds, etc. Women were praised for their chastity. Heroine of Silappadikaram Kannagi was praised for it. Women poets like Kakkai and Padiniyar exist. However, it is not clear whether women held property or had any political rights. The custom of Sati was prevalent. Manimekalai also mention female ascetics of Buddhist and Jain order.
  • Agriculture– it seems to be the main activity. References to rice, barley, cattle rearing and fishing. There are multiple references to iron.
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Champakalakshmi has concluded based on agriculture, that the Sangam age was the last phase of Megalithic culture in south India due to similarities in both.

  • Education seems to be open for all with texts like Tolkappiyam, astronomy, fine arts, drama, etc being taught to all.
  • Religion– It seemed to be mixture of indigenous gods and exotic Hindu gods. Lord Murugan is one such indegenous god. Manimekalai and Silappadikaram mention a temple of Indra. Shiva also finds mention. The regions of Tamil ecology mentioned above have a God manning them- Murugan, Indra, Varuna, Vishnu and Korravai.
  • Thus, Sangam literature reveals a society in transition which was not completely rigidified.


Indian kingdoms upsc
pandya dynasty upsc

Megasthenes also mentions them in his writings. The most striking feature is the matrilineal nature of the society and a woman ruler that Megasthenes mentions. He said the kingdom was famous for pearls and precious stones. The Pandya kingdom existed in the southern and south eastern part of TN with their capital at Madurai. The greatest contribution of the Pandyan times is the Sangam literature. Although the literature mentions very few Pandya heroes, the Sangam has been ascribed to the Pandya times. The Pandyas had established trade with the Romans. They even had sent an embassy to roman king Augustus.

• Early Cholas
chola dynasty upsc

Their kingdom was known as Cholamandal or Coromandal. The territory was to the north-east of the Pandyas. The earliest reference is that somewhere in 2nd century BC, the Chola king Elara had conquered Sri Lanka and ruled it for 50 years. The capital city at that time was Uraiyur which is known for cotton export. The second part of Chola history begins at 100 AD when their famous king Karikala ruled. He built a capital at Puhar or Kaveripattanam with the help of slaves from Sri Lanka. It was a centre of for cotton trade. Cholas had a great navy that sailed from Ganga, Irawati till the Malaya archipelago. After Karikala, the empire declined and played a marginal role till 9th century AD. Guilds or Shrenis of Cholas are very well known.

• Cheras
chola dynasty upsc

Their kingdom was of Kerala. Their main source of income was trade with the Romans. Romans have said to have built a temple of Augustus at Cragnapore. The main event was the war of Cheras with the Chola king

Karikala in 150 AD. In this war, Karikala’s father was killed and so was the Chera king. Temporary settlement was made by marriage alliance. Later on, the next Chera king attacked Cholas with help of Pandyas but got defeated again. The power declined after 2nd century AD till the 8th century AD.

  • All the three kingdoms were famous for cotton, muslin, silk, pearls, precious stones and spices. They established trade relations with the Roman Empire in Egypt. Their biggest contribution was the trade with the Malaya archipelago. Their economy was based on trade, hence appropriate protection was given to the merchants and also duties were collected at the ports. Apart from that, agriculture played an important role in the Kaveri delta. It is said that the space consumed by a lying elephant was enough to grow crops that could feed seven people. Although no concrete proof of any tax system exists, the king definitely had a share in the produce in order to maintain an army. Horses were imported in the Pandyan kingdoms. The army consisted of cavalry, foot soldiers and animal chariots like elephants, oxen, etc.
  • The art of writing first appeared in 2nd century BC in caves near Madurai.
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The language is Tamil and the script is Brahmi. It is thought that the

Buddhist and Jain missionaries introduced the art of writing in south India. The Buddhist and Jain influence started to increase with the Mauryan times. There seemed to be good cultural contacts with Sri Lanka because of certain potteries with Sinhala Brahmi graffiti have been found on Indian coasts.

Post- Satavahana South Indian kingdoms- (500 CE to 900 CE)

• The post Satavahana and post Vakataka period had three major kingdoms in the South namely Chalukyas of Badami/Vatapi, Pallavas of Kanchipuram and Pandyas of Madurai. The Chalukyas became powerful after 6th century AD when the Vakataka power reduced. The origin of Pallavas is doubted with some saying them to be descendents of Ashoka, some to be Pahalvis.


pallava dynasty upsc

They had the control over the fertile areas of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

They have said to clear forests and brought them under cultivation. Nishadas and Shabaras are mentioned as local tribes who took to cultivation. The Pallavas performed Vedic sacrifices like that of Ashwamedha. Around 630 AD,

Mahendravarman became the most powerful king contemporary to Pulakeshin II of Chalukyas and Harsha. He was a poet himself with compositions like

Mattavilasa Prahasana. He built some rock temples of Mahabalipuram. He was a

Jaina at start but took to Shaivism. There was continuous war between the

Pallavas and Chalukyas. Pulakeshin II of Chalukyas had captured some parts of Pallava kingdom and had defeated Mahendravarman. His son Narsimhavarman swept the Chalukya capital Vatapi and adorned the title Vatapikonda. Yet another king Rajasimha had to his achievement the building od the shore temples of Mahabalipuram and Kailasnatha temple of Kanchi.

Pallava contribution to administration

  • King- He was called as Maharaja or Dharmamaharaja. He was the head of government. He was assisted by a council of ministers called Amatyas or Rahasyadikadas.
  • Provincial administration- empire was divided into Rashtras and Mandalas. They were headed by royal princes. Smaller units were Kottams and Nadus
  • Village or Grama was basic unit of administration. References to village Sabhas who maintained public places. It also carried judicial functions and looked after land survey and irrigation
  • Taxation- Reference to kings claim of 18 taxes called Ashtadasha-parihara. Taxes were also levied on professions, custom duties on trade, etc
  • Army- it mainly consisted of infantry, cavalry and elephants. The infantry was useful in the hilly terrain
  • Navy was developed by Pallavas for war and south east Asian trade.
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Pallava art and architecture- Upinder 634

Chalukyas– 6th to 8th century CE

The most famous king was Pulakeshin II. They were centered in Badami and Vatapi. They had managed to hold back the Arab conquests of western coasts. But they were overthrown by Dantidurga who established the Rashtrakuta Empire. He also helped Nandivarman the Pallava to get back to power at Kanchi as seen from the inscription at Vaishnava Perumal temple.

Specialties of Chalukyan art and architecture –

chalukya art and architecture upsc
  • All the three religions represented- Hindu, Buddhist and Jain
  • In Hindu, rock cut cave temples, proper temples are found of gods like Shiva, Vishnu, Durga, Ganesha, Kartikeya, Virupaksha, etc. The temple sculptures are adorned with Saptamatrikas, Ashtadikpalas, Ganga and Yamuna are also found.
  • In Jain Tirthankara temples, sculptures of Suparshvanath, Bahubali and Mahavira are found along with different animals and birds.
  • Badami temples and caves throw up some of the most ancient murals in ancient India.
  • Influences of the northern Nagara style as well as the Vimana influence from the Pallavas are seen in Chalukyan architecture.

Chalukya art- upinder 628 Hoysala- Upinder 632

Rashtrakutas (c 753 CE) –

Established by Dantidurga. Early kings were not well know. The famous king was

Krishna III and Indra III in middle 10th century. They have controlled areas from

Malwa to some parts of Chola kingdom. But after death of Krishna III, Parmaras became powerful and others also declared independence.They controlled the western trade with the Arabs and also appointed them as governors. Reference of Madhumati granting land for a Matha. Krishna I built the Kailashnatha temple of Ellora. The most famous king Amoghavarsha is known for his patronage to Jain and Shaivism and Kannada literature. Apabhramsha literatuer Swayambhu lived in Rashtrakuta kingdom. Princess Chandrobalabbe was a governor of Raichur. Literary traditions in Sanskrit and Tamil developed in this period. Taking a cue from Sangham literature, Tamil literature progressed further with the introduction of didactic poems like Manimegalai and Shilappadigaram. We find many saints from the Bhakti traditions composing poems on philosophy and religion. In Sanskrit, we find texts like Dandin’s Dashakumaracharita and Bharavi’s Kiratarjuniya. Jaina literature in Sanskrit include Adipurana.

The patronage to Buddhist and Jains was reducing with the emergence of Shaivism. The kings used to change loyalties, for eg- Mahendravarman I was Jaina was earlier but switched to Shaivism. We find emergence of Mathas as a counter to Buddhist monasteries.