History of Tamil Nadu

History of Tamil Nadu
A temple from the Chola period. The Cholas united most of the south Indian peninsula under a single administration during the tenth and the eleventh century CE.
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History of Tamil Nadu
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Chronology of Tamil history
Sangam period
Government  ·  Economy
Society  ·  Religion  ·  Music
Early Pandyas
Early Cheras  · Early Cholas
Medieval history
Pallava Empire
Pandya Empire
Chola Empire
Chera Kingdom
Vijayanagara Empire
Madurai Nayaks
Tanjore Nayaks
Kalahasti Nayaks
Gingee Nayaks
Kandy Nayaks
Thondaiman Kingdom
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The region of Tamil Nadu in modern India has been under continuous human habitation since prehistoric times, and the history of Tamil Nadu and the civilization of the Tamil people are among the oldest in the world. Throughout its history, spanning the early Paleolithic age to modern times, this region has coexisted with various external cultures. Except for relatively short periods in its history, the Tamil region has remained independent of external occupation.

The four ancient Tamil empires of Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava were of ancient origins. Together they ruled over this land with a unique culture and language, contributing to the growth of some of the oldest extant literature in the world. They had extensive maritime trade contacts with the Roman empire. These three dynasties were in constant struggle with each other vying for hegemony over the land. Invasion by the Kalabhras during the 3rd century disturbed the traditional order of the land by displacing the three ruling kingdoms. These occupiers were overthrown by the resurgence of the Pandyas and the Pallavas, who restored the traditional kingdoms. The Cholas, who re-emerged from obscurity in the 9th century by defeating the Pallavas and the Pandyas, rose to become a great power and extended their empire over the entire southern peninsula. At its height the Chola empire spanned almost 3,600,000 km² (1,389,968 sq mi) straddling the Bay of Bengal. The Chola navy held sway over the Sri Vijaya kingdom in Southeast Asia.

Rapid changes in the political situation of the rest of India due to incursions of Muslim armies from the northwest marked a turning point in the history of Tamil Nadu. With the decline of the three ancient dynasties during the 14th century, the Tamil country became part of the Vijayanagara Empire. Under this empire the Telugu speaking Nayak governors ruled the Tamil land. The brief appearance of the Marathas gave way to the European trading companies, who began to appear during the 17th century and eventually assumed greater sway over the indigenous rulers of the land. The Madras Presidency, comprising most of southern India, was created in the 18th century and was ruled directly by the British East India Company. After the independence of India, the state of Tamil Nadu was created based on linguistic boundaries.


Pre-historic period


The prehistoric period during which Palaeolithic settlements existed in the Tamil Nadu region has been estimated to span the period from about 500,000 BCE until around 3000 BCE.[1] For most part of the lower Palaeolithic stage, humans lived close to river valleys with sparse forest cover or in grassland environments. The population density was very low and so far only two localities of this lower Palaeolithic culture have been found in south India. One of these is in Attirampakkam valley in the northwest of Chennai in Tamil Nadu.[2] Archaeological research has uncovered evidence of fossil remains of animals and primitive stone implements around the northern Tamil Nadu that could be dated to belong to around 300,000 BCE.[3] Humans in South India, belonging to the species of Homo erectus, lived in this primitive 'old stone age' (Palaeolithic) for quite a long time, using only crude implements such as hand axes and choppers and subsisting as hunter-gatherers.[4]

The ancestor of modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) who appeared around 50,000 years ago was more developed and could make thinner flake tools and blade-like tools using a variety of stones. From about 10,000 years ago, humans made still smaller tools called Microlithic tools. The material used by the early humans to make these tools were jasper, agate, flint, quartz, etc. In 1949, researchers found such microliths in Tirunelveli district.[5] Archaeological evidence suggests that the microlithic period lasted between 6000–3000 BCE.[6]


In Tamil Nadu, the Neolithic period had its advent around 2500 BCE. Humans of the Neolithic period made their stone tools in finer shapes by grinding and polishing. A Neolithic axe head with ancient writing on it has been found in Tamil Nadu.[7] The Neolithic humans lived mostly on small flat hills or on the foothills in small, more or less permanent settlements but for periodical migration for grazing purposes. They gave the dead proper burials within urns or pits. They were also starting to use copper for making certain tools or weapons.

Iron Age

During the Iron Age humans started using iron for making tools and weapons. The Iron Age culture in peninsular India is marked by Megalithic burial sites, which are found in several hundreds of places.[8] On the bases of both some excavations and the typology of the burial monuments, it has been suggested that there was a gradual spread of the Iron Age sites from the north to the south. Comparative excavations carried out in Adichanallur in Thirunelveli district and in Northern India have provided evidence of a southward migration of the Megalithic culture.[9]

The earliest clear evidence of the presence of the megalithic urn burials are those dating from around 1000 BCE, which have been discovered at various places in Tamil Nadu, notably at Adichanallur, 24 km from Tirunelveli, where archaeologists from the Archaeological Survey of India unearthed 157 urns, including 15 containing human skulls, skeletons and bones, plus husks, grains of rice, charred rice and Neolithic celts. One urn has writing inside, which, according to archaeologists from the Archaeological Survey of India, resembles early Tamil-Brahmi script, confirming it of the Neolithic period 2800 years ago.[10] Adhichanallur has been announced as an archaeological site for further excavation and studies.[11][12]

Mentions of the political situation of Tamil Nadu before the common era are found in Asoka's edicts dated c 300 BCE and, vaguely, in the Hathigumpha inscription dated c.150 BCE. The earliest epigraphical evidence in the Tamil country are that of the Pandya king Kadungon (c. 560–590 CE) who displaced the Kalabhras from the Pandyas country. —Nilakanta Sastri, A history of South India, pp 105, 137

Early history

Hathigumpha inscription of Kharavela

Ancient Tamil Nadu contained three monarchical states, headed by kings called Ventar and several tribal chieftaincies, headed by the chiefs called by the general denomination Vel or Velir.[13] Still lower at the local level there were clan chiefs called kizar or mannar.[14] During the 3rd century BCE, the Deccan was part of the Mauryan kingdom, and from the middle of the 1st century BCE to 2nd century CE the same area was ruled by the Satavahana dynasty. The Tamil area had an independent existence outside the control of these northern empires. The Tamil kings and chiefs were always in conflict with each other mostly over property. The royal courts were mostly places of social gathering rather than places of dispensation of authority; they were centres for distribution of resources. Gradually the rulers came under the spell of north Indian influence and Vedic ideology, which encouraged performance of sacrifices to enhance the status of the ruler.[15]

The names of the three dynasties, Cholas, Pandyas, and Cheras ,are mentioned in the Pillars of Ashoka (inscribed 273–232 BCE) inscriptions, among the kingdoms, which though not subject to Ashoka, were on friendly terms with him.[16][17] The king of Kalinga, Kharavela, who ruled around 150 BCE, mentioned in the famous Hathigumpha inscription of the confederacy of the Tamil kingdoms that had existed for over 100 years.[18]

Karikala Chola was the most famous early Chola. He is mentioned in a number of poems in the Sangam poetry.[19] In later times Karikala was the subject of many legends found in the Cilappatikaram and in inscriptions and literary works of the 11th and 12th centuries. They attribute to him the conquest of the whole of India up to the Himalayas and the construction of the flood banks of the river Kaveri with the aid of his feudatories.[20] These legends however are conspicuous by their absence in the Sangam poetry. Kocengannan was another famous early Chola king who has been extolled in a number of poems of the Sangam period. He was even made a Saiva saint during the medieval period.[21]

Ancient map of south India created after Ptolemy, probably following his cartography.

Pandyas ruled initially from Korkai, a sea port on the southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula, and in later times moved to Madurai. Pandyas are also mentioned in Sangam Literature, as well as by Greek and Roman sources during this period. Megasthenes in his Indika mentions the Pandyan kingdom.[22] The Pandyas controlled the present districts of Madurai, Tirunelveli, and parts of south Kerala. They had trading contacts with Greece and Rome.[23] With the other kingdoms of Tamilakam, they maintained trading contacts and marital relationships with Tamil merchants from Eelam. Various Pandya kings find mention in a number of poems in the Sangam literature. Among them Nedunjeliyan, 'the victor of Talaiyalanganam', yet another Nedunjeliyan AArand 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. The early Pandyas went into obscurity at the end of the 3rd century CE during the incursion of the Kalabhras.

The kingdom of the Cheras comprised the modern state of Kerala, along the western or Malabar Coast of southern India. Their proximity to the sea favoured trade with Africa.[24][25] The people of the current Indian state of Kerala, which constitutes the ancient territories of the Cheras spoke the same language and had extensive interaction with the rest of the Tamil country. It was only towards the 9th or the 10th centuries CE, Due to Sanskrit influences on Tamil their individual identity changed, and a new language began to evolve.[26]

These early kingdoms sponsored the growth of some of the oldest extant literature in Tamil. The classical Tamil literature, referred to as Sangam literature is attributed to the period between 200 BCE and 300 CE.[27][28] The poems of Sangam literature, which deal with emotional and material topics, were categorised and collected into various anthologies during the medieval period. These Sangam poems paint the picture of a fertile land and of a people who were organised into various occupational groups. The governance of the land was through hereditary monarchies, although the sphere of the state's activities and the extent of the ruler's powers were limited through the adherence to the established order (dharma).[29] The people were loyal to their kings and roving bards and musicians and danseuse gathered at the royal courts of the generous kings. The arts of music and dancing were highly developed and popular. Musical instruments of various types find mention in the Sangam poems. The amalgamation of the southern and the northern styles of dancing started during this period and is reflected fully in the epic Cilappatikaram.[30]

Internal and external trade was well organised and active. Evidence from both archaeology and literature speaks of a flourishing foreign trade with the Yavanas (Greeks). The port city of Puhar on the east coast and Muziris on the west coast of south India were emporia of foreign trade, where huge ships moored, offloading precious merchandise.[31] This trade started to decline after the 2nd century CE and the direct contact between the Roman empire and the ancient Tamil country was replaced by trade with the Arabs and the Auxumites of East Africa. Internal trade was also brisk and goods were sold and bartered. Agriculture was the main profession of a vast majority of the populace and Vellalars, the hereditary agriculturalists, owned the bulk of the land.[32]

Interregnum (300–600)

After the close of the Sangam era, from about 300 to about 600 CE, there is an almost total lack of information regarding occurrences in the Tamil land. Some time about 300 CE, the whole region was upset by the appearance of the Kalabhras. These people are described in later literature as 'evil rulers' who overthrew the established Tamil kings and got a strangle hold of the country.[33] Information about their origin and details about their reign is scarce. They did not leave many artefacts or monuments. The only source of information on them is the scattered mentions in Buddhist and Jain literature.[34]

Historians speculate that these people followed Buddhist or Jain faiths and were antagonistic towards the Hindu religions (viz. the Astika schools) adhered by the majority of inhabitants of the Tamil region during the early centuries CE.[35] As a result Hindu scholars and authors who followed their decline in the 7th and 8th century may have expunged any mention of them in their texts and generally tended to paint their rule in a negative light. It is perhaps due to this reason, the period of their rule is known as a 'Dark Age'—an interregnum. Some of the ruling families migrated northwards and found enclaves for themselves away from the Kalabhras.[36] Jainism and Buddhism, took deep roots in the society, giving birth to a large body of ethical poetry.

Writing became very widespread and vatteluttu evolved from the Tamil-Brahmi became a mature script for writing Tamil.[37] While several anthologies were compiled by collecting bardic poems of earlier centuries, some of the epic poems such as the Cilappatikaram and didactic works such as the Tirukkural were also written during this period.[38] The patronage of the Jain and Buddhist scholars by the Kalabhra kings influenced the nature of the literature of the period, and most of the works that can be attributed to this period were written by the Jain and Buddhist authors. In the field of dance and music, the elite started patronising new polished styles, partly influenced by northern ideas, in the place of the folk styles. A few of the earliest rock-cut temples belong to this period. Brick temples (known as kottam, devakulam, and palli) dedicated to various deities are referred to in literary works. Kalabhras were displaced around the 7th century by the revival of Pallava and Pandya power.[39]

Even with the exit of the Kalabhras, the Jain and Buddhist influence still remained in Tamil Nadu. The early Pandya and the Pallava kings were followers of these faiths. The Hindu reaction to this apparent decline of their religion was growing and reached its peak during the later part of the 7th century.[40] There was a widespread Hindu revival during which a huge body of Saiva and Vaishnava literature was created. Many Saiva Nayanmars and Vaishnava Alvars provided a great stimulus to the growth of popular devotional literature. Karaikkal Ammaiyar who lived in the 6th century CE was the earliest of these Nayanmars. The celebrated Saiva hymnists Sundaramurthi, Thirugnana Sambanthar and Thirunavukkarasar were of this period. Vaishnava Alvars such as Poigai Alvar, Bhoothathalvar and Peyalvar produced devotional hymns for their faith and their songs were collected later into the four thousand poems of Naalayira Divyap Prabhandham.[41]

Age of empires (600–1300)

The medieval period of the history of the Tamil country saw the rise and fall of many kingdoms, some of whom went on to the extent of empires, exerting influences both in India and overseas. The Cholas who were very active during the Sangam age were entirely absent during the first few centuries.[42] The period started with the rivalry between the Pandyas and the Pallavas, which in turn caused the revival of the Cholas. The Cholas went on to becoming a great power. Their decline saw the brief resurgence of the Pandyas. This period was also that of the re-invigorated Hinduism during which temple building and religious literature were at their best.[43]

The Hindu sects Saivism and Vaishnavism became dominant, replacing the prevalence of Jainism and Buddhism of the previous era. Saivism was patronised more by the Chola kings and became more or less a state religion.[44] Some of the earliest temples that are still standing were built during this period by the Pallavas. The rock-cut temples in Mamallapuram and the majestic Kailasanatha and Vaikuntaperumal temples of Kanchipuram stand testament to the Pallava art. The Cholas, utilising their prodigious wealth earned through their extensive conquests, built long-lasting stone temples including the great Brihadisvara temple of Thanjavur and exquisite bronze sculptures. Temples dedicated to Siva and Vishnu received liberal donations of money, jewels, animals, and land, and thereby became powerful economic institutions.[45]

Tamil script replaced the vatteluttu script throughout Tamil Nadu for writing Tamil. Both secular and religious literature flourished during the period. The Tamil epic, Kamban's Ramavatharam, was written in the 13th century. A contemporary of Kamban was the famous poetess Auvaiyar who found great happiness in writing for young children. The secular literature was mostly court poetry devoted to the eulogy of the rulers. The religious poems of the previous period and the classical literature of the Sangam period were collected and systematised into several anthologies. Sanskrit was patronised by the priestly groups for religious rituals and other ceremonial purposes. Nambi Andar Nambi, who was a contemporary of Rajaraja Chola I, collected and arranged the books on Saivism into eleven books called Tirumurais. The hagiology of Saivism was standardised in Periyapuranam by Sekkilar, who lived during the reign of Kulothunga Chola II (1133–1150 CE). Jayamkondar's Kalingattupparani, a semi-historical account on the two invasions of Kalinga by Kulothunga Chola I was an early example of a biographical work.[46]


Shore Temple in Mamallapuram built by the Pallavas. (c. eighth century C.E.)

The 7th century Tamil Nadu saw the rise of the Pallavas under Mahendravarman I and his son Mamalla Narasimhavarman I. The Pallavas were not a recognised political power before the 2nd century.[47] It has been widely accepted by scholars that they were originally executive officers under the Satavahana kings.[48] After the fall of the Satavahanas, they began to get control over parts of Andhra and the Tamil country. Later they had marital ties with the Vishnukundina who ruled over the Deccan. It was around 550 AD under King Simhavishnu that the Pallavas emerged into prominence. They subjugated the Cholas and reigned as far south as the Kaveri River. The Pallavas were at their finest during the reigns of Narasimhavarman I and Pallavamalla Nandivarman II. Pallavas ruled a large portion of South India with Kanchipuram as their capital. Dravidian architecture reached its peak during the Pallava rule.[citation needed] Narasimhavarman II built the Shore Temple which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many sources describe Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen school of Buddhism in China, as a prince of the Pallava dynasty.[49]

During the 6th and the 7th centuries, the western Deccan saw the rise of the Chalukyas based in Vatapi. Pulakesi II (c.610–642) invaded the Pallava kingdom in the reign of Mahendravarman I. Narasimhavarman who succeeded Mahendravarman mounted a counter invasion of the Chalukya country and took Vatapi. The rivalry between the Chalukyas and the Pallavas continued for another 100 years until the demise of the Chalukyas around 750. The Chalukyas and Pallavas fought numerous battles and the Pallava capital Kanchipuram was occupied by Vikramaditya II during the reign of Nandivarman II.[50] Nandivarman II had a very long reign (732–796). He led an expedition to the Ganga kingdom (south Mysore) in 760. Pallavas were also in constant conflict with the Pandyas and their frontier shifted along the river Kaveri. The Pallavas had the more difficult existence of the two as they had to fight on two fronts—against the Pandyas as wells as the Chalukyas.


Pandyan Empire

Pandya Kadungon (560–590) is credited with the overthrow of the Kalabhras in the south.[51] Kadungon and his son Maravarman Avanisulamani revived the Pandya power. Pandya Cendan extended their rule to the Chera country. His son Arikesari Parantaka Maravarman (c. 650–700) had a long and prosperous rule. He fought many battles and extended the Pandya power. Pandya was well known since ancient times, with contacts, even diplomatic, reaching the Roman Empire; during the 13th century of the Christian era Marco Polo mentioned it as the richest empire in existence.[52]

After some decades of expansion, the Pandyan Empire was large enough to pose a serious threat to the Pallava power. Pandya Maravarman Rajasimha aligned with the Chalukya Vikramaditya II and attacked the Pallava king Nandivarman II.[53] Varagunan I defeated the Pallavas in a battle on the banks of the Kaveri. The Pallava king Nandivarman sought to restrain the growing power of the Pandyas and went into an alliance with the feudal chieftains of Kongu and Chera countries. The armies met in several battles and the Pandya forces scored decisive victories in them. Pandyas under Srimara Srivallaba also invaded Sri Lanka and devastated the northern provinces in 840.[54]

The Pandya power continued to grow under Srimara and encroached further into the Pallava territories. The Pallavas were now facing a new threat in the form of the Rashtrakutas who had replaced the Chalukyas in the western Deccan. However the Pallavas found an able monarch in Nandivarman III, who with the help of his Ganga and the Chola allies defeated Srimara at the battle of Tellaru. The Pallava kingdom again extended up to the river Vaigai. The Pandyas suffered further defeats in the hands of the Pallava Nripatunga at Arisil (c. 848). From then the Pandyas had to accept the overlordship of the Pallavas.[55]


Around 850, out of obscurity rose Vijayalaya, made use of an opportunity arising out of a conflict between Pandyas and Pallavas, captured Thanjavur and eventually established the imperial line of the medieval Cholas. Vijayalaya revived the Chola dynasty and his son Aditya I helped establish their independence. He invaded Pallava kingdom in 903 and killed the Pallava king Aparajita in battle, ending the Pallava reign.[56] The Chola kingdom under Parantaka I expanded to cover the entire Pandya country. However towards the end of his reign he suffered several reverses by the Rashtrakutas who had extended their territories well into the Chola kingdom.

Chola Empire under Rajendra Chola (c. 1030).

The Cholas went into a temporary decline during the next few years due to weak kings, palace intrigues and succession disputes. Despite a number of attempts the Pandya country could not be completely subdued and the Rashtrakutas were still a powerful enemy in the north. However, the Chola revival began with the accession of Rajaraja Chola I in 985. Cholas rose as a notable military, economic and cultural power in Asia under Rajaraja and his son Rajendra Chola I. The Chola territories stretched from the islands of Maldives in the south to as far north as the banks of the river Ganges in Bengal. Rajaraja Chola conquered peninsular South India, annexed parts of Sri Lanka and occupied the islands of Maldives. Rajendra Chola extended the Chola conquests to the Malayan archipelago by defeating the Srivijaya kingdom.[57] He defeated Mahipala, the king of Bihar and Bengal, and to commemorate his victory he built a new capital called Gangaikonda Cholapuram (the town of Cholas who conquered the Ganges). At its peak the Chola Empire extended from the island of Sri Lanka in the south to the Godavari basin in the north. The kingdoms along the east coast of India up to the river Ganges acknowledged Chola suzerainty. Chola navies invaded and conquered Srivijaya in the Malayan archipelago.[58] Chola armies exacted tribute from Thailand and the Khmer kingdom of Cambodia.[59] During the reign of Rajaraja and Rajendra, the administration of the Chola empire matured considerably. The empire was divided into a number of self-governing local government units, and the officials were selected through a system of popular elections.[60]

Brihadishwara Temple

Throughout this period, the Cholas were constantly troubled by the ever resilient Sinhalas trying to overthrow the Chola occupation of Lanka, Pandya princes trying to win independence for their traditional territories, and by the growing ambitions of the Chalukyas in the western Deccan. The history of this period was one of constant warfare between the Cholas and of these antagonists. A balance of power existed between the Chalukyas and the Cholas and there was a tacit acceptance of the Tungabhadra river as the boundary between the two empires. However, the bone of contention between these two powers was the growing Chola influence in the Vengi kingdom. The Cholas and Chalukyas fought many battles and both kingdoms were exhausted by the endless battles and a stalemate existed.

Marital and political alliances between the Eastern Chalukya kings based around Vengi located on the south banks of the river Godavari began during the reign of Rajaraja following his invasion of Vengi. Virarajendra Chola's son Athirajendra Chola was assassinated in a civil disturbance in 1070 and Kulothunga Chola I ascended the Chola throne starting the Chalukya Chola dynasty. Kulothunga was a son of the Vengi king Rajaraja Narendra. The Chalukya Chola dynasty saw very capable rulers in Kulothunga Chola I and Vikrama Chola, however the eventual decline of the Chola power practically started during this period. The Cholas lost control of the island of Lanka and were driven out by the revival of Sinhala power.[61] Around 1118 they also lost the control of Vengi to Western Chalukya king Vikramaditya VI and Gangavadi (southern Mysore districts) to the growing power of Hoysala Vishnuvardhana, a Chalukya feudatory. In the Pandya territories, the lack of a controlling central administration caused a number of claimants to the Pandya throne to cause a civil war in which the Sinhalas and the Cholas were involved by proxy. During the last century of the Chola existence, a permanent Hoysala army was stationed in Kanchipuram to protect them from the growing influence of the Pandyas. Rajendra Chola III was the last Chola king. The Kadava chieftain Kopperunchinga I even captured Rajendra and held him prisoner. At the close of Rajendra’s reign (1279), the Pandyan Empire was at the height of prosperity and had completely absorbed the Chola kingdom.[62] The Cholas also found a place in very famous novel by Kalki title Ponniyin Selvan which portrays the whole Chola history with Rajaraja Cholan( Ponniyin Selvan, Arul Mozhi Varman) as the Hero of the novel.

Pandya revival

After being overshadowed by the Pallavas and Cholas for centuries, Jatavarman Sundara Pandyan briefly revived the Pandya glory in 1251 and the Pandya power extended from the Telugu countries on banks of the Godavari river to the northern half of Sri Lanka. When Maaravaramban Kulasekara Pandyan I died in 1308, a conflict stemming from succession disputes arose amongst his sons - the legitimate Sundara Pandya and the illegitimate Vira Pandya (who was favoured by the king) fought each other for the throne. Soon Madurai fell into the hands of the invading armies of the Delhi Sultanate (which initially gave protection to the vanquished Sundara Pandyan).

Delhi Sultanate

Malik Kafur, a general of the Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji invaded and sacked Madurai in 1311.[63] Pandyas and their descendants where confined to a small region around Thirunelveli for a few more years. Ravivarman Kulasekara (1299–1314), a Chera feudatory of Kulasekara Pandya, staked his claim to the Pandya throne. Ravivarman Kulasekhara, utilising the unsettled nature of the country, quickly overran the southern Tamil Nadu and brought the entire region from Kanyakumari to Kanchipuram, under the Chera kingdom. His inscription was found in Punaamalli, a suburb of Madras.[64]

Vijayanagar and Nayak period (1300–1650)

The Meenakshi temple in the city of Madurai in southern India renovated by the Nayak king.

The 14th century invasion by the Delhi Sultans caused a retaliatory reaction from the Hindus, who rallied to build a new kingdom, called the Vijayanagara Empire. Bukka, with his brother Harihara founded the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire based in the city of Vijayanagara in Karnataka.[65] Under Bukka the empire prospered and continued to expand towards the south. Bukka and his son Kampana conquered most of the kingdoms of southern India. In 1371 the Vijayanagar empire defeated the short lived Madurai Sultanate, which had been established by the remnants of the invading Khilji army.[66] Eventually the empire covered the entire south India. Vijayangara empire established local governors called Nayaks to rule in the various territories of the empire.

Tanjore became a major cultural centre during the 18th and 19th centuries, under Maratha rule. Figure depicts a Tanjore painting from this era.
From the collection of the V&A Museum.

The Vijayanagar Empire declined in 1564 defeated by the Deccan sultans in the battle of Talikota.[67] The local Nayak governors declared their independence and started their rule. The Nayaks of Madurai and Thanjavur were the most prominent of them. Ragunatha Nayak (1600–1645) was the greatest of the Tanjavur Nayaks.[68] Raghunatha Nayak encouraged trade and permitted a Danish settlement in 1620 at Tarangambadi.[69] This laid the foundation of future European involvement in the affairs of the country. The success of the Dutch inspired the English to seek trade with Thanjavur, which was to lead to far-reaching repercussions. Vijaya Raghava (1631–1675) was the last of the Thanjavur Nayaks. Nayaks reconstructed some of the oldest temples in the country and their contributions can be seen even today. Nayaks expanded the existing temples with large pillared halls, and tall gateway towers, which is representative of the religious architecture of this period.

In Madurai, Thirumalai Nayak was the most famous Nayak ruler. He patronised art and architecture creating new structures and expanding the existing landmarks in and around Madurai. On Thirumalai Nayak's death in 1659, the Madurai Nayak kingdom began to break up. His successors were weak rulers and invasions of Madurai recommenced. Shivaji Bhonsle, the great Maratha Ruler, invaded the south, as did Chikka Deva Raya of Mysore and other Muslim Rulers, resulting in chaos and instability. Rani Mangammal, a local ruler, tried to resist these invasions showing great courage.[70]

Rule of Nizams and Nawabs

European settlements began to appear in the Tamil country during the Vijayanagara Empire. In 1605, the Dutch established trading posts in the Coromandel Coast near Gingee and in Pulicat. The British East India Company built a 'factory' (warehouse) at Armagaon (Durgarazpatnam), a village around 35 miles (56 km) North of Pulicat, as the site in 1626. In 1639, Francis Day, one of the officers of the company, secured the rights over a three-mile (5 km) long strip of land a fishing village called Madraspatnam from the Damarla Venkatadri Nayakudu, the Nayak of Vandavasi. The East India Company built Fort St George and castle on an approximate five square kilometre sand strip.[71] This was the start of the town of Madras. The coromandel coast was ruled by the Vijayanagara King (Aravidu Dynasty), Peda Venkata Raya, based in Chandragiri and Vellore Fort. With his approval the English began to exercise sovereign rights over their strip of land.[72]

In 1675, a column of Bijapur army came to Thanjavur to help Vijayaraghava and retrieved Vallam from the Madurai Nayak. However the same army subsequently killed Vijayaraghava Nayak and Ekoji managed to ascend the throne of Thanjavur kingdom. Thus began the Maratha rule of Thanjavur. After Ekoji, his three sons namely Shaji, Serfoji I, Thukkoji alias Thulaja I ruled Thanjavur. The greatest of the Maratha rulers was Serfoji II (1798–1832 ). Serfoji devoted his life to the pursuit of culture and Thanjavur became renowned as a seat of learning. Serfoji's patronised art and literature and built the Saraswati Mahal Library at his palace. The incursion of the Muslim armies from the north forced a southward migration of Hindus from the central Deccan and the Andhra countries to seek shelter under the Nayak and the Maratha kings. The famous Carnatic music composer Tyagaraja (1767–1847), along with the Trinity of Carnatic music flourished in the Thanjavur district during this time.[73]

Fort St.George, Chennai. 18 century sketch.

With the demise of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, his empire dissolved amidst numerous succession wars and the vassals of the empire began to assert their independence. The administration of the southern districts of Tamil Nadu was fragmented with hundreds of Poligars or Palayakkarars governing a few villages each. These local chieftains often fought amongst each other over territory. This turned the political situation in the Tamil country and in South India in general into confusion and chaos. The European traders found themselves in a situation where they could exploit the prevailing confusion to their own advantage.[74]

European colonisation (1750–1850)

Anglo-French conflicts

Mohamed Ali Khan Wallajah, Nawab of the Carnatic (1717–1795)

The French were relative newcomers to India. The French East India Company was formed in 1664 and in 1666 the French representatives obtained Aurangzeb’s permission to trade in India. The French soon setup trading posts in Pondicherry on the Coromandel coast. They occupied Karaikal in 1739 and Joseph François Dupleix was appointed Governor of Pondicherry. In Europe the War of the Austrian Succession began in 1740 and eventually the British and the French forces in India were caught up in the conflict. There were numerous naval battles between the two navies along the Coromandel coast. The French led by La Bourdonnais attacked the poorly defended Fort St. George in Madras in 1746 and occupied it. Robert Clive was one of the prisoners of war from this battle. The war in Europe ended in 1748 and with the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle Madras was restored to the British.[75]

The conflict between the British and the French continued, this time in political rather than military terms. Both the Nawab of the Carnatic and Nizam of Hyderabad positions were taken by rulers who were strongly sympathetic to the French. Chanda Sahib had been made Nawab of the Carnatic with Dupleix's assistance, while the British had taken up the cause of the previous incumbent, Mohammed Ali Khan Walajah. In the resultant battle between the rivals, Clive assisted Mohammed Ali by attacking Chanda Sahib's fort in Arcot and took possession of it in 1751. The French assisted Chanda Sahib in his attempts to drive Clive out of Arcot. However the large Arcot army assisted by the French was defeated by the British. The Treaty of Paris (1763) formally confirmed Mahommed Ali as the Nawab of the Carnatic. It was a result of this action and the increased British influence that in 1765 the Emperor of Delhi issued a firman (decree) recognising the British possessions in southern India.[76]

British Government control

Although the Company was becoming increasingly bold and ambitious in putting down resisting states, it was getting clearer day by day that the Company was incapable of governing the vast expanse of the captured territories. Opinion amongst the members of the British Parliament urged the government to control the activities of the Company. The Company's financial position was also bad and it had to apply for a loan from Parliament. Seizing this opportunity, the Parliament passed the Regulating Act (also known as East India Company Act) in 1773.[77] The act set down regulations to control the Company Board and created the position of the Governor General. Warren Hastings was appointed the first Governor-General. In 1784 Pitt's India Act made the Company subordinate to the British Government.

The next few decades were of rapid growth and expansion in the territories controlled by the British. The Anglo-Mysore Wars of 1766 to 1799 and the Anglo-Maratha Wars of 1772 to 1818 put the Company in control of most of India.[78] In a sign of the early resistance against the English control, the Palayakkarar chieftains of the old Madurai Kingdom, who had independent authority over their territories, ran into a conflict with the Company officials over tax collection. Kattabomman, a local Palayakkarar chieftain in the Tirunelveli district, rebelled against the taxes imposed by the Company administration in the 1790s. After the First Polygar War (1799–1802), he was captured and hanged in 1799. A year later, the Second Polygar War was fought by Dheeran Chinnamalai, by winning three wars against British after the fall of tipusultan kingdom at last he and his two brothers was illeagelly hanged and Dheeran Chinnamalai was the last Tamil king died in the war against Britishers and was put down by the Company after a long and expensive campaign. The end of the Polygar Wars gave the British complete control over a major portion of Tamil Nadu.[79]

In 1798 Lord Wellesley became the Governor-General. In the course of the next six years Wellesley made vast conquests and doubled the Company's territory. He shut out the French from further acquisitions in India, destroyed several ruling powers in the Deccan and the Carnatic, took the Mughal Emperor under the company's protection and compelled Serfoji, the king of Thanjavur to cede control of his kingdom. The Madras Presidency was established so that the territory under direct Company control could be administered effectively. The direct administration began to cause resentment among the people. In 1806 the soldiers of the Vellore cantonment rebelled when William Bentinck, the Governor of Madras decreed that the native soldiers should abandon all caste marks. Fearing this act to be an attempt of forceful conversion to Christianity, the soldiers mutinied. The rebellion was suppressed but 114 British officers were killed and several hundred mutineers executed. Bentinck was recalled in disgrace.[80][81]

End of Company rule

The simmering discontent in the various districts of the company territories exploded in 1857 into the Sepoy war. Although the rebellion had a huge impact on the state of the colonial power in India, Tamil Nadu was mostly unaffected by it. In consequence of the war, the British Government enacted the Act of 1858 to abolish the powers of the Company and transfer the government to the Crown.

British rule (1850–1947)

In 1858 the British Crown assumed direct rule in India. During the early years the government was autocratic in many ways. The opinion of Indians in their own affairs was not considered by Britain as important. However, in due course the British Raj began to allow Indians participation in local government. Viceroy Ripon passed a resolution in 1882, which gave a greater and more real share in local government to the people. Further legislation such as the 1892 Indian councils Act and the 1909 "Minto-Morley Reforms" eventually led to the establishment of the Madras Legislative Council.[82] The non-cooperation movement started under Mahatma Gandhi's leadership led the British government to pass the Government of India Act (also known as Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms) of 1919. First elections were held for the local assemblies in 1921.[82]

Madras famine (1877). Distribution of relief. From the Illustrated London News (1877)

Failure of the summer monsoons and administrative shortcomings of the Ryotwari system resulted in a severe famine in the Madras Presidency during 1876–1877.[83] The government and several charitable institutions organised relief work in the city and the suburbs. Funds were also raised from Europeans in India and overseas for the famine relief. Humanitarians such as William Digby wrote angrily about the woeful failure of the British administration to act promptly and adequately in response to the wholesale suffering caused by the famine.[84] When the famine finally ended with the return of the monsoon in 1878, between three and five million people had perished.[83] In response to the devastating effects of the famine, the government organised a Famine Commission in 1880 to define the principles of disaster relief. The government also instituted a famine insurance grant, setting aside 1.5 million Rupees. Other civic works such as canal building and improvements in roads and railway were also undertaken to minimise effects of any future famines.

Independence struggle

The growing desire for independence began to gradually gather pace in the country and its influence in Tamil Nadu generated a number of volunteers to the fight against the British colonial power in the struggle for Independence. Notable amongst these are Tiruppur Kumaran, who was born in 1904 in a small village near Erode. Kumaran lost his life during a protest march against the British. The location of the French colony of Pondicherry, offered a place of refuge for the fugitives freedom fighters trying to flee the British Police. Aurobindo was one such living in Pondicherry in 1910. The poet Subramanya Bharathi was a contemporary of Aurobindo.[85] Bharathi wrote numerous poems in Tamil extolling the revolutionary cause. He also published the journal India from Pondicherry. Both Aurobindo and Bharathi were associated with other Tamil revolutionaries such as V.V.S.Aiyar and V. O. Chidambaram Pillai.[85] Tamils formed a significant percentage of the members of the Indian National Army (INA), founded by Netaji to fight the British occupation in India.[86][87] Lakshmi Sahgal from Tamil Nadu was a prominent leader in the INA.

In 1916 Dr. T.M. Nair and Rao Bahadur Thygaraya Chetty released the Non-Brahmin Manifesto sowing the seeds for the Dravidian movements.[88] During the 1920s, two movements focused mainly on regional politics began in Tamil Nadu. One was the Justice Party, which won the local legislative elections held in 1921. The Justice Party was not focused on the Indian independence movement, rather on the local issues such as affirmative action for socially backward groups. The other main movement was the anti-religious, anti-Brahimin reformist movement led by E.V. Ramasami Naicker.[88] Further steps towards eventual self-rule were taken in 1935 when the British Government passed the All-India Federation Act of 1935. Fresh local elections were held and in Tamil Nadu the Congress party captured power defeating the Justice party. In 1938, Ramasami Naicker with C. N. Annadurai launched an agitation against the Congress ministry's decision to introduce the teaching of Hindi in schools.[89]

Post Independence period

The political state of Tamil Nadu in India was created in 1969 when erstwhile Madras State was renamed.

The trauma of the partition did not impact Tamil Nadu when India was granted Independence in 1947. There was no sectarian violence against various religions. There had always been an atmosphere of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence between all religions in Tamil Nadu. Congress formed the first ministry in the Madras Presidency. C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) was the first Chief Minister. Madras Presidency was eventually reconstituted as Madras State. Following agitations for a separate Andhra state comprising the Telugu speaking regions of the Madras state by Potti Sriramalu, the Indian Government decided to partition the Madras state.[90] In 1953 Rayalaseema and the coastal Andhra regions became the new state of Andhra Pradesh and the Bellary district became part of the Mysore state. In 1956 south Kanara district was transferred to Mysore, the Malabar coastal districts became part of the new state of Kerala, and the Madras state assumed its present shape. The Madras state was named Tamil Nadu (the land of the Tamils) in 1968.

Ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka during the 1970s and the 80s saw large numbers of Sri Lankan Tamils fleeing to Tamil Nadu. The plight of Tamil refugees caused a surge of support from most of the Tamil political parties.[91] They exerted pressure on the Indian government to intercede with the Sri Lankan government on behalf of the Sri Lankan Tamilians. However, LTTE lost much of its support from Tamil Nadu following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on 21 May 1991 by an operative from Sri Lanka for the former Prime Minister's role in sending Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka to disarm the LTTE.[92][93]

The east coast of Tamil Nadu was one of the areas affected by the Indian Ocean earthquake of 2004, during which almost 8000 people died in the disaster.[94] The sixth most populous state in the Indian Union, Tamil Nadu was the seventh largest economy in 2005 among the states of India.[95] The growing demands for skilled labour has caused increased number of educational institutions in Tamil Nadu. The widespread application of caste based affirmative action caused the state to have 69% of all educational and employment vacancies to be reserved to the backward castes. Such caste-based reservations have huge public support in Tamil Nadu, with no popular protests organised against its implementation.[96]

Evolution of regional politics

The politics of Tamil Nadu have gone through three distinct phases since independence. The domination of the Congress Party after 1947 gave way to the Dravidian populist mobilisation in the 1960s. This phase lasted until towards the end of the 1990s. The most recent phase saw the fragmentation of the Dravidian political parties and led to the advent of political alliances and coalition governments.[97]

Annadurai formed the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in 1949 after splitting from Dravidar Kazhagam.[98] DMK also decided to oppose the 'expansion of the Hindi culture' in Tamil Nadu and started the demand for a separate homeland for the Dravidians in the South. The demand was for an Independent state called Dravida Nadu (country of Dravidians) comprising Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala.[99] The increased involvement of the Indian National Congress party in Madras during the late 1950s and the strong pan-Indian emotions whipped up by the Chinese invasion of India in 1962 led to the demand for Dravida Nadu losing some of its immediacy. Consequently in 1963, when the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution of India, precluded secessionist parties from contesting elections, the DMK chose to formally drop its demand for an independent Dravidistan, focusing instead on securing greater functional autonomy within the framework of the Indian Constitution.[100]

The Congress party, riding on the wave of public support stemming from the independence struggle, formed the first post-independence government in Tamil Nadu and continued to govern until 1967. In 1965 and 1968, DMK led widespread anti-Hindi agitations in the state against the plans of the Union Government to introduce Hindi in the state schools. Affirmative action in employment and educational institutions were pioneered in Tamil Nadu based on the demands of the Dravidian movement.[101] The leadership of the Dravidian movement had very capable authors and literati in Annadurai and Karunanidhi, who assiduously utilised the popular media of stage plays and movies to spread its political messages.[102] MG Ramachandran (MGR) who later became the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, was one such stage and movie actor.[103]

In 1967 DMK won the state election. DMK split into two in 1971, with MGR forming the splinter All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Since then these two parties have dominated the politics of Tamil Nadu.[104] AIADMK, under MGR retained control of the State Government over three consecutive assembly elections in 1977, 1980 and 1984. After MGR's death AIADMK was split over the succession between various contenders. Eventually J. Jayalalithaa took over the leadership of AIADMK.

Several changes to the political balance in Tamil Nadu took place during the later half of the 1990s, eventually leading to the end of the duopoly of DMK and AIADMK in the politics of Tamil Nadu. In 1996, a split in the Congress party in Tamil Nadu eventuated in the formation of Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC). TMC aligned with the DMK, while another party Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), which split from DMK aligned with the AIADMK. These and several smaller political parties began to gain popular support. The first instance of a 'grand alliance' was during the 1996 elections for the National parliament, during which the AIADMK formed a large coalition of a number smaller parties to counter the electoral threat posed by the alliance between the DMK and TMC. Since then the formation of alliances of large number of political parties has become an electoral practice in Tamil Nadu.[105] The electoral decline of Congress party at the national level, which started during the early 1990, forced the Congress to seek coalition partners from various states including Tamil Nadu. This paved the way for the Dravidian parties to be part of the Central Government.[106]


See also


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  2. ^ Pappu et al., Antiquity vol 77 no 297, September 2003
  3. ^ K.A.N. Sastri, A History of South India, OUP, reprinted 2000, p 44.
  4. ^ Tools of the Madras Industry have been found in the Kaveri and Vaigai beds —K.A.N. Sastri, Srinivasachari, Advanced History of India, p. 14.
  5. ^ K.A.N. Sastri, A History of South India, p. 45.
  6. ^ K.A.N. Sastri, A History of South India, p. 46.
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  8. ^ One such was found at Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu—"Steps to preserve megalithic burial site". The Hindu, Oct 6, 2006 (Chennai, India: The Hindu Group). 2006-10-06. http://www.hindu.com/2006/10/06/stories/2006100617521000.htm. Retrieved 2006-11-15. 
  9. ^ K.A.N. Sastri, A History of South India, pp. 49–51
  10. ^ Subramanian T.S. (Feb 17, 2005) The Hindu, retrieved 7/31/2007 Rudimentary Tamil-Brahmi script' unearthed at Adichanallur
  11. ^ Subramanian T.S. (May 26, 2004 ) The Hindu, retrieved 7/31/2007 Skeletons, script found at ancient burial site in Tamil Nadu
  12. ^ 'The most interesting pre-historic remains in Tamil India were discovered at Adichanallur. There is a series of urn burials. seem to be related to the megalithic complex. - Zvelebil, K.A., Companion Studies to the History of Tamil Literature - pp 21–22, Brill Academic Publishers.
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  14. ^ 'There were three levels of redistribution corresponding to the three categories of chieftains, namely: the Ventar, Velir and Kilar in descending order. Ventar were the chieftains of the three major lineages, viz Cera, Cola and Pandya. Velir were mostly hill chieftains, while Kilar were the headmen of settlements...' —"Perspectives on Kerala History". P.J.Cherian (Ed),. Kerala Council for Historical Research. Archived from the original on 2006-08-26. http://web.archive.org/web/20060826094724/http://www.keralahistory.ac.in/historicalantecedents.htm. Retrieved 2006-11-15. 
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  19. ^ Pattinappaalai, Porunaraatruppadai and a number of individual poems in Akananuru and Purananuru have been the main source for the information we attribute now to Karikala. See also K.A.N. Sastri, The Colas, 1935
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  39. ^ Pandya Kadungon and Pallava Simhavishnu overthrew the Kalabhras. Acchchutakalaba is likely the last Kalabhra king —K.A.N. Sastri, The CōĻas, 1935 p 102
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