The Pandya dynasty, also known as the Pandyas of Madurai, was a dynasty of south India, one of the three ethnically Tamil lineages, the other two being the Chola and the Chera. The rulers of the three dynasties were referred to as "the three crowned rulers (the mu-ventar) of the Tamil country". The Pandyas ruled extensive territories, at times including the large portions of present-day south India and Sri Lanka (through collateral branches subject to Madurai).
The age and antiquity of the dynasty is difficult to establish. The early Pandya chieftains ruled their country (the Pandya nadu) from time immemorial, which included the inland city of Madurai and the southern port of Korkai. The country of the Pandyas finds mention in a number of Graeco-Roman sources (as early as 4th century BCE) and the edicts Maurya emperor Asoka (3rd century BCE). The Pandyas are also celebrated in the earliest available Tamil poetry ("the Sangam literature"). Greek and Latin accounts (early centuries CE), coins with legends in Tamil-Brahmi script, and Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions suggest the continuity of the Pandya dynasty from the 3rd century BCE to early centuries CE. The early historic Pandyas faded into obscurity upon the rise of the Kalabhra dynasty in south India.
The Pandyas revived under Kadungon (r. 590 – 620 CE) towards the end of the 6th century, helped to disestablish the Kalabhras in south India. From 6th century to 9th century CE, the Chalukyas of Badami or Rashtrakutas of the Deccan, the Pallavas of Kanchi, and Pandyas of Madurai dominated the politics of south India. The Pandyas, at one time or another, ruled or invaded the fertile estuary of Kaveri (the Chola country), the ancient Chera country (Kongu and central Kerala) and Venadu (south Kerala), the Pallava country and Sri Lanka. The Pandyas went into decline with the rise of the Cholas of Tanjore in the 9th century and were in constant conflict with them. The Pandyas allied themselves with the Sinhalese (Sri Lanka) and the Cheras in harassing the Chola Empire until they found an opportunity for reviving their fortunes during the late 13th century. The Pandyas were very close allies of the Sinhalese and they often deposited their crowns and other royal insignia with the Sinhalese king for safe-keeping.
The Pandyas (1216–1345) entered their "golden age" under Maravarman Sundara I and Jatavarman Sundara I (c. 1251), who expanded the empire into the Telugu country (as far north as Nellore), south Kerala and conquered Sri Lanka. The Pandyas of Ucchangi (9th–13th century), in the Tungabhadra Valley were related to the Pandyas of Madurai.
During their history, the Pandyas were repeatedly in conflict with the Pallavas, Cholas, Hoysalas, Cheras (Keralas). An internal crisis in the Pandya empire coincided with the Khalji invasion of south India in 1310–11. The ensuing political crisis saw more sultanate raids and plunder, the loss of south Kerala (1312), and north Sri Lanka (1323) and the establishment of the Madurai sultanate (c. 1334). In the mid-16th century, the Vijayanagara governors of Madurai declared independence and established the Madurai Nayak dynasty.
According to tradition, the legendary Sangams ("the Academies") were held in Madurai under the patronage of the Pandyas, and some of the Pandya rulers claim to be poets themselves. The Pandya country was home to a number of renowned temples including Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. After the revival of the Pandya power by Kadungon, the Shaivite nayanars and the Vaishnavite alvars rose to prominence. It is known that the Pandya rulers followed Jainism for a short period of time in history.
The word pandya is thought to be derived from the ancient Tamil word "pandu" meaning "old". The theory suggests that in early historic Tamil lexicon the word pandya means old country in contrast with Chola meaning new country, Chera meaning hill country and Pallava meaning branch in Sanskrit. The etymology of pandya is still a matter of considerable speculation among scholars. Apart from the derivations mentioned, a number of other theories do appear in historical studies.
According to the ancient Tamil legends, the three brothers Cheran, Cholan and Pandyan ruled in common at the southern city of Korkai. While Pandya remained at home, his two brothers Cheran and Cholan after a separation founded their own kingdoms in north and west. Epic poem Silappatikaram mentions that the emblem of the Pandyas was that of a fish. North Indian traditions such as the Great Epics and the Puranas often associate southern India with Sage Agastya (who crossed the Vidhyas and travelled south). Agastya appears prominently in medieval Tami literature also.
Folklores attributes Alli Rani (literally "the queen Alli") as one of the early historic rulers of the Pandyas. She is attributed as a "amazonian queen" whose servants were men and administrative officials and army were women. She is thought of ruling the whole western and northern coast of Sri Lanka from her capital Kudiramalai, where remains of what is thought of as her fort are found. She is sometimes seen as an incarnation of the Pandya associated gods, Meenakshi and Kannagi.
The Pandya kings were said to have belonged to the Lunar race. They claimed Pururavas and Nahusha as ancestors. Pururavas is listed as one of the ancestors in the Velvikudi inscription of Nedunchadaiyan Varagunavarman. The Sinnamanur plates of Rajasimha III similarly traces his lineage to the Lunar race and also claims that one of his ancestors, a Pandya occupied the seat of Indra and another Pandyan ancestor forced the ten-headed king of Lanka (Ravana) to sue for peace.
Pandyas are also mentioned in the inscriptions of Maurya emperor Asoka (3rd century BCE). In his inscriptions (2nd and 13th Major Rock Edict) Asoka refers to the peoples of south India – the Chodas, Keralaputras, Pandyas and Satiyaputras. These polities, although not part of the Maurya empire, were on friendly terms with Asoka:
The conquest by dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojanas (5,400–9,600 km) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni river.
The earliest Pandya to be found in epigraph is Nedunjeliyan, figuring in the Tamil-Brahmi Mangulam inscription (near Madurai) assigned to 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. The record documents a gift of rock-cut beds, to a Jain ascetic. It is assumed that the people found in the Mangulam inscription, Nedunjeliyan, Kadalan, and Izhanchadikan predates rulers such as Talaiyanganam Nedunjelyan and Palyaga-salai Mudukudimi Peruvaludi.
Kharavela, the Kalinga king who ruled during c. 1st century BCE, in his Hathigumpha inscription, claims to have destroyed an old confederacy of Tamil countries ("the tamira–desa–sanghata") which had lasted 132 years, and to have acquired a large quantity of pearls from the Pandyas.
The early historic Pandyas are celebrated in the earliest available Tamil poetry. The poems refers to about twelve Pandya rulers. According to tradition, the legendary Sangams ("the Academies") were held in Madurai under the patronage of the Pandyas. Several Tamil literary works, such as Iraiyanar Agapporul, mention the legend of three separate Sangams and ascribe their patronage to the Pandyas.
Pandya rulers – such as Nedunjeliyan, the Victor of Talaiyalanganam, and Mudukudimi Peruvaludi, the Patron of Several Sacrificial Halls ("the Palyaga-salai") – find mention in a number of poems (such as Mathuraikkanci).
Beside several short poems found in the Akananuru and the Purananuru collections, there are two major works – Mathuraikkanci and Netunalvatai – which give a glimpse into the society and commercial activities in the Pandya country during the early historic period. The Purananuru and Agananuru collections contain poems sung in praise of various Pandya rulers and also poems that were claimed to be composed by the rulers themselves.
Besides the poems, king Peruvaludi is also mentioned in later copper-plate grant (8th–9th century CE). In the work Mathuraikkanci, the author Mankudi Maruthanar, refers to his patron, Talaihalanganum Nedunjeliyan, as the Lord of Korkai and the Warlord of the Southern Parathavar People (Then Parathavar por yere). It contains a full-length description of Madurai and the Pandya country under the rule of Nedunjeliyan. In the famous battle of Talaiyalanganam (in east Tanjore), the Pandya is said to have defeated his enemies (which included the Chera and the Chola). He is also praised for his victory of Mizhalai and Mutturu, two "vel" centres along the ocean (in Pudukkottai). The Netunalvatai (in the collection of Pattupattu) by Nakkirar contains a description of king Nedunjeliyan's palace.
Greek and Latin sources (early centuries CE) refer to the ancient Tamil country, same as the Tamilakam, as "Lymyrike" or "Damirice" (or Dymirice/Dimirixe or Damirice) and its ruling families.
...Nelcynda is distant from Muziris by river and sea about five hundred stadia, and is of another kingdom, the Pandian. This place [Nelcynda] also is situated on a river, about one hundred and twenty stadia from the [Arabian] sea.... 
...the kingdom of Panyue is also called Hanyuewang. It is several thousand li to the southeast of Tianzhu (northern India)...The inhabitants are small; they are the same height as the Chinese...
The darkest man is here the most highly esteemed and considered better than the others who are not so dark. Let me add that in very truth these people portray and depict their gods and their idols black and their devils white as snow. For they say that god and all the saints are black and the devils are all white. That is why they portray them as I have described.
Maurya emperor Asoka (3rd century BCE) seems to have been on friendly terms with the people of south India and Sri Lanka (the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiya Putras, the Kerala Putras and the Tamraparnis). There are no indications that Asoka tried to conquer the extreme south India (the Tamilakam – the Abode of the Tamils).
The three chiefly lines of the early historic south India – the Cheras, Pandyas and Cholas – were known as the mu-vendar ("the three vendars"). They traditionally based at their original headquarters in the interior Tamil Nadu (Karur, Madurai and Uraiyur respectively). The powerful chiefdoms of the three ventar dominated the political and economic life of early historic south India. The frequent conflicts between the Chera, the Chola and the Pandya are well documented in ancient (the Sangam) Tamil poetry. The Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas also controlled the ports of Muziris (Muchiri), Korkai and Kaveri respectively (for the trade with the Graeco-Roman world). The gradual shift from chiefdoms to kingdoms seems to have occurred in the following period.
The famous inscription of king Kharavela at Hathigumpha (mid-first century BCE) mentions the defeat of a confederacy of the "Tramira" countries which had been a threat to Kalinga. It also remembers the precious pearls brought to the capital as booty from the "Pandya" realm. The Pandya chiefdom was famous for its pearl fisheries and silk industry. Korkai and Alagankulam are believed to have been the exchange centres of the Pandyas. Korkai, a port at the mouth of the river Tambraparni, was linked to the famous pearl fisheries and Alagankulam was also developed as a port.
A number of coins attributed to early historic Pandyas are found from the region. Inscriptions, datable to c. 2nd century BCE, recording royal grants – both from royals and wealthy commoners – were also discovered from the Pandya country.
The Pandya seems to be the most prominent of the three "ventar" rulers. There are even references to a Pandya queen from 3rd century BCE representing a confederacy of the Tamil countries. Madurai, in south Tamil Nadu, was the most important cultural centre in south India as the core of the Tamil speakers. Megalithic relics such as menhirs, dolmens, urn burials, stone circles and rock-cut chambers/passages can be found in south India. Burial goods include iron objects, ivory ornaments, Black-and-Red Ware and even some Roman Imperial coins. The so-called "velir" hill chieftains are assumed to be associated with these megalithic burials.
Greek and Latin accounts (early centuries CE), coins with legends in Tamil-Brahmi script, and Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions suggest the continuity of the Pandya dynasty from the 3rd century BCE to early centuries CE. The early Pandyas, along with the Cheras and the Cholas, were eventually displaced by the Kalabhra dynasty.
The Pandya kingdom was revived by king Kadungon (r. 590–620 CE) towards the end of the 6th century CE. In the Velvikudi inscription, a later copper-plate, Kadungon appears as the "destroyer" of the "anti-Brahmanical" Kalabhra kings. With the decline of the Kalabhra dynasty, the Pandyas grew steadily in power and territory. With the Cholas in obscurity in Uraiyur, the Tamil country was divided between the Pallavas of Kanchi and the Pandyas of Madurai.
From 6th century to 9th century CE, the Chalukyas of Badami, the Pallavas of Kanchi, and Pandyas of Madurai dominated the politics of south India. The Badami Chalukyas were eventually replaced by the Rashtrakutas in the Deccan. The Pandyas took on the growing Pallava ambitions in south India, and from time to time they also joined in alliances with the kingdoms of the Deccan Plateau (such as with the Gangas of Talakad in late 8th century CE). In the middle of the 9th century, the Pandyas had managed to advance as far as Kumbakonam (north-east of Tanjore on the Kollidam river).
Sendan (r. 654–70 CE), the third king of the Pandyas of Madurai, is known for expanding his kingdom to the Chera country (western Tamil Nadu and central Kerala). Arikesari Maravarman (r. 670–700 CE), the fourth Pandya ruler, is known for his battles against the Pallavas of Kanchi. Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (r. 630–68 CE), the famous conqurer of Badami, claimed to have defeated the Pandyas. Chalukya king Paramesvaravarman I "Vikramaditya" (r. 670–700 CE) is known to have fought battles with the Pallavas, the Gangas, and probably with the Pandyas too, on the Kaveri basin.
Kirtivarman II (r. 744/5–55 CE), the last Chalukya king, managed to lose to his southern countries as a result of his battles with the Pandyas. Pandya kings Maravarman Rajasimha I (r. 730–65 CE) and Nedunjadaiyan/Varagunavarman I (r. 765–815 CE) threatened Pallava king Nandivarman II Pallavamalla (r. 731–96 CE) who had managed to defeat the Gangas in around 760 CE. Varagunavarman I invaded the Pallava country, conquered the Kongu country (western Tamil Nadu) and Venadu (south Kerala). King Srimara Srivallabha (r. 815–62 CE) sailed to Sri Lanka, subjugated king Sena I, and sacked his capital Anuradhapura (the Panya invasion of Sri Lanka followed a period of vassalage). However, Srimara Srivallabha was soon overpowerd by Pallava king Nripatunga (r. 859–99 CE). Sena II, the king of Sri Lanka, invaded the Pandya country, sacked Madurai and chose Varagunavarman II (r. c. 862–880 CE) as the new king soon after. It is proposed that the start of the Kollam Era, the Kerala calendar, in 825 CE marked the liberation of Venadu from Pandya control.
During the rule of Dantivarman (r. 796–847 CE), the Pallava territory was reduced by the encroachment from the Pandyas from the south (and Rashtrakutas and the Telugu-Chodas from north). Pallava king Nandivarman III (r. 846–69 CE) was able to defeat the Pandyas and Telugu-Chodas (and even the Rashtrakutas) with the help of the Gangas and the emerging Cholas.
While the Pandyas and the Rashtrakutas were busy engaging the Pallavas, with the Gangas and the Simhalas (Sri Lanka) also in the mix, the Cholas emerged from the Kaveri delta and took on the chieftains of Thanjavur (the Mutharaiyar chieftain had transferred their loyalty from the Pallava to the Pandya). The Chola king Vijayalaya conquered Thanjavur by defeating the Mutharaiyar chieftain around c. 850 CE. The Pandya control north of the Kaveri river was severely weakened by this move (and straightened the position of the Pallava ruler Nripatunga). Pandya ruler Varaguna-varman II (r. c. 862–880 CE) responded by marching into the Chola country and facing a formidable alliance of Pallava prince Aparajita, the Chola king Aditya I and the Ganga king Prithvipati I. The Pandya king suffered a crushing defeat (c. 880 CE) in a battle fought near Kumbakonam.
By c. 897 CE, Chola king Aditya I was the master of the old Pallava, Ganga and Kongu countries. It is a possibility that Aditya I conquered the Kongu country from the Pandya king Parantaka Viranarayana (r. 880–900 CE). Parantaka I, successor to Aditya, invaded the Pandya territories in 910 CE and captured Madurai from king Maravarman Rajasimha II (hence the title "Madurai Konda"). Rajasimha II received help from the Sri Lankan king Kassapa V, still got defeated by Parantaka I in the battle of Vellur, and fled to Sri Lanka. Rajasimha then found refuge in the Chera country, leaving even his royal insignia in Sri Lanka, the home of his mother.
The Cholas were defeated by a Rashtrakuta-lead confederacy in the battle of Takkolam in 949 CE. By mid-950s, the Chola kingdom had shrunk to the size of a small principality (its vassals in the extreme south had proclaimed their independence). It is a possibility that Pandya ruler Vira Pandya defeated Chola king Gandaraditya and claimed independence. Chola ruler Sundara Parantaka II (r. 957–73) responded by defeating Vira Pandya in two battles (and Chola prince Aditya II killed Vira Pandya on the second occasion). The Pandyas were assisted by Sri Lanka forces of king Mahinda IV.
Chola emperor Rajaraja I (r. 985–1014 CE) is known to have attacked the Pandyas. He fought against an alliance of the Pandya, Chera and Sri Lankan kings, and defeated the Cheras and "deprived" the Pandyas of their ancient capital Madurai. Emperor Rajendra I continued to occupy the Pandya kingdom, and even appointed a series of Chola viceroys with the title "Chola Pandya" to rule from Madurai (over Pandya and Western Chera/Kerala countries). The very of beginning of Chola emperor Kulottunga's rule (r. from 1070 CE) was marked by the loss of Sri Lanka and a rebellion in the Pandya country.
The second half of the 12th century witnessed a major internal crisis in the Pandya country (between princes Parakrama Pandya and Kulasekhara Pandya). The neighbouring kingdoms of Sri Lanka, under Parakramabahu I, Venadu Chera/Kerala, under the Kulasekharas, and the Cholas, under Rajadhiraja II and Kulottunga III, joinined in and took sides with any of the two princes or their kins.
The following list gives the names of the Pandya kings who were active during the 10th century and the first half of 11th century.
The Pandya empire included extensive territories, at times including large portions of south India and Sri Lanka. The Pandya king at Madurai controlled these vast regions through the collateral family branches subject to Madurai. The kingdom was shared among several male royals of the family, one of them enjoying control over the rest.
The 13th century saw the rise of seven prime Pandya "Lord Emperors" (Ellarkku Nayanar – Lord of All), who ruled the kingdom alongside other Pandya royals. Their power reached its zenith under Jatavarman Sundara I in the middle of the 13th century.
The foundation for the Pandya supremacy in south India was laid by Maravarman Sundara I early in the 13th century. He succeeded his older brother Jatavarman Kulasekhara in 1216. He invaded the Chola country, sacked Uraiyur and Thanjavur, and drove the Chola king Kulothunga III into exile. The Chola king subsequently made a formal submission to Maravarman Sundara I and acknowledged his overlordship. Attempts by the next Chola king Rajaraja III (1216 – 46 CE) for self-rule (to stop the Pandya invasion into the Chola country), with the help of the Hoysalas king Narasimha II (r. 1220 – 1238 CE), resulted in a battle between the Pandya and Hoysala forces at Mahendramangalam on the Kaveri Valley. Maravarman Sundara I was defeated and Rajaraja III was restored in the Chola country. Sometime later Chola prince Rajendra III attacked the Pandyas and defeated two Pandya royals including Maravarman Sundara II. Hoysala king Somesvara (r. 1233 – 1267 CE) then came to the aid of the Pandyas, defeated Rajendra III and then made peace with the Cholas.
Jatavarman Sundara I ascended the Pandya throne in 1251 CE. He led his army to the Chola country (even as far as Nellore), to Sri Lanka and to south Kerala. He was also successful in confining the Hoysala control to the Mysore Plateau (the ancient Chola country was now overrun by the Pandyas). Kanchi functioned as the second major city in the kingdom. In his conquests, Jatavarman Sundara I was assisted by number of Pandya royals such as Jatavarman Vira Pandya.
Jatavarman Sundara I subdued Rajendra III around 1258–1260 CE and made him pay tribute. The rule of the Cholas ended c. 1279 with Rajendra III. The Pandya attacked the Hoysalas in the Kaveri and captured the fort of Kannanur Koppam. Hoysala king Somesvara was forced to fall back into the Mysore Plateau. The Hoysala king, pressed by enemies from north and south, "assigned" the southern half of his kingdom to his younger son Ramanatha (r. 1254–1292). Somesvara was eventually killed by the Pandya in 1262 CE. Ramanatha managed to recover Kannanur and hold against the Pandya power. Jatavarman Sundara I also came into conflict with the Kadava ruler Kopperunjinga II. It seems that Bana (Magadai) and Kongu countries came under the Pandya rule during the wars against the Hoysalas and the Kadavas. Jatavarman Sundara I also fought the Kakatiya ruler Ganapati (1199-1262). Sri Lanka was invaded by Jatavarman Sundara I in 1258 and on his behalf by his younger brother Jatavarman Vira II between 1262 and 1264 CE. The island was again invaded and defeated by Jatavarman Vira II in 1270 CE.
Sundara Pandya I (died in 1268) was succeeded by Maravarman Kulasekara I. Around 1279 the combined force of Hoysala king Ramanatha and Rajendra III was defeated by Maravarman Kulasekara I. Maravarman Kulasekara I, now virtually unchallenged, ruled over the Chola country and southern Tamil speaking portions of Hoysala kingdom. He also invaded Sri Lanka, ruled by Bhuvanaikabahu I, "carried away to the Pandya country the venerable Tooth Relic", and the wealth of the island. Sri Lanka remained under Pandya control till c. 1308-09 CE.
After the death of Maravarman Kulasekhara I (1310), his sons Vira Pandya IV and Sundara Pandya IV fought a war of succession for control of the empire. It seems that Maravarman Kulasekhara wanted Vira Pandya to succeed him (who inturn was defeated by Sundara Pandya after a short period of time). Unfortunately, the Pandya civil war coincided with the Khalji raids in south India. Taking advantage of the political situation, the neighbouring Hoysala king Ballala III invaded the Pandya territory. However, Ballala had to retreat to his capital, when Khalji general Malik Kafur invaded his kingdom at the same time. After subjugating Ballala III, the Khalji forces marched to the Pandya territory in March 1311. The Pandya brothers fled their headquarters, and the Khaljis pursued them unsuccessfully. By late April 1311, the Khaljis gave up their plans to pursue the Pandya princes, and returned to Delhi with the plunder. By 1312 the Pandya control over south Kerala was also lost.
After departure of the Khaljis, Vira and Sundara Pandya resumed their conflict. Sundara Pandya was defeated, and sought help from the Khaljis. With their help, he regained control of the South Arcot region by 1314. Subsequently, there were two more expeditions from the sultanate in 1314 led by Khusro Khan and in 1323 by Ulugh Khan (Muhammad bin Tughluq) under sultan Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq.
The family quarrels and the sultanate invasions shattered the Pandya empire beyond revival and coinage discoveries made imply that the Pandyas were left with the old South Arcot region. In 1323, the Jaffna kingdom declared its independence from the crumbling Pandya influence.
While the previous sultanate raids were content with plunder, the Tughluqs under Ulugh Khan (later Muhammad bin Tughluq) annexed the former Pandya dominions to the sultanate as the province of Ma'bar. Most of south India came under the sultanate rule and was divided into five provinces – Devagiri, Tiling, Kampili, Dorasamudra and Ma'bar. Jalal ud-Din Hasan Khan was appointed governor of the newly created southern-most Ma'bar province. In c. 1334, Jalal ud-Din Hasan Khan declared his independence and created Madurai sultanate. The Pandyas shifted their capital to Tenkasi and continued to rule a small area until the end of the 16th century. They were referred as Tenkasi Pandyas.
Bukka Raya I of Vijayanagara empire conquered the city of Madurai in c. 1370, imprisoned the sultan, released and restored Arcot's prince Sambuva Raya to the throne. Bukka Raya I appointed his son Veera Kumara Kampana as the viceroy of the Tamil region. Meanwhile, Madurai sultanate was replaced by the Nayak governors of Vijayanagara in 1378. In 1529 the Nayak governors declared independence and established Madurai Nayak dynasty.
Although the Pandyas of Tenkasi died out at the end of the 16th century, two families still claim descent from the Pandya dynasty. The Poonjar clan claim ancient descent from the Pandyas. Legend goes that, during an invasion by the Chola king Kulothonga I, a Pandyan prince named Manivikrama Kulasekara fled into Kerala. There they managed to obtain some land and establish a chieftancy for himself named Poonjar. However in the late 17th century, there were no heirs in the dynasty and so members of the Sakkara Kovilakom (another group claiming Pandya descent) were adopted, and continued the family line. The line survives today, and several of its members have become eminent personalities in society.
The other main family to claim this descent is the Pandalam clan. According to legend, a prince of the Chambazhannur branch of the Pandyas was forced by scheming ministers to flee over the Western Ghats. Eventually they settled in Konni and established their own kingdom in 903 CE. During the Chola invasion of the Chera land in the 12th century, they again were forced to relocate to Pandalam. They were never integrated into the Travancore kingdom until well after the 18th century, but all their temples were placed under the Travancore Dewaswom Board. Many family members continue to play an active role in society.
Graeco-Roman merchants frequented the ancient Tamil country, present day south India and Sri Lanka, securing contacts with the Tamil chiefdoms of the Pandya, Chola and Chera families. The western sailors also established a number of trading settlements on the harbours of the ancient Tamil region.
The trade with South Asia by the Greco-Roman world flourished since the time of the Ptolemaic dynasty a few decades before the start of the Common Era and remained long after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The contacts between south India and the Middle East continued even after the Byzantium's loss of the ports of Egypt and the Red Sea in the 7th century CE.
The Pandya country, located at the extreme south-western tip of South Asia, served as an important meeting point throughout the history of the India. The location was economically and geopolitically significant as a key point connecting the shipping between Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
The early coins of Tamilakam bore the symbols of the Three Crowned Kings, the tiger, the fish and the bow, representing the symbols of the Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras. Coins of Pandyas bear the legend of different Pandya ruler in different times. The Pandyas had
issued silver punch-marked and die struck copper coins in the early period. A few gold coins were attributed to the Pandya rulers of this period. These coins bore the image of fish, singly or in pairs, which where their emblem.
Some of the coins had the names Sundara, Sundara Pandya or merely the letter 'Su' were etched. Some of the coins bore a boar with the legend of 'Vira-Pandya. It had been said that those coins were issued by the Pandyas and the feudatories of the Cholas but could not be attributed to any particular king.
The coins of Pandyas were basically square. Those coins were etched with elephant on one side and the other side remained blank. The inscription on the silver and gold coins during the Pandyas, were in Tamil-Brahmi and the copper coins bore the Tamil legends.
The coins of the Pandyas, which bore the fish symbols, were termed as 'Kodandaraman' and 'Kanchi' Valangum Perumal'. Apart from these, 'Ellamthalaiyanam' was seen on coins which had the standing king on one side and the fish on the other. 'Samarakolahalam' and 'Bhuvanekaviram' were found on the coins having a Garuda, 'Konerirayan' on coins having a bull and 'Kaliyugaraman' on coins that depict a pair of feet.
The early historic Pandya country was famous for its supply of pearls. The ancient port of Korkai, in present-day Thoothukudi, was the center of pearl trade. Written records from Graeco-Roman and Egyptian voyagers give details about the pearl fisheries off the Gulf of Mannar. Megasthenes reported about the pearl fisheries, indicating that the Pandyas derived great wealth from the pearl trade.
Convicts were according to the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea used as pearl divers in Korkai. The Periplus even mentions that "pearls inferior to the Indian sort are exported in great quantity from the marts of Apologas and Omana".
The pearls from the Pandya country were also in demand in the kingdoms of north India. Literary references of the pearl fishing mention how the fishermen, who dive into the sea, avoid attacks from sharks, bring up the right-whorled chank and blow on the sounding shell.
The Pandians were devout followers of Hinduism and were primarily Shaivaites. The Pandya country was home to a number of renowned temples including Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. After the revival of the Pandya power by Kadungon, the Shaivite nayanars and the Vaishnavite alvars of the Bhakti movement rose to prominence.
Groups of small temples are seen at Tiruchirappalli district of Tamil Nadu. The Shiva temples have a Nandi bull sculpture in front of the maha mandapa. In the later stages of Pandyas rule, finely sculptured idols, gopurams on the vimanas were developed. Gopurams are the rectangular entrance and portals of the temples.