Ancient and Medieval
The region was ruled by three major dynasties: the Cholas in the east, the Pandayas in the central area and the Cheeras in the west. This was the period of the Tamil Sangam, which marks the Golden Age of Tamil literature and is the major source of knowledge about the administration, art, architecture and economic conditions of those times.
About Tamil Nadu
Among some of the greatest compositions of the four centuries of the Sangam age are Tiruvalluvar's Thirukkural. Ettuthogai or the eight anthologies is historically the most important literature as it contains a description of the daily life of the people. This collection of poems is the earliest record of its kind as far as the history of the Tamils is concerned. By about 200 AD, the influence of northern Aryan powers had progressed and the Aryan sage Agastya had established himself as a cultural hero. The use of Roman gold and lamps and the consumption of Italian wine testify to the extensive foreign trade of the period.
To the people of Madurai, the Pandyan name is synonymous with the city itself. Legend has it that Madurai was founded by the first Pandyan King, Kulasekara in the 6th century BC. The city is believed to be built at the spot where a few drops of nectar from Lord Shiva's locks fell when he came to bless the people. Pandyas are also associated with Madurai's older and perhaps more absorbing and enthralling legend of the goddess Meenakshi, who was born to the Pandya King Malayatwasan and his Queen Kachanamala. Madurai has been praised by the Greek traveller Magasthenes in the 3rd century. The Pandyas had trading contacts with Greece and Rome and were powerful in their own right though the Pallavas and Cholas subjugated them during various periods.
From the mid-6th century until the 9th century, the Calukyas of Badami, the Pallavas of Kanchi, and the Pandyas of Madurai fought a long series of wars in the region.
The Pallava Dyanasty was influential in the 7th and 8th centuries and controlled a large area of Tamil Nadu with Kanchipuram as their base. Among the famous temples built by the Pallavas are the temples of Kanchipuram, the Kapaliswarar and Parthasarathy temples at Chennai, and last but not the least, the magnificent poetry in rock and stone at Mamallapuram. The Chinese traveller Huan Tsu Ang who visited the city in the middle of the 6th century AD has described Kanchi extensively. According to him Kanchi was a major centre of learning. Among its more famous citizens was Dharmapala, the Vice-Chancellor of the Nalanda University. From about AD 850, Tamil Nadu was dominated by the Cholas who had their headquarters first at Uraiyur and later at Thanjavur. Rajendra I (1014-44) was the most distinguished ruler. The Chola Empire stretched as far as central India, Orissa and parts of West Bengal.
Meanwhile, the Pandyas remained subservient to the Cholas and their opportunity to strike back came over two centuries after the death of Rajendra-I, when they overthrew a weakened Chola empire in 1267. Their challenge was snuffed out once and for all, the city of Madurai was completely destroyed and ransacked by the Khilji invaders from the North in 1316. In the mid-14th century the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar, which included all of Tamil Nadu, came into prominence. It was headquartered at Hampi in Karnataka. They overthrew the Muslims who had invaded Madurai and established supremacy, though it was their governors or Nayaks who actually brought back the lost glory to this city. The contributions of the Nayak dynasty to art and architecture of Madurai, Thanjavur and Tiruchi made Tamil Nadu a favourite destination with many tourists and pilgrims. Among the best examples is the Meenakshi temple at Madurai, which was in a state of ruin before being rebuilt by Thirumalai Nayakar.
The Nayak's rule continued long after the collapse of the Vijayanagara empire and following them some parts of Tamil Nadu saw a period of Maratha rule and Muslim rule under the Nawabs of Arcot. In 1640 the English East India Company opened a trading post at the fishing village of Madraspatnam (now Chennai) with the permission of the local ruler.
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.