"That man has reached immortality who is disturbed by nothing material." ~ Swami Vivekananda

Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu is the home of Tamils and Dravidian culture. Human presence in the area started 300,000 years back.

Ancient and Medieval
It is speculated that the early Dravidians were part of the Indus Valley Civilisation. However, with the advent of the Aryans, the Dravidians were pushed back into the deep south where they ultimately settled around 1500 BC. Excavations have revealed that the features of the people of the Indus Valley civilsation bore a marked resemblance to that of this region.

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


Sapphire God

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.


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 early Cholas reigned between the 1st and 4th century AD and the first and most famous king of this period was Karikalan. What remains of his reign today is the magnificent civil engineering achievement of the Grand Anicut, which was constructed during the 2nd century and is used even to this day. The Cholas were great administrators and builders, not just of temples but of other public structures too. In the field of art, metal casting and making of bronze figures developed to a speciality, an outstanding example of which is the beautiful sculpture of the Cosmic Dancer at Chidambaram. Even today, Thanjavur is known for its bronze and other metal carvings - a remnant of the legacy that was left behind the dynasties that ruled South India.

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.

The advent of the Europeans and the struggle for supremacy resulted in the ultimate victory of the Europeans and symbols of their authority still stand at Fort St. George in Chennai. The history of Tamil Nadu from the mid-17th century to 1946 is the story of the Madras Presidency in relationship to the rise and fall of British power in India. Many Tamils played a significant part in the struggle for independence. In 1953 the Telugu-speaking state of Andhra Pradesh was formed, and in 1956 the presidency was disbanded into the states of Kerala, Mysore (now Karnataka), and Tamil Nadu.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.