Early Pandyan history found in Raghu Vamsam of Kalidasa - IV
by Jayasree Saranathan on 24 Jul 2021 2 Comments

One king from each of the three dynasties of Tamil lands, namely Chera, Chola and Pandya, had gone all the way from Tamil lands to the Himalayas and engraved their symbols on the peak of the mountain. Three questions arise:

1)      Who were the kings who made this journey?

2)    In which part of the Himalayas did they engrave their symbols?

3)     What was the motive to make this journey and engrave their emblems?


Taking up the first question, the names of Cheran and Cholan kings were discussed in the previous article. The name of the Pandyan king is not exactly known, but information about one Pandyan king of very olden days finds mention in the Sanskrit portion of the larger copper plates found at Sinnamanur. The approximate date of these copper plates is 10th century CE.


The interesting part is that the information found in the first few verses on early Pandyans is also found in Raghuvamsam authored by Kalidasa. In the 6th sarga of Raghuvamsam, verses 59 to 65 are about the Pandyan king who attended the swayamvar of Bhoja princess Indumati (http://sanskritdocuments.org/sites/giirvaani/giirvaani/rv/sargas/06_rv.htm)


The very introduction of that king by her friend Sunanda was “UragAkhsya purasya nAtham” (lord of the city of snakes). This is interpreted by scholars as Naga-pattinam or some Naga or Uraga land. But those who know Tamil Sangam texts understand that this refers to the capital city of the Pandyas of the Second Sangam period, known as “alavai”, having twin meanings as “Gateway of the sea” and “snake”.


Gateway of the sea is known as “Kavata” in Sanskrit and that name was found mentioned by Sugreeva for the Pandyan Capital (VR: 41-19). This name Kavatam is also mentioned in Tamil by the commentators of yore while referring to the capital city of the Second Sangam period.


This name is similar to the name Dvaraka or Dvaravathi. Dvara in Sanskrit means gate or door and Dvaraka refers to the same. In a surprising similarity, both Kavatam (alavai) and Dvaraka are located at the mouth of the sea where the land starts. Both these cities had suffered submergence repeatedly but the newer locations next the sea were once again called by the old name having the meaning ‘door’ or ‘gate’.


When Alavai was lost to the sea, the Pandyans moved very much inland and established their new capital at present day Madurai, which was given the name Alavai. Alavai also means snake in Tamil. The text by name “Thiruvilaiyadal puranam” that describes the many sports of Lord Shiva as the guardian deity of the Pandyan rulers, has a chapter named “Alavai khanda”. It tells about the loss of habitat for the Pandyan kingdom and how they moved to the new lands.


It says that Lord Shiva appeared as a Siddha and threw out his hand band which was in the image of a snake. It grew as a long snake and the land encircled by it was accepted as the new land where the Pandyan king and his surviving people decided to build their new city. That city was named Alavai (snake) which also has the meaning ‘gateway of the sea’. This city was the capital of the Pandyans during the Second Sangam period. The reference to city of snakes in Raghuvamsam shows that the time period of the Pandyan who attended the swayamvar was the Second Tamil Sangam age.


In her introduction of this king to princess Indumati, Sunanda repeats the views in the inscription found in Raghuvamsam. She mentions sage Agastya as his priest under whose guidance the Pandyan king had done the Aswamedha yajna. She also tells that “Lanka-adhipati” made peace with the Pandyan king fearing danger to his people from the wonderful astra that Pandyan got from Lord Shiva. This information appearing in Kalidasa’s work many centuries before it was written in the copper plates of Sinnamanur could not have been a figment of imagination but attests to a prevalent notion which must be true.


Sunanda also speaks about the conquering of Indra’s throne by the Pandyan king. This follows her reference to Ravana. Though this seems to be tinged with mythical overtones, one cannot dismiss the references from multiple sources to Indra as someone who lived in some location on the earth, such as


# Indrajit (Ravana’s son) getting his name for having overpowered Indra,


# Muruga (Skanda / Karthikeya), son of Meenakshi of Pandyan land marrying Devyani, daughter of Indra after rescuing Indra’s son from Surapadman,


# Muchukunda, described as an early Cholan king receiving the “NaLangadi Bhootham” from Indra for having taken care of his kingdom in Amaravathy while Indra was on a military mission against Asuras (later consecrated in Pumpuhar),


# Indra’s charioteer Matali driving the chariot of Rama in the war against Ravana and


# Matali coming to Asura lands in the southern hemisphere along with Narada to find a groom for his daughter and finally choosing  Sumukha, son of Aryaka in Bhogavathi as his son-in-law (Mahabharata Udyoga parva, chapters 98 to 103).

If we dismiss all the above as myths, then the Pandyan king overpowering Indra can also be a myth. But that it is not so will be discussed later.


The next interesting narrative on the Pandyan king by Sunanda is that if Indumati chooses to marry him, she would become the “sapatni” (co-wife) of the Pandyan land in the southern quarter (dakshinasya disha), which is surrounded by the girdle of ocean studded with gems. This describes the Pandyan land as his original or first wife. The same idea is found in the inscription that the earth was the legally married wife of the Pandyan kings. This implies that the woman who married him would be like a second wife, sapatni!


This narration also gives an idea of the early Pandyan land as something surrounded by the ocean like a girdle. The repetition of the same ideas in Kalidasa’s work about 2000 years ago testifies to well-rooted ideas about the Pandyans throughout the land of Bharat in those days.


What is missing in the narration of Sunanda is that of the Pandyan king who reached the Himalayas to engrave his emblem. Perhaps that was not considered as a feat for people living in the northern reaches of the land; or the king who did that feat belonged to the period later than the Pandyan king who attended the Swayamvar of Indumati. But what cannot be lost sight of is the fact that there is consistency in the narratives on early Pandyans between what is recorded in the Pandyan genealogy and in Kalidasa’s work.


Tamil part of the Sinnamanur inscriptions


The Tamil portion of the larger plates of Sinnamanur reveals more details on the Pandyan who went to the Himalayas. There is much important information:


# an early Pandyan having caused the quick return of the sea by throwing a javelin, which is  mentioned  in no less than 5 texts, including some Sangam texts.


# founding of the city of Madura and building a wall around it which as per texts was done to protect the city from inundation (thereby indicating the location of the first ever city of Madura in an area surrounded by water).


# an early Pandyan king gaining expertise in both Tamil and Sanskrit to become foremost among the scholars, thereby implying that Sanskrit existed in deep southern lands surrounded by ocean.


# a Pandyan king having taken part in a hill-battle (“Maharatia”, Malai-kaLam”, battle on a mountain).


# a Pandyan king securing the release of Arjuna from a Vasu, a hitherto unknown and unexplored story involving Arjuna.


# getting Mahabharata translated into Tamil, a text which exists till today.


# a later reference to Madhura where Sangam was established, perhaps indicating the founding of present day Madurai where the Third and the last Sangam Assembly was held.


The main inputs for ascertaining the name of the king who engraved emblem on the Himalayas comes from three references:

(1)  A Pandyan king won the battle at Pali / Pazhi that gave him the title “Panchavan”.

(2) A Pandyan king drove his enemies to the forests so that they might be scorched up.

(3) A Pandyan king engraved the emblem of all the three dynasties on the Himalayas, thereby indicating his authority over all the lands that were once under the Cholas and Cheras.

These three references collectively point out to one whose name is Nedumaran and praised with 23 different titles in a compilation called “Pandikkovai”


Source of Pandikkovai


The uniqueness of Pandikkovai is that all 326 verses of this compilation were originally quoted in a commentary for a text called ‘Iraiyanar Kalaviyal’. No one knows who the composer was nor does anyone know when they were composed. But the context of the verses which are in the nature of a love affair between a couple reveals a particular time period when king Nedumaran was the ruler. There is uniformity in the description of the events surrounding Nedumaran; it appears that these verses were part of an older composition done prior to the period when the commentary for Iraiyanar Kalaviyal was written, some 2000 years ago. These verses that appeared as quotations were later compiled as a “Kovai” (arranged systematically as beads are arranged to form a garland) by taking the name of the king Pandya as “Pandi-k-kovai”.


Both these two compositions, namely the Commentary for Iraiyanar Kalaviyal and Pandikkovai carry immense importance as they contain rare historical elements that go back in time more than 10,000 years ago.


Iraiyanar Kalaviyal


Taking up Iraiyanar Kalaviyal first, the commentator, the famous Sangam age poet Nakkeeran, has narrated in his work the duration of all three Sangam periods in number of years, the names of kings in whose period the Sangam Eras began and ended, the number of poets who had inaugurated their compositions in each Era and names of important compositions of these Eras, and also the names of some of the poets and names of kings who contributed to Sangam literature.


It is a pity that this text is not circulated among the people because it contains information that the Breaking India forces cannot stomach. Their foremost criticism of this commentary is that it contains Sanskrit words, most of them nouns and proper nouns. But they don’t realise that even the very name of the progenitor idol of the Pandyans namely, Meenakshi, is a mix of Tamil-Sanskrit. Aakshi in Meenakshi is not a Tamil word.


Her husband, whom Pandyans and others reverentially called as Iraiyanaar (meaning God) was Soma Sundareswara, which is also not a Tamil word. Over time this name became Chokkanatha, but again Natha in this name is not Tamil.


Even the king under whose president-ship this commentary was inaugurated did not have a Tamil name. He was Ugra Peru Vazhuthi. Ugra in this name is not Tamil.


The jurist for this commentary was one “Urutthira Sanman”. This name is nothing but a Tamilised form of Rudra-Janman, a Sanskrit word. Uritthira Sanman was an incarnation of ‘Kumara swamy” (Muruga) as per this commentary. Kumaraswamy being a Sanskrit name, the critics doubt the antiquity of this commentary saying that this work was a later work with Sanskrit words interpolated into it.


There are other criticisms, too, undermining the antiquity of this work. One is that this work contains a passage that says the names of people to whom this work was taught. The original composer Nakkeeran taught to his son, Keeran KoRRan.

Keeran KoRRan taught it to DenUr KizhAr.

DenUr KizhAr taught it to Padiyan KoRRan.

Padiyan KoRRan taught it to Selvatthaasiriyar.

Selvatthaasiriyar taught it to Perunchuvanaar.

Perunchuvanaar taught it to MaNalooraasiriyar.

Like this the list goes on.


The critics say this commentary is not the original one but written by someone later at a later date. But this criticism cannot undermine the information contained in the commentary. The commentary originally written by Nakkeeran had been preserved by generation after generation or through many teachers (most names contain the suffix ‘aasiriyar’ which means teacher) and that lineage was added when they passed on the commentary to others.


The antiquity of the Sangam Eras as found in this commentary is something that demolishes any theory of Aryan invasion or Dravidian displacement or exclusivity of Tamil society or developing a narrative of Tamil roots in Elam or Sri Lanka. This makes the Tamil speaking Breaking India forces deny the religious leanings of these texts (which is Hindu only), treating them as later additions or interpolations.


But the very context in which this commentary arose had a religious background. Even the formation of Sangam Era itself had a religious shade. The progenitor of the concept of Tamil Sangam was Sundareswar, husband of Meenakshi. He was regarded as Lord Shiva himself by the Pandyans. Their son was Ugra Kumara who was mentioned in the inscriptions as one who stopped the surging ocean waves by throwing his javelin.


He was none other than Muruga, later deified as Karthikeya. He was the Second king to have presided over the First Sangam Era. He was perhaps the first ever person who once lived on this earth to have been elevated as a God. Nakkeeran, the commentary writer, wrote that his commentary on the sutras written by none other than Iraiyanar Himself (Lord Shiva) was approved by Kumara Swamy, son of Lord Shiva.


The background of how Lord Shiva came into the picture here is this:

There was a time when a severe drought struck the Pandyan land. People left the land due to draught. Then it rained after 12 years of drought which brought normalcy to the land. With routine life having been restored, the king (unnamed) wanted to bring back education / literary works. So he sent out for all scholars to come back to his kingdom to re-establish the literary discourse. Tamil grammar has three classifications such as letters (ezhutthu), word (sol) and Meaning / substance (poruL). The olden grammar book of Tolkappiyam has these three as separate chapters. People had developed expertise in any one or all of these. The king wanted the scholars in these three fields to congregate in his kingdom.


This kind of description shows that a time existed in the Pandyan land when the literary atmosphere could not be sustained thanks to a severe drought. Experts got scattered and with them preservation of basic works were also lost. Calling for scholars in the three parts of Grammar shows that even Tolkappiyam, the work of Grammar, was lost at that time.


It so turned out that only those well versed in the grammar of Letters and Words reached his kingdom and there was none having the knowledge of Porul (substance). This gave rise to gloom around the country. People were praying to Lord Shiva, the progenitor of the tradition of Sangam, to get someone to establish this part of grammar. Lord Shiva, the guardian deity of the Pandyan race, decided to get a solution by making a work by himself and got it hidden his seat in his temple. This is the work “KaLaviyal” – on the Agam / inner or emotional side of life of the people.


The priest who had never cleaned the under-part of the seat of the Lord, happened to clean it one day and recovered this work. This was brought to the notice of the king and it was ascertained that the Lord Himself had written this work in 60 sutras. Then came the task of finding the meaning of these sutras. While no one could give a convincing commentary, the people and the king once again went back to the temple praying for a way out. It was heard later (through akaash vaaNi) that Urutthira Sanman, the Uppoorik kizhaan must be made the judge to pick out the best commentary. The commentary which makes him shed tears and raised goose bumps, must be accepted as the best commentary.


By this test, Nakkeeran’s commentary was adjudged as the best commentary for Iraiyanar Kalaviyal – a text given by Shiva himself and approved by an incarnation of Kumaraswamy! This kind of a background for this work is something that this section of Tamils cannot accept or propagate, whereas the fact is that all texts inaugurated in the Sangam Assembly had witnessed an element of supernatural or divine approval.


For example, the famous compilation called “Thiruvalluva Maalai” (a garland of verses in praise of Thiruvalluvar) begins with a verse from Akash VaaNi approving the same Urutthira Sanman to sit as a jurist for this compilation. Perhaps a poet who heard it recorded it as a verse.


This is followed by an approval by Goddess Saraswati. The second verse of Thiruvalluva Maalai is attributed to this Goddess. The third verse is attributed to none other than Iraiyanar (Lord Shiva) who started the tradition of Sangam. Then follows the verse by the presiding Pandyan king Ugra Peru Vazhuthi!


The same trend is recorded in the famous compilation of Sangam age “Thiruvalluva Maalai”, so any criticism of Nakkeeran’s commentary on Iraiyanar Kalaviyal on the lines of religiosity, mythology or interpolation of Sanskrit words is unfounded. The example of Thiruvalluva Maalai in this context shows that Thiruvalluvar lived at a time that far preceded the last Sangam assembly that took place 2000 years ago, as this compilation contains verses of praise on Thiruvalluvar by poets of Sangam Era of different times in the past.


The presence of Urutthira Sanman as the jurist in the Sangam Assembly presided by king Ugra Peru Vazhuthi for both the compositions, one a commentary (Irayanaar Kalaviyal Urai) and another a compilation of verses composed by different poets in the past on the greatness of Thirukkural and Thiruvalluva Maalai, shows the revival after a drought of 12 years had indeed happened during the rulership of Ugra Peru Vazhuthi only.


One of the notable causalities of the drought was perhaps the grammar work Tolkappiyam. With scholars and teachers having left to different places for survival, texts like Tolkappiyam were temporarily lost, it seems. It is also possible to assume that Thirukkural also was lost in parts or else why was the need to compile Thiruvalluva maalai?


The assembly under Ugra Peru Vazhuthi had gone all out to gather the lost or forgotten verses of yore and made attempts to record them. Perhaps the commentaries for many of the Sangam texts like Purananuru were made during this period of reclamation. In due course they had reclaimed Tolkappiyam also.


The occasional appearance of later-day influence on some works might be due to the fact that a vast majority of them were restored during the last Assembly under Ugra Peru Vazhuthi. The detailed reference to the duration et al of the three Sangam Eras in Nakkeeran’s commentary is perhaps the result of an earnest attempt to document the old history which might have found a place in other works that are now lost. While we will do the exact dating of this king, Ugra Peruvazhuthi in another article, it’s time to concentrate on Pandikkovai, which speaks about the King Kon Nedumaran who won the Cheras and Cholas and many others and engraved their emblems along with his own on top of the Himalayas.


(To be continued)



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