Capitals: Madurai, Korkai, Tenkasi
Official Languages: Tamil, Sanskrit
Established: 14th Century BC/BCE
Disestablished: 14th Century AD/CE
Maurya emperor Asoka (3rd century BC/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.
From 6th century to 9th century AD/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 AD/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 AD/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 AD/CE), the fourth Pandya ruler, is known for his battles against the Pallavas of Kanchi. Pallava king Narasimhavarman I (r. 630–68 AD/CE), the famous conqurer of Badami, claimed to have defeated the Pandyas. Chalukya king Paramesvaravarman I "Vikramaditya" (r. 670–700 AD/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 AD/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 AD/CE) and Nedunjadaiyan/Varagunavarman I (r. 765–815 AD/CE) threatened Pallava king Nandivarman II Pallavamalla (r. 731–96 AD/CE) who had managed to defeat the Gangas in around 760 AD/CE. Varagunavarman I invaded the Pallava country, conquered the Kongu country (western Tamil Nadu) and Venadu (south Kerala). King Srimara Srivallabha (r. 815–62 AD/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 AD/CE). Sena II, the king of Sri Lanka, invaded the Pandya country, sacked Madurai and chose Varagunavarman II (r. c. 862–880 AD/CE) as the new king soon after. It is proposed that the start of the Kollam Era, the Kerala calendar, in 825 AD/CE marked the liberation of Venadu from Pandya control.
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 AD/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 AD/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 AD/CE) in a battle fought near Kumbakonam.
The Cholas were defeated by a Rashtrakuta-lead confederacy in the battle of Takkolam in 949 AD/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 AD/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 AD/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 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 AD/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 AD/CE) then came to the aid of the Pandyas, defeated Rajendra III and then made peace with the Cholas.
Jatavarman Sundara I subdued Rajendra III around 1258–1260 AD/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 AD/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 AD/CE. The island was again invaded and defeated by Jatavarman Vira II in 1270 AD/CE.
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.
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.
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.