www.whatisindia.com

What Is India News Service
Monday, February 26, 2007


 

South Indian Inscriptions


 

Miscellaneous Inscriptions From the Tamil Country

Introduction

Click here to continue...Introduction..

The early ruling dynasties of Southern India were the Cheras, Cholas the Pandyas who ethnologically are supposed to have been of a common stock, different from that of the Aryans of Northern India.  Their language was Tamil and their country accordingly was known as Tamilakam[1]’the country of the Tamils’.  Under the Aryan influence, the name Tamilakam appears in later times to have been Sanskritised into Dramilak or Dramidaka and dropping the ka in accordance with a rule of Sanskrit grammar it became Dramila Dramida, Dravida or Dravida. When and how these changes took place it is difficult to say.  Agastya and Parasurama are famous Aryan sages whose stories are intimately connected from the epic times, with the Dravida country, Southern India.  The term Dramidah occurs as the name of a country, perhaps South India, I the Bhismaparvan of the Mahabharata.[2]  Manu speaks of the Dravidas as a degraded class of Kshatriyas.  Ptolemy in the first century A.D. used the word Dimirice, perhaps, the denote the very same tract of land.  In the Brihajjataka of Varahamihira and in Hiuen Tsang, we find it restricted to the name of a district on the east coast of the Deccan, of which the capital was Conjeeveram.  The word Tamil  means ‘melodious’ and it was evidently its sweetness that contributed the name Tamil to that language.  Whatever may have been the origin of the word, it remains a fact that the Aryans changed it into ‘Dramida’ first and in their characteristic way attempted afterwards to assimilate it and trace it to some Sanskrit root : this appears to have been the practice of the day, as may be inferred from the incidental note on Dravidi words given by Bhatta Kumarila in his famous Tantra-Varttika.

Ethnologists point out several racial differences between the Dravidians and the Aryans such as (1) their customs and manners, (2) their thought formations, and (3) the peculiarities in their physical build.  While all this may establish Dravidians as a distinct type, it does not help the historian to peep into the antiquity of an independent Dravidian age in the South, uncontaminated by Aryan influence : much less does it enable him to record any events that might corroborate its separate existence.  Tamil literature, to a certain extent speaks of the early period of the Tamils : but the major portion of its account has yet to be worked out and proved to be a reliable record of contemporaneous events.  Even the few historical facts imbedded in it, are in the usual oriental fashion mixed up with the imagery of the poet or the flattery of the courtier.

The kingdoms of the Choda, Pandya and Keralaputta (Chera) are stated in the Rock Edicts of Asoka to have been bordering on the dominions of the Mauryan Emperor and in the first of these, i.e., the Choda country, the faithful (i.e., Buddhists) are reported to have been living.  That Buddhism had already reached the South even before Asoka’s time is thus confirmed by the latter statement, though the Ceylonese chronicle Mahavamsa denies the fact poetically what it says that the missionaries of Asoka flew over Southern India direct to Ceylon from Kalinga to preach the Buddhist faith there.  Stronger evidences have also been recently brought to light which prove the possible influence of Buddhism in Southern India.  Whatever the Epics, the Puranas and other early Sanskrit works may state or prove regarding the original Dravida inhabitants, their country and their civilization, positive epigraphical evidence contained in the cave inscriptions of the Madura and Tinnevelly districts written in Brahmi characters of a pre-Asokan type, and in a language whose affinity to the Dravidian may yet be established when these queer records come to be successfully interpreted[3], shows that these natural caverns, like the thousands of similar rock-shelters of Ceylon were occupied in pre-Christian times by the Buddhists and converted by them into residences for their ascetics.  The Brahmi characters of these records at any rate must have been introduced by the Buddhists from the north or from Ceylon, though the language adopted may have been one mostly influenced by local dialects.  Besides these, no further traces of Buddhism are known to exist in South India till after a long interval.  In the 11th century A.D. we find gifts made to the great vihara (called Puduveligopuram) at Nagapattanam (Negapatam) by the famous Chola king Rajaraja I.  Tamil literature abounds in references to Buddhist stories and authors and leaves no doubt that Buddhism thrived well from its very inception right up to the period of the Saiva and Vaishnava revivals in the early 7th century A.D. and perhaps in a milder form even after that period, down to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries of the Christian era.

The Puranic and the Buddhist periods in the history of Southern India being thus almost a blank from an epigraphical point of view the history of the Saiva saints and Vaishnava Alvars handed down by tradition and recorded in the books Periyapuranam and Guruparaparaprabhava respectively, and some well-known works of the Sangam period, supply though sparingly, some historical data to work upon.  Of the latter class, the Pattinappalai is exclusively devoted to the life of the reputed king Karikala who had the banks of the Kaveri constructed by his vassal kings and who is said to have set his foot over the crowns of the Pandya and the Chera[4].  In chapter V of his Tamils, 1800 years AGO, Mr. Kanakasabhai Pillai has collected all that is available in literature regarding the early Chola kings of whom he mentions about eight.  Karikala was the most famous of them.  It was he that changed his capital from Uraiyur to Kavirippumpattinam, erected banks on either side of the river Kaveri, dug irrigation canals and patronized poets.  After defeating the Pandyas and the Cheras, the contracted diplomatic marriage relations with the latter and political alliance with the former[5].  The Kalavali[6] or ‘the Battle-field’, a poem written by the poet Poygaiyar, describes the fight at Kalumalam between the Chola king Chengannan or Kochchengannan and the Chera king Kanaikkal Irumporai, wherein the later is stated to have been defeated and imprisoned by the former but released through the intervention of the poet Poygaiyar whose poem had such good effect on the victorious Chola that he granted the request of the poet, viz., the release of the Chera king.  Chengannan is called the king of the ‘country watered by the river Kaveri.’  The same event is also referred to in the later poem, the Kalingattupparani which describes the conquest  of Kalinga by Kulottunga-Chola I.  Epigraphical records describe Kochchengannan as a fervent devotee of Siva and as having been freed by that god from the bondage of a spider’s body.  In the Periyapuranam, Kochchengannan is stated to have been a staunch Saiva, to have built the temple at Jambukesvaram in the Trichinopoly district and to have restored many a Siva temple in the Chola country from ruin[7].  Although a staunch Saiva himself, Kochchengannan is stated to have built Vaishnava temples as well.  Still another early Chola king mentioned in literature is Perunatkilli or Perunarkilli who was ‘the master of many sciences.’ 

Kochchengannan and Perunarkilli, according to Mr. Kanakasabhai Pillai came to the throne after Karikala.  Literature states that Killivalavan, the elder brother of Perunarkilli, married a Naga princess named Pilivalai during a romantic excursion and obtained by her a son called Tondai.  The king made this prince the ruler of the Tondai-mandalam and thus even the little power that might have been wielded by the Cholas in the northern part of their vast dominions went out of their hands.  Tondai and his descendants are known in later history as Pallavas (Tondaiyarkon).  It is significant that the destruction of the capital town of Kavirippumpattinam happened during the reign of Killivalavan.  Of Kochchengannan, the Vaishnava saint Tirumangai-Alvar of the 8th century A.D. says that he built 70 temples for Vishnu.  This makes Kochchengannan anterior to Tirumangai-Alvar.

The Periyapuranam mentions other Chola kings and chiefs such as Pugalchola-Nayanar, Idangali-Nayanar and Kurruva-Nayanar who are not referred to in epigraphical records.

The vague memory with which the authors of the copper-plate records refer to the three early Chola kings is sufficient evidence to show that at the commencement of the 10th century A.D., the probable date of the earliest of these records, their names carried with them no more significance than the other legendary names in the earlier portion of the genealogical list.  It is surprising also that references to their rule and to their battles are rarely, if at all, found in the thousands of Chola inscriptions distributed over almost every part of the Chola country.  While thus the political status of these early Chola kings was altogether forgotten at the commencement of their revival in the end of the 9th century A.D., their devotion to Saivism which preceded this revival and their actual participation in its propaganda are established by the stories about them related in the Periyapuranam.

Of the epigraphical records, the Anbil plates of Sundara-Chola (Parantaka II) mention Kochchengannan as the builder of Siva temples in various parts of his kingdom[8].  The Tiruvalangadu grant and the large Leyden plates make only a mere mention of him and do not give further details.  In the genealogical order, he is placed some time after the famous Karikala who has been ascribed on other grounds roughly to the end of the 5th century A.D. Perhaps Kochchengannan was also like Karikala a famous Chola king of about that period[9], but unlike him he had a religious turn of mind.  The Cholas in the time of Karikala must have still been a powerful independent race in their native country.

The Leyden plates, the Tiruvalangadu grant, the Anbil plates of Sundara-Chola and the Kanyakumari inscription of Virarajendra-Chola are the only epigraphical records discovered and published so far, that give genealogical lists of Chola kings[10].  These do not supply us with any other facts about the earlier members of the dynasty than what has been already gathered from literature.  The mythical pedigree, in these records, which traces the Cholas to the Sun includes such Puranic and legendary names as those of Manu, Ikshvaku, Prithu, Mandhatri, Muchukunda, Sibi, etc., and the eponymous Chola (son of Bharata) after whom the race received the name Chola[11].  One of the legendary kings mentioned in the Kanyakumari record, viz.,  Panchapa is stated to have acquired that name by his affording protection to five Yakshas.  Suraguru was another who earned the title Mrityujit, by conquering even the god of Death.  Vyaghraketu was still another from whom the Cholas evidently borrowed the banner of the tiger.  All the kings so far enumerated, lived ‘in ages prior to the Kaliyuga’.  To the Kaliyuga itself belonged Karikala, the builder of the banks of the Kaveri and the renewer of the town of Kanchi ; Kochchengannan, the fervent devotee of Siva, who was freed by that god from the bondage of a spider’s body and who much influenced the revival of Saivism in Southern India and Perunatkilli.  When then could have been the reason for the fact that the doings of these famous Cholas kings, whose constant feuds with the Pandyas and the Cheras or their diplomatic alliances with either of them are so elaborately described by contemporaneous Tamil poets, faded away from the memory of the panegyrists of Sundara-Chola (Parantaka II), Rajaraja I and Rajendra-Chola I?[12]  We have perhaps to suppose that between Karikala, whose time has been fixed to be about the end of the 5th century A.D., and Vijayalaya of the 9th century, the Cholas must have become so entirely degenerate[13] as even to lose their identity owing perhaps to the rise of the Pallavas of Conjeeveram on the one side and to the pushing inroads of the Pandyas on the other.  The Madras Museum Plates of Uttama-Chola[14] refer to a hall in the temple of Uragam at Conjeeveram named Karikala-terri probably after Karikala.  The defeat of the unnamed Pandya king at Vennil by Karikala might be established if we compare this statement with the genealogical account of the Pandya dynasty given in the Velvikudi and the Sinnamanur plates.  About the end of the 5th century A.D.  the period of Karikala’s rule, the Pandyas appear to have been politically weak and the Pandya country itself is said to have been usurped by the Kalabhras.  With the rise of Kadungon[15] in that family, the Pandyas are said to have revived and spread their power.  Karikala’s descendants in the bordering Chola country were not evidently able to withstand the onrush of the Pandyas and accordingly abandoned their ancestral dominions for about 300 years at least, after Karikala, until Vijayalaya once again, about the end of the 9th Century A.D., recaptured Tanjavur and established his sway over the ancestral Chola dominions.  It is suggested that during this exile the Cholas might have ruled as petty chiefs in the south-western part of the Telugu country and given rise there to a new family of Telugu kings of Chola origin, whom Mr. Venkayya calls Telugu-Chodas and who in their records claim descent from the solar race and county Karikala as one of their famous ancestors.

A satisfactory working basis for the history of the Pallavas, the Pandyas and the revived Cholas may be considered as fairly supplied, though, in the case of the second of these, abundant material available for the medieval period from the twelfth to the fifteenth century has not been sufficiently represented and much of the written history of the first is found distributed over various antiquarian books and journals.  While, therefore, giving a full bibliography for the study of the first, and drawing special attention in this connection to the Sanskrit work Mattavilasa-Prahasana  composed by the great Pallava king Mahendravarman I, about the beginning of the 7th century A.D., I propose to put together in the following pages a detailed account of the Cholas of Tanjore as far as it could be gathered mainly from the inscriptions included in the first three volumes of the South-Indian Inscriptions,  and collating, of course, where necessary, information from other available sources.  All that could be said of the early Pandyas is found infra I the historical introduction to the two Sinnamanur plates.  


[1] Tamilakam is sometimes connected with Tamluk (Tamralipti) in Bengal it being presumed that the Tamils immigrated into the South of India by the North-Eastern route through the valley of the Brahmaputra.  The expression Tamilagam  consists of two words Tamil and agam of which the latter means ‘earth or land’.  In Sanskritising it into Dramidaka the significance of the original Tamil word agam does not appear to have been recognized, but the letter ka was retained because it was there in the original.  Gradually this letter also was dropped since in Sanskrit the suffix ka is optionally added to a noun without causing any change in meaning.  Sometimes ka has the diminutive significance.  Thus Dramidaka may have been applied originally to a small district ; but when the extended country had to be referred to, the suffix ka was dropped and only Dramida used.

[2]  Ch. 9, v. 58

[3] See Epigraphical Reports of the Madras Presidency for the years 1907 and onwards.  Mr. K. V. Subrahmanya Aiyer has shown that the language of these inscriptions is Tamil and has interpreted them as such.  See pages 275 to 300 of the Proceedings and transactions of the Third Oriental Conference, Madras, 1924.

[4] See Ind. Ant., Vol. XLI, pp. 146 ff.

[5]  This king, Karikala has been assigned to the 5th century A.D., See below, p. 4.

[6]  This poem has been ascribed to the 6th or 7th century A.D. by Kanakasabhai Pillai.

[7]  Prior to his birth as a king, he was a spider and long served Siva by weaving a web over the Sivalinga stopping thereby the dry leaves from falling on it.  The pious spider one day died in an encounter with a white elephant which had regularly been pulling out the web piously woven by it over the head of Siva.  The spider, it is stated, one day killed the elephant by biting it in its proboscis and himself also died immediately being dashed to the ground by the dying elephant.  God Siva liberated at once the spider from its animal body and blessed it to be born as the Chola king Kochchengannan.

[8]  Ep. Ind., Vol. XV, p. 46.

[9]  See Dr. Krishnaswami Ayyangar’s ‘Some Contributions of Southern India to Indian Culture.’

[10]  The Udayendiram Plates of Prithvipati II (South Indian Inscriptions, Vol. II, pp. 382 ff.) also supply a genealogical account of the Chola kings.  But the information given here is not so full as in the other plates, the apparent reason being that Chola genealogy therein is introduced only incidentally.

[11]  The Kanyakumari record gives a fanciful account of this king Chola suggesting that he was the first to bring Brahmans from Aryavarta and settle them on the banks of the Kaveri.  In early Tamil literature, we find no mention of the dynastic name Chola or its variants.  How and when it came into use has yet to be inquired into.  Its mention in the form Choda as applied to a kingdom bordering on the dominions of Asoka, the name Chuliye given by Hiuen Tsang to a district of the Telugu country, the title.  Chola-Maharaja found in some Telugu records of the 9th century A.D., the name Sola occurring in the Singhalese chronicle Mahavamsa and in some early Kannada inscriptions of the Nolambas, the Sonadu, (a contraction of Sola-nadu) found in the Pattinappalai are the only references so far available with which we may connect the modern name Chola.

[12]  It is inferred from statements made in literature that Karikala must have been, at the best, only an usurper and that among the kings who may have succeeded him, there was much of disunion and discontent.  This was apparently the reason why they soon disappeared before the advancing Pallavas and the Pandyas.

[13]  Internal disputes and revolts during the time of Killivalavan are referred to in the Silappadigaram.  He is also stated in the Agananuru to have advanced against Madura and to have been defeated there.

[14]  Below, No. 128, and Ind. Ant., Vol.  LIV, p. 72.

[15]  See the Velvikudi grant published in Ep. Ind., Vol. XVII, pp. 291 – 309.

Home Page


Archives | Links | Search
About Us | Feedback | Guestbook

© 2007 Copyright What Is India Publishers (P) Ltd. All Rights Reserved.