Almost all the works of the Sangam mention three important
dynasties namely the Cheras, Cholas and the Pandyas. They are usually
mentioned in a particular order. Accordingly, the Cheras might have been
the oldest of all followed by the Cholas and the Pandyas. Other than these
three, there were a large number other independent chieftains as well.
These chieftains shared the government of the country.
The Cheras were known by many other titles like Vanavar, Kudavarand
so on. The Cholas were also known as Sennis, Sembiyas, Valavan
Minavar, Kavuriyar, Panchavar, Tennar, Seliyar, Marar, Valudi were the
other names used by the Pandyas.
There were a large number of more or less independent chieftains who
shared the government of the country.
The Sangam poets did not describe the political history of their patrons.
Even if some instances are discussed, they are exaggerated. On the basis
of the available sources, a brief account of these dynasties can be given.
The Cheras ruled over parts of Kerala and Tamilham. One of the earliest
known Chera rulers was Udiyanjeral, (130 A.D.) It is noted by the
poets that he freely distributed food to the people. His son, Imayavaramaban
Nedunjeral Adan, (155 A.D.) succeeded him. He is said to have captured
several Yavanas. He did not release them until he received a heavy ransom
in the form of diamonds and many utensils of fine workmanship.
The greatest of the early Chera king was Pirakottiya Senaguttuvan. Paranar
describes a number of conquests of Senaguttuvan, including a campaign
to North India. Senaguttuvan was succeeded by his half-brother
Perunjeral Adan, (180 A.D.)
The later Chera rulers were continuously at war with the Cholas. The Chera
dynasty declined at the beginning of the third century A.D.The fame of
this dynasty lies in liberal patronage to Tamil poets and promotion of
trade with the Romans.
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The Chola dominion was known as Cholamandalam. The Cholas had
their capital was at Uraiyur in Tiruchirapalli district. Karikala was
the most distinguished king amongst the Sangam Cholas. He was a contemporary
of the Chera king Perunjeral Adan.
Karikala was a very competent ruler and a great warrior. He maintained
a powerful navy, which he used to conquer Sri Lanka. He made Puhar
or Kaveripumpattinam an important port and an alternative capital of the
Chola kingdom. After the death of Karikala there was utter confusion in
the state. Two sons of Karikala ruled from different capitals-
the elder from Uraiyar and the younger one from Puhar.
The last great Chola ruler after Karikala was Nedunjelian. He
successfully fought against the Pandyas and the Cheras both. Many Tamil
poems describe his heroism and refer to the Vedic sacrifice performed
by him. After the third century A.D. the Chola dominion rapidly declined
as a result of repeated attacks by the Pandyas and the Cheras.
The Pandyas are mentioned in the Asokan edicts, in the Ramayan and the
Mahabharat. The Pandyas were most famous for patronizing the poets and
scholars of the Tamil Sangams. The earliest known Pandyan ruler was Palyagasalai
Mudukudumi. In the Sangam literature, he is mentioned as a great conqueror,
a patron of poets and performer of many sacrifices.
Aryappadaikadanda Nedunjhelian was another important ruler of
the Pandyas. He ruled from Madura and was himself a poet. Many later Pandyan
rulers are found mentioned in the Sangam literature, but it is not possible
to fix either their chronology or verify their exploits.
Under the Pandyas their capital Madura and the Pandyan port Korkai
were great centers of trade and commerce. The Pandyan dominion was very
wealthy and prosperous on account of the brisk Indo-Roman trade. To further
promote this trade, the Pandyan kings sent embassies to the Roman emperor
Augustus and Trojan.