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Ancient Tamil country

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Title: Ancient Tamil country  
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Ancient Tamil country

Tamiḻakam or Ancient Tamil country[1] (Tamil தமிழகம் "the Tamil homeland") refers to the Sangam period (3rd century BCE - 4th century CE)[note 1] territory of old South Indian royalties covering modern Tamil Nadu, Kerala and southern parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka. Historians use the term synonymous with South India to refer to the Tamil speaking regions of India, including Kerala and Tamil Nadu.[2]

Although traditional accounts use to refer to these territories as a single cultural area, where Tamil was the natural language [note 2] and culture of all people[note 3], archaeological data from protohistoric Kerala and Tamil Nadu "appears to challenge challenge this notion of a separate culture region."[5]

During the Sangam period Tamil culture began to spread outside Tamilakam.[6][6]


"Tamiḻakam" is a portmanteau of two words from the Tamil language, namely Tamil and akam. It can be roughly translated as the 'homeland of Tamil'. According to Kamil Zvelebil, the term seems to be the most ancient term used to designate the Tamil territory in the Indian subcontinent.[7]


Until recently, the interpretation and understanding of India's past has largely been based on textual sources.[5] According to Abraham,

In the southern portion of the peninsula--the region that corresponds roughly to the present-day states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu--the existence of a large documentary corpus, both indigenous and foreign, and the occurrence of inscribed coins and cave inscriptions, have given rise to the idea of a separate ethnic and linguistic region known as "Tamilakam".[5]

The role of archaeology has often been secondary, as "a source of correlates for information gleaned from the texts",[5] but challenges existing notions of Tamilakam which are primarily based on textual sources.[5]

Territory and geographical boundaries

Classical era territory

The 2nd or 1st century BCE [note 4] Tamil chronicle Tolkappiyam, a work on the grammar of the Tamil language and the earliest extant work of Tamil literature, contains several references to centamiḷ nilam, "land of refined Tamil").[7] According to the Tolkappiyam, the limits of Tamilakam were between the hills of Venkatam in the north, and Cape Comorin in the south.[note 5] Tolkappiar, the writer of the Tolkappiyam, does not mention a Tamil part of Sri Lanka.[39][note 6]

According to the Tolkappiyam, at the time of Tamilakam Malayalam had not formed into a separate dialect at this period, and only one language, Tamil, was spoken from the Eastern to the Western Sea.[5][9][10][11][12][13]

Modern use

Historians use the term synonymous with South India to refer to the Tamil speaking regions of India, including Kerala and Tamil Nadu.[2]

Tamilakam kingdoms

Main article: History of Tamil Nadu

Approximately during the period between 350 BCE to 200 CE, Tamilakam was ruled by the three Tamil dynasties of Chola, Pandya and Chera, and a few independent chieftains, the Velir.

The Chola dynasty was one of the longest-ruling dynasties in the history of southern India. The earliest datable references to this Tamil dynasty are in inscriptions from the 3rd century BCE left by Asoka, of the Maurya Empire. The heartland of the Cholas was the fertile valley of the Kaveri River.

The Pandyan Dynasty ruled parts of South India until the 15th century CE. They initially ruled their country Pandya Nadu from Korkai, a seaport on the southernmost tip of the Indian Peninsula, and in later times moved to Madurai. Pandyan was well known since ancient times, with contacts, even diplomatic, reaching the Roman Empire.

The Chera Dynasty ruled from before the Sangam Age (3rd century BCE – 3rd century CE) until the 12th century CE over an area corresponding to modern-day Kerala. During the time of Mauryas in northern India (c. 4th century BCE — 3rd century BCE) the Cheras (along with the Pandyas and the Cholas) were in a late megalithic phase on the western coast of Tamilakam.

The Velirs (Tamil: வேளிர்) were a royal house of minor dynastic kings and aristocratic chieftains in Tamilakam in the early historic period of South India.[41][42]

Nadus of Tamilakam

Tamizhagam was divided into various provinces named nadu, meaning 'country'. These provinces changed throughout history, so the following list is not exhaustive:


Cultural unity

Thapar mentions the existence of a common language of the Dravidian group:

Ashoka in his inscription refers to the peoples of South India as the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas and Satiyaputras - the crucible of the culture of Tamilakam - called thus from the predominant language of the Dravidian group at the time, Tamil.[3]

Yet, also according to Abraham,

... the archaeological data from protohistoric Kerala and Tamil Nadu is not so clear--cut and, in fact, appears to challenge the very notion of a separate culture region.[5]

Cultural influence

See also Sri Lankan Tamil people and Sri Lankan Civil War

With the advent of the early historical period in South India,[6] and the ascent of the three Tamil kingdoms in Southern India in the 3rd century BCE,[6] Tamil culture began to spread outside Tamilakam. In the 3rd century BCE the first Tamil settlers arrived at Sri Lanka.[47] The Jaffna-seal, dated to the 3rd century BCE, contains a bilingual inscription.[48][note 7] Excavations in the area of Tissamaharama in southern Sri Lanka have unearthed locally issued coins, produced between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE, some of which carry local Tamil personal names written in early Tamil characters,[49] which suggest that local Tamil merchants were present and actively involved in trade along the southern coast of Sri Lanka by the late classical period.[50] Around 237 BCE, "two adventurers from southern India"[51] established the first Tamil rule at Sri Lanka. In 145 BCE Elara, a Chola general[51] or prince,[52] took over the throne at Anuradaphura and ruled for forty-four years.[51] Dutthagamani, a Sinhalese, started a war against him, defated him, and took over the throne.[51][53]

Tamilakam and Sri lanka

Various sources mention the Nagas, Tamil-speaking people who lived at Sri Lanka, and the existence of Naga Nadu. This may suggest the existence of early Tamil settlements at Sri Lanka, and the extension of Tamilakam to early Sri Lanka.

Tamil-speaking people

The Nagas may have been early Tamil-speaking people at Sri Lanka:

... some scholars [...] suggest [...] that the Yakshas and the Nagas were Tamil-speaking people who worshipped the cobra (Naga) [...] in the prehistorical period dating back to 1000 BCE".[54]

The Yakshas and the Nagas are depicted in the Sinhala epic Mahavamsa as the original inhabitants of the island when the Sinhalese arrived in the island in 500 B.C.[55][note 8] According to Manogaran, some scholars also "have postulated that the Yakshas and Nagas [...] are the aboriginal tribes of Sri Lanka".[54] Holt concludes that they were not Tamils, but a distinct group.[58][note 9]

Naga Nadu

Main article: Naga Nadu

The 6th century CE Tamil epic Manimekalai speaks of the prosperous Naga Nadu,[60] and of "the great Naga king Valai Vanan and his queen Vdcamayilai, who ruled the prosperous Naga Nadu with great splendor."[web 1] According to the Manimekalai this kingdom had a rich Tamil Buddhist tradition.[note 11] The aim of the author, Sīthalai Sāttanār (or Cīttalai Cāttanār) was to compare Buddhism favourably with the other prevailing religions in South India in order to propagate Buddhism. According to Schalk

... it is quite possible that Nakanatu as a fief under the leadership of a Tamil feudal lord under a King enjoyed royal patronage to fortify Buddhism.[web 2]

According to Schalk, Naga Nadu was a not an independent kingdom, but a Tamil Buddhist fief[web 2] in the North of Sri Lanka.[web 2] According to Schalk, the Manimekalai

... makes clear that there was a perception in Tamilakam in the 5th century that Nakanatu was a separate administrative entity, distinguished from Ilankatipam[note 12][...] Nakanatu was a natu [...] Natu is a technical administrative term that could refer to a kingdom, at least to an autonomous administrative region.[web 2]

According to Schalk, Cīttalai Cāttanār, the author of the Manimekalai

... reflects probably in the 5th century what was a political reality then - Nakanatu was conceptualised as being separate from Ilankatipam, the island of Lanka.[web 2]

See also




Printed sources


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