The Early Pandyas of the Sangam period were one of the four main kingdoms of the ancient Tamil country, the other three being the Cholas, the Cheras and Athiyamaan Dynasty.
As with many other kingdoms around this period (earlier than 200 BCE), most of the information about the Early Pandyas come to us mainly through literary sources and some epigraphic, archaeological and numismatic evidence. The capital of the Early Pandyan kingdom was initially Korkai, Thoothukudi around 600 BCE, and was later moved to Koodal (now Madurai) during the reign of Nedunjeliyan I.
The kings of the Pandyan Dynasty are frequently mentioned in Sangam literature of the third century BCE and onwards, in literary works such as the Mathuraikkanci and other early Tamil literary works such as Cilapatikaram, which have been used by historians to identify their names and, to some extent, their genealogy.
Nedunjeliyan II is referred to as the most popular warrior among the Early Pandyas, winning a battle at Talaialanganam against a coalition of forces from Cholas and Cheras and five other kingdoms. The early Pandyan kingdom extended between Travancore in the west, Vellaru river in the north and all the way to the ocean in the east and the south.
The Early Pandyas had active maritime trade relationships with the west, a fact testified by western classical writers such as Pliny the Elder (1st century CE), Strabo, Ptolemy and the author of the Periplus. The Pandyan country was well known for pearl fishery, with Korkai being the principal center of the trade. Some of the exports were pearls, spices, ivory and shells, while the imports included horses, gold, glass and wine.
The Pandyas ruled regions in southern India which now lie in the state of Tamil Nadu, existing there alongside other dynasties such as the Cholas, the Cheras, the Pallavas, etc.
The early Pandyas were reduced to obscurity by the Kalabhras, until their revival in the sixth century AD. They were again subdued by the Cholas in the ninth century, only to rise once more in the twelfth century.
During their long existence as a recognisable people, the Pandyas enjoyed diplomatic ties with the Roman republic and empire (apparently dating as far back as 550 BC, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Ptolemy Egyptians, etc. The Pandyan kingdom was also independent during the Mauryan rule of northern India, and had friendly ties with them. Marco Polo made mention of the Pandyan kingdom as one of the richest he had ever seen, as did Megasthenes in his work the Indika, and the Chinese traveller Yu Huan.
In the fourteenth century, the Kingdom met its end after its invasion by the Islamic Delhi sultanate. The Pandyas subsequently became a part of the Vijayanagar Empire.
The Sangam age of the Pandyan kings ended when the Kalabhras took over the Pandyan regions. It took eleven centuries, but the Pandyas eventually bounced back, retook their territories and established what is now known as the first empire. Kadungon was the king who achieved this, reviving the Pandyas in southern India at the very start of the seventh century AD (alongside a similar Pallava resurgence under King Simhavishnu), marking the beginning of a new era in the Tamil-speaking region. He assumed the title Pandyadhiraja.
In 670, The Pallava king, Mahendravarman II, is killed in a collective attack by the Chalukyas, the Gangas and the Pandyas. Arikesari Maravarman later conquered Kerala, and made common cause with the Chalukya king, Vikramaditya, against the Pallavas (Paramesvaravarman). He is credited with defeating the unnamed Chera king in multiple battles, and also for subjugating the recalcitrant Parathavar of the coastal areas and the inhabitants of the Kurunadu.
Kochadaiyan Ranadhiran conquered the greater part of the Kongu country (Coimbatore). He subdued the Cholas and the Cheras, and his campaigns against the Chalukya kings and Ay chieftains are also recorded. The latter eventually become his vassals, but seemingly not permanently as they still resisted domination later in the century.
Maravarman Rajasimha subdued the Pallavas (with help from the Chalukyan king Vikramaditya II), and the Western Gangas (King Sripurusha). The Chalukyan king Kirtivarman II subsequently gives his daughter in marriage to Maravarman’s son, Jatila Parantaka. He defeated the ruler of Kongu Nadu and crossed the Cauvery to bring about the subjugation of Malakongam, which was situated between Trichy and Thanjavur districts. The Malava chieftain who suffered defeat at his hands gives his daughter in marriage to Rajasimha.
The Ay kingdom to the south of the Cheras continued to mount a strong resistance to Pandya domination. Now the Pandyas invaded the kingdom and capture the port of Vizhinjam, but still the Ay kingdom refused to submit.
Now, Varagunavarman extended his empire to Tiruchirapalli by defeating the Pallava King Dandivarman, critically weakening his kingdom.
The King Srimara invaded Lanka and captured the Northern provinces of the Lanka King Sena I . He defeated the Pallavas at the battle at Kumbakonam. His son, Varagunavarman, later rebelled against him and invited the Sinhalese forces under Sena II and the Pallava king Nripatunga to invade Pandya territory and sack Madurai. Srimara died soon afterwards. His successor attempted to throw off Pallava overlordship but suffers a massive defeat at the hands of Pallava King Nandivarman III.
After the death of Sthanu Ravivarman of the Cheras, hostilities broke out between them and the Cholas, which continued until the disintegration of the Chera kingdom. The Pandyas of Madurai also involved themselves in the conflict.
Aparijita of the Pallavas tried to revive the fortunes of his kingdom by defeating the Pandyas again, with the help of the Cholas who were his vassals. In 891 the Chola king, Aditya, breakings the yoke of his Pallava overlords, completely defeated them, paving the way for Chola supremacy in southern India.
The Pandyas suffered defeat at the hands of Parantaka Chola I, the son of Aditya Chola. Parantaka invaded the Pandyan kingdom and earned himself the title of Maduraikonda (the one who captured Madurai). Rajasimha appealed to Kassapa V, the Lanka king, for assistance, but even the combined forces of the Pandyas and the Sinhalese were not able to keep the Cholas at bay and they suffered a huge defeat in Vellur.
After these successive defeats, Rajasimha II fled to Ceylon but, unable to secure refuge there, he proceeded to Kerala, as he himself was descended in part from a Chera king. There he spent the remainder of his days in obscurity.
The Chola domination of the Tamil country began in earnest during the reign of Parantaka Chola II. Chola armies led by Aditya Karikala, son of Parantaka Chola II, defeated Vira Pandya in battle. This was the start of their long exile.