Ancient History of South India

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Jan 4, 2023, 11:03

The ancient history of South India is set from the 6th century BC to the 3rd century CE and marks the rise and fall of several dynasties. This ancient period is also known as the Sangam Age, which is broadly divided into three stages. The ancient history of South India saw many outstanding contributions to the economy, social development, religion, and culture.

While there are three Sangam stages in the ancient history of South India, the Third stage is often considered by historians as the Sangam period. Here is everything you need to know about ancient South Indian history, including the ruling dynasties, culture, and people.

Ancient History of South India - Overview

Ancient South Indian History is divided into the Sangam period. This period is named after the Sangam academies of poets and scholars established in Madurai during ancient times. South India comprises the present-day states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and some parts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Sri Lanka.

The ancient period saw the rise of several South Indian kingdoms that reformed the society and introduced many sociocultural, and religious changes. We have shared the complete details of the ancient history of South India here.

Important Dynasties of South India

Three prominent dynasties prevalent in South India in the Sangam Age were the Pandyan Dynasty, Chola Dynasty, and Chera Dynasty. As per the ancient history of South India, these dynasties contributed significantly to the development of society, culture, and religion. These were also some of the most powerful dynasties ever in South Indian history.

The beginning of the ancient history of South India can be traced back to the megalithic age which lasted from around 1200 BCE to 300 BCE. After that, the prominent dynasties of Chola, Chera, Pandya were established.

Chola, Chera, Pandya

The major South Indian kingdoms that brought socio-cultural reforms, and significant changes in the politics of South India were Chera, Chola, and Pandya. Here, we have shared more information about these kingdoms.

Pandyan Dynasty

The Pandyan Dynasty finds its mention in Sangam literature from 400 BC to 300 CE and Greek and Roman literature. Here are some more details about this dynasty -

  • The Dynasty originated in the seaport of Korkai, but the capital was Madurai.
  • The Dynasty Emblem was a carp.
  • The kingdom of ancient Pandyas extended across the modern districts of Tirunelveli, Ramnad, and Madurai.
  • The prominent Pandyan Kings in ancient history were Nedunjeliyan I and Nedunjeliyan II.

Chola Dynasty

The Chola Dynasty is considered one of the greatest in the Ancient History of South India. Here are some more facts to know about this dynasty -

  • The Chola kingdom was called Cholamandalam or Coromandel. It had its capitals at Kaveripattanam (Puhar) and Uraiyur.
  • The Chola emblem was a tiger.
  • The rule of the Cholas extended to the northeastern Pandyan territory. The Cholas had a strong naval force, and therefore, their territory included some parts of the Maldives Islands and Sri Lanka as well.
  • The Cholas gained ascendency over the Pandyas and the Cheras but began to decline from the 4th century CE due to the Kalabhras.
  • Some notable rulers include Elara, Karikala, and Tondaiman Ilandiraiyan.

Chera Dynasty

The Cheras were a predominant kingdom in Kerala. Here are more details about the Chera dynasty of the ancient South Indian kingdoms -

  • The capital of the Chera Empire was Vanji and Karuvur.
  • The Chera emblem was a bow.
  • The Cheras ruled between the 4th century BC to the 5th century AD.
  • Some of the important rulers of Cheras were Udiyanjeral, Nedunjeral Adan, Senguttuvan, and Kudakko Ilanjeral Irumporai.

South Indian Kingdoms

The Ancient History of South India is rich with culture. The Sangam period is known for its literature and art and its prosperous kingdoms. A vast majority of the information about ancient South Indian History has been derived from narrative and didactic Sangam literature and the writings of Ashoka and the Romans. Here is a glimpse of how the economy, society, and religion were in South Indian history.

Economy in Ancient South Indian History

Sangam literature has depicted South Indian kingdoms as prosperous. People were mainly engaged in agriculture and trade. Muslin, pearls, sandalwood, black pepper, perfume, and tortoiseshell were commonly exported items. The rulers also imported vast amounts of gold and silver from Rome.

Society in South Indian History

The society was divided into four social classes—Arasars (ruling class), Aanthanars (priests), Vanigar (merchants), Vellalar (agriculturists), and Kadasiyar (lower class). Women were highly respected, but sati was prevalent. Women poets like Avvaiyar, Kakkaipadiniyar, and Nachchellaiyar made a tremendous contribution to Tamil literature.

Religion in Ancient South Indian History

The most important deity during the Sangam age was Murugan. There were also five kinds of land, each associated with a different God, i.e., Murugan, Vishnu, Indra, Varunan, and Korravai, that were worshipped. Jainism and Buddhism also flourished in this period.

South Indian History - Sangam Age

Sangam Age is an important period in the ancient history of South India as during this time, a large number of poems were composed in the Tamil language by a large number of authors. This period saw a significant rise in literary contributions. Here are some of the highlights from that age -

  • The word “Sangam” refers to a meeting of Tamil poets and authors.
  • Tamil legends state that there were three Sangams held in the ancient history of South India, which were popularly called Muchchangam.
  • The Sangams were held under the royal patronage of the Pandya kings of Madurai.

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FAQs on Ancient History of South India

Q.1 Which were the major kingdoms in the ancient history of South India?

The major kingdoms in the ancient history of South India were the Pandya, Chola, and Chera kingdoms. All three of these dynasties contributed greatly to the sociocultural, religious, as well as political development of South India. These three Tamil kingdoms were each ruled by kings, and were together called “muvendar.”

Q.2 What is the time period of the ancient history of South India?

The ancient history of South India is set from the 6th century BC to the 3rd century CE. During this time period, the strongest South Indian kingdoms were established, namely the Chola, Chera, and Pandya kingdoms, which introduced many socio-cultural, and political reforms.

Q3. Which is the oldest dynasty in South India?

The oldest dynasty in South India was the Mauryan dynasty, which was established by ruler Chandra Gupta Maurya. This dynasty was the strongest when King Ashoka was ruling it. The Mauryan kingdom spanned from 322 and 185 BCE.

Q.4 What is the Sangam period in the ancient history of South India?

In the ancient history of South India, the period from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century CE is called the Sangam period. During this period, a large literary contribution was made in the form of poems by Tamil poets and authors. Therefore, Sangam Age is defined as a unique period in South Indian history.