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Tamil Nadu's History


         Tamil Nadu's history dates back to pre-historic times and archaeological evidence points to this area being one of the longest continuous habitations in India. In Adichanallur, 24 km from Tirunelveli, archaeologists from the Archaeological Survey of India unearthed 12 urns with Tamil Brahmi script on them containing human skulls, skeletons and bones, plus husks and grains of rice, charred rice and Neolithic celts, giving evidence confirming them to be of the Neolithic period, 3800 years ago. Adhichanallur has been announced as an archaeological site for further excavation and studies.

From early pre-historic times, Tamil Nadu was the home of the four powerful Tamil kingdoms of the Chera, Chola, Pandya(Madurai) and Pallavas. The oldest extant literature, dated between 500 BCE and 200 CE mentions the exploits of the kings and the princes, and of the poets who extolled them. The early Cholas reigned between the 1st and 4th centuries CE. An unknown dynasty called Kalabhras invaded and displaced the three Tamil kingdoms between the fourth and the seventh centuries CE. This is referred to as the Dark Age in Tamil history. They were eventually expelled by the Pandyas and the Pallavas. Around 580 CE, the Pallavas, great temple builders, emerged into prominence and dominated the south for another 150 years. They ruled a large portion of Tamil Nadu with Kanchipuram as their base. They subjugated the Cholas and reigned as far south as the Kaveri River. Among the greatest Pallava rulers were Mahendravarman I and his son Narasimhavarman I. Dravidian architecture reached its peak during the Pallava rule.

By the 9th century, under Rajaraja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola, the Cholas rose as a notable power in Asia. The Chola Empire stretched as far as Bengal. Rajaraja Chola conquered all of peninsular South India and parts of Sri Lanka. Rajendra Chola's navies went even further, occupying coastal Burma (now Myanmar), the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Sumatra, Java, Malaya in South East Asia and Pegu islands. He defeated Mahipala, the king of the Bengal, and to commemorate his victory he built a new capital and named it Gangaikonda Cholapuram.

The Cholas revelled in building magnificent temples. Brihadeshwara Temple in Thanjavur is a classical example of the magnificent architecture of the Chola kingdom. Brihadeshwara temple is an UNESCO Heritage Site under "Great Living Chola Temples." Another example is the Chidambaram Temple in the heart of the temple town of Chidambaram. The power of the Cholas declined around the 13th century. With the decline of the Cholas, the Pandyas rose to prominence once again in the early 14th century. This was short-lived; they were soon subdued by Muslim Khilji invaders from the north in 1316. The invasion led to the establishment of the Madurai Sultanate. These Muslim invasions caused the establishment of Vijayanagara Empire in the Deccan. It eventually conquered the entire Tamil country (c. 1370 CE). As the Vijayanagara Empire went into decline after mid-16th century, the Nayak governors, who were appointed by the Vijayanagar kingdom to administer various territories of the empire, declared their independence. The Nayaks of Madurai and Nayaks of Thanjavur were most prominent of them all. They reconstructed some of the oldest temples in the country.

Around 1609, the Dutch established a settlement in Pulicat. In 1639, the British, under the British East India Company, established a settlement further south, in present day Chennai. The British used petty quarrels among the provincial rulers (divide and rule) to expand their sphere of influence. The British fought and reduced the French dominions in India to Pondicherry. They consolidated southern India into the Madras Presidency. Some notable chieftains or Poligars who fought the British East India Company as it was expanding were Veerapandya Kattabomman, Pulithevan and Dheeran Chinnamalai. Pudukkottai remained as a princely state under British suzerainty.

When India became independent in 1947, Madras Presidency became Madras State, comprising of present day Tamil Nadu, coastal Andhra Pradesh up to Ganjam district in Orissa, northern Karnataka, and parts of Kerala. The state was subsequently split up along linguistic lines. In 1968, Madras State was renamed Tamil Nadu, meaning Land of Tamil.

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