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Archaeological evidence points to this area being one of the longest continuous
habitations in the Indian peninsula.[15] In Adichanallur, 24 km (15 mi) from
Tirunelveli, archaeologists from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) unearthed
169 clay urns containing human skulls, skeletons, bones, husks, grains of rice,
charred rice and celts of the Neolithic period, 3,800 years ago.[16] The ASI
archaeologists have proposed that the script used at that site is "very
rudimentary" Tamil Brahmi.[17] Adichanallur has been announced as an archaeological
site for further excavation and studies.[18] About 60 per cent of the total
epigraphical inscriptions found by the ASI in India are from Tamil Nadu, and most
of these are in the Tamil language.[19][20][21][22] [23][24][25][26][27]
A new study of Indigenous Australian DNA suggests there was some form of migration
from India to Australia about 4,000 years ago.[28] Genetic evidence suggests that
just over 4 millennia ago a group of Indian travellers landed in Australia and
stayed. The evidence emerged a few years ago after a group of Aboriginal mens Y
chromosomes matched with Y chromosomes typically found in Indian men. The study
found a pattern of SNPs that is found in genetics of Dravidian speakers from South
India. [29] [30] [31] [32]
Indus valley script between 2000 and 1500 BCE
A Neolithic stone celt (a hand-held axe) with the Indus script on it was discovered
at Sembian-Kandiyur near Mayiladuthurai in Tamil Nadu. According to epigraphist
Iravatham Mahadevan, this was the first datable artefact bearing the Indus script
to be found in Tamil Nadu. Mahadevan claimed that the find was evidence of the use
of the Harappan language, and therefore that the "Neolithic people of the Tamil
country spoke a Tamil language". The date of the celt was estimated at between 1500
BCE and 2000 BCE.[33]
Sangam period (300 BCE 300 CE)
Main articles: Sangam period, Tamilakam, and Sangam landscape

Sage Agastya father of Tamil literature, Sangam period

The early history of the people and rulers of Tamil Nadu is a topic in Tamil
literary sources known as Sangam literature. Numismatic, archaeological and
literary sources corroborate that the Sangam period lasted for about six centuries,
from 300 BC to AD 300. The recent excavations in Alagankulam archaeological site
suggests that Alagankulam is one of the important trade centre or port city in
Sangam Era.[34]
Three dynasties, namely the Chera, Chola and Pandya, ruled the area of present-day
Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The Chera ruled the whole of present-day Kerala and parts of
western Tamil Nadu comprising Coimbatore, Dharmapuri, Karur, Salem and Erode
districts from the capital of Vanchi Muthur (thought to be modern day Karur). The
Chola dynasty ruled the northern and central parts of Tamil Nadu from their
capital, Uraiyur; and the Pandya dynasty ruled southern Tamil Nadu, from capitals
at Korkai and Madurai.
All three dynasties had extensive trade relationships with Rome, Greece, Egypt,
Ceylon, Phoenicia, Arabia, Mesopotamia and Persia. Trade flourished in commodities
such as spices, ivory, pearls, beads and gems. Chera traded extensively from
Muziris on the west coast, Chola from Arikamedu and Puhar and Pandya through Korkai
port. A Greco-Roman trade and travel document, the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea
(c. AD 60 100) gives a description of the Tamil country and its ports.
Besides these three dynasties, the Sangam era Tamilakam (Tamil homeland) was also
divided into various provinces named 'nadu', meaning 'country'. Sangam literature
refers these provinces as "koduntamil mandalam" which were not exactly political or
socio-cultural units but linguistic agglomerations like Kongu Nadu, Puzhinadu,
Thondai Nadu, Nanjilnadu, Ay Nadu and Venadu.
Between the 3rd and 6th centuries AD, the three Tamil kingdoms were overwhelmed by
the Kalabhras. The period of their rule is sometimes referred to as the "Dark Age"
in Tamil history and little is known about it. The Kalabhras were expelled by the
Pallavas, Mutharaiyar, Badami Chalukyas and Pandyas in the 6th century.
Bhakti Movement
Main article: Bhakti Movement

Sambandar, one of the sixty-three Nayanars, (Bhakti Movement)

The Bhakti movement originated in Tamil speaking region of south India and spread
northwards through India. The Bhakti Movement was a rapid growth of bhakti
beginning in this region with the Saiva Nayanars (4th10th centuries)[35] and the
Vaisnava Alvars who spread bhakti poetry and devotion.[35][36] The Alwars and
Nayanmars were instrumental in propagating the Bhakti tradition.
Medieval period (6001300)

Kallanai or Grand Anicut, an ancient dam built on the Kaveri River in

Tiruchirappalli by Karikala Chola around the 2nd century AD[37][38][39][40]

Shore Temple built by the Pallavas at Mamallapuram during the 8th century, now a
UNESCO World Heritage Site
During the 4th to 8th centuries, Tamil Nadu saw the rise of the Pallava dynasty
under Mahendravarman I and his son Mamalla Narasimhavarman I.[41] The Pallavas
ruled parts of South India with Kanchipuram as their capital. Tamil architecture
reached its peak during Pallava rule. Narasimhavarman II built the Shore Temple
which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Meenakshi Amman Temple

Much later, the Pallavas were replaced by the Chola dynasty as the dominant kingdom
in the 9th century and they in turn were replaced by the Pandyan Dynasty in the
13th century. The Pandyan capital Madurai was in the deep south away from the
coast. They had extensive trade links with the south east Asian maritime empires of
Srivijaya and their successors, as well as contacts, even formal diplomatic
contacts, reaching as far as the Roman Empire. During the 13th century, Marco Polo
mentioned the Pandyas as the richest empire in existence. Temples such as the
Meenakshi Amman Temple at Madurai and Nellaiappar Temple at Tirunelveli are the
best examples of Pandyan temple architecture.[42] The Pandyas excelled in both
trade and literature. They controlled the pearl fisheries along the south coast of
India, between Sri Lanka and India, which produced some of the finest pearls in the
known ancient world.
Chola Empire
Main article: Chola dynasty

The Chola Empire at its greatest extent, during the reign of Rajendra Chola I in
During the 9th century, the Chola dynasty was once again revived by Vijayalaya
Chola, who established Thanjavur as Chola's new capital by conquering central Tamil
Nadu from Mutharaiyar and the Pandya king Varagunavarman II. Aditya I and his son
Parantaka I expanded the kingdom to the northern parts of Tamil Nadu by defeating
the last Pallava king, Aparajitavarman. Parantaka Chola II expanded the Chola
empire into what is now interior Andhra Pradesh and coastal Karnataka, while under
the great Rajaraja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola, the Cholas rose to a notable
power in south east Asia. Now the Chola Empire stretched as far as Bengal and Sri
Lanka. At its peak, the empire spanned almost 3,600,000 km2 (1,400,000 sq mi).
Rajaraja Chola conquered all of peninsular south India and parts of Sri Lanka.
Rajendra Chola's navy went even further, occupying coasts from Burma (now ) to
Vietnam, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Sumatra, Java, Malaya,
Philippines[43] in South East Asia and Pegu islands. He defeated Mahipala, the king
of Bengal, and to commemorate his victory he built a new capital and named it
Gangaikonda Cholapuram.
The Cholas were prolific temple builders right from the times of the first medieval
king Vijayalaya Chola. These are the earliest specimen of Dravidian temples under
the Cholas. His son Aditya I built several temples around the Kanchi and Kumbakonam
regions. The Cholas went on to becoming a great power and built some of the most
imposing religious structures in their lifetime and they also renovated temples and
buildings of the Pallavas, acknowledging their common socio-religious and cultural
heritage. The celebrated Nataraja temple at Chidambaram and the Sri Ranganathaswami
Temple at Srirangam held special significance for the Cholas which have been
mentioned in their inscriptions as their tutelary deities. Rajaraja Chola I and his
son Rajendra Chola built temples such as the Brihadeshvara Temple of Thanjavur and
Brihadeshvara Temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram, the Airavatesvara Temple of
Darasuram and the Sarabeswara (Shiva) Temple, also called the Kampahareswarar
Temple at Thirubhuvanam, the last two temples being located near Kumbakonam. The
first three of the above four temples are titled Great Living Chola Temples among
the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Architecture from Chola period From left to right: Airavatesvara Temple at

Darasuram; Natarajan, Shiva as celestial dancer; and Parvathi, the consort of Shiva
Vijayanagar and Nayak period (13361646)
Main article: Vijayanagara Empire

Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal at Madurai

The Muslim invasions of southern India triggered the establishment of the Hindu
Vijayanagara Empire with Vijayanagara in modern Karnataka as its capital. The
Vijayanagara empire eventually conquered the entire Tamil country by c. 1370 and
ruled for almost two centuries until its defeat in the Battle of Talikota in 1565
by a confederacy of Deccan sultanates. Subsequently, as the Vijayanagara Empire
went into decline after the mid-16th century, many local rulers, called Nayaks,
succeeded in gaining the trappings of independence. This eventually resulted in the
further weakening of the empire; many Nayaks declared themselves independent, among
whom the Nayaks of Madurai and Tanjore were the first to declare their
independence, despite initially maintaining loose links with the Vijayanagara
kingdom.[42] The Nayaks of Madurai and Nayaks of Thanjavur were the most prominent
of Nayaks in the 17th century. They reconstructed some of the well-known temples in
Tamil Nadu such as the Meenakshi Temple.