Pudukkottai was organised as a separate district, on 14th January 1974, comprising the former Pudukkottai Division of Tiruchirappalli district with some additions from Thanjavur district. At present, this district is composed of two Revenue Divisions, namely, Pudukkottai and Aranthangi and nine Taluks, namely, Kulathur, Illuppur, Alangudi, Pudukkottai, Gandarvakottai, Thirumayam, Aranthangi, Avudaiyrakoil and Manamelkudi. There are 765 Revenue Villages. The area of the district is 4663 Sq.Kms. The population of the district is 14,52,269 (as per Census 2001 Provisional figures). The district depends a great deal on the monsoon for its water supply.
Many of the villages are of ancient foundation. The district was one of the homes of pre-historic man. A very large number of burial sites found in the northern and western parts of the district attest this fact.
A very brief sketch of political history is given here in order to appreciate and understand the mixed legacy of antiquities, monuments, epigraphs and the like. The history of Pudukkottai is an epitome of the history of South India. In and around Pudukkottai, there are many vestiges of the oldest habitations of man and some of the lithic records known in the south. The Pandyas, Cholas, Pallavas, Haysalas, Vijaynagar and Madurai Nayaks ruled over this part of the country and fostered it’s communual organisations, trade and industries and embellished it with temples and monuments of outstanding merit.
Sangam Tamil literatures mention some place names of the district. Oliyamangalam (Thirumayam Taluk) is called as Ollaiyur in Purananuru. It was the birth place of poet Ollaiyur Kilan Makan Perumchattan and Ollaiyur Thantha Budha Pandyan. Agananuru also mentions Ollaiyur. It seems to have been an important city of the Pandyas. Four other places also find place in the Sangam classics. They are Ambukkovil, the ancient Alumbil, referred to in Agananuru; Avur the home of the poets Avurkilar, Avur Mulamkilar; Erichi, the ancient Erichalur which had been identified with Erichi Village in Pudukkottai – Aranthangi road (But according to recent researches a village near Illupur). It was probably the home of the poet Madalan Madurai Kumaranar. Avayapatti is traditionally associated with Avvaiyar, who is believed to have lived here for some time.
This district was under the Pandyas of the first empire during Sangam period, but some part of it’s northern boundary had been under the influence of the Cholas of Uraiyur, since a few villages here bear the prefix like “killi” and “valavan” both of which are the titles of the Cholas.
The district shares the large prosperity of the maritime trade of the Tamils, Karukkakurichi, the place of find of a treasure trove of more than 500 Imperial Roman Gold and Silver Coins, the largest ever recorded from a single hoard deserves notice in the context of the early history of the district. This place lies in Alangudi taluk, with in a short distance north of Aranthangi and the adjoining old ports of Mimisal and Saliyur in the same area and Tondi further south. The site of find would mark an important Indo-Roman trading centre, through which the inland trade route ran between the western and eastern ports during that time.
This is indicated by a chain of such Roman coin hoard sites such as Korkai, Kilakkarai, Alagankulam all on the eastern sea coast. While Karukkakuruchi is a bit inland but not far away from port like Mimisal. There are also few other sites of such finds in the east coast. These, while pointing out the exchanges of the exportable products for Roman gold and silver currency would also indicate the places mentioned to have been active trade centres. The Karukkakurichi hoard contained the issues of the Roman emperors and their queens, successively from Augustus(BC 29 – AD 14) upto Vaspasianus (69-79 AD).
From about the end of fourth century about the last quarter of sixth, the district, like many other parts of Tamil Nadu was under the Kalabhras. It must have come under the King Kurran, inscription of whom has been found in Pulankurichi near Ponnamaravathi in the district.
The next phase in the history of the district, follows the overthrow of Kalabharas by Kadungon in Pandya country about 590 AD. The first Pandya empire inaugurated by Kadungon spread in to the district. This is shown by the presence of inscription of the rulers of this dynasty in Kudumianmalai, Thirugokarnam and Sittannavasal. The poem, Pandimandala sathakam states that Pandya land’s northern frontier was river Vellar. The Vellar that flows north of Pudukkottai town has been from the ancient times was the traditional boundary separating the terrains of the Cholas and Pandyas. This dividing line formed the Konadu and Kanadu, on the north and south respectively.
Thus the district became a kind of marchar land between the Pandyas and Pallavas. The Pandyas and Pallavas carried on the wars by proxy through their subordinate chiefs the Mutharayars and Velirs. Among the Velirs the most well known are the Irukkuvels of Kodumbalur. The Kodumbalur Velirs located in the political buffer zone between the kingdoms of the Cholas and Pandyas and formed the family of nobility from which kings and other chiefs made matrimonial alliance.
The period of three centuries between C 600 and C 900 AD relates to the reign of the Pallavas of Kanchi and Pandyas of Madurai who ruled over the entire Tamila Nadu with their boundary in between their empires oscillating on either side of river Kaveri the bone of contention being Cholamandalam the home of Cholas and the fertile Kaveri delta that was the granary of the south and as such always been the cynosure of all powers contending for supermacy during the entire historical period. The Cholas themselves were in eclipse and hibernating only to revive again in the ninth century, when the Pallava power came to an end, the Pandyas were holding on for some more time to yield place ultimately to the waxing Chola power.
Though Mahendravarma Pallava (604-630 A.D) inherited the Pallava empire from his victorious father Simhavishnu that reached up to the bank of the Cauvery, Cholamandalam could not be retained by his immediate successor, as it was over-run by the Pandyas of the further south. The tract north and south of river Vellar were in the hands of the Mutharayar chieftains who till their annihilation by the resurgent Chola line of Vijayalaya, were owing alternate allegiance to the super powers. The Irukkuvelirs, at the end became the firm allies of the Cholas.
Thus, one cannot expect to find early Pallava monuments, antiquities and inscriptions in Pudukkottai region but only those of the contemporary Pandyas along with those of Mutharaiyars and Irukkuvelirs. Later Pallavas wrested the tract from the hands of the Pandyas. The tract come under the Pallavas from the time of Nandhivarman-II (730-796 AD) when the Pallavas power reasserted itself in Cholamandalam and the tract south of Kaveri, reaching a little south beyond Vellar, comprising the northern half of the Pudukkottai district. This period is thus marked by the presence of rock cut cave temples of the Pandyas and Mutharaiyars.
The available historical evidence under the first Pandya empire is rather scanty. The best known is the inscription at Sittannavasal in the reign of Srimara Srivallaba (851-862 AD) and at Kudumianmalai in the reign of Kochadayan Ranadheeran or Sadayan Maran (C 700-730 AD). In the reign of Maravarman Rajasimha-I (C 730-760 AD) a number of battles were faught against the Pallavas, one of the sites was Kodumbalur. The inscription of the reign of Nedunchadayan, (C 768-816 AD) the greatest king of the dynasty is found in Thirugokarnam and Nirpalani. Of the reign of three successors of Srimara Srivallaba ending with Rajasimha-II (C 920 AD) who lost his kingdom to the resurgent Cholas, there are no reference about the Pandya rulers in the district.
The Pallava references to places and incidents in the district are equally scanty. The earliest reference of the historical events in the district find place in the Pandya records of Velvikudi and Sinnamanur plates which say that Maravarman Rajasimha defeated Nadhivarman Pallava Malla at Kodumbalur. The inscriptions of his successors are found in Kunnandarkoil, Malayadipatti and Rasalipatti.
The age of Pallavas and Pandyas of the first empire, the Mutharaiyars and Irukkuvelirs was the age of Tamil Bhakthi Movement. The Thevaram mentions several temples in the district. The three Nayanmars from this district were, Idangalinayanar of Kodumbalur, Perumizhalai Kurumbanayanar associated with Devarmalai and Kulachirai Nayanar of Manamelgudi.
Jainism well flourished in Pudukkottai area up to 11th century. There are a number of Jaina vestiges in the district.
The Buddhist vestiges in the district come from the former Thanjavur district. Buddha idols are found at Kottaipattinam and Karur.
With the exit of Pallavas from the political scene and the subsequent elimination of the Pandya power by the Cholas who established themselves at Thanjavur as their capital at the close of 9th century. By 11th century they extended their sway even beyond, Tamilakam. Pudukkottai among many other places come under them. Their rule extended till about the middle of 13th century when the Pandyas staged a comeback.
Under Chola Vijayalaya, this district formed part of his dominion but perhaps fitfully. The notion that some temples of nineth century in the district, belong to early Chola period, is erroneous. The Pandyas still held power in the region. It was not until the reign of Parantaka-I (907-955 AD). Vijayalay’s second successor, that the Cholas conquered the entire Pandya land. The Kodumbalur chiefs helped Parantaka in his campaign and remained faithful to the Cholas thereafter.
The rule of Rajaraja-I shows a brilliant part in the history of the district in common with that of Tamil Nadu. The full benefaction of the Chola rule is revealed in their inscriptions in the district. These inscriptions are of great value is showing how effectively local administration functioned in this part of Chola Kingdom.
Rajaraja-I appointed his son the viceroy of the conquered Pandya and Chera lands. The entire district formed part of the Chola kingdom until the last year of Kulothunga-III (1178-1218 AD). At the death of Rajaraja-II and the succession of Rajadhiraja-II, the Chola power began to decline.
The Pandyas began to assert their independence from the time of Kulothunga-I. Towards the end of the reign of Raja Raja-II, Kulasekara one of the two contenders for Pandya throne pealed the Chola for help. His rival Parakrama turned towards Srilanka. Pudukkottai also become seat this civil war. Parakrama Babu the Srilanka king sent an army to assist Parakrama Pandya according to Culavamsa, the Sinhalese chornicle the Sinhalese army engaged itself in the war in the parts of the district and burnt down the three storeyed palace at Ponnamaravathi. The outcome of the civil war became disastrous to the Cholas.
The history of the district after the fall of Cholas could not be told in detail for the records are comparatively minimal.. The Pandyas of the second empire spread their influence in the district gradually.
The Pandya power reached its height in the district under Jatavarman Sundra Pandya-I and Jatavaraman vira Pandya-I the joint rulers. The inscription of Virapandya in Kudumianmalai, throws much light on his relationship with Srilanka and his kingdom across the seas. During the reign of Maravarman Kulasekara-I who acceded in 1268 A.D, Marcopolo the Venetian traveler visited Pandya country. Towards the end of Kulasekara’s reign Jatavarman Virapandya-II and Jatavarman Sundara Pandya-II, the brothers quarreled. This led to a civil war in Pandya country resulting in political unrest and confusion.
Malikafur the general of Alaudeen Khalji the Sultan of Delhi took advantage of this and invaded Pandya country. This led to the incorporation of the Pandya country in the Delhi empire in subsequent years. A sultanate was established at Madurai. There are two inscriptions relating to the period of the Sultans of Madurai in the district, one at Rangiam (1332 AD) and another at Panaiyur (1344 A.D).
The brief spell of Muslim rule (Sultanate of Madurai) at Madurai lasted for about 75 years and again there was political unrest and chaos and Pudukkottai region also shared the fate. Minor princes ruled small territories here and there. By about 1371 AD. Kumarakampana, the Vijayanagar prince took over Madurai and the Sultanate came to an end. But the Pandya power did not survive on the Hindu conquest and slowly it ceased to be a historical force in the district.
The Hoysalas of Karnataka arrived in the southern part of Tamil Nadu and actively intervened Chola – Pandya feuds and soon they came to occupy the region on either banks of river Cauvery with the capital at Kannanur (modern Samayapuram). They established themselves in the area by the middle of 13th century and much of the Pudukkottai area was under their sway till the end of 13th century.
The Vijayanagar Rayas centered in Hampi took over Madurai, from the Muslims when the whole of southern Karnataka, Andra and Tamilnadu came under one rule – the Vijayanagar empire.
Under the Vijayanagar Sangama dynasty (1336-1485 A.D) the inscriptions in the district refer to many local chiefs such as Suraikudi, Perambur, Sendavanmangalam, Vanadaraiyar, Gangaiaraiyar and Thondaimans of Aranthangi. During the brief Suluva rule (1485-1505 A.D) Narasimha Raya the first Suluva emperor, during a tour of his dominions passed through Pudukkottai country on his way to Madurai. Vira Narasimha Nayak, the Tuluva usurper and the general of Saluva Narasimha-I, led a campign against the Pandya chiefs and marched through Pudukkottai.
A great Personality of the Tuluva dynasty (1505-1570 A.D) was Krishna Deveraya (1509-1529 A.D). He had visited Brahadamba Gokarnesa temple at Thirugokarnam on his way to Rameswaram and gifted many valuable presents to the temple. Under his successor eastern part of Pudukkottai district formed part of the Thanjavur kingdom for some time and the rest was under the Madurai Nayaks. The Thondaimans of Pudukkottai rose to power by about the end of 17th century.
The provincial viceroys of the Vijayanagar empire, the Nayaks of Madurai and Thanjavur asserted independence after the downfall of the empire. The Pudukkottai area thus came under the Nayaks of Madurai nominally and under the Thanjavur Nayaks frequently.
The Thondaimans of Pudukkottai came to rule with full sovereignty over the Pudukkottai area from the middle of the 17th century till it’s amalgamation with the rest of India after Indian Independence in 1947.
The ancestors of the Pudukkottai ruling line of Thondaimans, are migrants from Thiruppathi region in the Thondaimandalam, the northern stretch of the ancient Tamil Kingdom, along with the Vijaynagar army, which was in engagement in this part of territory in the early 17th century. It is probable that one among them got some lands assigned to him by the local Pallavarayar chieftain and settled down at Karambakudi and Ambukovil area, and became the chieftain of the area, later came to be called as the progenitor of Thondaimans of Pudukkottai ruling house. According to the legendary account found in a Telugu poem, Thondaiman Vamasavali, the Thondaimans belonged to Indravamsa and the first ruler was Pachai Thondaiman.
Avadi Raya Thondaiman, the successor of Pachai Thondaiman, with the favour of Venkata Raya-III (1630-1642 A.D) the king of Vijayanagar got extented the land in his possession in the region and he was also conferred the title Raya. The Avadai Raya Thondaiman inherited Vijayanagar tradition and the Thondaimans of later period adopted it.
His son Ragunatha Raya Thondaiman came close to the Nayak of Thanjavur and Rangakrishna Muthuvirappa Nayak of Tiruchirappalli. He was appointed as the arasu kavalar of Tiruchirappalli. Vijaya Raghunatha Kilavan Sethupathi (1673-1710 A.D) the Sethupathi ruler of Ramanathapuram married Kathali Nachiar the sister of Thondaiman. This marriage strengthened the ties between these dynasties. The Sethupathi presented the tract of land to the south of Vellar to the Thondaiman. Thus the Pudukkottai territory was enlarged. This account is called the Sethupathi origin of Pudukkottai country and expansion of Thondaiman rule. the Thondaiman’s rule was established south of Vellar and Raghunatha Raya Thondaiman was in estimation to the status of a bigger territory by about 1686 A.D., and he ruled up to 1730 A.D.
About the time that Raghunatha Raya Thondaiman became the ruler of Pudukkottai, Namana Thondaiman, his brother became the chief of Kulathur Palayam (present Kulathur taluk area) with the blessings of the Nayak king Ranga Krishna Muthuvirappa of Tiruchirappalli (1682-1689 A.D) and Kulathur continued as seperate “principality – with it’s ruler known as Kulathur Thondaiman ” till about 1750 A.D when it was annexed to Pudukkottai. Reghunatha also got some territories by victory, consolidating Pudukkottai rule roughly constituting the former Kulathur, Alangudi and Thirumayam taluks. The tract contained in these taluks, later came to be known as Pudukkottai State (Pudukkottai Samasthanam).
Vijaya Raghunatha Raya Thondaiman (1730-1769 A.D) was the second in the line of Thondaimans. During his period the whole of India come under the umbrella of the Mughals. The Nayakdoms of Ginjee, Thanjavur and Madurai were subjugated and became tributaries of the Mughal rule so also the smaller palayams which were under them. The Nizam of Hydrabad was appointed as the Mughal representative of South India, in turn the Nizam entrusted the Tamilnadu region then known as Carnatic, to the Nawab of Arcot. Many of the tributory states did not remit the tributes regularly and such provinces were invaded by the Nawab’s forces. Nothing like this happened in the case of Pudukkottai and was left undisturbed by the Nawab.
The famous war of succession to the office of Nawab of Carnatic between Mohamad Ali and Chanda Sahib, became in due course a war of supermacy between the English and the French in South India which resulted in the Carnatic wars. The French supported the cause of Chanda Sahib and the English were on the side of Mohamed Ali. The war lasted for many years mainly around Tiruchirappalli. The Thondaiman was firmly on the side of the English at his time while the rulers like Thanjavur Marathas wavered. At last the English emerged as the masters of this land. This firm help of the Thondaiman to the English was rewarded by the exemption of tribute by the victorious Nawab and later this was continued by the English.
The Thondaiman’s act of friendship towards English continued by the next ruler Raya Raghunatha Thondaiman (1769-1789 A.D). Because of this the Thondaiman had to encounter the strong forces of Hyder Ali.
Vijaya Raghunatha Thondaiman (1789 – 1807 A.D) helped the English and the Nawb. The Nawab Mohamed Ali conferred up on the Thondaiman the title “Raja Bahadur”. The political wind was in favour of the English. The entire Carnatic region was taken over by the English by 1800. During the process of consolidation of the English rule, the Thanjavur Maratha kingdom was taken away, Ramanathapuram was reduced to a Jamindari but Pudukkottai was on the firm grounds and it was allowed to be seperate principality (not as a part of British India) with honours and was high in British favour. Pudukkottai was treated as a State and the Raja was quasi-independent ruler with full powers of administration.
It was during the time of this ruler Vijaya Raghunatha Thondaiman, the Poligar war took place between the English and the rebelious palayakars of Thirunelveli, the most significant of whom was Veerapandia Kattabomman or Kattabommu Nayak. Kattabomman defied the authority of English in collecting revenues on the Sicar lands and also in remitting the tribute regularly. Hostilities commenced against him, and Panchalamkurichy fort was attacked. Kattabomman escaped and was proceeding to Sivaganga through the forest in the Thondaiman country. At the request of the English administration Kattabomman was captured near Thirumayam by the soldiers of Thondaiman and handed over to the English at Madurai. Later Kattabomman was hanged at Kayattar. The defiant valour of Kattabomman came to be better appreciated with the passage of time. While Kattabomman has risen in general estimation as a hero, the image of Thondaiman as reflected in the events of the time, has suffered a fall because capturing and handing over of Kattabomman and come to be regarded as betrayal and as an unpatriotic act. Seen however in the political backround then prevailed in the context of Thondaiman’s fidelity to the English in prosperity and adversity and to the fact that Kattabomman never sought asylum with Thondaiman and hence the Thondaiman’s role may objectively summed up as the reflex action of the ally and does not amount to betrayal.
The next ruler Raja Vijaya Reghunatha Raya Thondaiman (1807-1825 AD) was crowned when he was a minor and the British Government appointed Major John Black Burn, to undertake the management of the province of Pudukkottai. Since he was the former Resident of Thanjavur he brought to Pudukkottai a good deal of Thanjavur administration of Maratha mystique and Marathi was the language of administration of Pudukkottai for about seventy five years. Revenue and Judicial administration of same method and complexity were introduced in Pudukkottai. A palace with citadels and broad moat was constructed for the Thondaiman (the old palace in the centre of the town). The town was planned with straight roads bisecting each other in the four directions of the palace and thus Black Burn laid the foundation for modern town of Pudukkottai. (This palace, “The old palace” has disappeared completely, we can see the remains of the high wall in a few places in the vicinity of the present west main street and south main street (Rajaveethi)).
Raghunatha Thondaiman (1825 – 1839 A.D) was conferred with the title “His Excellency” by the British Government. He planned in 1830 to bring the Cauvery water to Pudukkottai through a new canal but could not succeed due to paucity of funds. Raghunatha Thondaiman was succeeded by his son Ramachandra Thondaiman (1839 – 1886).
His long tenure of office was marked by extravagance and gross mismanagement. An administrator Seshaia Sastri arrived at the scene as Dewan in 1878 and carried out many reforms. Among them was the remodelling of Pudukkottai town incorporating the principles of town planning which were little followed in the country at that time. The towering administrative office building in red brick colour in Pudukkottai was constructed under the supervision of Seshaiah Sastri. The Pudukkulam, the big lake in the town was another creation of Seshaiah Sastri. Ramachandra Thondaiman has renovated many temples in the State. He was succeeded by Marathanda Bhairava Thondaiman.
Marthanda Bhairava Thondaiman (1886-1929) became the ruler of the state at the age of 11. The administration was looked after by a council with the approval of the British Government. He toured in Europe extensively. He married an Australian lady. A son was born to him though this marriage (later known as Sydny Marthanda). But his succession was opposed by the public. The British administration also refused to recognise the marriage. Hence the Raja abdicated his throne and settled in Paris and died in 1928 and cremated at London.
Raja Rajagopala Thondaiman (1928 -1948) the last and ninth in the line of Thondaiman rulers, was selected by the British Government and was crowned when he was six years old. The administration was looked after by English administrators, among them Alexandar Totenham was noteworthy. The important architectural contribution of this period is the New Palace – which was built in 1930 in Indo – Serasenic Dravidian architecture. This beautiful granite structure now houses the District Collector’s Office. After Indian independence in 1947, the Pudukkottai Princely State was amalgamated with Indian Union on 04/03/1948 and became a division in Tiruchirappalli district. The long history of the Thondaimans rule came to an end.
Such a brief historical sketch covering a period of time of over two millennia will beside acquainting one with the political forces and trends of the area located at the centre of Tamil Nadu, will help to appreciate the nature, variety, origin chronology and importance of the monuments their inscriptions architecture, sculptures iconography and other aesthetic contents.