Lifting the Veil on Early Tamilakam (600-300 BCE)
It is through some facts and many legends that we first hear of what lay beyond the thick forests, deep in India’s south. The earliest historic, written reference to the kingdoms in the south comes from the 2nd and 13th rock edicts of Ashoka (274-237 BCE) where there is a reference to the Cholas, Pandyas, Keralaputras and Satyaputras who ruled the region. The vast corpus of Sangam literature, said to be the outpouring of the 3rd great Sangam or meeting of poets, in Madurai, around the 3rd century BCE also talks at length about the vibrant life during the early Pandya kingdom.
Based on all this, for the longest time, it was believed that the beginning of the early historic period – i.e. a period of urban expansion backed by the liberal use of iron, in the south started around 300 BCE. The region was seen as a bit of a late bloomer – compared to the North that had rapidly urbanised by then.