The end of the era of Tamil warlords

The puranAnuru and related puraM texts of early Tamil literature mark the end era of the Tamil warlords. The violent, grandiose and impractically generous Tamil warlords were passing out of vogue with the solidification of the 3 great Tamil kingdoms- the choLan, the cheran and the pANDiyan. The great reign of the 3 Tamil polities lasted till the external kalabhra rule ended the sangam phase of tamil literature. They were followed by the more Sanskritized Pallavas and finally by the revival of the big 3 till the days of pan-India tripartite struggle between, north, middle and south India, all alternately contending for supremacy over the land. But the image of the tamil warlords still inspires the modern tamil world. So what can we glean about them- Ay ANDiran, vEl pAri and atiyamAn nedumAn anchi. These tamil warlords literally lived with the vAL (hatchet), vEl (spear) and vil (bow), and generously rewarded the expert poets, brAhmaNas and shudras alike, who sung their praises. There were many different clans of these warlords of diverse origins, but we know very little of them other than from the early tamil texts and a few coins minted by some of the clans. Studies by Raghava Iyengar have strongly suggested that the kochar and the veLIr clans were naturalized North Indians settled in the Tamil country. The veLIr clan appears to have descended from the northern yadus of dvAraka about 49 generations before the days of kapilar, the brAhmaNa poet in tamil. The most celebrated of the veLIrs was Ay aNDiran who ruled on the podimalai mountain, probably a rocky spur near Karur. The veLIrs appear to have emerged from the Dvaraka via the Konkans where they fought many a fierce battle and then settled in the Tamil country. The kochars were another northern clan who appear to have come from Kashmir and settled in the Dravida country beside the veLIrs with whom they engaged in a long destructive combat, by alternatively siding with chera and choLas. vel pAri and neDumAn anchi seem to be home-grown Dravidian warriors, who also challenged to choLa, chera and paNDiyans.

Ay aNDiran: “If for Ay aNDiran who leads in murderous war, the unclouded sky were to blossom Into stars without end, turning all white, the black holes vanishing, it would be like the elephants he has granted those who came to him in need or would at least bear some resemblance.” [a hero of the veLIr clan]

neDumAn anchi: You warriors, Take care of yourselves! Let us tell you My lord [anchi] is like a crocodile who in shallow water muddied by the playing of children from the city, can drag in, bring down, and slaughter an elephant, with water only knee deep!

vEl pAri: “The kings with great armies [the big 3] came against the hill in war, ignorant of how difficult it would be to prevail against pAri, he who wielded a sharp spear, he who was the master of abundant toddy.”

Thus the tamil poets describe their warlords.

Some of these warlords were critical for the aryanization of the tamil zone and can be clearly identified with the archaeological remnants of the megalithic cultures which are scattered all around South India. Their time line can be estimated from archaeology as spanning the period from around 800 BC to 150 BC. The heydays of the warlords was coming to an end by around 200 BC when the mauryans failed to recognize them and big 3 were dominant. Ultimately they were all swept away by the combine of the chera, the choLa and the pANDiyan, valiantly defending their little hills and fortifications.

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