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An extremely heavily decorated pyramidal stone building

Gate of Sri Ranganathaswami temple at Srirangam, built by Pandya king Jatavarman Sundara in the 1200s AD

The Pandya Empire takes over

After the Chola Empire collapsed in the 1200s AD, their old enemies, the Pandyas, took over control of south India. Both the Cholas and the Pandyas spoke Tamil. Mostly they’re the same culture, though different ruling families. They’re all Hindus.

Let’s review the Chola Empire

The Pandyas were traders and fishers

Like the Cholas, the Pandyas invaded and controlled the nearby island of Sri Lanka. They took over its pearl and steel industries. The Pandyas were fishing and sailing people, who maintained a big navy. Like the Cholas, they had many trade contacts with Southeast Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, and East Africa.

Indian trade with East Africa
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Hinduism takes over from Buddhism

But with the north so weak, and fewer and fewer Buddhists in India, the old Buddhist university at Nalanda gradually declined. Instead, scholars went to the newer, richer Islamic university in Baghdad.

Nalanda University and Indian science

Jatavarman Sundara unites the Pandyas

The first and only really powerful Pandya king was Jatavarman Sundara, in the 1200s. He not only defeated the Cholas but also several other less powerful neighboring kingdoms to unite South India.

Sundara’s grandson loses a war with the North

Jatavarman Sundara probably died about 1268. His son Maravarman Kulasekara ruled after him. Maravarman then died in 1308. After a short civil war between his sons, Marvarman’s son Sundara Pandyan took power. In 1311, one of the northern Indian sultans invaded south India on a looting expedition for plunder.

Who’s ruling northern India?

The sultan, who was a Muslim, destroyed several Hindu temples. Sundara tried to counter-attack but his army and strategy were seriously outmatched. So he lost and was captured.

Paying a king’s ransom: end of the Pandyas

Vijayanagara temple

Vijayanagara temple from the 1400s AD in southern India

In order to get Sundara back, the Pandyas had to give up even more gold and jewels, and a lot of rice, and many elephants and horses. That was the end of the Pandyas.


The Vijayanagara Empire

But by 1325, under the Tughluq Dynasty, the power of northern India began to decline. In the south, people began to feel united by hating their northern enemy, and by their Hinduism. By 1336, Harihara I and his brother started a new South Indian empire, the Vijayanagara Empire.

More about the Tughluq Dynasty

The next Vijayanagara ruler, Bukka Raya, conquered more land. So did his son Harihara II. By about 1400, Harihara II controlled all of South India. His grandson, Deva Raya II, expanded the empire to include overseas land. Like the Pandyas, he conquered Sri Lanka, and then he added and parts of Burma by the mid-1400s.

More history of Burma

The arrival of Vasco da Gama

After Deva Raya II died in 1446, the empire lost ground. But a new dynasty pulled it back together again at the very end of the 1400s. When Vasco da Gama first rounded Africa and came into the Indian port of Calicut in 1498, the Vijayanagara Empire was the strongest power in south India.

Learn by doing: String some Indian beads
The Deccan Kingdoms – South India
The Mughals – North India
Medieval Indian Architecture

Bibliography and further reading about medieval India:

Medieval Indian architecture
Deccan Kingdoms – South India
More about India home