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 The Muvendar

Though the three Tamil ruling families 

were known to Ashoka in the third century BCE 

itself, some individual names are known only 

from the Sangam poems of the first century and 

later. Known as muvendar, ‘the three crowned 

kings’, the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas 

controlled major agrarian territories, trade 

routes and towns. But the Satiyaputra (same as 

Athiyaman) found in the Ashokan inscription 

along with the above three houses is a Velir 

chief in the Sangam poems.

The Cholas controlled the central and 

northern parts of Tamil Nadu. Their core area 

of rule was the Kaveri delta, later known as 

Cholamandalam. Their capital was Uraiyur 

(near Thiruchirapalli town) and Puhar or 

Kaviripattinam was an alternative royal 

residence and chief port town. Tiger was their 

emblem. Kaviripattinam attracted merchants 

from various regions of the Indian Ocean. 

Pattinappalai, composed by the poet Katiyalur 

Uruttirankannanar, offers elaborate descriptions 

of the bustling trading activity here during the 

rule of Karikalan.

Karikalan, son of Ilanjetchenni, is 

portrayed as the greatest Chola of the Sangam 

age. Pattinappalai gives a vivid account 

of his reign. Karikalan’s foremost military 

achievement was the defeat of the Cheras and 

the Pandyas, supported by as many as eleven 

Velir chieftains at Venni. He is credited with 

converting forest into habitable regions and 

developing agriculture by providing irrigation 

through the embankment of the Kaveri and 

building reservoirs. Another king, Perunarkilli 

is said to have performed the Vedic sacrifice 

Rajasuyam. Karikalan’s death was followed by

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