Stones and Images

Images and Epigraphy of the First Pandya Empire (7th-10th centuries)

The aim of this project is to study the epigraphic and iconographic corpus of the first Pandya empire (southern Tamil Nadu) from the earliest examples to the 10th century.
The origins of the dynasty are difficult to ascertain with any great certainty. The name features in Cankam literature (1st-7th centuries CE), as well as in Kalidasa's Raghuvamsa (5th century CE), which suggests that the dynasty existed in Tamil Nadu in the first centuries of the Common Era. The earliest archaeological and epigraphic evidence of the Pandya probably dates from the 7th century. The rare works dedicated to these references are fragmentary and lacking in detail. Such shortcomings in terms of knowledge about one of the greatest dynasties in southern Indian history is at least partially due to the fact that the sites concerned are so widely dispersed, covering as they do almost the whole Tamil territory. Furthermore, there is a good deal of confusion currently amongst the scholarly community concerning epigraphic data, which makes it difficult to establish a trustworthy chronology. Valérie Gillet intends to work on the iconographic and epigraphic Pandya corpuses, comparing them with contemporary literature, rich in allusions to the dynasty and its architecture, with a view to shedding light on the artistic, historical and religious movements that defined the period. The parallel analysis of these corpuses of images and texts will make it possible to define the development and impact of a dynasty whose name recurs again and again in ancient literature but about which not enough is known today. While scholars are more familiar with the Pallava and Chalukya dynasties than their Pandaya counterpart, the study of this last is nevertheless vital to our understanding of the history of southern India. Indeed, a comparison of the images and inscriptions of contemporary dynasties in the various regions of southern India reveals a profusion of cultural and commercial links. The specificities of such inter-regional bonds will help to build up a more detailed picture of the still little known history of southern India during this period. G. Vijayavenugopal will be closely involved with work on epigraphic sources and we intend to establish a corpus of Pandya inscriptions. This aspect of the project will give rise to a number of publications as the corpus gradually takes shape. We also intend to work in conjunction with Leslie Orr (Concordia University, Montreal), who has begun a survey of 13th century Pandya monuments and the epigraphic corpus of the same period.

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